First and Second Corinthians are two of my favorite books in the Bible, primarily because Paul, in speaking to the wayward believers in Corinth, addresses many themes that are pertinent both to our churches today and to each of us as individual Christ-followers. In the seventh Chapter of First Corinthians, for example, the Apostle puts the spotlight on several issues that believers grapple with today, including our questions about where we are to serve and how.
So often these days we hear sincere Christians struggling with questions regarding their calling and mission. There seems to be much confusion on these issues and, like many other aspects of the faith, perhaps some of that confusion comes from our tendency to complicate simple matters. At least in my own life, I can say that this has often been the case.
In 7:17 Paul lays the foundation for his discussion by stating, “Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him.” A little later, in verse 20, he continues with a similar statement, “Each one should remain in the situation he was in when God called him.” The Apostle then repeats the same teaching in relation to difficult work situations, “Each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.”(1 Cor. 7:24)
Keep in mind that the large majority of Christians in Corinth at this time were new believers. I think we often lose track of the fact that Paul’s letters were addressed to the congregations of fledgling churches that needed much instruction and guidance. The Apostle’s repetitive statements indicate that there must have been a number of situations in the Corinthian church were believers thought they needed to change their circumstances now that they were Christians. Paul’s message is a clear one: It is best to serve God where you were planted when he called you.
As new believers, we often overlook the possibility that God may have a specific purpose for us exactly where we are. The reality is we are often called to be salt and light in the context of our families, our marriages, our jobs, our schools, and just about anywhere else we might find ourselves when God finds us. Those of us who are seasoned Christians need to keep this in mind, especially when we are in a position of mentoring a new believer in the discernment of God’s call on their lives.
There is a caveat here, however. I don’t think Paul was saying that this principle held in all situations. Careful reading of his other letters reveal that the Apostle believed it was sometimes best to get out of a situation that was likely to cause one to stumble. I think this is one of the reasons he encouraged believers to avoid “bad company.” For example, I would not want to encourage a woman in a relationship where she is consistently battered and abused by her husband to remain there. By the same token, I would never advise a new Christian who had just become sober to remain in a job as a bar tender or cocktail waitress. The reasons for this are obvious. These, however, are exceptions and not the rule. It is clear from Paul’s repetitive statements that his belief is that new believers can often serve God best right where they are. Hence the old adage, “Serve where you are planted.”
I have been blessed over the years with the privilege of mentoring a significant number of new believers. Most of these fresh Christians were both enthusiastic and eager to do all that they could for the Lord. As a mentor, it is vital not to dowse the fire the Spirit has ignited in these new converts. However, it is equally important to guide them in such a way that their spiritual energy doesn’t cause them to make unhealthy decisions that could have damaging results. Granted, this is a fine line for the mentor to discern and it can be like walking a tightrope. Much prayer is needed.
Further, I firmly believe that assisting believers, both new and seasoned, discover their calling is enhanced by having a sense of what God is doing in terms of the big picture. Sometimes discerning a move of God can be difficult, but for the most part, we can rest assured that the Lord will make his intentions known to us if we keep our hearts reasonably pure and maintain an intimate relationship with him. Also, we should keep before us the main themes of God’s Great Story. Any movement of God is going to take place in context of his overall plan of renewal and restoration.
As I said earlier, I have a genuine fondness for the Corinthian letters and the important themes addressed in these two books of the Bible. Serving where you are planted is just one of the issues touched upon by the Apostle. In the days ahead, I will address a few more as we explore together the baby church in Corinth. I suspect we will find more similarity than we expect between our 21st Century Church in America and our ancient brothers and sisters in Corinth.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved