All of us have regrets in life. I know that I do. I can see how I have hurt people in the past, and I wish I could undo all that.
On a lesser level, I look at decisions I’ve made and wish I could undo them. For a long time, for example, I fought the idea of coming to Japan. Had I given it up to God much earlier, I would have directed my college education in that direction, perhaps majoring in Japanese or in teaching English as a second language.
But all that’s in the past, and I can’t undo what I have done. None of us can. So what do we do?
That’s the question the Corinthians faced. Some of them had married unbelievers before becoming Christians. And now they were hearing the teaching that a Christian should only marry Christians. As a result, they were asking Paul, should I divorce that person? But Paul said no. As long as the unbeliever was willing to stay with them, remain married to that person. Don’t feel like you have to undo what you did before you became a Christian.
Others perhaps had become Jewish converts before coming to Christ. Now they were hearing that Gentile Christians shouldn’t get circumcised. So they were asking Paul, “Should I get the marks of circumcision removed?” (verse 18, ESV). But Paul, while affirming that Gentile Christians shouldn’t get circumcised, tells those who were already circumcised not to worry about it.
Still others had perhaps sold themselves into slavery because of a debt they owed, and now they regretted it. But Paul told them, while they should try to gain their freedom, not to worry too much about it if they couldn’t.
Instead, Paul wrote,
Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. (20)
In other words, don’t get twisted up with regret because of the situation you find yourself in due to your past decisions. God can use you right where you are.
I don’t think there’s anyone today who’s all twisted up over being circumcised or becoming a slave.
But there are Christians who are married to unbelievers. And God says, “If possible, stay there. I can use you to make a difference in your family.”
Some Christians are divorced and have remarried, or their ex-spouse has remarried. God says, “Don’t feel like you have to get back with your ex. Focus instead on ministering to the one you’re married to now and to your children. And focus on ministering to the other people I’ve brought into your life.
Other Christians are in prison because of their past crimes. And God says, “That’s okay. If you can get paroled, great. Get out. But if not, serve your time there in prison. I can use you right where you are.”
In short, wherever you are now, and however you got there, God can use you. And so Paul says,
Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. (17)
Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to. (24)
So let’s not get twisted up with guilt and regret because of our past. Rather, let us determine to do the things God has called us to do now. For as Paul wrote, what happened in the past isn’t so important. Rather, in the here and now,
Keeping God’s commands is what counts. (19)