It should be borne in mind that Paul is discussing various questions pertaining to the matters of matrimony, celibacy, as these relate to our calling as Christians in the midst of this world in a walk of thankfulness. We have noticed in former essays what Paul has to say concerning the honor: ableness of not entering into the marriage-state, provided one has thegift of continence. He touched upon the unmarried and the widows in relationship to remarriage. He maintains the word of Jesus in relationship to the unchangeableness of the marriage-tie. And he gives sanctified. advice, applying the principle for the marriage state as given by Jesus to such marriages where one is called unto faith and the other is not, showing the new status quo in such a family due to Christ’s having come to sanctify such a home, causing also the children to be holy for the sake of the believing parent.
To this matter we have given considerable attention in the former two issues of The Standard Bearer.
We noticed that even in such cases, it stands “what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”!”
Although the believer-partner is not under “bondage” but a free man in the Lord; in such cases, he does not have the prerogative nor the calling to set aside God’s inviolable ordinance concerning marriage, but must maintain that tie in the fond hope of being an instrument in the hands of God to save the unbelieving husband or wife. For God’s power to save such an unbelieving partner is not to be doubted.
To show that such is indeed the intention of God, and is a rule in all the churches, Paul elaborates just a bit more upon the relationship of the natural ties to the spiritual ties in Christ; the natural is also here first, and then the spiritual.
From this fellows that in these verses Paul does not go off on a tangent in the verses 17-24 from the general subject he is treating in this chapter, but rather expands a general principle to other relationships to which this same principle of the relationship of the natural and the spiritual is applicable in life. We take this stand in spite of what Meyer says in his Commentary of this chapter. “Writes he: “A further explanation of this injunction (to abide in that place where we were when called, G.L.) by way of example, and not bearing on the case of those Christians living in mixed marriages.”
When we compare what Paul writes in Ephesians 5:22-6:9 it is quite evident that the relationship of husband and wife, parents and children, quite naturally falls into the same classification: of the relationship of the natural to the spiritual, as in the cases of slave to master and of master to slave; It is the question of sanctifying all the relationships by faith in Christ, by virtue of our having been made free in Christ, His property, bought with a price. We are to walk in the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free, by a faith that is energized by love.
In the verses 18-20 we read the following: “Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is no thing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”
At the close of this passage, verse 20, Paul reiterates the principles which he ordains in all the churches. For the fact that a man was in a certain station in life when called is not his own doing. That was the “distribution” of God to every man in his counsel and providence. And in this will of the Lord a man is to rest, shall he ever rest at all, and not suffer his soul to be in “bondage,” where God has made him spiritually free.
What Paul here writes about “abiding in the calling” where one was, when called, is not a good piece of advice, but it is something “ordained in all the churches.” It is a universal rule of Christ for his people to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Only thus will the church not be revolutionary in society, but she shall be the new leaven in an old lump, the mustard seed that shall fill the entire earth!
Paul applies this to two classes in the verses 18-20. He first speaks to those who were “circumcised” when called unto faith and obedience in Christ. These must not try to undo the physical mark of circumcision by artificial means. Let it remain as it is, It means nothing. It is neither honorable nor dishonorable as such. It is simply to be viewed as having no meaning in itself. That one was thus when called to faith is God’s “distribution.” Rest in it. On the other hand, is one in the “foreskin” when called, do not have the physical act of circumcision performed. It is not necessary. Should one attribute real significance to the external rite of circumcision, such a one places himself under the “bondage” of the law from which Christ has come to set us free. We are to stand as the sons of Sarah in the freedom wherewith Christ bas made us free.
To do either the one or the ether would be, becoming the “servants of men”; it would be a denial of the Cross of Christ through which, we have been crucified unto the world and the world crucified unto us.
Paul demonstrates this principle of the liberty which we have in Christ also in the case of two classes of men in society: the slave and the free man. We read in the verses 21-24 as follows: “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.”
Notice: the slave is a free man in the Lord!
Again: the free man is a servant in the Lord!
He who is interested to study this just a bit more may find that Paul has worked this matter out a little more in detail in Ephesians 6:5-9 where we read, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as unto Christ; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.”
Here we see the freedom unto which God has brought the “slave.” His freedom, paradoxical as it may seem, is in serving all the more his master, in view of the reward which he will receive when he keeps the commandment of “love” to his master. Only thus will he walk in the freedom wherewith he is free. He is “free” from the servitude of slavery in the measure that he serves his master in the love of Christ. Such is, incidentally, also the teaching of Paul in the letter to Philemon. For the old relationship has a new and higher principle in it. It is the new relationship to the “master” because of the superseding new relationship to Christ.
Conversely it is also true that the “master’s” relationship to this slave has principally undergone a change in Christ’s sanctifying work. Thus it was with Philemon. He was a free man indeed. Yet, he was truly a servant of God. In this he and his run-away slave were on the same level. There was the new relationship of being a “brother in the Lord” which changed the relationship of the master to his slave. They were equals in their inequality. Christ has placed them on the same levels, even while they stood on different levels in society.
Only when this is seen will there be no revolution in society, nor will there be civil war. Indeed, Christ has come to make peace among the “men of His good-pleasure,” even there where it seems most impossible. It is a bit of heaven in the sin-infected world-order.
Thus Paul ordained in all the world. Christ’s kingdom was not of this world indeed. It was from above and really and actually made all things new!’
For a Christian slave to “care for” social freedom is wrong. If it is offered to him let him use it as a good gift from the Lord. And for a Jew to wish to be as a Gentile is erroneous, even as it was erroneous for a Gentile to wish to be as a Jew! Thus they would not walk, in their new role as servants before God, but would again fall into servitude.
And now we come to the application of this entire matter to the case of the man or woman (brother or sister) who has an unbelieving partner.
What does this principle of spiritual liberty imply? License? Not at all!
It simply means that when a man by the “distribution” of God has an unbelieving partner, he is to let the ordinance of marriage as it was “from the beginning” stand! To do otherwise is to walk in sin, not to trust (in either possibility of a saved partner, or a “distribution” of God) in God which is freedom from sin, keeping the commandments in true liberty. Any other course places a man “under bondage,” bondage unto men and to the relationships between men.
Thus Paul does not “play out” the original ordinance of marriage against a circumstance in life where clearly the cross of Christ must be borne, which is not a hard yoke, nor is it a heavy burden! He consistently maintains the relationship of “as things were from the beginning” and as they have again been set upon the Rock Christ Jesus, who came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill it.
Not all can receive this word but to whom it is given. The spiritual man puts spiritual things with spiritual also in this matter. If our flesh says, “If the case of a man be such with a woman, it is expedient not to marry,” then the Lord says, “There be Eunuchs who have made themselves Eunuchs for the Kingdom’s sake.”
This may be the way then of self-denial. But it is the way of God. The way of pain and a good conscience is always far to be preferred above the way of indulgence and anguish of heart.
And thus Paul ordained in all the churches.