TITLE: “ Living for God and free from anxieties “
DATE PREACHED : The Lord's Day 13/02/2011
In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul is responding to questions raised by the Corinthian Christians regarding marriage and divorce.
In 7: 1- 16 he counsels those that are already married; he counsels those believers who have been divorced improperly; he counsels those believers who are married to unbelievers.
In 7: 14 – 24 he addresses the general state in which a believer might find themselves , and he encourages people not to be restless , to calm down and to be content in whatever situation they might find themselves , and to remain there with God .
In the remainder of the chapter ( 7 :25 – 40) he considers the situations of those who are unmarried ( virgins ) , either never been married or those who have lost a spouse to death.
The general rule that Paul applies is in all these situations is this : ‘remain as you are ‘ .
Last week we considered the fact that restlessness fuelled by the discontentment of our circumstances can be a great disturber of our peace and of our advancement in godliness . There is always this great temptation for us to desperately want to find a solution to our discomforts in life , without seeking to find the peace of God in the midst of these discomforts. This does not mean that we must not avail ourselves of good opportunities that may come our way . Whilst Paul counsels slaves to be content in their situation ( remaining there with God - 7:24) , he also encourages them to gain their freedom, if they get the opportunity . In this case discontentment is not their motive.
1 Corinthians 7:25-40
We are now coming to the remainder of chapter 7 as we consider verses 25 -40 . At face value the subject concerns the unmarried – either those who had never been married and wanted to get married ( 25- 38) or widows who after the death of their spouses were looking for a new marriage partner .
However , there is really a much greater matter that underlies Paul’s response to the Corinthian question concerning marriage .
At face value Paul is addressing unmarried people in the Corinthian congregation who might be wondering (perhaps under the influence of asceticism) as to whether they should get married to their betrothed / engaged partner . They also knew Paul’s personal view on this matter . He preferred to be single , even though he consistently admits that this might not be God's calling for most Christians. Paul was no Greek ascetic, who thought that the single state was a superior spiritual state !
No! Paul had an entirely different argument relating to singleness . Consider the note of urgency in these three verses
- In v. 26 he says “ I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.” Here he is probably referring to particular difficulties that first century Christians were facing in terms of persecution . Within 15 years Jerusalem , in AD 70, would have been turned into a slaughter house , when the Roman general Titus killed 1 million Jews, which would have undoubtedly included those Christians that still lived there. Furthermore, the Christians in the diaspora of the Roman territories would suffer persecution under the emperor Nero ( AD 37 – 68) . Concerning such days the Lord Jesus had said , "Pray that such days will not come upon you when you are pregnant or nursing an infant . Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath" (Matt 24:19,20) . Those that have lived through wars and persecutions can testify to how heart-wrenching such times are upon families , when a father or a brother , or a fiancé does not return from the battlefield . Paul remained essentially unmarried because he knew that he had to go through many heartaches, persecutions and trials for the sake of the gospel . God Himself told Him that he would suffer for the sake of His name ( Acts 9:16) . Just imagine if he had had a wife and children ! As it is , it appears as if he was martyred in Rome . Single men and women living in undivided devotion to the Lord do not have to face this kind of anxiety . But when a man is married he is under obligation to give attention to his wife and children . That is what a godly marriage requires, and God would expect that sort of commitment . We know this from the teaching of Scripture concerning husbands and wives ( e.g. Eph 5:22-33)
- In v.29 he says , “ the appointed time has grown very short “ and in v. 31 he says that “the present form of this world is passing away “ . Here he reminds us of the temporariness of all things , and that we have really very little time to focus on the things that are really important . So here he strikes a note of urgency , as if to say “ I just don’t have enough time to have a wife and a family , because I have so much to do” . We will return to this thought in a moment .
The main issue :
What is at the heart of Paul’s writing here is an undivided devotion to the Lord ! (vv31 , 35) . Let us take note of this , for this is , I believe, the crucial thing for us to learn from this text .The main issue in life must not be whether or not you marry , though in itself that can be a legitimate , happy and fulfilling experience . The main thing is that you ought to live your life in this world with an eye fixed upon eternity .
