1 Corinthians 7: 17 - 35
Ever since the beginning of creation, there has always been someone, somewhere, unhappy with his position in the universe. It all started with an angel named Lucifer, the brightest star of the heavens, who was not satisfied to be the apex of God’s creation. He wanted something more. His seething discontentment caused him to lead a rebellion against the Most High. One-third of the angels joined with him in his quest to overthrow the Throne of the Lord. For his rebellion, he and his followers were kicked out of heaven. Ever since that dark day, he has been known as Satan and the devil, and he has been the enemy of God and all his works.
Discontentment made him do it and discontentment has been one of his best weapons ever since. He sowed seeds of discontentment in Eve’s unsuspecting heart. He made Eve think that God was somehow trying to cheat her and keep her from becoming “like God.” So Eve took the fruit and ate it. She gave it to Adam and he ate it. The seeds of discontentment brought forth the bitter harvest of disobedience, which led to the loss of paradise and the entrance of evil into our world.
Unhappy Ever Since
After Eden we have never been fully satisfied with anything on earth. We always want something different. If we’re young, we want to be older. If we’re old, we wish we were younger. If it’s old, we want something new. If it’s new, we want something newer. If it’s small, we want something bigger. If it’s big, we want something really big. If we have a R100, we want R200. If we have R200, we want R500. If we have a flat, we want a townhouse. If we have a townhouse, we want a house. If we have a house, we want a bigger house. Or a new house. Or a nicer house. Or maybe we want to scale down and live in a flat again. If we have a job, we dream of a better job, a bigger job, a closer job, with a bigger office, a better boss, better benefits, more challenge, bigger opportunity, nicer people to work for and more leave. If we’re single, we dream of being married. If we’re married… (you can finish that sentence yourself.).
We Were Born Discontented
None of this is unusual. We were born discontented and some of us stay that way forever. A certain amount of discontentment can be good. It’s not wrong to have dreams about what the future might hold. The hope of something better drives us forward and keeps us working, inventing, striving, creating and innovating. But there is a kind of discontentment that leads in a wrong direction. 5 signs that discontentment is dragging us down spiritually:
A. Envy - the inability to rejoice at the success of others.
B. Uncontrolled Ambition - the desire to win at all costs.
C. Critical Spirit - the tendency to make negative, hurtful, cutting remarks about others.
D. Complaining Spirit - make excuses, blame others or circumstances for our problems. Refuse to take personal responsibility. Ungrateful for what we already have.
E. Outbursts of Anger - angry words because our expectations were not met.
The discontented person says, “I deserve something better than this.” Discontentment eats away our joy, corrodes our happiness, destroys our outlook on life - so that everything looks negative to us. We cannot be happy because we will not be happy. We cannot be satisfied because we will not be satisfied. Such a person is truly miserable today and miserable tomorrow.
So how can we overcome this condition? Sin always stems from wrong thinking about God, about ourselves and about life in general. This chapter has some amazingly helpful insights about discontentment even though the word itself is never used. It was written by the Apostle Paul in answer to some specific questions put to him by the believers in the church at Corinth. This chapter contains Paul’s answers, but not the original questions. We have to infer the question by studying the context. We know in a general way that the Corinthians asked about marriage, divorce and singleness. The middle section of this chapter contains some excellent teaching on these topics that applies directly to the question of contentment versus discontentment. 4 principles that will help us overcome the problem of discontentment.
1. You are Where You are by God’s Assignment (v. 17 – 24)
This is repeated 3 times in this paragraph: v. 17, 20, 24. The meaning is very clear: Lead the life God assigns to you. God has given each of us a job to do. He has gifted each person in a certain way and has assigned us a particular place in life. This reflects a very high view of God’s sovereignty.
We do not choose God even though we may like to think that we do. Or if we do “choose” God, it’s because he chose us first. God always has the first move. We do not choose our race, gender, culture, skin colour or our national origin. Those things come to us by virtue of our physical birth. They are part of who we are whether we like it or not. The message is - stay the way God made you and stay in the place God put you. Be a Christian where you are right now. Paul offers 2 examples -
Circumcision and Slavery
He basically says that circumcision doesn’t matter one way or the other. If you are a Jew (and therefore circumcised), don’t try to be uncircumcised once you come to Christ. If you are a Gentile (and therefore uncircumcised), don’t think you need to be circumcised once you are saved. It doesn’t matter one way or the other. Stay the way you are - circumcised or uncircumcised. It’s not worth worrying about one way or the other.
He tells the slaves, don’t worry about your slavery. Serve God where you are. If you can gain your freedom, do so. But that would not apply to most slaves. It’s better to be a slave on the outside and a freeman in your heart because you know Jesus than to be free on the outside and enslaved to sin on the inside. Knowing Jesus trumps all outward circumstances.
The Issue is God—Not Circumstances
Serve God where you are until God clearly calls you elsewhere. It’s not wrong to better yourself but more money or a new position doesn’t necessarily mean a better situation. Seek God first. That’s the key to knowing God’s will. We like to say, “Change my circumstances and then I’ll be happy.” Paul says, “Get close to God and he will take care of your circumstances.” None of this is an argument against change per se. Change is inevitable in life but it’s not a guaranteed solution to our problems.
