Circumcision, Servant-hood or Marriage? Misunderstandings regarding 1Corinthians 7:17-24

In 1 Corinthians Chapter 7, Paul writes to the congregation at Corinth “concerning the things they wrote”(7:1) to him about. The whole chapter tackles various questions regarding marriage, which is paused in the middle by a tangent regarding Circumcision and Servant-hood ; or so it seems.

The chapter is broken down in the following manner:
1. Advice for the Married in the congregation (v3-9)
2. Commandment in case of Divorce in the congregation (v10-11)
3. Advice to individuals who came to the Lord within mixed marriages (v12-16)
4. A Governing Principle (v17-24)
5. Advice for the Unmarried considering distress in Corinth and of the present(v25-38)
6. Advice for widows (v39,40)

This study will focus on the governing principle of verses 17 to 24 which is a Parable used by Paul to explain his stance on everything to do with “marriage”.

1Co 7:17-24 But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

So what exactly does Paul mean by the above? Let’s break the Parts of this Parable down. Circumcision was the Mark of the Covenant given to Abraham(Gen 17:11), and is equated to a Marriage Covenant. As such an Uncircumcised person would be a person who is not married. A Servant is a person who is under another, basically unequally yoked – as such this is talking of a Mixed Marriage. Those who are called free, are then partners who have both believed and are free to follow God ; but as servants to Our lord.

So the categories of the parable are;

One who is called being Circumcised = With a Marriage Covenant
One who is called being Uncircumcised = Without a Marriage Covenant
One who is called being a Servant = With a Marriage to an Unbeliever
One who is called being Free = With a Marriage to a Believer

Let us now try to make sense of what Paul is saying by applying the above explanations to his words to the Corinthians :-

1Co 7:17 But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.
Walk in the calling you were called in, whether it be Married, Unmarried, Widowed or in Mixed Marriages – this is my advice to all the congregations.

1Co 7:18 Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.
Is anyone called when already in a Marriage Covenant? Let them not be Divorced. Is anyone called without a Marriage Covenant? Let them not be married. (Paul explains in v25-38 when he addresses the unmarried that it would be “better” for them not to marry because of the present distress – Remember that in a few short years the whole congregation would be facing Nero and his persecutions)

1Co 7:19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
Being Married is nothing, and being Unmarried is nothing, but the only important thing is to keep God’s Commands.

1Co 7:20 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.
If you were called in Marriage or when you were Unmarried, don’t try to change the stance by getting divorced or married.

1Co 7:21 Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
Were you called being in a Mixed marriage? Even if you could become free, “use” the servant-hood to bring the person you are unequally yoked to (ie.The Master/Spouse), to Salvation. (Paul explains in v 15,16 that if an unbelieving spouse departs[divorces] the believer is not in bondage to be kept in the marriage forever)

1Co 7:22 For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.
If you were called in a mixed(unequally yoked) marriage, you have been made free from any bondage to be and act free in your Spirit. Likewise, whoever is called in a marriage where both partners accept the Lord is now a Servant to Christ in the Spirit – so that there is equality whether in a mixed marriage or not.

1Co 7:23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.
All of us are bought with the Blood of Messiah to be Free and not slaves to this world because of the capacities which we are called in

1Co 7:24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
Brothers and Sisters, let everyone who is called try to stay in the same capacities and not change from married to unmarried or unmarried to married.

Conclusion
Paul brings a parable in the middle of giving answers to the Corinthian Congregation regarding Marriage, which at face value seem to be speaking of a different subject altogether but is trying to teach his view on Marriage and a governing principle which can be used for all such questions.

7 thoughts on “Circumcision, Servant-hood or Marriage? Misunderstandings regarding 1Corinthians 7:17-24

  1. Rachel

    Question… If you were married but separated when called, what does that mean? I was separated but not divorced when I was “called” (back in 2005) and have since been divorced and remarried (to the husband I divorced).
    I don’t think it matters too much considering in 2014 I separated again and parted from my faith, but I’m curious to know.

    Reply
    1. RameshDeSilva Post author

      Dear Rachel,
      Being separated in a marriage is still being married. A divorce is the only way a marriage covenant is annulled. The teaching comes for this from Deuteronomy 24. Marriage is a covenant which is for Life. Whether it be with your Husband on earth or in Heaven. The only reason for a divorce is unrepentant adultery and if the spouse cannot forgive the sin.
      Shalom
      May you be a blessing to everyone around you!

      Reply
      1. Rachel

        So physical abuse, complete constant rejection and neglect (emotional abuse), or rejection for pornography use are not acceptable reasons for divorce? Oh how God must love his children. This is one reason I no longer follow God.

      2. RameshDeSilva Post author

        Dear Rachel,
        I am saddened to hear that you no longer follow God. But if you attribute unrighteousness to God, you have sadly not understood Him at the time you followed Him. Did you know that we are married to Him (Jer 3, Hos 1&2)? That everytime we do something against His will, we are committing all of the things such as rejection, neglect and abuse against Him? And He still forgave us, and even left all of His Glory to die for us. For you and me. The sad thing is that we focus more on ourselves rather than our Spouse. On your question about reasons for Divorce… Abuse is punishable by law-and you are not bound to a person who abuses you. Shouldn’t we try to help our spouse with Rejection and Neglect – it’s his or her weakness and we should actively help them come out of it, the same way God helps us. My advise is that you should not compare a person who wronged you on earth to God, as we have wronged God many times but He has been kind enough to forgive all of our wrongs, and all He wants from us is to lay our past behind and truly come to a relationship with Him.
        Shalom,
        May you be a blessing to everyone around you!

      3. Rachel

        I prayed and prayed and BEGGED God to help me in my marriage and the more I prayed, the worse things got. I tried everything to communicate and it failed. I read every article, took all the advice. I tried everything. And in the end it failed. I tried having a relationship with God and I tried to make my marriage work and everything went to hell. So I don’t care anymore. God is happy to give everything to those who manipulate, lie and do wrong by people, but to those who have a conscience, who try to do right, and who try to live according to God’s will, well he just doesn’t care. So neither do I. And yes I know that means I miss out on “heaven” but seriously, all God has done is prepared me for hell so I’m ready.
        Thanks but I’m never going back to that. Bye

      4. RameshDeSilva Post author

        Dear Rachel,
        God does not want anyone to be forced to love Him. Hell and Heaven as we call it, is Eternal separation and Eternal communion with Him. The Wicked prospered “here on earth” even in the time of David and Job, as we see in the Psalms 37 and 73. But if our eyes are on this world and this life, how will we be ready for a world beyond? Did you ever consider whether you prayed to change God (because God does not change) or you prayed for God to change you? Did you ever consider whether there was anything in your life that needs to change? Did you try to find out what God’s will for your life really is? (none of these are judgements-but questions to help you think) Harboring anger against God or people does no good for you. God has not done any misdeed to you… Eze 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”
        Shalom
        Be a blessing to everyone around you

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