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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 7:17-19 The life the Lord assigned

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, February 7, 2023

17 But each one should lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, that is, when God[1] has called him to faith. I give this same command in all the churches. 18 Was anyone already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was anyone uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 For circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but rather keeping the commandments of God.

There is no office, no role, no task, and no estate among human beings which is to be preferred above all others except the one simple and key estate of being a Christian. So whatever you happened to be when you were called into faith, don’t think that there is a better role for you in life or that a change needs to be made. Paul could have rained down a whole host of occupations: Were you a farmer when you came to faith? A carpenter? A vine-dresser? A painter? A miner? A goatherd? A road builder? A fisherman? A baker? A sailor? A teacher? A soldier? That role in life is no less important to God’s world now that you are a Christian. Remain as you were.

The exception, of course, is if you did something that was utterly sinful. Occupations like thief, smuggler, pirate, prostitute, kidnapper, or godless tyrant come to mind. Remember the example Matthew gives, that when he was called to follow Christ, he left his sinful job as a first-century tax collector (modern tax collecting is a different career) and he didn’t return to it (Matthew 9:9).

Rather than discuss immoral occupations, Paul takes up the often tricky topic of circumcision. A few years before this, Paul had encountered the Judaizers among the Galatian Christians. The Judaizers were Jewish Christians who insisted that many of the things commanded in the ceremonial law, especially circumcision, were still binding for Gentiles becoming Christian. But to submit to one part of the law as being necessary means to submit to the whole law as necessary. And if the law is still necessary, then Christ died for nothing. In fact, Paul says: “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21). This is why Paul occupies almost all of his letter to the Galatians with the theme: “Do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Paul is especially concerned that a Gentile might be led to think he should become circumcised, and cause confusion among his family and friends about the law of Moses (which Jesus fulfilled, Matthew 5:17). It was also possible for a Jew who had been circumcised to have the marks of circumcision removed (1 Maccabees 1:15). This was a painful procedure, but Paul effectively directs his people to avoid it. It isn’t necessary. For the Christian, a person’s physical marks (such as circumcision or not) is nothing at all before God. God wants us to live a life of faith.

But when Paul says, “keeping the commandments of God,” is he slipping back into a righteousness that is by the law rather than by faith? Could a Jew come and silence all of a Christian’s talk about faith alone, faith alone, faith alone? Not at all! Christ kept and fulfilled all of the commands of God, without any exceptions. So where there is faith in Christ, there is perfect fulfillment and obedience to the law. But anyone who rejects Christ places himself back under the law, and therefore he stands condemned because God demands that obedience to the law must be perfect (Leviticus 19:2). And Jesus says the same thing when he tells the teacher of the law that, knowing the law as clearly as he (the teacher) did, he was “not far” from the kingdom of God (Mark 17:34). Not far, but not yet there, either.

When we think about the commandments of God, we are invited to remember that for the Christian, these commandments are faith and love. “Trust in God,” Jesus said, “Trust also in me” (John 14:1). And again he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another” (John 13:34). So what love commands us to do, we do out of love. Luther said: “If love commands that I should be circumcised, then I should be circumcised; if not, then I should let it be. When love demands anger, then I should get angry; when it does not, I should forget it” (LW 28).

Lead the life you led when you were called. If you were called to faith as an infant through baptism and the other means of grace, that doesn’t mean you should remain an infant, because “infant” describes an age in life, not a status in life. You are free, O Christian, to choose the path your life will take according to the gifts and skills God has given to you. And it may even benefit you to move from one career to another, so that the one who once was a cook or painter or goatherd might one day become a pastor if the Lord calls him to do so. But whatever you do, do it to the glory of God.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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