2. Change is not Wrong but it is not Always an Improvement (v. 25 – 28)
v.26 - refers to some particular pressure on the church in Corinth. It was a cosmopolitan, seaport town, known for a particularly immoral brand of idolatry. Converts to Christ faced enormous moral, spiritual and cultural pressure to compromise their faith. Perhaps there was a wave of local persecution that threatened the existence of the church. Although we don’t know the particulars, Paul’s advice is clear. Don’t make any drastic changes. Stay as you are. When the seas are raging, it’s not the right time to be changing ships. Stay the course!
If you are married, stay married. If you are single, stay single.
Then he adds a very practical word - v. 28. The sense of the passage is clear. Stay as you are, especially if you are single. Don’t feel it’s necessary to be married. But if you desire to be married, you are not sinning. If you want to be married, and if you can find someone who wants to marry you (always a crucial requirement), and if both of you are believers in Christ, go ahead and get married. This is not wrong. But don’t be so starry-eyed that you enter marriage with your eyes closed. “They say love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.”
Don’t think that marriage will solve your problems. Don’t think that marriage will bring you closer to God. Don’t think that marriage will make you a better person. Don’t think that marriage will fulfil your dreams. It won’t because it can’t.
Marriage is good and noble and holy and honourable but it’s not the be all and end all of life. If you are miserable being single, how can you be sure you’ll suddenly be happy being married? The happiest married people are generally those who were also happy while being single. Changing your marital status doesn’t guarantee a change in your happiness or your contentment or your satisfaction with life. Discontented singles aren’t usually the best candidates for a happy marriage.
3. Remember that You are a Visitor on Earth, not a Permanent Resident (v. 29 – 31)
v. 29a, 31b - The first phrase reminds us of the brevity of life. No one lives forever on planet earth. You may live 30 or 40 or 50 years. Who knows? You may live 80 or 90 years, but sooner or later you’re going to die. Every grave is proof that the time is short. The second phrase means something like, “This world is but a shadow of reality.” Everything we see is shadowy and insubstantial. The world itself is not made to last forever. Use the world, enjoy the world, live in the world, work in the world, buy and sell in the world, but do not let the world rule your life. Be careful lest the things you possess end up possessing you.
Enjoy life, live it to the fullest, take advantage of every moment, but don’t indulge yourself so much that you lose your focus on what really matters. John Piper is exhorting the Christian community to adapt a “wartime mentality.” He is referring to the rising clash of spiritual kingdoms around the world. These are awesome days for world evangelism, days in which the battle lines are being drawn in the sand, so to speak. Sooner or later, we’ll all have to decide which side we are on. In times like these, Christians must be ready to engage in serious spiritual warfare. If you want this truth in one sentence, here it is: Hold lightly what you value greatly because you can’t keep it forever anyway.
4. The Most Important Thing is to Give Undivided Devotion to the Lord (v. 32 – 35)
Paul points out that singles have freedoms that those who are married don’t have. Singles can serve the Lord without as many earthly distractions. But those who are married are divided in the sense that they must (and should) give attention to the needs of their spouses. It’s only right that a husband should care about his wife, and it is natural and normal that a wife should concern herself with the needs of her husband. This is right and good, but the energy devoted to those worthy causes is time and effort that might have been devoted to the service of the Lord. You can serve the Lord effectively either way. But there is an undeniable truth - every married person knows that marriage is both a blessing and a heavy burden. Not an onerous burden, but a burden of care and concern, of time and money and prayers and thought and tears and love and energy. To be truly married means giving of yourself unstintingly to the one you love. If you are single, that time and energy could be directly applied to the service of others in the name of Christ. This is Paul’s point. He wishes us to understand that the greatest calling in life is serving the Lord with an undivided heart. Singles have an easier time of that if they will apply their hearts in the right direction.
A Word to Singles
Use your time to serve the Lord. If you are young and unmarried, this is a message you especially need to hear. If you don’t use your days to serve the Lord, you are wasting this part of your life. Don’t spend your days pining away, dreaming about marriage and hoping against hope that the man or woman of your dreams will miraculously appear on a white horse to rescue you. Only God knows whether or not you will be married someday. Leave it in his hands. Don’t spend your waking hours scheming about being married. Use your time and energy to serve the Lord. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to want to be married, or to plan to be married, or to ask God for a marriage partner. Such thoughts are normal and good. But don’t let those noble thoughts become the all-consuming passion of your life. Serve the Lord and let your future rest in his capable hands.
If you are married, give thanks to God for your husband or wife. Love the mate God has given you. Pray for them. Look for ways to build them up spiritually. Let your marriage be part of your service for the Lord.
You are where you are by the sovereign choice of God. You can serve the Lord where you are right now. You can glorify the Lord where you are right now. If you complain, you are attacking the Lord, not serving him.
So bloom where you are planted. Let God define your life, not earthly circumstances. Don’t expect change to make you happy. Never forget that you won’t be here forever. The only thing that matters is knowing Jesus and through him, growing closer to God day by day.
You were not made to be independent. You must serve someone. Make your choice. Jesus Christ bought you with his own blood. He gave everything to set you free from sin. Will you now serve him? Or will you continue to complain? Yield yourself to him completely. It is the only way to be free. As long as you demand your freedom to do whatever you want, you will always be in chains. If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. Amen.