22For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. (1 Corinthians 7:22-23, NIV)
Paul has much to say about our calling in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul uses the language of calling in reference to our conversion experience, when we first said “Yes” to the Good News of God’s grace in Christ. And he encouraged people to remain in the condition in which they were called, and to use this situation as a context for serving God and people. Paul also urged the Christians in Corinth to see themselves in a new way in light of their godly calling.
In 1 Corinthians 7:21-24, Paul specifically addresses the case of slavery. Similar to the American history, slavery, in Paul’s day, was nothing to be praised. It involved people owning other people, which is inconsistent with the created dignity of all human beings. Yet slavery in the Roman Empire was not essentially racist, and many slaves were both well-treated and well-regarded. It was common, in fact, for slaves who could become freed persons to choose to remain slaves for their personal benefit.
What should slaves do when God called them to faith in Jesus Christ? Should they remain slaves or try to become free? Paul counsels them not to focus on their socio-economic role so much as on who they are in Christ. Whether slaves or freed people, they can serve the Lord in their present condition. Their calling to Christ helps them to see their reality in a new light. Because of their calling from God, slaves have a new identity in Christ, to whom they belong as freed people. Conversely, those who have been freed from actual slavery also experience a new reality. By acknowledging Christ as their Lord, they have become in effect “Christ’s slave.” All Christians, whether slave or free, have been “bought at a price,” the price of Christ’s death for our salvation. Therefore, we are owned by Christ and this ownership overshadows any other socio-economic relationship we experience in life. Slaves can see themselves as profoundly free in Christ, while freed people can see themselves as slaves of Christ. (If Paul were writing today in a language that is common to us, he would encourage us to think of Christ as our boss, and to see ourselves as His employees.)
Though I may very well remain in the condition in which I was when God called me, that condition no longer defines me. My workplace role matters because it gives me a context in which to live out my faith in Christ. But it doesn’t tell me who I really am. Because I have been called, I now see myself primarily in relationship to the God who called me, to whom I belong as a beloved child and a missional partner.
You may be a brand-new intern, a small business owner, a high school teacher, an executive assistant, a firefighter, a house painter, a student, or you name it. No matter what title you wear at work, it does not define you. What defines you most of all is your relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This relationship not only gives you inestimable value and heavenly purpose, but also it helps you see your workplace reality in a whole new light.
Gracious God, thank You that, through Your calling, You give us a
whole new way to see ourselves and our lives and a new way
to define ourselves and our value.