|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
7:17-24 The rules of Christianity reach every condition; and in every state a man may live so as to be a credit to it. It is the duty of every Christian to be content with his lot, and to conduct himself in his rank and place as becomes a Christian. Our comfort and happiness depend on what we are to Christ, not what we are in the world. No man should think to make his faith or religion, an argument to break through any natural or civil obligations. He should quietly and contentedly abide in the condition in which he is placed by Divine Providence.
Verse 21. - Being a servant. This is the second instance of the rule. One who was converted whilst he was a slave is not to strive over anxiously for freedom. The word "emancipation" sometimes seems (as in the letter to Philemon) to be "trembling on Paul's lips," but he never utters it, because to do so would have been to kindle social revolt, and lead to the total overthrow of Christianity at the very commencement of its career. Our Lord had taught the apostles to adapt means to ends; and the method of Christianity was to inculcate great principles, the acceptance of which involved, with all the certainty of a law, the ultimate regeneration of the world. Christianity came into the world as the dawn, not as the noon - a shining light, which brightened more and more unto the perfect day. Care not for it. Do not be troubled by the fact, because in Christ "there is neither bond nor free" (Galatians 3:28), and because earthly freedom is as nothing in comparison with the freedom which Christ gives (John 8:36). But if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. The words may mean,
(1) "use freedom" - avail yourself of the opportunity of emancipation; or
(2) "use slavery" - be content to remain a slave. In favour of the first interpretation is the fact that there is nothing extravagant or fantastic in Christian morality; and that, considering what ancient slavery was - how terrible its miseries, how shameful and perilously full of temptations were its conditions - it sounds unnatural to advise a Christian slave to remain a slave when he might gain his freedom. Yet the other interpretation, remain a slave by preference, seems to be required:
1. By the strict interpretation of the Greek particles.
2. By the entire context, which turns on the rule that each man should stay in the earthly condition in which he first received God's call.
3. By the fact that even the Stoic moralists - like Epictetus, who was himself a slave - gave similar advice (Epict., 'Dissert.,' 3:26; 'Enchir.,' 10:32.)
4. By the indifference which St. Paul felt and expressed towards mere earthly conditions (Galatians 3:28), as things of no real significance (Colossians 3:22).
5. By his appeal to the nearness of the day of Christ (vers. 29-31).
6. By the preponderance of high authorities - Chrysostom, Theodoret, Luther, Bengel, De Wette, Meyer, Alford, etc. - in favour of this view
7. By its parallelism to the advice given to Christian slaves in 1 Timothy 6:2, where they are urged to serve Christian masters all the more zealously because they were brethren.
8. Lastly, all the apparent harshness of the advice is removed when we remember that St. Paul was probably thinking only of the Christian slaves of Christian masters, between whom the relation might be as happy as that of Philemon to the forgiven Onesimus.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Art thou called being a servant?.... That is, called by grace whilst in the condition of a servant,
care not for it; do not be troubled at it, and uneasy with it; be not anxiously solicitous to be otherwise; bear the yoke patiently, go through thy servitude cheerfully, and serve thy master faithfully; do not look upon it as any objection to thy calling, any contradiction to thy Christian liberty, or as unworthy of, and a reproach upon thy profession of Christ:
but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. The Syriac renders the last clause, , "choose for thyself to serve"; perfectly agreeable to the sense given of the words, by several great critics and excellent interpreters, who take the apostle's meaning to be, that should a Christian servant have an opportunity of making his escape from his master, or could he by any art, trick, and fraudulent method, obtain his liberty, it would be much more advisable to continue a servant, than to become free by any such means: yea, some seem to carry the sense so far, that even if servants could be made free in a lawful way, yet servitude was most eligible, both for their own and their master's good: for their own to keep them humble and exercise their patience; for their master's not only temporal, but spiritual good; since by their good behaviour they might be a means of recommending the Gospel to them, and of gaining them to Christ; but one should rather think the more obvious sense is, that when a Christian servant has his freedom offered him by his master, or he can come at it in a lawful and honourable way, this being preferable to servitude, he ought rather to make use of it; since he would be in a better situation, and more at leisure to serve Christ, and the interest of religion: however, certain it is, that the apostle's design is, to make men easy in every station of life, and to teach them how to behave therein; he would not have the freeman abuse his liberty, or be elated with it, nor the servant be uneasy under his servitude, nor be depressed by it, for the reasons following.
Wesley's Notes on the Bible
7:21 Care not for it - Do not anxiously seek liberty. But if thou canst be free, use it rather - Embrace the opportunity.
1 Corinthians 7:21 Parallel Commentaries
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