1st Corinthians - Wayne Barber/Part 50 | John Ankerberg Show

1st Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 50

By: Dr. Wayne Barber
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By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1998
One of the misunderstandings of the word “grace” is its enabling power. It enables us to bear up under whatever circumstance we’re found, but grace, even though it enables us, does not spare the pain that we go through in those circumstances.

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1 Corinthians 7:18-24

The Inward Work of Salvation

Have you ever tried to tell somebody what they needed to do in a difficult situation and they did not want to hear you and you had to remind them that they’re saved, that they don’t look at life like they used to look at it? That’s exactly, I think, what Paul’s doing. In verses 18-24 he just sort of backs off a minute and says, “Now, wait a minute.” Then he takes them back to what salvation really is, why it is essential to hear from God regardless of our circumstances. It’s a very important passage that we’re looking at. Now, it’s a wonderful comfort to know that God is in control of our circumstances. We may argue about the fact of whether or not He ordered or whether or not He’s just allowed it. That argument has been going on for a long time. But you cannot argue over the fact that He is in control of those circumstances.

How many times have you felt victimized this past week? Something happened you did not expect and suddenly you said, “Now why did he do that to me? I’m going to get him back for it.” Look out! You’re acting like a victim. We’re not victims. We are victors in Christ Jesus. We must understand this. You see, the whole mentality of the secular world is we’re victimized by others and by society, but we’re not victimized as believers. No sir. We’re victors in Christ Jesus.

As a matter of fact, turn over to 2 Corinthians 2:14. I just want to remind you of this verse. We could have gone to Romans 8, we could have gone to other places, but I just want you to look at this one verse as we’re introducing what we’re going to say. Remembering the fact that Paul is in a very difficult situation answering these questions that have been written to him. People just don’t want to hear what God’s Word has to say.

Second Corinthians 2:14 says, “But thanks be to God, who always [that’s a significant word] leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” That little phrase in that verse, “leads us in His triumph,” is one word. It’s the word thriambeuo. It comes out of the Roman culture and pictures the triumphant entry of a commander who’s gone out into battle and won the victory. There are several ways this triumphal entry is pictured by historians. As a matter of fact, in my research I found all kinds of different ways they would do these things. In this context it seems the one that’s more relative is when they would go out into battle and win the victory, they would send somebody, a runner, back into town. He had some incense with him and he would swing that incense lamp all over town. There would be a sweet fragrance coming from that incense and suddenly they would realize, because they recognized the fragrance, and say, “There has been a victory! There has been a victory!” They would go out and line the streets. They would get big wreaths of flowers to throw upon their soldiers, their victorious soldiers. The aroma was just beautiful. The smell in the air, the fragrance, was there. There had been a victory.

Then, finally, the commander of the armies would come in and when the commander came in, the general, the captain of the army, he was in a chariot drawn by four horses. And chained to his chariot were the generals which he had conquered in battle. They not been killed. He was leading them through the city, and the people would shout and the pandemonium would break out and the flowers and the wreaths and all the fragrance. It was just a joyous occasion.

The apostle Paul is telling us in 2 Corinthians 2:14 the type of triumphal entry that we have is that we are chained to the chariot of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have been conquered. How are we chained? By the cords of our surrender to Him. And wherever we go we are chained to Him. God, whatever You want, not what I want.

So, putting it in context of 1 Corinthians, when a person is abandoned by the spouse, he or she doesn’t look to the legal society and say, “This is what I want. Can you help me?” They look to God and say, “God, what do You want? We’re chained to Your wheel. Let this be an assigned purpose for us. You work it for Your divine purposes.” That’s where we are. That kind of life becomes a sweet smelling fragrance to people around. Everybody stops and says, “Whoa, that’s different. That person is surrendered to Christ. That person doesn’t act like the rest of the world acts.” What’s legally her rights is not the last word. It’s what her God wants her to do, or his God wants him to do. And that way we’re always led into triumph no matter how difficult it gets.

