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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 17–24
Verses 17–24

Here the apostle takes occasion to advise them to continue in the state and condition in which Christianity found them, and in which they became converts to it. And here,

I. He lays down this rule in general—as God hath distributed to every one. Note, Our states and circumstances in this world are distributions of divine Providence. This fixes the bounds of men’s habitations, and orders their steps. God setteth up and pulleth down. And again, As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. Whatever his circumstances or condition was when he was converted to Christianity, let him abide therein, and suit his conversation to it. The rules of Christianity reach every condition. And in every state a man may live so as to be a credit to it. Note, It is the duty of every Christian to suit his behaviour to his condition and the rules of religion, to be content with his lot, and conduct himself in his rank and place as becomes a Christian. The apostle adds that this was a general rule, to be observed at all times and in all places; So ordain I in all churches.

II. He specifies particular cases; as, 1. That of circumcision. Isa. any man called being circumcised? Let him not be uncircumcised. Isa. any man called being uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. It matters not whether a man be a Jew or Gentile, within the covenant of peculiarity made with Abraham or without it. He who is converted, being a Jew, has no need to give himself uneasiness upon that head, and wish himself uncircumcised. Nor, is he who is converted from Gentilism under an obligation to be circumcised: nor should he be concerned because he wants that mark of distinction which did heretofore belong to the people of God. For, as the apostle goes on, circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God, 1 Cor. 7:19. In point of acceptance with God, it is neither here nor there whether men be circumcised or not. Note, It is practical religion, sincere obedience to the commands of God, on which the gospel lays stress. External observances without internal piety are as nothing. Therefore let every man abide in the calling (the state) wherein he was called, 1 Cor. 7:20. 2. That of servitude and freedom. It was common in that age of the world for many to be in a state of slavery, bought and sold for money, and so the property of those who purchased them. “Now,” says the apostle, “art thou called being a servant? Care not for it. Be not over-solicitous about it. It is not inconsistent with thy duty, profession, or hopes, as a Christian. Yet, if thou mayest be made free, use it rather,” 1 Cor. 7:21. There are many conveniences in a state of freedom above that of servitude: a man has more power over himself, and more command of his time, and is not under the control of another lord; and therefore liberty is the more eligible state. But men’s outward condition does neither hinder nor promote their acceptance with God. For he that is called being a servant is the Lord’s freed-manapeleutheros, as he that is called being free is the Lord’s servant. Though he be not discharged from his master’s service, he is freed from the dominion and vassalage of sin. Though he be not enslaved to Christ, yet he is bound to yield himself up wholly to his pleasure and service; and yet that service is perfect freedom. Note, Our comfort and happiness depend on what we are to Christ, not what we are in the world. The goodness of our outward condition does not discharge us from the duties of Christianity, nor the badness of it debar us from Christian privileges. He who is a slave may yet be a Christian freeman; he who is a freeman may yet be Christ’s servant. He is bought with a price, and should not therefore be the servant of man. Not that he must quit the service of his master, or not take all proper measures to please him (this were to contradict the whole scope of the apostle’s discourse); but he must not be so the servant of men but that Christ’s will must be obeyed, and regarded, more than his master’s. He has paid a much dearer price for him, and has a much fuller property in him. He is to be served and obeyed without limitation or reserve. Note, The servants of Christ should be at the absolute command of no other master besides himself, should serve no man, any further than is consistent with their duty to him. No man can serve two masters. Though some understand this passage of persons being bought out of slavery by the bounty and charity of fellow-Christians; and read the passage thus, Have you been redeemed out of slavery with a price? Do not again become enslaved; just as before he had advised that, if in slavery they had any prospect of being made free, they should choose it rather. This meaning the words will bear, but the other seems the more natural. See 1 Cor. 6:20.

III. He sums up his advice: Let every man wherein he is called abide therein with God, 1 Cor. 7:24. This is to be understood of the state wherein a man is converted to Christianity. No man should make his faith or religion an argument to break through any natural or civil obligations. He should quietly and comfortably abide in the condition in which he is; and this he may well do, when he may abide therein with God. Note, The special presence and favour of God are not limited to any outward condition or performance. He may enjoy it who is circumcised; and so may he who is uncircumcised. He who is bound may have it as well as he who is free. In this respect there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, Col. 3:11. The favour of God is not bound.