This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
We will all admit that life can be “messy”. But it
can still get so awkward when another person (even someone we trust and love)
takes it upon themselves to talk to us about the messiness of our lives, and
what we ought to do about it.
Summer Vacation 2013:
Some Sights along an Irrigation Canal
The Apostle Paul has gotten into a lot of trouble
with Christians, over the years, because he was not only asked to deal with
some big messes in the lives of the Christians in Corinth, but he actually dared to say
something definite about them. As nearly as we can tell, the people who asked
Paul for his advice didn’t like what they heard.
The church in Corinth
asked Paul some controversial and sensitive questions about singleness, and
sex, and marriage, and divorce, and the aftermath of divorce. I think Paul
realized how deep a hole he was digging for himself, and so interrupted what he
was trying to say, right in the middle of it all. He backed up and wrote the
passage we have just read. It has nothing to do with singleness, and sex, and
marriage, and divorce, and the aftermath of divorce. But it has to do with a
Here is the principle. “Each one should remain in the
situation which he was in when God called him.” (1 Corinthians 7:20)
This means that, whatever your lot in life was when
the Lord drew you to himself; that is where you should stay. You should be
content with that.
We have to realize that this advice is more
controversial and outrageous than anything Paul might have said about marriage.
But there is a principle here underlying everything else that Paul wanted us to
Your lot in life, when the Lord called you, or drew
you to himself, is not an accident. It is not a mistake. It is the training that
the Lord has given you for your mission in life. It is his special calling to
you for where and how to begin to follow Jesus.
This principle might seem like an actual barrier to
what you think your life should be. It might seem like an obstacle to your
happiness and your freedom. It might seem, in your better moments like the most
absurd joke in the world.
It, also, might very well have absolutely nothing to
do with where the Lord will lead you. It simply tells you where and how to begin.
Your lot in life, at the time of the Lord’s calling to you, is somehow holy,
and you should give this your trust.
It is somehow essential to your mission assignment.
It is the beachhead from which you mount your campaign through the rest of your
life. It is your primary base of operations as the unique and special servant
of Jesus that you are.
Paul was just as strict on our beginning well as he
was on our finishing well. This is why he insisted on so many other outrageous
assumptions; like the rule of chastity in singleness and the rule faithfulness
in marriage. That is how he builds his vision of the Christian life.
We won’t understand any of this unless we also
understand another part of the most basic teaching of Paul. In Galatians
(probably the earliest of Paul’s letters that we have) he wrote, “It is for
freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then and do not let yourselves
be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”(Galatians 5:1)
Learning how and why to stay put and to stand pat is
the way you learn to have a freedom that has meaning. It gives you a freedom
with backbone. This is why he gave this advice to the Christians in Corinth: stay in your
marriage, stay in your singleness. Paul knew that what he was saying was not
simple to understand and that it was not simple to do.
We also will not understand what Paul says unless we
realize that Paul did not intend what he wrote here to be used for detecting
sin and labeling people as sinners. If we use these instructions for the
purpose of sin detection then we are misunderstanding and misusing the word of
God. And yet God’s people have made this exact mistake over, and over, and over
There is the saying, “The grass is always greener on
the other side of the fence.” The grazing cow always thinks that getting to the
grass on the other side of the fence is what freedom is all about. Paul wrote
these instructions about not changing your lot in order to put a stop to that
kind of thinking.
There are people who are always fretting over the situations
they are in. They think their lives would be better if only that could make a
They make that change. They seem very happy for a
while. Then they find new reasons to be unhappy.
I know someone who has lived in a dozen places and can
find nothing good to say about any of them. When I was serving the church in
Othello, this particular someone that I know stopped by to visit me, on their
way to somewhere else. We sat down in the living room of the manse and he said,
“This place is really ugly.” They didn’t mean the house. They didn’t mean my
housekeeping. They meant the place.
I was totally shocked by that. I don’t believe I have
ever lived in a place I would call ugly; not even when I lived in a town
surrounded by oilfields. I have never lived in a place that didn’t have value.
The grace of God was always evident in some way, even in the look of a place. There
was always something to love and give thanks for.
Some people find what Paul said about marriage and
divorce to be frustrating. I find that what Paul said about staying single is
frustrating. I have felt this way for almost forty years.
I have never been happy with it. It is true that I really
don’t know any better and, maybe, actually, that is of some help. I also find
that, if I take it one day at a time, being single is do-able. But, every day
of my life, there seem to be at least five or ten minutes of that day when I am
not able to take it one day at a time.
What Paul is right about is that my life is not about
being single. My life is about a lot of things. Most of all it is about being
married to the Lord.
I wouldn’t mind committing the bigamy of being
married both to the Lord, and having a wife and family. Paul says that this,
too, is a perfectly good thing.
