Modern society has been a madhouse for quite a while, and through it, all trying to indoctrinate us to think it was progress. What is a Christian to do? We are not to attack as some of the rebellious rioters and protestors have done. Neither can we hide in seclusion? Thoreau thought he escaped progress in his day by retreating to a cabin on Walden Pond, but there are not enough Walden Ponds and escape isn’t a lodge in the wilderness. Today some are trying to reform society, God is not out to convert civilization, but He is going to take out a people for His name. Our age should be evangelized but it is not to be Christianized.
The key to Christian conduct in times like these can be found from Paul’s advice to the Christians of Corinth. Paul lived in a day of progress. The powerful Roman Empire stretched from Britain to the Near East with armies, laws, government, and culture. It was an empire of Progress, but instead of being excited about the pomp and pageantry and instead of saying, “Get in step with the tempo of these times,” Paul wrote: in 1st Corinthians 7:29-31 “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; (30) And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; (31) And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.”
This passage may not be useful for an after-dinner speech to the Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce, but it is useful for a Christian pilgrim navigating this world. Let’s break down this passage and see how speaks to times like these. Paul says first, “the time is short.” Does he mean that life is short or that the Lord may soon return? For the saint of God, it can mean both, the shortness of time and the immediacy of our Lord’s return. The Christian is never wrong when we live as though the Savior may come at any moment. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan said, “I never lay my head on the pillow at night without thinking that before morning dawns the final morning may have dawned.”
Since the time is short, Paul continues to say, “it remaineth” – that is, while it lasts, from now on – “that they that have wives be as though they had none.” Remember our Lord said, in Luke 14:26 “If any man
come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Devotion to Jesus must be so high and so deep and so intense that all other loyalties must seem as though they did not exist. If a man’s wife understands this and is like-minded, there will be no difficulty. If not, there will be trouble and a man’s biggest foe may be in his household. Dr. A.T. Robertson says: “This is the language of exaggerated contrast, but it must not be watered down until the point is gone.” Tone it down as you will, you have here a devotion to Jesus that makes all other love and loyalty seem almost to disappear and I have not seen much of it in my lifetime.
I am not suggesting that we neglect our domestic obligations. Paul tells us in 1st Timothy 5:8 that a man who will not provide for his own has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel. It does mean that all other devotions are marginal, and Christ is central, and being central He sanctifies and glorifies the marginal!
We read next: “And they that weep as though they wept not.” As difficult as life may become, we must not let our sorrows get us down. Into every life, there must come heartbreak, tragedy, and bereavement. Christians are to not sorrow as those who have no hope. I’m not suggesting that we are not to grieve. There is a place for grief, and we are to weep with them that weep. But it does mean that we are to carry on through our sorrow with true faith in our redeemer.
Continuing on we read, “they that rejoice as though they rejoiced not.” Now today’s motivational Christian would write something like this; “Major in rejoicing instead of weeping”? Paul, however, says the same thing about rejoicing that he says about weeping. We are not to attach too much importance to the enjoyments of life, the things that give us pleasure. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” may be an American goal but it is not the Christian’s main objective. God did not save us to make us happy but to make us holy. Happiness is a by-product and we are to take our enjoyments lightly as though they were incidental, which indeed they are. America is a pleasure-mad nation; even in religion, we hear about how much fun it is to be a Christian. Heed the warning, we can be slaves of joy as well as slaves of sorrow. We should learn to be independent of both shadow and sunshine. Paul had learned both to be
abased and to abound, but he lived above both. Think about what it is that gives you the common joys of life? Whatever it is, it may be here today and gone tomorrow, so don’t become too engrossed with it. Rejoice as though you rejoiced not.
We read further, “they that buy as though they possessed not.” In other words, don’t let your possessions possess you. I know some people who don’t own their own home, their home owns them. Sadly, they are prisoners of their property. Others are held captive on thousands of acres of land or are chained to a safety deposit box in a bank. What they have bought has bought them! It is hard for a rich man to get into heaven because he must become poor in spirit and be as though he had nothing. That is why the rich ruler walked away from Jesus; he was unwilling to be as though he possessed nothing.
Then Paul writes, “they that use the world as not abusing it.” The world we know is full of gadgets, games, gizmos, and facilities that are not wrong unless we make them ends in themselves or turn them to evil uses. For example, our television can give us good or evil as can the internet. This same idea applies to thousands of contraptions, businesses, interests, and hobbies that may be used to the glory of God. If they cannot be so used, then they are not to be used at all by the Christian!
All these matters – marriage, sorrows, joys, possessions, the world – are but temporary while you and I are made for eternity. It is foolish to give our main attention to any of them for they will pass, but we go on forever. Remember when Jesus was asked about the woman who had seven husbands: whose wife would she be in the next world? Jesus replied that in the next world we do not marry but are like angels. He didn’t say we would be angels, but we shall be like angels. We tend to measure eternity by the yardstick of time. What we should do is measure time in the light of eternity, the temporal in the light of the eternal. When we look at all these concerns in the light of the shortness of time and the length of eternity, they will be in comparison as though they were not.
I want to close with a story. A man was given a trip to New Your City by some of his friends. That night in prayer after the sight-seeing trip, he thanked God he hadn’t seen a thing he wanted! In the light of our text I would say to the world, “Excuse me, please, I’m just passing through. I’m not excited about your boasted progress. It is just a little show manipulated by unseen hands and will soon be over for the time is short and the fad of this world is passing away!”
Until we meet again in person or print, may God richly bless you is my prayer!
Terry is a regional supply and conference preacher, and along with his wife Lori minister to the men, women, and children of McDowell Mission Ministries.