The main issue here is not marriage versus the single life. The issue is how to keep your eyes on God in the midst of so many temptations and distractions , and there is no doubt that marriage and family offers many such distractions. That is why he says in v.28 : “ Those who marry will have many worldly troubles, and I would spare you that ” . Who can deny that ? Paul wants his readers to maintain a sense of the bigger realities and about the future of this world , and therefore he reminds them “You know that God has destined this world to pass away” (v.31) . “The time is short!“ (v.29)
When Paul says that those who have wives should live as if they had none or that those who were mourning should live as if they did not , or those who are in a happy frame of mind , or those that were busily engaging in the process of buying and selling , - that they should live as if they had none of these interests. He uses a particular figure of speech here which we call “exaggeration” (or hyperbole) . He does this legitimately - to get their attention ! The Lord Jesus uses similar language when He said , “ If anyone … does not hate his own father and mother and wife, and children and brothers and sisters , and even his own life , he cannot be my disciple .” ( Lk 14:26) . That statement is designed to get our attention ! Of course it doesn’t teach that we must literally hate our family ! Jesus was simply reminding us that we must not make idols of our families . He was teaching a biblical system of priorities . We must never let our family relationships take priority over our relationship to God and Christ . Our wives / husbands / children exist for the sake of our relationship to God and Christ and not the other way round.
But let us get back to Paul’s sense of urgency : "The time is short." How are we to understand this today? After all, it has been nearly 2,000 years since Paul wrote this . In some ways it seems a very long time ! But it is not a long time at all when you consider this from the perspective of eternity .
When we shall live in the time of the new heavens and the new earth  it will seem as if the whole of this present history had passed us by in the twinkling of an eye . Just think about your experience of time . When you are young and eager to get your life going , time seems to go very slowly , but if you are 50 or 70 years old it seems as if these years have flown by! Scripture testifies to this :
· “Remember that my life is a breath…” ( Job 7:7)
· "The years of our life are seventy - or even by reason of strength eighty; … they are soon gone and we fly away. “ ( Psalm 90 :10)
· "All flesh is like grass…" ( Isa 40:6-8 ; Ps 103:15-16 ; 1 Peter 1:24 ; James 1:10)
· "What is your life? For you are a mist which appears for a little time and then vanishes .” ( James 4:14)
May I remind you , without being morbid that the day of your death is drawing near very rapidly . The new heavens and earth are already on their way . The time is short . Shorter than you might think . I cannot quite believe that I am now living in the last third of my life .
Do you see Paul's point? Life is not about marriage; it is not about the sufferings or the joys that you go through , although these things are included in the potpourri of life . Ultimately your life is about God. And in a very short time you will have to stand before God and give an account to Him about everything that you have done and said . ( Matt 12 :36,37 ; Rom 14:12)
In a very short time you will no longer be a husband or a wife (or a slave) or whatever !
In a very short while you will have to give your children back to the God who gave them to you in the first place to take care of .So , are you living in anticipation of this truth , whether you are single or married ,- or whatever state you are in ?
How can you live this way ?
I have four closing thoughts on this matter :
1. Hold on loosely to the people and things that you cherish most in this world, without despising the people that are close to your heart , and without descending into an ascetic lifestyle , as if life was all about avoiding enjoyment . Enjoy life , but do not make that pursuit your priority .
2. Remember that these wonderful things are temporary , and remember that the Bible means what it says : " Do not love the world, or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." ( 1 Jn 2:15) .
3. Remember your future . Remember that Jesus meant what He said when He promised that “everyone who had left houses or brothers or sisters or fathers or mothers or children or fields for his sake would receive 100 times as much in this world and would inherit eternal life.” Remember that your ultimate home is in heaven - for eternity !
4. Remember not to hold on to the griefs and the frustrations of this world. "Those who mourn should live as if they did not " - whether you are a slave (in Paul’s times) , or whether you have never been able to marry and have children and whether you have gone through the pain of loosing a husband or a wife - these are not the true issues of your life. They are not the foundation of your life or happiness. They are sad experiences , but your life is defined by these things. Remember that your life is destined to be with Christ .
Very soon all of us will step out of this world into the next. We will leave the circumstances of our lives behind us forever. We are made for God , and there we must remain with Him , even now . That is Paul's point!
May our Lord give each of us the grace to hear this and to live accordingly . Amen !