You see, one of the misunderstandings of the word “grace” is its enabling power. It enables us to bear up under whatever circumstance we’re found, but grace, even though it enables us, does not spare the pain that we go through in those circumstances. Some people miss that. They think because the pain is there they must not have the grace. Oh, no. The pain is always going to be there. We’re going to suffer on this earth. But His grace is what leads us through. And as we surrender to Him and chain ourselves to His will, we’re always led in His triumph. It’s not our triumph, it’s His triumph that we’re led in, whatever circumstance that we’re found.

Every one of us has had that pain either by our own choosing or by somebody else’s choosing. When this pain is there, we feel that pain very heavily. It becomes a reminder, like a scar. It leaves scars on us. And those scars become reminders of the faithfulness of God. This is a beautiful teaching. We do not anchor ourselves to Him. He is our anchor. We’re anchored to Him. He’s the one who holds on to us. We’re not the one who holds on to Him. And even when we mess up He’s still holding on to us. This is where people miss it. But you see, the scars are going to be there, folks, of His holding on to us.

The most beautiful picture of this is of the African boy who had ugly ragged scars on his legs. On his wrists were long gashes that had healed over time. A missionary was talking to him one day and said, “Son, what are these scars on your body? They’re awful.” The young boy said, “The scars from my knees down were made one day when I was down in the water bathing. A crocodile grabbed me and tried to pull me into the water, and my mother reached out and grabbed my arms and held on to me. While she was holding, the crocodile was tearing the flesh of my legs. But because she had hold of me, the crocodile finally gave up and swam away.” So the missionary said, “What are the scars on your wrists?” And the little boy smiled and said, “Oh, they’re love scars.” She said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Those scars were made by my mama when she was holding on to me. Her nails dug into my wrists and tore the skin. But she held on to me so that the hostile reptile couldn’t do what he wanted to do to my life.”

Friend, put yourself into that picture. That crocodile, that circumstance, is raggedly trying to pull you down and tear and rip your life. But the Lord Jesus has got you by the wrist and is holding on to you even when you don’t listen to Him. He holds on to you because that’s what salvation is. One day when you see the scars on your arms you realize they’re the scars to remind you of a faithful God that loves you. No matter what you go through, no matter what it is, He has a hold of you. You’ve got to understand that. Whatever circumstance you’re in, God knows about it. Put your focus on Him and understand He’s got you by His own hands. Surrender to Him and let that become a sweet smelling fragrance to everybody involved. They’ll see Jesus in you. That’s what Paul is trying to tell them. You stay in that situation. You let God make it your assigned lot. Then He can work out His providential purposes in your life.

Well, people don’t want to hear that, do they? People come for the church service, but on Monday when they have to face their situation, they bail out quickly. They don’t want to hear it. So Paul backs off, as I said earlier, and takes several verses and says, “Alright, let me go back and give you some examples. Let’s just be reminded of the inward change that salvation brings.”

That’s my message, “The Inward Work of Salvation,” what God does inside. Just so that you’ll remember that when you hear the hard things, you’re not the same person you used to be. You’re now in Christ. Hear them the way He wants you to hear them and you can hear them correctly and God can bless you in your circumstance.

Salvation changes us inwardly

Well, the context has not changed. We’re still in the midst of the context of marriage, remarriage, and divorce. These are difficult questions at best. In the middle of all that, Paul puts this little insert. The first thing I want you to see that I drew out of it was that salvation changes us inwardly. There is an inward change. When you and I get saved, we’re changed from within. You see, religion is from without; salvation is from within. It’s a relationship that started and something happens on the inside. Whereas we were inwardly separated and at enmity with God, now we are internally and eternally at peace with Him, always through Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Whereas inwardly we were without the life of God in us, we now have the life of God in us.

You say, “Show me that.” Okay, Colossians 3:4 reads, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed.” In Galatians 2:20 it says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” In Romans 5:10 he said, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” His life, being in us. Philippians 1:21 says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Romans 6:5 tell us, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” Totally identified in His life. His life is in us, whereas before we were devoid of that life. Before we were saved we had no ability to understand the things of God, but now we have His mind.

