The 15th Sunday After Trinity September 4, 2005
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
533, 398, 660, 616 [WS 2000 alt. 792]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May you live each day of your life as if yesterday were Christmas, today is Easter, and tomorrow is Judgment Day. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
They were sad to see him go, but not at first. Ken had never been popular in the office, but this past week they had seen a rather profound change come over him. Ever since he had turned in his two-week notice, he had been something of a changed man. The little things that used to bother him no longer seemed to matter. He remembered, for example, how he had once flown off the handle when someone had spilled coffee on his office chair. Now it was an insignificant and distant memory—the chair meant nothing. He had repeatedly dressed down anyone who parked in “his spot,” yet for the last week or so he couldn’t care less who parked where.
But just as there were many things about which Ken no longer concerned himself, there were other things that suddenly took on a sense of urgency for him. He could no longer afford to put off those things he had always meant to do. In the past there had always been plenty of time, and the time had somehow never been right. Now he had no choice but to take the initiative. Since he no longer cared about office politics, he said what he really believed, as dictated by his conscience, and his only regret at the end of the first week was that he had waited twenty years to do the right thing.
Though this story is mostly fiction, this is the sort of thing that goes on day in and day out all around us. We squander so much time because we convince ourselves that we have all the time in the world. We don’t treat others the way we should treat them because we are absorbed in our own needs and desires. And it’s not just the workplace we are talking about here. It is life itself. That’s why it can prove so valuable to reevaluate your life from time to time. Accomplishing this is relatively simple. Project yourself forward to the end of your life and ask yourself, from that perspective, how you wish you would have spent your life. Do you imagine that at the end of your life you would wish you had spent more time watching TV? Do you suppose you will regret not worrying more, sinning more, fighting more, complaining more? Will you wish you had allowed more little things to bother you, witnessed less, earned more money?
The key is to focus on Jesus, and to live your life here on this earth as though you have just turned in your two-week’s notice. Only then will you be able to walk your Christian walk as though that walk will soon be over—employing in your thoughts and attitude a very real sense of urgency. This is the simply profound message of our text for this morning. Our text was recorded by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul (a man who was well acquainted with the very real danger that each day might be his last) and is found recorded in his First Letter to the Corinthians, the seventh chapter:
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.
These are the words of God. With joyful sobriety we consider these words, and pray in preparation: “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.
What a joy and privilege to greet each morning with the certain knowledge that the battle for our eternal future has been waged and won by Jesus Christ. Like watching a taped sporting event when you already know the outcome, the bumps and ruts of life are so much easier to take when we have God’s holy promise that the final outcome has been decided. Since the debt of every single one of our countless sins has been erased, there is nothing left to condemn us. Jesus is responsible for this, of course. On the cross of Calvary He won the epic struggle for our eternal future. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet to acknowledge that life’s problems are thus much easier to bear is also to acknowledge that there will be problems. One problem we examine this morning is the frustration associated with our own inability to understand the depth of wisdom in God’s Holy Word. Though it is indeed a demonstration of pride on our part, every now and then we mentally rebel against—or become frustrated by—a section of God’s Holy Word. It usually happens when what the Bible says seems to contradict itself. When faced with such an apparent contradiction we have two options: We can become exasperated with the Bible passage in question and set it aside (mentally as well as physically) or we can dig deeper and try to understand the meaning we are obviously missing. Most often we choose the former. We are too lazy to dig deeper or ask for help, so we simply set it aside or file it under “Unanswered Questions.”
Pastors are certainly not immune to the temptation to set aside passages that are not immediately clear to our frail human minds. The fact that pastors study God’s Word regularly does not erase temptation. On the contrary, most of you have discovered that the more you study the Bible the more questions you have. That, however, is a sign of spiritual health, not weakness. Confusion mixed with prayer and study is a recipe for spiritual strength and growth. Continually setting questions aside, or ignoring them, is a recipe for eventual spiritual crisis.
Today’s text was, for me, one of those confusing sections. My lazy, foolish side was sorely tempted to set the text aside and preach from a different section of God’s Word. Who would know? Who would care? The answer, of course, is that I would. When it comes to God’s Word, a doubt is only a bad thing when we fail to take the time and effort to address and answer it. The more doubts you work through and answer, the more you are confirmed in your belief that God’s Word never contradicts itself. On the other hand, the more doubts you push aside and allow to trouble your mind, the more doubtful and skeptical you become.
Perhaps you also experienced the same difficulty I had with our text when you first heard it. For me the questions came right away in the first verse: “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…” Two separate points here I found confusing. The first was Paul’s statement that “the time is short.” The second (and most confusing) that “those who have wives should be as though they had none.”
