April 26, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Corinthians 7:20 (NRSV)
Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.
Can you be a real Christian in your ordinary life? Some Christians would say “No.” They believe the only way to be a true Christian is to leave one’s normal life and live radically for Jesus. Centuries ago, for example, some immature Christians in Corinth thought they had to leave their marriages if they were going to be true followers of Jesus. The Apostle Paul helped them to see that they should remain in the condition in which they were called into relationship with God through Christ. Not only can we be real Christians in our ordinary lives, but, in fact, God wants us to discover how to live Christianly in the situations to which he has assigned us: our marriages, our friendships, our workplaces, our communities.
Today’s devotion is part of the series God’s Transformational Calling.
We can tell from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that these new believers got some things right and some things wrong when it came to living as a Christian. For example, they got it right that believing in Jesus wasn’t just a minor add-on to one’s otherwise ordinary life. They correctly concluded that it meant living in a whole new way, with new values, priorities, and practices. Yet, many of the Corinthian Christians wrongly concluded that this new way of living required a radical change in one’s personal situation. Some who were married to non-Christian spouses, for example, believed that they should leave their marriages in order to be fully committed to Jesus. They assumed that it was not possible to be a real Christian in their ordinary lives.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul sought to correct this misunderstanding of the Christian life. He urged the Corinthians in verse 17 to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” He said something similar in verse 20: “Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.” This translation rightly conveys the basic sense of the original language. Curiously, though, what Paul actually wrote was, “Let each one remain in the calling [klēsis] in which you were called.” One’s situation in life at the time of one’s calling (or conversion) was not merely an accident. It was something intended by God, something God planned to use for divine purposes.
So, if we were to ask Paul, “Can I be a real Christian in my ordinary life?” he would almost surely answer “Yes.” In fact, he would tell most believers that God’s plan was for them to live out their faith precisely in the context in which they were living and working when they first said “Yes” to Christ. I say “most believers” because Paul would not endorse every possible context in which a person was called. In Ephesians 4:28, for example, Paul wrote, “Thieves must give up stealing.” So, if your situation were to involve outright sin, such as thievery, it would be right to leave it. But, for most believers, their challenge was to discover how to live as genuine Christians in the context of their calling.
Now we mustn’t turn this into a hard and fast rule. Sometimes our personal context changes for good reasons. My original calling to Christ, for example, came when I was just going into first grade. I’m quite sure Paul wouldn’t want me, at this stage in my life, to live out my faith as a 63-year-old first grader at Glenoaks Elementary School. Moreover, sometimes God calls people away from one situation to a very different one. Abraham and Sarah, for example, were called to leave their home and journey to a new, distant land (Genesis 12:1-3). Yet, for the most part, God expects those he calls to believe and to serve while remaining in the context where they were when they heard and responded to the gospel. This context could, in some ways, even be seen as one’s calling, one’s divine assignment.
The implications of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 are powerful, especially if you sometimes doubt whether you can be a real Christian in your ordinary life. Today, there are some well-intentioned Christian teachers who believe that the only way to truly follow Jesus requires a radical rejection of ordinary life. Real Christians, in this view, aren’t folks who work as teachers, bankers, house painters, and parents. They have to do radical things for Jesus, like move across the world and invest their lives in the fight against poverty. But, while it’s true that God does call some to very different ways of living and working, it’s not true that all genuine Christians must abandon their current circumstances. In fact, from the perspective of 1 Corinthians 7, these circumstances could even be seen as our calling.
Have you ever worried that you aren’t able to be a “real Christian” in your ordinary life?
Or, do you believe that, in some way, God has placed you where you are, to live for his purposes in your current situation?
How are you encouraged, challenged, and instructed to live as an authentic Christian in the midst of your workplace, neighborhood, family, friendship groups, and city?
Set aside some minutes for prayer. During this time, ask God how you might live for him today in your “ordinary” life. Follow the Spirit’s lead as you seek to live today for God’s purposes and glory.
Gracious God, thank you for calling us into relationship with yourself through the gospel. Thank you for reaching out to us in the midst of our “ordinary” lives. Thank you for the possibility of discovering what it means to live for you each day in all of the places in which we live and learn, work and play.
Help me, Lord, to discover in new ways what it means to live each moment for you. May I offer to you all that I am, whether I’m at work or at home, in the local market or in my church. Teach me, Lord, to be a “real Christian” in the midst of my “ordinary” life, knowing that living for you is never really ordinary. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Bloom Where You Are Planted (1 Corinthians 7:20–24)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.