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.
17Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. (1 Corinthians 7:17-18, NIV)
Many of us grew up in a Christian tradition that emphasized “accepting Jesus into your heart.” That is the way of talking about the first time we received God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the moment of our conversion. So, on August 17, 1979, when I went forward during an altar call at the end of a service, that’s the time I “accepted Jesus into my heart.”
The Apostle Paul uses different language to refer to that experience of saying “yes” to the gospel for the first time. We find an example of this usage in 1 Corinthians 7:17, though the NIV translation makes it difficult to see. A more literal and, I believe, more accurate translation is found in the Common English Bible, “Each person should live the kind of life that the Lord assigned when He called each one.” Whereas the NIV has God calling us to a distinctive life, the CEB sees calling as God’s act of bringing us to faith in Christ in the midst of our distinctive life. In other words, calling refers in this case to God’s action of summoning a person to faith in Christ through the Gospel. Whereas I might say that I accepted Jesus into my heart in August 1979, Paul would say that was the time of my calling or even just “my calling.”
Why is this important? There are many reasons. I’d like to mention two here.
First, thinking about our experience of coming to faith in Christ as God’s calling us reminds us that we are responding to God, not initiating a relationship with God. From one perspective, on a cold winter evening in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I decided to follow Jesus. Yet, from another perspective, I was not so much deciding as responding to God’s call. The initiative was God’s as He called me through the preaching of Pastor Felix Liu and through the internal stirrings of the Holy Spirit.
Second, when we recognize that our conversion was an experience of calling, this underscores the fact that all Christians are called by God, not just those with particular callings to various kinds of church and missionary work. When you felt drawn to “accept Jesus into your heart,” or to “confirm your baptism by confession of faith,” or however you might say it, you were in fact hearing and responding to the call of God on your life. God was calling you into relationship with Him and into a life of sharing in His work in the world.
Gracious God, thank You for calling me into relationship with You
through faith in Jesus. Thank You for helping me to understand,
believe, and respond in trust to the Gospel.
26Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before Him. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29, NIV)
If you have a book published, your publisher will be most interested in the people you can get to endorse your book. Most publishers are more interested in the quality of your endorsements than their quantity. If you can get some famous people to give your book a big thumbs up then your publisher will be quite pleased. You’ll sell a lot more books that way. I understand the “get the best you possibly can” approach to endorsements; it makes sense to me.
God, however, isn’t too impressed with that approach when it comes to the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul says, “think of what you were when you were called” (v. 26). The Corinthians, as it turns out, were not in enviable situations when they were called. They weren’t wise, powerful, noble, or strong. Rather, they were thought of as foolish and weak according to the cultural standards of their day. Paul goes so far as to imply that they were “low and despised things in the world” (v. 28). Ouch! It’s hard to be told you’re a relative nobody, even if you know it’s true.
I’m struck by the fact that God did not choose to call the kind of people whom we’d want to endorse books. God’s calling is not dependent on human accomplishment, fame, wealth, or strength. In fact, according to Paul, God prefers to call people whom the world would ignore or even denigrate so as to show the world just how messed up its values are.
This means if you and I are among the called, the last thing we ought to do is get puffed up with pride. If we do that, we misunderstand the truth of God’s calling. God chose “the lowly and despised in the world,” Paul says, “so that no one no one may boast before Him” (vv. 28-29). You and I are Christians not because we are so awesome, but because God is so awesome, so full of grace and mercy, so delighted to choose the lowly in this world as a demonstration of the gospel.
God’s “book endorsers,” if you will, aren’t impressive because of our amazing accomplishments. Rather, we bear witness to the wonder of the gospel precisely because, apart from God’s grace in our lives, we aren’t such a big deal. This gives us the freedom and responsibility to boast to others, not about ourselves and our achievements, but about God and God’s mind-blowing, culture-disrupting achievement of salvation through the humbling death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Gracious God, sometimes I can think more of myself than I ought to, thinking that You called me because of what I have to offer rather than because of Your grace. Help me, Lord, to be humble, not in my words and deeds only, but also in my heart. Amen.
Today is Mother’s Day. A Chinese saying reminds us “on festive occasions more than ever one thinks of one's dear ones”. This is so true. Though it has been 13 years since my Mom has gone to be with the Lord, I still think of her on many occasions. For those of you who are blessed to have your mothers around, please take every opportunity to express your love to them; send them a card, call them up, wrap them a gift, write them a letter, or take them out for a dinner. I was glad that a couple of years before my Mom passed away, I wrote this letter to convey my gratitude and appreciation for all she has done for me.