Paul spoke of the lost man in 1 Corinthians 2:14. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” Then he shifts over and speaks of the believer. He says in verse 16, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” Whereas we did not have the ability to do what God had commanded us to do before we were saved, now we do have that ability and the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s what grace is, by the way. The embodiment of grace is Christ Himself. His Spirit lives in us. Ephesians 3:16 says, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” We’re told in the same epistle that we are to constantly be under the control of the Spirit of God. That way we’ll be strengthened by His power. Ephesians 5:18 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

I could go on and on. Our whole attitude changes in the way we look at life because we have the mind of Christ. We have the Spirit of God living in us. We have the Word of God. We see things differently than the secular world sees them. That’s what Paul wants them to see. But wait a minute. Why is it so important? Here’s his point. Though we are totally changed inwardly, little if nothing changes outwardly in regards to our circumstances. That’s tough. Our external circumstances very rarely ever change. We’re changed inwardly but, you see, things around us are still the same. This is a hard pill to swallow sometimes.

The focal verse of this passage here is verse 20. Now look at it. He wants them to beware that the circumstances around them have not changed. He says in verse 20, “Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called.” You’ve been changed inwardly, but the condition that you’re in when you got changed inwardly is still there. Remain in that condition. Don’t try to move outside of it unless God directs you to move outside of it. This is very, very significant. He says in the verse, “Let each man.” That’s hekastos, and that immediately makes it an individual passage. Let each one, separate and by himself.

He says, “Let each man remain.” The word “remain” is in the present active imperative. Present tense means this is your attitude constantly. This is your lifestyle. Active voice. You have everything to do with this; it’s by your choice. And then the imperative mood means it’s a command. The word “remain in” is meno. “Remain” means to abide up under, not under, but just to remain in, and the word “in” determines the sphere that you remain in.

The sphere is the last phrase, “that condition in which he was called.” A key to understanding what Paul was saying here is the word “called.” It’s the key to the whole thing. It’s in the passive voice. I didn’t call myself, God called me. You didn’t call yourself, God called you. In the circumstance in your life, God is the one who determined its outcome. So you’re in that condition when you got saved. He could have changed it, but He didn’t. But it’s Him doing the action. The word “called” is the word used in the epistles to describe the effective calling of God into salvation. There’s a tremendous amount of material that could go with that. But here in the context the word “called” refers to an individual calling by God to accomplish a specific purpose which God has for the believer. So, in other words, when he says, “remain in the condition by which you were called,” God had everything to do with it. God is totally in charge of it. And God says, “Hey, you stay in there because I have a purpose within that circumstance. If I change it, I change it. Don’t you change it. I’ll change it.” You see, stay in that situation.

There were two cases in the context that this comes right on top of. It was dealing with married couples. One married person was a believer, the other was an unbeliever. But there were two individual situations that involved those couples. The first one, God effectively called one to become a believer and the other one chooses to stay with them. They don’t want to leave. So that becomes something the believer now is called to. It’s not something they came up with. God arranged it. God allowed it. This is the way it worked out. Why didn’t both of them get saved? I don’t know. Ask God. But God has one believer and an unbeliever and the unbeliever says, “I’ll stay.” Well, that becomes a calling for that person who’s a believer now, that he or she allows the situation to work for him now, not against him or her. In other words, it becomes something that God is using to accomplish His divine purposes in their life. God has chosen to leave them in that relationship. The person wants to stay, so God says, “This has become your assigned lot. I’m in charge. I have a purpose I want to work through this for your good. If I change it, I change it but don’t you change it. I’ll do the changing.”

But the other couple, the individual’s circumstance is quite different. This is what the problem is. The unbeliever says, “I’m out of here,” and abandons the believing spouse. It says, as we saw in verse 15, that the deserted believer may choose to remarry if God so leads her. That’s the emphasis. It’s not so much, is she free to remarry; the key is, what does God want her to do? That’s the key. So she sees it. God may change it. I think she is free, as I said the last time, but regardless of that, he or she has to do what God tells them to do.

