“The Time Is Short”

(1 Corinthians 7:29-31 – Epiphany 3 – January 21, 2018)

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 – But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it.  For the form of this world is passing away.

Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:

People have tried to calculate how a typical lifetime is spent.  According to one source, a typical 70 year-old American may spend 23 years sleeping, 16 years working, 8 years watching TV, 6 years eating, 6 years traveling, 4 ½ years in leisure, 4 years with illness, 2 years dressing, and ½ year in religious activity.[1]  Another survey found an average American spending 6 months sitting at stoplights, 8 months opening junk mail, 1 year looking for lost things, 2 years unsuccessfully returning phone calls, 4 years doing housework, and 5 years waiting in lines.[2]

How are we spending our time in this world?  Today the apostle Paul reminds us that “The time is short.”  Our text is about having proper priorities and perspective about what is truly important in life.  Life is not just about daily rituals like working, eating, sleeping, dressing, sitting at stoplights, and opening junk mail.  As Christians, we live in view of our eternal home with Jesus in heaven.  We can spend our time in this world with hearts set on heavenly treasures, not absorbed in passing earthly cares and pleasures (Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:2).

“The Time Is Short.”  Let us see 1) What this means for our marriages, 2) What this means for our emotional life, and 3) What this means for our use of this world’s things.

1) What this means for our marriages

“But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none.”  What could the apostle Paul mean?  Is he frowning on marriage?  Is he suggesting that spouses neglect each other, and act as if they were not married?  No!  God instituted marriage at creation, because He knew it is good for people to have companionship through marriage and family.  But in the context of 1 Corinthians 7, Paul has needed to address the situation at Corinth and answer questions believers had about marriage.

Just think of the background these believers were coming out of, as they learned about God’s plan for marriage.  Corinth was infested with sexual immorality of all kinds.  The city featured worship of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of physical love, complete with temple prostitution.  Just like today, there was a lot of temptation for immorality outside God’s plan for marriage.  So earlier, in 1 Corinthians 7:2, Paul pointed believers to the right way, saying: “because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.”

In this chapter, Paul also has good things to say about Christians who choose to remain unmarried, if God has blessed them with the gift of celibacy beyond temptation.  In verse 8 we read: But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am.”  There are certain advantages in being single.  In some ways, single people can spend less time concerned with how they are pleasing their spouses, and devote more time to the Lord.  In the context, we find another reason why Paul spoke this way.  In verse 26 he says: “I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress – that it is good for a man to remain as he is.”  In Paul’s day, with so much persecution toward Christians, the unmarried might be spared the extra burden of concern and distress for the well being of a spouse and children.

But this is not to say that being married is somehow wrong, or less holy than being single.  On the one hand, believers should not feel undue pressure to get married.  They can serve and honor God in great ways in this holy estate.  Nor should believers avoid marriage, if they really ought to be married, if they have found a person with whom they agree in God’s Word.  They can serve and honor God in marriage, by loving and helping each other.  And if God blesses them with children, they can do that important and God-pleasing work of loving and raising their children in God’s Word and faith in Christ their Savior.

So when Paul says “the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none,” he is not encouraging neglect or separation from one’s spouse.  He is encouraging proper priorities and perspective in marriage.  In view of the temporary nature of life in this world, a married Christian is to fulfill marital duties with eternal things in mind.

This is shown in Ephesians 5:22-33, where Paul describes marriage in a spiritual way.  He holds marriage high as a picture of the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church.  The husband loves his wife as his own body, as Christ loves His Church and gave Himself for her.  The wife submits to her husband as her head, as the Church submits to Christ’s headship.

See how a Christian husband and wife honor God in marriage?  As they reflect the marriage between Christ and His Church, they have as their first love their Savior.  Like a threefold cord not quickly broken, Christ is between them as the third strand (Ecclesiastes 4:12).  He gives their marriage full meaning, He deepens their love.  Above all, husband and wife can serve each other’s eternal good, by sharing Christ’s love and faithfulness with each other.  Both can pray: “Dear Savior, my spouse belongs to You more than to me.  Bless the marriage You have given.  Strengthen our faith and the faith of our children, until You bring us all safely home to heaven.”

