In context, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 is talking mostly about the vocation of marriage. Is it better to get married or remain single? He also addresses the question of ethnic and national identity, whether it is better to be a Jew or a gentile. He also addresses the Greco-Roman economic system, whether one can be a Christian and a slave and whether it is permissible to seek freedom. Looming behind all these “callings” is the call to salvation, in which the Word of God calls individuals through the gospel and creates faith in their hearts.
These passages thus address what Luther called the various “estates” that God has designed for human life, in which we have our multiple callings: the household, the state, and the church.
In each case, for all the questions raised in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul’s answer is the same: “Live as you were called.”
what god is doing through your life
We might ask, “What is God doing in my life?” Vocation encourages us to ask another question: “What is God doing through my life?”
God providentially governs and cares for His human creation, among other means, by vocation. He gives us our daily bread through the vocation of farmers, millers, and bakers (see 2 Cor. 9:10). He protects us through the vocations of the governing authorities, including those who “bear the sword,” such as police officers, soldiers, and judges (see Rom. 13:1–7). He creates and cares for children through the vocation of mothers and fathers (see Ps. 127). He proclaims and teaches His Word through the vocation of the ministry (Rom. 10:14–17).
Luther described vocation as a “mask of God.” Consider everyone who does things for you—the people who built your house, made your clothes, manufactured your car, cleaned up after you, served your meal, cured your diseases, and on and on. Behind these ordinary folks, God is hidden, and He blesses you through them.
You, too, are a mask of God. He is blessing others through you, even though you might not be aware of it: your spouse, your children, your colleagues, your customers, your fellow Christians.
god’s purpose for all vocations
God desires us to love Him and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:34–40). Therefore, the purpose of every vocation—in marriage, parenthood, the workplace, the nation, and the church—is that we love and serve our neighbors (see Gal. 5:13–15).
Each vocation brings neighbors into our lives. Marriage gives us our spouse; parenthood, our children; the workplace, our colleagues and customers; our nation, our fellow citizens; our church, the members of our congregation. These are the neighbors whom God wants us to love and serve. When we do, our love and service become a channel for God’s love and service.
To be sure, we often fail to love these neighbors. We sometimes use, even mistreat them. Instead of serving them, we want them to serve us. This is the root of conflict in marriages, businesses, and congregations. This is to say, we sin in our vocations. God may continue to work through us, but we are fighting Him.
We must confess those sins, receive forgiveness, and make things right. And when we do, we grow in faith and love. Sanctification is also found in vocation.