This is the situation they’re in. The point is, we’re all changed inwardly the same. Peter wrote his epistle and said, “To those who have received a like faith such as ours.” In other words, we all got the same thing. The same change took place in you as took place in me, as took place in Peter, and as took place in Paul. But the difference is, outwardly our circumstances are not all the same. Mine’s different than yours. Yours is different than somebody else’s. So you have to look within the realm of your own situation and be willing to remain in that condition until God changes it. In the meantime, let God use it to change you. That’s his whole point. We must look at our own individual circumstances.

Verse 20 reads, “Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called.” Salvation changes us inwardly. Notice what he’s doing here in the midst of this heavy discussion on marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

Salvation circumcises us inwardly

Secondly, he brings out the fact that salvation, and you won’t understand this until you get into the text, circumcises us inwardly. He’s not talking about anything external. He’s talking about internal here. This is his whole point as he walks through this. Remember, there were basically two kinds of people who got saved in Corinth. One was Jewish and the other was Gentile. In 1 Corinthians 7:18 it says, “Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised.” Obviously the first group he mentions are the Jewish people. If they got saved, obviously they were circumcised the eighth day after they were born. This was a mark on their body which was very important in the Old Testament. But now that they’re saved, a new creation in Christ, it becomes really unimportant. He says don’t erase that mark. You say, “How?” Well, there was a surgery even back then that could cover up that circumcision. I did not know that until I did my study.

The second group were the Gentile converts. He said, “Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised.” This is very important because Paul, in writing to the Philippians, in chapter 3 said, “You watch out for these people that are coming amongst you.” Who were they? Proselyte Jews. Gentiles who later on became Jews and said, “Hey, you’ve got to be circumcised or you’re not saved.” He says, “Hey, watch out for those people.” You see, he says that if you’re a Gentile and you get saved, don’t go and have yourself circumcised. It has nothing to do with your spirituality. And, by the way, you Jews who were circumcised, it has nothing to do with you spirituality. The change is not external. The change is internal. That’s his whole point here and he’s using these as examples. It fits all areas of life.

Now, he’s not putting down the fact that circumcision at one time in the Old Covenant was significant, especially to the Jewish man. So if you’re of the Jewish faith, don’t think Paul’s making a mockery of circumcision. He himself was a converted Jew. In the Old Covenant, circumcision was a mark on the men of the nation of Israel whom God had ordered to separate themselves from the Gentile world. They were separated by their religion. They were separated by everything. The Law separated them completely, the way they looked and the way they lived. This mark upon the men was on the organ of the body that produced procreation, and so it was passed on from generation to generation. You’re born into a separate nation. Keep yourselves separate. This was God’s command. It first came when God commanded Abraham to be circumcised, just so you’ll understand where Paul’s coming from here.

Where did it come from and what was it for? Genesis 17:10 says, “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me (God) and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

Now, here’s one thing that Israel misunderstood. This is why Israel as a nation has rejected even Christ to this day. They never understood this. That is that circumcision was directly tied to a lifestyle of obedience. You see, you have the nation of Israel, but within that nation were people who understood the covenant, that lived obediently and looked forward to the redeemer, the Lord Jesus. That’s how salvation occurred in the Old Testament. We look back to the fact that the Redeemer has already come. But in the midst of that same nation were many people who wrongfully looked at that external mark as if somehow it was a guarantee into the spiritual promises of God. No. It had to be tied to a lifestyle of obedience. It was made very clear even in the New Testament.

What do we do today to do the same thing? We do baptism just like they did circumcision. We think if a person is baptized that automatically means he’s saved. No it doesn’t. Unless his life speaks of that salvation, then that baptism was nothing more than an external circumcision. It was just an external act and it was not at all tied to a lifestyle of obeying God.

