What does 1 Corinthians 7:21 mean?
ESV: Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)
NIV: Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so.
NASB: Were you called as a slave? Do not let it concern you. But if you are also able to become free, take advantage of that.
CSB: Were you called while a slave? Don't let it concern you. But if you can become free, by all means take the opportunity.
NLT: Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you — but if you get a chance to be free, take it.
KJV: Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
NKJV: Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it.
Verse Commentary:
Modern use of the term "slavery" conjures up images of racism, chains, kidnapping, and abuse. In the ancient era, however, the concept included a much wider idea of service, obligation, and debt. While the experience of being a "slave" in the Greco-Roman era differed significantly from, say, North American "chattel" slavery, it could still be a hard life. People frequently "sold" themselves into service for a set number of years to pay off debts or earn a living. Others became slaves by birth or war. Skilled slaves may have served as doctors or accountants.

Such details aside, in Roman culture, "slaves" were classified as property under the law. Those who owned slaves could freely mistreat or even kill them without consequence, in contrast to other cultures and their approach to servants.

Slavery was a fact of life in the world of Paul's day. Historians tells us about a third of Corinth's population were slaves, a third were former slaves, and a third were citizens.

Former slaves, freed by their master's generosity or paying off their debts, often continued to work alongside slaves. Roman law, however, recognized former slaves as persons and gave them a limited version of the rights of Roman citizenship.

Early Christianity was bizarre among other religions in that it recognized slaves, women, and all people groups as full, equal persons. Unique to Christianity was the claim that all people, without exception, were loved by God and invited to trust in Christ and share in God's glory without need of anyone else's approval. The early church was populated by many slaves, women, and foreign transplants.

Paul now tells Christ-following slaves not to make the point of their lives to change their status to freedmen. In context, his point is that they should not pursue freedom in order to become more acceptable to God or to other believers. After all, God called them, wanted them, when they were slaves. He doesn't require them to increase their social standing to be acceptable to Him.

Paul quickly adds, though, that if given the choice to be freed from slavery, they should take it. He does not command that slaves seek to remain slaves. Rather, he means they need not focus all their mental energies on gaining their freedom. He explains why in the following verses.
Verse Context:
First Corinthians 7:17–24 expands on Paul's rule of thumb: that Christians should remain in whatever situation they were in when they came to faith in Christ. Later text clarifies that Paul is not denouncing marriage or forbidding it in any sense. Married or not, circumcised or not, slave or free, Christians aren't obligated to radically upend every aspect of their lives and relationships. Slaves, though, are encouraged to gain their freedom if available. A believing slave is, in fact, free in Christ, while a Christian who is free in this life is, in truth, a slave to Christ. We all belong to God. Our eternal position in Christ matters far more than our temporary position in this life.
Chapter Summary:
Paul rejects an idea concerning the Corinthian believers: that married Christians should not have sex. Perhaps some even thought marriages should be dissolved and avoided. On the contrary, Scripture says married Christians should have regular sex in order to avoid temptation. Those who are married ought to remain married. Unmarried believers with the gift of celibacy, however, should consider remaining single in order to avoid the troubles of marriage. That is Paul's personal preference, though that gift is not given to all others. Single believers can devote themselves to serving Christ without distraction. The time is short. All believers should live and serve Christ now as if this world is passing away.
Chapter Context:
First Corinthians 7 follows Paul's teaching in the previous chapter, which focused mostly on avoiding sexual immorality. Here he commands married husbands and wives not to deprive each other of sex, or get divorced, in a misguided attempt to be more spiritual. Unmarried people who can live contentedly without sex, however, should consider remaining single in order to serve Christ undivided. Getting married is good, but the time is short. The form of this world is passing away. Unmarried people should think about the opportunities to avoid trouble and serve Christ that come with staying single.
Book Summary:
First Corinthians is one of the more practical books of the New Testament. Paul writes to a church immersed in a city associated with trade, but also with corruption and immorality. These believers are struggling to properly apply spiritual gifts and to resist the ungodly practices of the surrounding culture. Paul's letter gives instructions for real-life concerns such as marriage and spirituality. He also deals with the importance of unity and gives one of the Bible's more well-known descriptions of love in chapter 13.
Accessed 4/23/2024 8:54:08 PM
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