Even a Christian in a difficult marriage can remember the most important priority and honor God.  He or she can focus on Christ’s self-sacrifice and salvation, and share Christ’s forgiveness and love with the spouse.  A husband can love the wife who is difficult to love; a wife can respect the husband who is difficult to respect – out of love and respect above all for Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, whether married or unmarried.  Do we not rejoice above all else in life, that we have a Savior who treats us with His forgiveness and love?  We have often failed in our relationship to God by our sin and unfaithfulness.  Yet, He did not divorce us forever.  In love, He put us first.  He served our highest need.  He sent His Son to face the consequences for our unfaithfulness.  Jesus gave His life on the cross to win forgiveness for us.  He fulfilled all faithfulness to God, so He could adorn us in His perfect life.  He cleansed us in Baptism “with the washing of water by His Word,” to present us to Himself a glorious Church (Ephesians 5:25-27).  So He has prepared us, as His beautiful Bride, for His heavenly joys.

Therefore this eternal joy, this love of Christ above all, is what Paul encourages us to focus on during our short time in this world.  This is the most important gift we can share with our spouse, our family, our friends, and everyone whom God puts around us in our life.

2) What this means for our emotional life

“The time is short.”  Let us consider what it means for our emotional life as Paul says: those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice.”

The Christian life is filled with paradox.  We may weep while the world rejoices, and rejoice while the world weeps.  While the world goes on in spiritual ignorance, rejoicing in passing things, the Christian may mourn.  By all outward appearances, he may have every reason to be happy.  Yet God’s Word shows him how sin ruins things.  He mourns over his own sin.  He wants to put to death his sinful nature by repentance.  He weeps over sin’s devastating effects in this world.  He weeps over the wayward path of loved ones who do not know Christ’s salvation.

But at the same time, the Christian can rejoice in God’s gracious promises.  By all outward appearances, he may have every reason to mourn like the rest of the world.  Yet, God’s Word shows him his salvation.  He rejoices in the grace of God that has brought eternal life to him in Jesus.  His emotions soar as he knows that, even now, his life is in God’s loving hands.

So our Savior leads us to see that our emotions also belong to Him.  That is why the apostle Paul, when he was unjustly arrested and imprisoned, did not mourn or lash out against his lot in life.  Instead he wrote in Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  The apostle James also wrote: My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-4).  Oh, if only we could learn to put this into practice!

The fact is, no matter what state our emotional life is in, no matter what trials we may face, we live in God’s grace each and every day.  We know the love of our Savior, who laid down His life to save us from sin and eternal death.  So we can face the trials of our short time in this world with confidence that He is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).  Those who mourn the loss of loved ones in Christ can at the same time rejoice, knowing Jesus’ blessed gift of the resurrection and eternal life.  Those who mourn the loss of health, the loss of a job, the loss of savings, the loss of outward security, can yet rejoice.  For nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).  In the eternal perspective, our present trials and weaknesses will only serve to bring us to greater spiritual maturity and completeness in Christ.

Therefore, we are not captive to worldly emotions.  We need not wait until good feelings come to know we are forgiven; we can trust God’s unfailing Word.  We need not wait until good feelings come to know we are in God’s care; we can trust His Word.  We can live each day resting our hope fully on the grace to be given us when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:13)!

3) What this means for our use of this world’s things

The time is short.”  Finally, let us consider what this means for our use of this world’s things.  Paul encourages us: From now on… those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it.  For the form of this world is passing away.”

We know how absorbing worldly things can become: “I gotta have this; I gotta have that.”  So easily, our daily life becomes all about chasing worldly gain, and maintaining and protecting what we have.  God wants us to put earthly wealth and resources into proper perspective, too.

We cannot take anything with us out of this world.  All that we own really belongs to God.  We are stewards of His things.  What He gives us here is for using to His glory and the good of our neighbor.  Jesus gave us a right perspective on how to use the things of this world when He said: Make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home” (Luke 16:9).  The most important treasure we can share with a soul is Jesus’ gift of eternal life.  We can use our earthly resources to serve our neighbor’s highest good, to share Jesus’ Gospel with them.  We do so when we give our offerings support the Gospel; and also when we use our God-given time and abilities to serve in His mission.  How great it would be to meet friends in heaven who gained eternal treasures through our support of the Gospel mission in this world!

Dear friends in Christ, “The time is short…  For the form of this world is passing away.”  But thanks to God!  He makes our life about so much more than just daily rituals like working, eating, sitting at stoplights, watching TV, sleeping, and starting all over again.  We live each day with eternal priorities and perspective.  God gives us heaven’s joys to look forward to!

When we consider our marriage and family, our emotions, and our earthly resources, let us remember that our first love is Jesus Christ, our Savior, who loved us and gave Himself for us.  What better way can we use our time here, than to share Him with our spouse, family, friends, and others?  Through our witness, we pray that others may come to know His salvation; and one day, be waiting to welcome us as eternal family and friends on the other side of heaven’s gates!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  Amen.

[1] Our Daily Bread, November 25, 1992

[2] U.S. News and World Report, Jan. 30, 1989