Look over in Romans 2:25. Paul makes this so clear nobody can miss it. He’s saying that salvation occurred, even in the Old Testament, to those who looked forward to the Redeemer, and their lifestyle was noted by the obedience unto God, not just the Law, but to God. They obeyed God. Romans 2:25 reads, “For indeed circumcision is of value, if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” In other words, it’s invalid. Verse 26 goes on, “If therefore the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?” In other words, the Gentile who gets saved, if he’s obedient will that not also be counted as circumcision because circumcision is tied to obedience.

Verse 27 says, “And will not he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”

Now, some theologians jump on that and say that’s proof text that God never considered Israel; that the church began with Abraham. Now, wait a minute. A Jew is one thing, but Israel is a nation. And God’s covenant promises were not to Jews, they were to the nation of Israel. He’s still not finished with the nation of Israel. However, there were Jews during that time, as we said earlier, that their life was tied to obedience. Therefore, they were shown to be saved even though their circumcision was valid. That’s his whole point. This is exactly what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 7. That’s exactly what he’s teaching. The outward sign fades into insignificance when compared with becoming a new person in Christ. That’s what he’s saying.

Now, in Galatians 6:15 we read, “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” That’s the key. Outward signs mean little if there has been no inward change. That’s his whole point. The believer is not to scorn this mark on another believer, however, it’s to be shunned if it’s ever to be associated with salvation because we’re not saved of works. We’re saved by faith, of grace lest any man should ever boast.

When we’re saved, there is an inner circumcision. This is what Paul wants them to see. Again, talking about the change that has come over a believer, why the believer ought to hear from God and not from man. We’re different creatures. Inner circumcision has taken place. It’s not made with human hands or human effort. It’s what God does when He comes to live in our life. He breaks the power of this body of sin and its penalty. Therefore, when He comes in it’s in a sense being circumcised. He cuts the flesh back to where the flesh has no power, has no penalty as long as we live as chained to His chariot. The moment we choose not to is when we inflict upon ourselves what should not have been.

In Colossians 2:11 he says, “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ [when?] having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” In fact, Paul says in Philippians 3:3 that we are the true circumcision: “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”

So, what is he doing here? Why is he talking about all of this? His point was you stay in the condition you were in when you got saved. His point is that if you’re circumcised, hey, don’t change that. If you’re uncircumcised, don’t change that. The point is not external. It’s internal. But his point is also, remember, there has been an inward change and there has been an inward circumcision of the heart. That’s why, when you come to counseling, when you come to find answers to your problems, you don’t come as a secular world. You come as a God-fearing believer. You come as somebody who’s been changed from within, somebody who comes wanting to hear what God has to say. Salvation changes us inwardly. Salvation circumcises us inwardly in the heart.

Salvation charges us inwardly

Thirdly, salvation charges us inwardly. Now watch this. Paul does an interesting thing in verse 19. Verse 19 says, “Circumcision is nothing (there’s the verb), and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” The verb “is” is used with the first two phrases. “Circumcision is nothing. Uncircumcision is nothing.” The word “nothing” is the word ouden, which means absolutely of no effect. That doesn’t have anything to do with the matter. It’s inside, not outside. We are of a new internal and eternal covenant.

But in the last phrase, look at what he does. It’s translated with a verb, but the verb is not there. Look at the last phrase. He says, “…but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” You see, there was a time circumcision or uncircumcision was of great significance. But now it does not matter, because we’ve been changed from inside. However, this right here does not have a verb. It’s translated with it, but doesn’t have it. Whenever you see a phrase in Scripture that’s translated as if it has a verb and then you start studying and find out the verb is not there, whoa, back off. Stand there and right that down. That means, whether circumcision or uncircumcision, it doesn’t matter; but this always matters. It always will matter, keeping the commandments of God. That’s the key. Whether you’re in the old covenant or the new covenant, it’s never changed from Genesis to Revelation. It’s never changed. Circumcision has changed. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. We’re circumcised of the heart. Keeping the commandments of God has never changed.

