In December 2015, Anne-Marie and I travelled to Zanzibar, which is an island (or group or islands, more accurately), part of Tanzania, in East Africa. It’s a spectacularly beautiful place, with a very sad history. Zanzibar was a slave port, and the men, women and children captured by slavers on the African mainland would be held in Zanzibar, before they were traded on to the Middle East and elsewhere. Slavery was outlawed in Zanzibar in the late 19th century, but the slave pits have been preserved, to remember (and they were horrible–ask me to show you the photos some time). Slavery was a terrible blight on our world, and sadly, continues to be. (Note, the slavery of the first century was probably a lot less cruel than the 19th century version.)
It’s encouraging, therefore to see Paul encourage Christians in Corinth who were slaves to seek their freedom (vv21-23). But Paul is saying that it is not necessary to be a free person to follow Jesus. One can be a slave and follow Jesus, and one can be a freed person and follow Jesus (although freedom is preferable). It’s the same with circumcision: whether circumcised or not, one can follow Jesus.
Paul makes it really clear that we are responsible to God in whatever our circumstances. Whether we’re single or married, we are to live God’s way (v19 – ‘keeping God’s commands is what counts’)–and this is the point of the illustrations with circumcision and slavery.
Sometimes when we are single, we can wish too much to be married. Sometimes when we are married, we may wish too much that we were single. Here, Paul is calling us to contentedness. What does it look like for you to be content in your marital status?