I’ve spent a great deal of time discussing what New Creation is and showing that it discredits hierarchical structure. But what I want to look at today concerns Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church. The New Creation Standard governed every church to which Paul wrote.
According to Galatians 6:15-16, Paul believed that the New Creation Rule was the standard for those in Christ. As a result, we saw in Galatians that Paul refused to hold the Gentiles to the act of circumcision because of the Jews.
However, although Paul does not force the Gentiles to be circumcised, he also doesn’t force the Jews to be uncircumcised. Paul seems comfortable to tell everyone to remain in the state they’re in—why? “Because neither circumcision nor uncircumcision profits anything, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15). In light of this, Gordon Fee tackles what many theologians assume is passivity on Paul’s part:
“Thus one should hardly expect him to tinker with roles and structures in A WORLD THAT IS ON ITS WAY OUT. Though he recognizes their existence, he does not argue (except in the case of government in general, Rom. 13:1-7) that they are DIVINELY ORDAINED. Rather, since Christ and the Spirit HAVE ALREADY PRONOUNCED DEATH ON THE OLD ORDER, one can live as Christ’s servant REGARDLESS of ethnicity or status (1 Cor. 7:17-24). But Paul will not give SIGNIFICANCE to these fundamental irrelevancies, in either direction” (“Discovering Biblical Equality,” page 181).
Let’s examine Paul’s words regarding circumcision in 1 Corinthians 7:
17 However, each one must live his life in the situation the Lord assigned when God called (M) him. [i] This is what I command in all the churches. 18 Was anyone already circumcised when he was called? He should not undo his circumcision. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? He should not get circumcised. 19 Circumcision does not matter and uncircumcision does not matter, but keeping God's commandments does.
Notice that Paul tells everyone to remain in their current state, “what I command in all the churches” (v.17). Every church heard this rule and was to obey it. Every church was to govern itself by these words. As I said earlier, Paul’s New Creation Theology governed his words to all his churches.
Next, Paul demonstrates the words he gave the Galatian church in Galatians 6:15 about circumcision and uncircumcision: “Was anyone already circumcised when he was called? HE SHOULD NOT UNDO HIS CIRCUMCISION” (v.18). Being circumcised as a Jew doesn’t hurt a person’s status in the new creation; because the only thing that matters in the new creation is faith in Christ. The same goes for an uncircumcised person: “He should not get circumcised” (v.18). As Paul wrote in verse 19, “Circumcision does not matter and uncircumcision does not matter, but keeping God’s commandments does.” Paul’s concern was walking right before God, not trying to better personal status. Paul spent his time trying to live IN LIGHT OF the New Creation Rule, which meant not getting tied up into the societal struggle for status. Thus, whether one was a Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, didn’t mean anything—it had no relevance before God. Being a Jew didn’t put anyone closer to God than a Gentile—or vice versa.
Paul’s next instructions concern the slave and the freeman:
21 Were you called while a slave? It should not be a concern to you. But if you can become free, by all means take the opportunity. [k] 22 For he who is called by the Lord as a slave (N) is the Lord's freedman. [l] Likewise he who is called as a free man [m] is Christ's slave. 23 You were bought (O) at a price; do not become slaves of men.
Paul says that being a slave shouldn’t be a concern, “but if you can become free, BY ALL MEANS TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY” (v.21). What Paul means is that if a person was a slave when he or she was saved, the person should not worry about the fact that they are a slave. Their freedom in the Lord doesn’t force them to spend their lives trying to become a freeman. However, should they be granted the opportunity, they should take it: “FOR HE WHO IS CALLED BY THE LORD AS A SLAVE IS THE LORD’S FREEDMAN” (v.22).
The statement of verse 22 that I placed in bold caps is very significant: even though the slave is a SLAVE under the old-world order, once he is IN CHRIST, he is NEW CREATION (to whisper of 2 Corinthians 5:17)—and what are the implications of his being created anew? He is THE LORD’S FREEDMAN. This status IN THE LORD is totally averse to his status in society. But Paul also encouraged the slave to secure his freedom, if possible: “but if you can become free, by all means take the opportunity” (v.21). Why? because “he who is called by the Lord as a slave is the LORD’S FREEDMAN.” By securing his freedom (given the opportunity), the slave is acting on his freedom in the Lord as well as the New Creation Rule. By securing his freedom, he is living ESCHATOLOGICALLY—living as though the New World Order is ALREADY IN PLACE!!!
But notice what Paul tells the Corinthian believers in verse 23:
“You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.”
Paul argues something pivotal here: the believers at Corinth were once “slaves to sin.” Christ purchased them, redeemed them (bought them back with His blood), and now they were free in the Lord. To go back to living the life of a slave would UNDO EVERYTHING CHRIST DID AT THE CROSS!!
We can see from Paul’s instructions regarding slavery that he didn’t approve of the institution (“do not become slaves of men”); however, if that was the current state of a believer, since he lived in the old world order, he was to accept it and anticipate the day when he would be a slave no longer (the new earth would dissolve his slavery). But there is also another important point to make about Paul’s statement: while the slave may not be a freedman in the world, he was a freedman AMONG FELLOW BELIEVERS! He wasn’t to be treated the same way in the Body of Christ that he was treated outside the Body of Christ, in the fallen world in which he lived. And that’s the problem with complementarian interpretations of Galatians 3:28—when complementarians claim that women are equal BEFORE GOD but not BEFORE GOD’S PEOPLE, they are giving in to the OLD WORLD ORDER of hierarchy, power, and domination. But this is foreign to the church being the “kingdom of God” on earth. If we are the Kingdom of God on earth, the “city set on a hill,” the “light that shines in darkness” (as Christ was), then we have EVERY REASON to inaugurate the New World Order while on the Old Earth! As 1 John 3 tells us:
1See(A) what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called(B) children of God; and so we are. The reason why(C) the world does not know us is that(D) it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are(E) God’s children(F) now, and what we will be(G) has not yet appeared; but we know that(H) when he appears[a](I) we shall be like him, because(J) we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who(K) thus hopes in him(L) purifies himself as he is pure.
The last verse of the text from 1 John 3 tells us that “everyone” who will conform to the image of God’s Son in the world to come will not just wait until they arrive in the New World to be pure—but that they will start making steps now to increase their knowledge of God and start to live AS IF THEY ARE ALREADY PERFECT! So holding on the Old World way of life is not acceptable as a child of God. And for complementarians to hang on to Old World distinctions demonstrates that they do not properly understand what New Creation Theology is all about. In regards to slavery, we see in Exodus how God used Moses to deliver His people; and in the New Testament, we see how Paul regards slavery. So if God regards ethnic oppression as wrong, why wouldn’t He see gender oppression as wrong, also? Remember, the same Paul who writes of the New Creation Rule in the churches is the SAME Paul who wrote to the Colossians,
1Masters, treat your slaves[a] justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 4:1, ESV)
And, regarding husbands and wives:
19Husbands, love your wives, and(AX) do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:19, ESV).
For the Master, Paul wanted to remind him that he was not the FINAL AUTHORITY in life (irregardless of how much political authority he may/may not have held in his current society). For the husband, he was not to mistreat his wife on the basis of having power over her. So the old structures were there, true; but the believers were to inaugurate the New Order on earth—which meant conducting the affairs of life in a different manner than the rest of society.
We’re not done with our trek through 1 Corinthians 7. I’ll return to this passage in my next chapter to show further Paul’s use of New Creation Theology.