You see, that’s the whole key. In your marriage relationship, when you get involved in that situation, are you beyond a shadow of a doubt willing to do only what God has to say? If you’re not, that may even question whether or not you’ve had the inward change, whether or not you’ve had the inward circumcision. Because with all of that came an inward charge, and that charge is you live obedient to the commandments of God. That’s the whole point.

I can imagine the people in Corinth, because they’re living today in the twentieth century, the same kinds of folks. They hear the hard teachings, “stay in the situation you’re in.” “It’s best for you to remain unmarried.” They hear that and they say, “Oh, good grief! That doesn’t even relate today.” The apostle Paul says, “With that kind of attitude you’re telling me that perhaps there has never been an inward change. You’re not who you say you are.” Because the mark on us is that we’re surrendered to Him. Jesus says in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.”

You see, when you’re saved and changed inwardly the things of God may sound hard, but you know they came from the One who demonstrated His love for you when He sent His Son to die on a cross. Your whole attitude is different. I question people when they have a problem and they come to the Word of God and it doesn’t say what they want, that they rebel and go find another church and another preacher who will tell them what they want to hear. That’s where our society is today, folks. It’s relativism that is sweeping us nationwide. We no longer trust what God has to say. Grace is not you being happy regardless of what you do. Grace is God’s enabling power that you might bear up under the situation He’s assigned to you and be changed divinely and eternally because of it. That’s what grace is. If you’re not willing to hear what God has to say, then have you really been charged inwardly? Have you really been circumcised inwardly? Have you really been changed inwardly? We don’t hear like others hear. Jesus said, “My sheep know My voice. They hear My voice and they follow Me.”

Salvation constrains us inwardly

The fourth thing Paul brings out is salvation constrains us inwardly. It’s an interesting thing that happens when you get saved. The moment you get saved you become a slave. Nobody wants to hear that. But I want to tell you something. You’re a slave in a good sense because if you’re not a slave of Christ, you are a slave to your flesh. Jesus said that no man can serve how many masters? There’s only two.

I don’t know why a lot of people can’t understand this. They knock at being a slave to Jesus. They don’t realize the only alternative is being a slave to your flesh. When you become a Christian, immediately you become a slave to Jesus Christ, a love slave. It’s not a situation where you have to be. It’s a situation that you get to be.

Deuteronomy 15:12-17 says in the sabbatical year they would set the slaves free; beautiful rules there, turning them loose, providing for them. Then he said if your slave chooses to stay with you even though you tell him to go, you have a public ceremony and you put a little hole in his ear and mark him, because he’s a love slave. Paul uses that idea all the way through the New Testament when he talks about us being love slaves to Christ, bond servants to Christ. It’s not slave in the sense of “have to,” slave in the sense of “get to.”

Can you imagine that slave on the seventh year, the sabbatical year, and his master says, “Man, you’re free. Here’s all your provisions. Love you. You had great years with me. You’re free.” And he says, “I’m not going anywhere.” “Man, get out of here. You’re free.” “I’m not going anywhere.” “Why aren’t you going anywhere?” “Because I love you and you’ve loved me so much. Where would I go? I just want to stay here and be your slave.” That master had the public ceremony and, boy, you walk down the street after that smiling at everybody, saying, “I’m doing what I do because I want to, not because I have to.”

That’s what a believer is supposed to be. We’re inwardly constrained the moment we’re saved. You have become a love slave to Jesus Christ.

You ask, “Why are you sharing that?” Well, hang on. In the culture of Corinth there were many slaves externally, and the interesting thing was, when they became a believer, internally they became a slave to Christ. However, externally they had different masters out here who controlled what they did. Paul says that if you’re a slave, stay where you are. If you can, get free. We’ll look at this in a moment. If you’re free, you’re still a slave to Christ. This is the idea.

Paul, in Ephesians 3:1, didn’t say he was a slave to Rome or the Jewish people because he was in prison in Rome. When he wrote Ephesians he said, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” What? You see there are two kinds of slavery. The inner one is the important one, not the outward.

