April 27, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Corinthians 7:22-23 (NRSV)
For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters.
You may be the CEO of a major company, a brand-new intern, an entrepreneurial small business owner, a high school teacher, an executive assistant, a firefighter, 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.
Today’s devotion is part of the series God’s Transformational Calling.
In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul has much to say about our calling. Often, as we have seen in recent Life for Leaders devotions, he uses the language of calling in reference to what we might call our conversion experience. When we first said “Yes” to the good news of God’s grace in Christ, God was calling us into a relationship with God and into partnership in his mission.
Some of the immature believers in Corinth thought that, as Christians, they needed to leave behind their former life, including key relationships and social locations. Paul, however, 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. It’s hard for us in the United States to relate to what Paul says because our own history of slavery is so evil, especially with its dehumanizing racism. 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 try to become free? Should they remain slaves? Paul counsels slaves not to focus on their socio-economic role so much as on who they are in Christ. Whether they are slaves or freed people, they can serve the Lord in their present condition.
Moreover, their calling to Christ helps them to see their reality in a new light. “For,” Paul writes, “whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:22). Because of their calling from God, slaves have a new identity in Christ, to whom they belong as freed people. Those who have been freed from actual slavery also experience a new reality because of their calling. By acknowledging Christ as their Lord, they have become in effect “a slave of Christ” (7:22). All Christians, whether slave or free in their earthly identities, have been “bought with a price” (7:23), 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, I expect he might use language that is common to us. Perhaps he would encourage us to think of Christ as our boss, and to see ourselves as his employees.)
What this means is that, 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, for example, matters because it gives me a context in which to live out my faith in Christ. But my role at work 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, not only as a freed person and slave, but also as a beloved child and a missional partner.
You may be the CEO of a major company, a brand-new intern, an entrepreneurial 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.
To what extent does your workplace role make a difference in your personal identity?
Do you ever think of Christ as your boss? If you did, what different might this make to you?
How does being called by God renew and refine your sense of reality?
As you begin work today (or tomorrow, if you’re reading this in the evening), whether your work is paid or not, take a couple of minutes to reflect on what it means that Christ is your ultimate authority. Imagine how you might work differently with this thought in mind.
Gracious God, thank you for calling us to yourself through Christ. Thank you for giving us a whole new way to see ourselves and our lives. Thank you for giving us a new way to define ourselves and our value.
As I go about my work today, may I remember that I am working for you, for your kingdom purposes. May I see myself as your employee even though I may very well have a human boss. Help me to be attentive to your Spirit as I work today. Guide me in all that I do. To you be all the glory. 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: Slavery (Deuteronomy 15:12-18)
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.