“Avail yourself of the opportunity” is the alternative reading given in the NRSV footnote. The main reading is more ambiguous: “Make use of your present condition now more than ever.” The NRSV alternative reading is congruent with most modern translations, including
Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 314. The broader context of 1 Corinthians shows socially and spiritually restless Corinthians desiring upward spiritual and social mobility. Paul earlier showed how their revolutionary calling or status “in Christ” (1 Cor. 1:4-7, 27-30)
Miroslav Volf, Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 109f.
Os Guinness, The Call (Nashville: Word, 1998), 31.
Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT), 306f., 321f., cf. 314 and Guinness, The Call, 31. Fee does not necessarily see God calling people to become slaves, for instance, but regards any certain social setting, even one as bad as slavery, as having the potential to become a place of service and worship. However, if that potential is unable to be fulfilled and the opportunity of release from slavery becomes available, Paul encourages people to take it. See v.21 (NRSV margin and NIV). However, the NRSV translation of v. 21 seems to imply that Paul wants Christians to stay in their situation of slavery while inwardly free in Christ. Even if this is the best translation, this needs to be read in the light of Paul’s non-dualist principle that our inward mental and spiritual states are meant to be embodied externally in our social situations as far as possible (cf. Rom 12:1, 2).
Cf. Vincent L. Wimbush, Paul the Worldly Ascetic: Response to the World and self-Understanding according to 1 Corinthians 7 (Macon, GA: Mercer Uni. Press, 1987), 15ff., 21: “’Remain’” did not uphold the status quo. Instead it “relativize[d] the importance of all worldly conditions and relationships. Yet..., even the ‘remaining’ is relativized”: those given the chance, e.g., slaves, v. 21 “can change their social condition or status without having their status with God affected.” “Remaining” counters the Corinthian catchphrase of refraining - changing status or withdrawing from the world to a higher “pneumatic [spiritual] Christian existence.” Paul’s two digressions in v. 17-24 and 29-35 clarify his principle that worldly statuses are nothing before God. Therefore we are free to live in the world, but not of it, in “spiritual ... detachment or ‘inner-worldly asceticism’” (Worldly, 70) “as if” according to v. 29-31. This is because the forms, structures, institutions and concerns of this world (schema) are not evil, but transient (Worldly, 33f.).
Os Guinness, The Call (Nashville: Word, 1998), 39 ff.
See Miroslav Volf, Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work (New York” Oxford University Press), 1991, ch. 4 and Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 50-51. This also reflects the Old Testament’s emphasis on the Judean exiles settling down in Babylon, by living and working alongside the Babylonians while praying for and “seeking the welfare [“shalom”] of the city” (Jer 29:4-7). It becomes a paradigm for New Testament Christians scattered or dispersed in the Gentile world. It is also an appropriate model today for God’s scattered people called to work in the world in “exile” in Babylon. Cf. Winter, Seek the Welfare of the City.
Hans Kung, On Being a Christian (London: Collins, 1975), 231.