I heard this guy from Bulgaria years ago who had been in prison for seven years. When they first got him they took him and put his hands up over his head. He said, “I was scared to death.” The man had an Uzi there in front of him. He was in a little small compartment hung up. He could barely put his feet on the floor. He didn’t know what they were going to do to him. The only crime he had committed was being a Christian.

He said, “I was hanging there and all of a sudden I heard an orchestra playing, and I thought I was crazy, losing my mind. Maybe I was dying. Suddenly I heard a great choir singing a song. The guard couldn’t hear anything, but I could hear it. Suddenly I realized the song was in my heart. I began to sing at the top of my lungs because God showed me, even though he has me strung up here in this cell, I’m free in Jesus Christ. I’m His slave. Not this man’s slave. He’s the one under bondage.” That guard said, “What are you doing?” And he told him. That guard laid his gun down and bowed on his knees and received Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

We say, “Boy, I’m imprisoned in this situation.” Are you really? Your imprisonment is to Jesus Christ and it’s a love choice. So no matter what your circumstance is, no matter how it works against you, it’s working for you because He has chained you to His chariot. You have chained yourself to His chariot and He’ll always lead you in His triumphs. That’s the way this thing works. There are many, many conditions that Paul is addressing but this slavery picture is one of the best to show you it’s an inward constraint, not the outward that matters. The outward does not matter. The inward does.

So Paul says in verse 21, “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it.” I love that translation. It’s exactly to the text. “But if you are able also to become free, rather do that.” What in the world is he talking about? “If you’re able also to become free.” There were two ways to free slaves and both had to do with the behavior of the slave. If you live with a changed heart, if you live with a circumcised heart, if you live with a charged heart, if you live with a constrained heart, then your lifestyle is going to become to others very pleasing because they’ve never seen anything like this before. One of the ways that they would free the slaves would be in their wills they would write down what you had done, how good you had been and they would sign their name to it that you would be set free at their death. That’s one way. But it’s because of the way you lived.

The other way was you just live such a life and you serve so well even the master you’re under that he says, “Hey, you don’t deserve to be in here.” And he just writes you a dismissal of freedom and you’re free. It’s that way. Paul says, “If you’re able, get yourself free.” In other words, don’t go begging. Live it out. Live in the midst of your circumstance what you are and you may be set free for it. That will be good because then you can go on and be about the things that I have for you.

Verse 22 reads, “For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman (the man from Bulgaria); likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.” Just because you are free doesn’t mean you’re not a slave. You’re still constrained on the inside. So Paul continues to point to the inward work of salvation. Why does he do that? Because he’s talking to a group of people who don’t want to hear what he has to say. That’s why. He’s reminding them that they’re not supposed to hear like the heathens hear. They hear as a person who trusts God and God alone and what His Word says. They can stand upon.

Salvation changes us inwardly, circumcises us inwardly, charges us inwardly, and constrains us inwardly. And if we hold to these truths when it comes to the lot that we’re assigned, then we’ll be able to make it through and God will do His purpose in us.

Why did Paul take this little diversion? I don’t think there’s any question. To make sure they hear him from God’s point of view, not theirs. When you have a friend who’s going through a bad circumstance, be careful how you counsel them. You will counsel them out of your emotion, normally, to make them feel better rather than counseling them out of the hard things the Word of God has to say. Do them a favor and tell them the hard things God has to say. He has to lance the wound before the healing can come. That’s the way the Word of God works. Remember the scars on your wrists. He’s got you. I love that. That’s a beautiful picture.

Read Part 51

Dr. Wayne Barber

Dr. Wayne Barber

Wayne has taught the message of “Living Grace” around the world. He is president, founder, and principal speaker of Living Grace Ministries and Senior Pastor of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He learned to exegete Scripture by studying for 10 years with Spiros Zodhiates, one of the leading Greek scholars.
Dr. Wayne Barber

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