Just like any married person, I have the calling to
extend the grace of God in Jesus Christ to those around me. My single life is
my base of operations for that mission. If I were married, my wife and family
would be my base of operations in extending the grace of God to others, and my
first campaign of sharing that grace would rightfully be to my wife and family.
Then my campaign of grace would reach beyond them, and through them, to others.
If I had been married in an enduring marriage from
before I ever became a pastor, I would never have served any of the churches
that I have served. All my options and choices for service would have led me
And so I would never have come here. Being here is
one of the blessings of being single. Then I honestly ask my self: is it worth
being single to have spent twenty years here? But I would rather not think of
it that way!
I think that Paul’s dealing with a marriage between a
believer and an unbeliever helps us understand almost everything that Paul says
about singleness, and sex, and marriage, and divorce, and the aftermath of
divorce. It has to do with the capacity, the calling, the gift that a believer
has to extend the grace of God to others.
Paul said that, “The unbelieving husband has been
sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified
through her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:14) Paul doesn’t mean that the
unbelieving spouse will automatically come to know Jesus. Paul does mean that
the unbelieving spouse becomes one with a person who is one with Jesus. They
are resident aliens within the boundaries of the kingdom of God.
They live in a place where the love of God in Jesus lives and works. They
benefit from the grace of God in their spouse.
But not everyone wants grace, just as not everyone
wants to be happy. The Christian is living presence of grace personified. This
is the principle of Christ being in you. In marriage, if grace is rejected, so
is the spouse, so is the marriage itself. It is not a marriage except in the
sense of being a rejected marriage. The grace that you extend is not loved. It
is not wanted.
Paul knows this. Paul allows for it. He says so.
Through Paul’s word, the word of God allows for this. When your mission to
extend the grace of God is rejected, God generally calls you elsewhere. You
have a new calling.
Even though Christians are the hands, the feet, and
the voice of Christ only Christ is fully and truly Christ. We are not in
charge. We can’t save anyone by our own power or by our concentration of will.
Only Christ can. If you are to recognize what you can’t do, and that Christ
alone must take hold of it, then your faith and obedience requires you to let
We cannot make another person receive the grace of
Jesus through us. Only Jesus can win them by showing himself to them, in his
own way and his own time.
Even Christians can behave like unbelievers. They can
reject and invalidate the bond, the promises, the covenant, the relationship that
brings them grace.
Even though you have promised to share God’s grace with
them, when they show by their words, or by their actions, that they are saying
“no”, then, perhaps, you are being called elsewhere. You are being called to
another base of the operation of God’s grace.
Paul said to not seek to change your lot, but God called
Paul to change his lot. Paul was moving all the time. You might never willingly
change your calling, but God does change it.
God has designed time itself to change your calling. God
leads us through changes of his own choosing all the time, but those changes
that are brought by God do not end the mission of holiness, to live at one with
Jesus, and to extend his grace to others.
Paul wanted us to see that following Jesus doesn’t
make us so spiritual that our actual, nitty-gritty circumstances become unimportant.
Believing in a real God of grace means that our actual, nitty-gritty
circumstances and relationships are places where we can find the God of grace. They
are not obstacles to the grace, and power, and love of God.
Even if you have been sent elsewhere to be a grace
giver, there is no place, no set of circumstances, no situation where the grace
of God cannot come. That is how we are to live. That is the meaning of living
by faith, and hope, and love.
Your marriage, your role as parents and children, your
family, your church, your community, your nation are always holy in the sense
that God’s callings are always solid things. If anything is real, it matters.
God blessed and confirmed the holiness of real and
solid things by becoming a solid part of our world. He became a baby and there
are few realities more demanding than a baby. God became a member of a family,
and took his responsibility for his family seriously when Joseph died. He
became the carpenters son and the man of the house for his mother. He became
the member of a nation (the occupied nation of Israel) and he was faithful to that
nation, to the death, on a cross. He was misunderstood, underestimated, and
rejected, and yet he gave more and more grace than ever.
In the end, he gave to this world that killed him the
grace of becoming a new world in the kingdom
of God. He gave to a
human race that killed him the grace of becoming the children of God, in the kingdom of God, for ever and ever.
This happened because God himself took stubborn, worldly
reality seriously. He made real circumstances and real relationships his base
of operations in the giving of his grace.
So we come around, again, to the cross. We have
callings in this world that are not of our own choosing. In each of those
places, in each set of circumstances, we are to look exactly there for grace.
We are to extend that grace wherever God may call us.
We must be prepared to stay if we are called to stay. We must be prepared to go,
if God calls us to go. God chose for himself a passionate calling to us; to identify
with us so completely that he could look at us and see his grace in our
It is human nature to run away from the cost and the
consequences of belonging to the Lord, but his cross (which is the physical proof
of his infinite love) cries out to us. The Christ of the wounds claims us. Paul
said it. “You were bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 7:23)
That is where we must begin, in order to begin well.
That is the kind of grace where true freedom begins.