“But… as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk” (1 Corinthians 7:17).
These next several verses (v. 17-24, 26) return us to the general principle: Do not divorce your non-Christians mate (cf. v. 13-14). Paul has just told the Christian that he is not required to stay with a non-Christian mate, who is unwilling to live with his Christian faith (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). However, the general principle is: “Do not seek to disrupt your marriage on account of becoming a Christian” (Editor Jim Laws, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, p. 398, Spiritual Sword Lectureship).
“Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Corinthians 7:18-19).
There are some things which do not need to be changed upon becoming a Christian. Circumcision is one of these things. Male descendants of Abraham had been required, by covenant, to be circumcised (Genesis 17:10-14). This was repeated in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12:1-3). It was not repeated in the New Covenant. It is not required under the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 7:19; 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 cf. Philippians 3:4-5). Should a circumcised man, upon becoming a Christian, undergo a surgical procedure to hide his circumcision? (Yes, there existed such a procedure before the time of Paul cf. 1 Maccabees 1:15!). The answer is no. Such is not required. The gentiles were never under the requirement to circumcise. Should an uncircumcised male under go surgery to be circumcised? The answer is no (cf. Galatians 2:3).
The point is that, in general terms, one is no more required to change his marital status, than he is to change his state of circumcision. In context, Paul has just spoken of the Christian married to the non-Christian (1 Corinthians 7:12-13).
“Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it… do not become the slaves of men. Brethren, let each one of remain with God in that state in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:20-24).
There are some things which do not need to be changed upon becoming a Christian. Slavery is one of these things. If one was a slave when he became a Christian, he should not think that this state must change for him to live the Christian life. The slave is not to run away (cf. book of Philemon). He is to serve his master according to the flesh, as he serves the Lord (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; 1 Peter 2:18-20). If one could become free, then he should do so. Such might lead to greater freedom and opportunities to serve the Lord. Moreover, if one be free, then he should avoid becoming enslaved. Such might restrict his service in the kingdom. All Christians, whether slave or free, should remember that they belong to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:22-23a cf. 6:20). One should serve the Lord regardless of what external condition or situation in which he is living.
The point is that, in general terms, one is no more required to change his marital status, than he is to change his state of slavery. In context, Paul has just spoken of the Christian married to the non-Christian (1 Corinthians 7:12-13).
Many use these verse to teach that if one is in a scripturally unauthorized marriage (adultery), he may remain in that marriage, when he becomes a Christian. I believe that this is a misapplication of the text. Paul mentions circumcision and uncircumcision, slave and free. Paul does not mention anything sinful. Bill Jackson comments, “For those who wish to abuse this, may we ask: Abide in homosexuality? Abide in incest? Abide in polygamy? No, and neither is Paul stating that men and women can abide in adultery. The adulterous union is not discussed in the chapter, and in no case is Paul stating that any person can abide in any sin” (Jackson, A Commentary on First Corinthians, p. 66). Robert Dodson comments, “Whether a person is single, married to a Christian, married to a non-Christian, Jew, Gentile, slave or free, when he becomes a Christian, he is permitted to continue to live as such… Paul certainly does not teach that a person may continue in sin when he becomes a Christian…True Contrast: married – unmarried; circumcised – uncircumcised; slave – free. False Contrast: adultery – unmarried” (Dodson, Brown Trail class notes).