Today is Mother’s Day. I want to let you know how much I appreciate you. You were born in China at a time when the Qing dynasty ended and a new republic was established. Though you grew up in an environment where women did not have equal opportunity as men, you, however, under the guidance and openness of your parents were permitted to attend school. You excelled in college and were later credentialed as a teacher.
Mom, you became my very first teacher in life not only at home but in school as well. You taught me so many things; be polite to people, serve others first, be diligent, etc. One of your favorite expressions when the children did not want to get up in the morning, you will always say, “Wake up, the sun is already shining at your behind.” I find myself saying the same thing frequently later on too. When people admire my penmanship I cannot but give thanks to the many hours that you patiently and painstakingly hold my hand and guide me in my writing. You taught me to become a well-rounded person, not only excelling in academics but also in physical and social activities. But above all, you nurtured me to love God even at a very young age.
You dedicated me to the Lord when I was an infant; you guided me in my spiritual walk with the Lord by taking me to church every week until I left home for Junior High. You taught me my first prayer: “Thank you God for giving us food. I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.” You also trained me to say my evening prayer: “This child will now go to sleep, God, please send your Holy Spirit. Kindly incline your ears, let me not be fearful in my sleep and dream. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.” Even now, sometimes I still say those prayers, and they bring back good memories and warmth.
Your love for your children is unconditional. You are always concerned about their welfare. Even as old as I am now, you still worry that I do not have enough clothing on me, or I do not eat enough. When I work very hard, you would tell me to relax and slow down. You always encouraged me with the Chinese saying: “As long as the green forest is around, do not worry that you do not have woods to burn.” Mom, you are a great person, now that you are bedridden, I feel sad that you cannot get around doing the things that you like. I miss the time that we can just talk, sing and share. I long to see your sweet smiles again. Although you cannot say much now, I can still see the love in your eyes. I am confident that you continue to pray for your children. You have engraved each one of them in your heart. Mom, thank you for everything and I love you very much. May God comfort you now and always.
Your loving son
9God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9, NIV)
Though Fred lived on the West Coast, he was recruited by an intriguing East Coast startup. After several interviews, the company offered Fred a job that he really wanted. So Fred resigned from his California job and moved clear across the country. On the first day of his new job, his boss called him in for a meeting. “Fred,” the boss said, “I hate to say this to you, but your job has been phased out. And we don’t have anything else for you. I’m sorry about how this is going to mess you up, but we really don’t have any other options.” Fred was stunned. He had trusted those who hired him, only to be let down by them in a devastating way.
God’s call disrupts our lives. God invites us into a whole new family, as His sons and daughters. God summons us to be set apart from the world for relationship with God and for participation in God’s work in the world. All of these require some getting used to, and sometimes a major life reset. Saying yes to God’s call is costly, even though the benefits far outweigh the costs. But if we’re going to give up things we value in order to heed God’s call, we must surely wonder if God is trustworthy. We wouldn’t want to say yes to God only to be left high and dry like Fred when his new company abandoned him.
The Apostle Paul answers our question about the trustworthiness of God. Paul writes, “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” There’s our answer. God is faithful. God can be trusted. We put our faith in God because God is utterly faithful.
How do we know God is faithful? Paul could have pointed to the faithfulness of God throughout the Old Testament. But, instead, he emphasizes what God has done in the lives of the Corinthians. God gave them His grace in Christ Jesus. He enriched them in speech and knowledge, generously supplying them with spiritual power. And God called them “into the fellowship of His Son” (1 Cor. 1:4-9).
When we are sorting out God’s call on our lives, it’s important to remember His faithfulness. This is especially true if we’re in an extended season of discernment, a time in which we really aren’t clear on God’s particular calling for us. It can be unsettling to wait on God, especially if, like me, you’re not naturally inclined to be patient. Yet, if we are confident in God’s faithfulness, then we can trust God even in the silence.
Knowing God’s faithfulness is also crucial in situations when God’s particular calling brings disruption or sacrifice. If you sense that God is calling you to take a new job or move to a new location, then you’ll be willing to walk out on a limb because God can be trusted. Or, perhaps you know it’s time for you to retire, yet you’re not quite sure what is next. You’ll be able to take the risky step without a full game plan if you are relying on a faithful God.
God’s call can feel scary. It can summon us to new risks. It can disrupt our comfortable lives. But the more we know God to be utterly faithful, the more we’ll be able – even eager – to say yes to the call of God.
Great is Thy Faithfulness! All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.