Condition or Calling in 1 Corinthians 7?

There is a word that beyond 1 Corinthians 7 is used 11 times in the New Testament, and each of those times it is used to reference God’s calling of us in Jesus Christ. But in 1 Corinthians 7 it is translated as “condition.” For example, here is 1 Corinthians 7:20

Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

This can cause the reader of this chapter, and specifically the section from verses 17-24, to think that God’s calling in our life means that we remain where we are, or that we remain in some social status. But Paul is telling the church that they should remain in their calling to which they are called. Ken Bailey in Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes paraphrases the section, focusing on one of the examples of slavery:

If you are caught in slavery, try to get free. If you are free–do not become a slave. Yet, if you are caught in this (horrible) institution you can yet find and carry out an assignment. You can exercise your gifts and respond to your call. If you are a slave do not look wistfully at me with my freedom and the privileges of Roman citizenship and say, “Of course the Lord can use him. But I am a slave–I can do nothing!” Don’t forget your calling, and never imagine that there is no calling for you because you are a slave. (Bailey, 219)

To the slave, Paul doesn’t want them to think that their slavery is the condition to which they were called. Don’t equate status to calling. They have a calling to which they were called, and even in slavery it is a calling that can be expressed.

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