Monday, February 14, 2011

LIVING FOR GOD AND FREE FROM ANXIETY


TEXT: 1   Corinthians  7: 25- 40 
TITLE:    Living for God  and  free  from  anxieties   
DATE PREACHED  :   The Lord's Day     13/02/2011     

 REVIEW :
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 [1]) , 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[2])  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 [3]   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 ! 

[1]  Gr. Parthenon  vv 25,36 translated  as ‘ betrothed  (ESV) ; virgins  ( NIV /KJV) ; unmarried  (RSV)
[2] the teaching  that a person can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, etc.  

[3] 2 Peter 3:13 ; Rev 21:1,5

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