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Commentary On Corinthians Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

1 Corinthians 7:18-24

18. Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.

18. Circumcisus aliquis vocatus est? ne arcessat praeputium: in praeputio aliquis vocatus est? ne circumcidatur.

19. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.

19. Circumcisio nihil est, et praeputium nihil est, sed observatio mandatorum Dei.

20. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.

20. Unusquisque in qua vocatione fuit vocatus, maneat.

21. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.

21. Servus vocatus es? ne sit tibi curae: at si etiam possis liber fieri, magis utere.

22. 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.

22. Etenim qui in Domino vocatus est servus, libertus Domini est: similiter et qui liber vocatus est, servus est Christi.

23. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.

23. Pretio empti estis: nolite fieri servi hominum.

24. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

24. Unusquisque in eo, in quo vocatus est, fratres, maneat apud Deum.

18. Circumcised, etc. As he had made mention of the calling, he takes occasion, from a particular instance, to make a digression for a little into a general exhortation, as he is wont to do in many instances; and, at the same time, he confirms, by different examples, what he had said respecting marriage. The sum is this, that in external things you must not rashly abandon the calling on which you have once entered by the will of God. And he begins with circumcisions, respecting which many at that time disputed. Now, he says that with God it makes no difference whether you are a Gentile or a Jew. Hence he exhorts every one to be contented with his condition. It must always be kept in view, that he treats only of lawful modes of life, which have God as their approver and author.

19. Circumcision is nothing While this similitude was suited to the subject in hand, it appears to have been designedly made use of with the view of reproving, in passing, the superstition and haughtiness of the Jews. For, as the Jews gloried in circumcision, it was possible that many might feel dissatisfied with the want of it, as if their condition were the worse on that account. Paul, therefore, places both conditions upon a level, lest, through hatred of the one, the other should be foolishly desired. These things, however, must be understood as referring to the time when circumcision was at length abolished; for, if he had had an eye to the covenant of God, and his commandment, he would, without doubt, have estimated it higher. In another passage, it is true, he makes light of the letter of circumcision, (Romans 2:27,) and declares that it is of no account in the sight of God; but here, as he simply contrasts circumcision with uncircumcision, and makes both alike, it is certain that he speaks of it as a matter of indifference and of no moment. For the abolishing of it has this effect -- that the mystery which had been previously conveyed under it, does not now any longer belong to it: nay more, it is now no longer a sign, but a thing of no use. For baptism has come in the place of the symbol used under the law on this footing, that it is enough that we be circumcised by the Spirit of Christ, while our old man is buried with Christ.

But the keeping of the commandments As this was one of the commandments, so long as the Church was bound to legal ceremonies, we see that it is taken for granted, that circumcision had been abolished by the advent of Christ, so that the use of it, indeed, was allowed among the ignorant and weak, but advantage in it -- there was none. For Paul speaks of it here as a thing of no moment: |As these are outward things, let them not take up your attention, but devote yourself rather to piety and the duties which God requires, and which are alone precious in his sight.| As to the circumstance that Papists bring forward this passage for the purpose of overthrowing justification by faith, it is utterly childish; for Paul is not disputing here as to the ground of justification, or the way in which we obtain it, but simply as to the object to which the aim of believers ought to be directed. |Do not occupy yourselves to no purpose in things of no profit, but, on the contrary, exercise yourselves in duties that are well pleasing to God.|

20. Every man in the calling in which. This is the source from which other things are derived, -- that every one should be contented with his calling, and pursue it, instead of seeking to betake himself to anything else. A calling in Scripture means a lawful mode of life, for it has a relation to God as calling us, -- lest any one should abuse this statement to justify modes of life that are evidently wicked or vicious. But here it is asked, whether Paul means to establish any obligation, for it might seem as though the words conveyed this idea, that every one is bound to his calling, so that he must not abandon it. Now it were a very hard thing if a tailor were not at liberty to learn another trade, or if a merchant were not at liberty to betake himself to farming. I answer, that this is not what the Apostle intends, for he has it simply in view to correct that inconsiderate eagerness, which prompts some to change their condition without any proper reason, whether they do it from superstition, or from any other motive. Farther, he calls every one to this rule also -- that they bear in mind what is suitable to their calling He does not, therefore, impose upon any one the necessity of continuing in the kind of life which he has once taken up, but rather condemns that restlessness, which prevents an individual from remaining in his condition with a peaceable mind and he exhorts, that every one stick by his trade, as the old proverb goes.