As to the first question, did Paul wrongly believe that Jesus would return already in his generation? More importantly, did Paul here write an opinion that proved to be false? If so, what other false opinions have slipped into Paul’s writings of which we should be made aware?
As to the second question, is Paul saying that husbands should neglect their wives and act as if they are not even married? How can this be true when this same Apostle also told us in Ephesians 5:28, “Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies”?
Remember that questioning a text is not wrong, especially when it seems to contradict another part of Scripture (acknowledging that the confusion is always our own since the Bible never contradicts itself). The danger comes when we are too lazy to find answers to our questions and allow the doubts to pile up in our hearts. There are indeed answers for all of these questions, and strength comes in taking the time and making the effort to find those answers. What is more, it is often in searching out difficult texts that we are rewarded with the most meaningful insights. This text will certainly not disappoint us.
The first question centered on Paul’s statement, “The time is short.” We could certainly do some mental gymnastics and assume that what Paul was saying here is something along the lines of “life is short.” We often say such things ourselves, and it seems the longer you live the truer that gets. Only Paul didn’t say “life,” he said “the time.” And he didn’t say “seems short,” he said “is short.” Or did he? Those of you who have been quoted in the newspaper know full well that quotation marks around what someone supposedly said does not always mean it is an accurate quote. Since our Bibles are all translations, we need to know just exactly what the Holy Spirit originally said.
Here we find that what Paul literally said was, “The time has been shortened.” Jesus himself said much the same thing in Matthew 24:21-22: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”
Paul was like us in that he knew neither the day nor the hour when Christ would return. Since mankind does not know the time of Judgment Day, he can do no better than to live each day as if it were earth’s last. When the Holy Spirit through Paul said, “the time has been shortened,” He gave us a universal truth that can be used by all generations as a reminder to live our lives prepared to leave this world and to work as though the end is at hand. Since almost 2000 years have passed, some might have trouble justifying a statement like “the time is short.” We have no such trouble with “the time has been shortened.”
As to the question of a husband’s conduct toward his wife, is the Holy Spirit telling Christian husbands to neglect their wives? We know that such a thing is not possible. God Himself instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden with these words: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Since marriage is God’s plan for mankind, we must, therefore, be missing the point here. But how do we go about discovering what is a hidden truth to us?
The first step is always to read the context of the passage—at least a full chapter before and full chapter after the section in question. In the case of this text, the context brightens the picture very nicely. The whole seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians deals with the question of marriage, and with the duties of husbands and wives to each other. Paul’s general message here is that a Christian should not feel compelled to marry, for single men and women have more time to dedicate to the things of God. Paul sums up his advice and clears up all confusion concerning our text in the verses immediately following our text. “But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord; how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world; how he may please his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:32-33).
There is a right way to love, and a wrong way to love. God does not want us to worship spouse, children, or family any more than he wants us to worship money, work, or power.
Here is where the idea of Life’s Two-Week’s Notice comes into play. Once a worker has turned in a two-week’s notice, his attitude changes. If he is a man of honor and character, he will, of course, still carry out his duties to the best of his abilities, but the job will no longer be his primary focus or all-consuming passion. He will be looking forward to what comes next. That is exactly what our text calls for from each Child of God. To this end our text lists three areas of encouragement:
Do not be preoccupied with either the sorrows or the joys of this life. “Those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice.” [v.30]
Make the most of the time you have, for you do not know how short that time is. “The time has been shortened.” [v.29]
Do not be preoccupied with the things of this world. “Those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not over-using it.” [vv.30-31]
The reason for all of this ought to be obvious. Christ is our life in every conceivable way. It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that anyone can be saved—rescued from an eternity in Hell. Who or what could ever be more important than the One who has secured our eternal salvation?
As for life on this earth, because of Jesus Christ we can now live life as though we have already given our notice and are focused now on what comes next. Living life as though it is our two-week notice is light-years beyond the world’s comprehension. They just flat won’t get it. You and I, however, know the secret of our text: “The form of this world is passing away.” [v.31] That which seems so important now will suddenly have no value whatsoever. With the arrival of hurricane Katrina this past week, we have been reminded again just how quickly life can be ended and material wealth rendered worthless. Christians can and should use such events to refocus and realign both our lives and our attitudes. Even so we pray:
Lord Jesus, help us to walk through this life as pilgrims, renters, ambassadors of the Most High God—focused always upon You, and upon the salvation that comes only by grace through faith in You alone as our Lord and Savior. Help us to recognize, moment by moment, how short and how precious is the time of grace You have given to us, and enable us to use the time that we have been given in accord with Your will. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.