21. Art thou called being a servant? We see here that Paul's object is to satisfy their consciences; for he exhorts servants to be of good cheer, and not be cast down, as if servitude were a hinderance in the way of their serving God. Care not for it then, that is to say, be not concerned how you may throw off the yoke, as if it were a condition unbecoming a Christian, but be contented in mind. And hence we infer, not merely that it is owing to the providence of God that there are different ranks and stations in the world, but also, that a regard to them is enjoined by his word.

But if thou mayest even be made free The particle even (in my opinion) has simply this force, -- |If, in place of servitude, you could attain even to liberty, it would be more advantageous for you.| It is uncertain, however, whether he continues his discourse to servants, or turns to address those that are free. In the latter case, genesthai would here mean simply to be Either meaning suits sufficiently well, and they amount to the same thing. He means to intimate, that liberty is not merely good, but also more advantageous than servitude. If he is speaking to servants, his meaning will be this -- While I exhort you to be free from anxiety, I do not hinder you from even availing yourselves of liberty, if an opportunity presents itself to you. If he is addressing himself to those that are free, it will be a kind of concession, as though he had said -- I exhort servants to be of good courage, though a state of freedom is preferable, and more to be desired, if one has it in his choice.

22. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant To be called in the Lord, being a servant, is to be chosen out of the rank of servants, and made a partaker of the grace of Christ. Now this statement is designed to furnish consolation to servants, and, at the same time, to beat down the haughtiness of those that are free-born. As servants feel their situation irksome, in respect of their being mean and despicable, it is of importance that the bitterness of servitude be alleviated by some consolation. Those, on the other hand, that are free, need to be restrained, in order that they may not be unduly elated on account of their more honorable condition, and be lifted up with pride. The Apostle does both; for he teaches, that as the liberty of the spirit is greatly preferable to the liberty of the flesh, servants ought to feel the unpleasantness of their condition the more tolerable, when they take into view that inestimable gift with which they have been endowed; and, on the other hand, that those who are free ought not to be puffed up, inasmuch as their condition in the principal respect is not superior to that of servants. We must not, however, infer from this, that those that are free are made inferior to servants, or that political order is subverted. The Apostle saw what suited both. Those that were free required (as I have said) to be restrained, that they might not in a wanton manner triumph over servants. To servants, on the other hand, some consolation required to be administered, that they might not be disheartened. Now these things tend rather to confirm political order, while he teaches that the inconvenience of the flesh is compensated by a spiritual benefit.

23. Yea are bought with a price We had these words in the preceding chapter, (1 Corinthians 6:20,) but for a different purpose. As to the word price, I have stated there, what is my view of it. The sum is this, that he exhorts servants, indeed, not to be anxious as to their condition, but wishes them rather to take heed not to subject themselves to the wicked or depraved inclinations of their masters. |We are holy to the Lord, because he has redeemed us: let us, therefore, not defile ourselves for the sake of men, as we do when we are subject to their corrupt desires.| This admonition was very necessary at that time, when servants were driven by threats and stripes, and even fear of death, to obey every kind of command without selection or exception, so that they reckoned the procuring of prostitutes, and other crimes of that nature, to be duties belonging to servants, equally with honorable employment's. It is, therefore, not without reason that Paul makes this exception -- that they are not to yield obedience in things base and wicked. Would that this were thoroughly and entirely impressed upon the minds of all! There would not, in that case, be so many that prostitute themselves to the lusts of men, as if exposed for sale. As for us, let us bear in mind, that we belong to him who has redeemed us.

24. Let him abide with God. I have already noticed above, that men are not here bound by a perpetual necessity, so as never to have it in their power to change their condition, if at any time there should be a fit occasion for it; but that he simply represses those thoughtless humors, which hurry men hither and thither, so that they are harassed by a continual restlessness. Hence Paul says, that it is all one in the sight of God what a person's manner of life is in this world, inasmuch as this diversity does not hinder agreement in piety.

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