Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | February 4, 2009

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 7:29-31


In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31: What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short.  From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.  For this world in its present form is passing away.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Look at your money and you’ll see, “In God We Trust.”  It reminds us that the Giver of daily bread put that cash in our hands, our pockets, and our bank accounts.  God alone did it.  As Lutheran Christians we’re comfortable with that.  We’re used to “alones.”  We’re the church of the alones.

We’re the church of grace alone.  I’m a citizen already of heaven, not because of any work I’ve done or could do, but because of the undeserved love of God for me, demonstrated for me, given to me, by Christ as He performed the heaven-opening works God requires, as He died so that I live, as He lived that I no longer die.

We’re the church of faith alone also.  I know that this undeserved love is given to me in one way only.  Through faith, trust, confidence, belief, and reliance in Jesus Christ doing it all for me, through this faith do I receive the grace that declares me holy, righteous, and innocent before the judgment seat of God.

We are, finally, the church of Scripture alone.  That Jesus lived for me, that Jesus died for me, that Jesus rose for me, that Jesus returns for me, that heaven is mine, that God takes care of me not just spiritually but physically, all this I know only because God revealed it to me through His Spirit-inspired Scriptures.  Not my reason, not my thinking, not my philosophizing, not any human brain, not any human document, not any human religion anywhere on earth will tell me this.  Only God tells me and only in the ways He promises to tell me.  He promises that He speaks to me not in midnight whispers, not in belly-burning religious experiences, not through heart-rending worship experiences, not through navel-gazing, but in His Holy Word.

Mindful of all this, perhaps then we ought engrave one more word on our money:  “In God ALONE We Trust.”  And you say, “Duh!  We’re a First Commandment church too.  ‘You shall have no other gods!’  We are aware!”  Perhaps you’re wondering why we’re so laboriously making this point.  And perhaps you’re not.  It’s because this is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 7.

The chapter began with Paul answering the question, “Should a Christian get married?”  If it were up to him, if everyone had the ability to live a chaste and holy life, if Sixth Commandment temptations weren’t so powerful, then, he would prefer that people not get married.  Not because celibacy is more God-pleasing – God’s words in Genesis, It is not good for the man to be alone, disprove that – but because Paul worries about the world’s effects on believers, even when doing ostensibly God-pleasing things.  He writes, An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord.  But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. Paul wants undivided attention given to the Lord.  As Luther says, Faith settles upon the only true God and clings to Him alone. But when other things and people are in the picture that becomes hard.  Paul concludes, The time is short.  From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.  For this world in its present form is passing away.

Because time is short, because this world passes away, because our life is about being holy priests, chosen people, and living sacrifices to our Savior, we don’t have time for the things of this world.  Or, as Paul puts it, we live as if we didn’t.  That’s a careful distinction.  Paul isn’t advising that we live like the first Egyptian monks, leaving home to live in caves.  Rather, Paul gives inspiration to a pastor about 600 years later who wrote, Love not the world abidingly, since the world which ye love not itself abide. Paul gives five examples.

Those married live as if they aren’t. Paul isn’t sanctioning adultery, divorce, abandonment, or any such spousal abuse.  He doesn’t annul Ephesians 5, where He tells husbands to love their wives.  So, what does he mean?  The world is ending, in heaven there are no wives, enjoy what you have, but it’s not the be-all end-all of living.  As another commentator writes, Living as servants responsible to God means Christ has top priority even over marriage. Can we honestly say that we have, ever and always, put our Lord Jesus before our spouse and family?  This is easily disproved by the number of family events that take precedence over time with Jesus and by the church-changing that happens, “for the family.”

Paul then says that those who weep live like they aren’t.  This isn’t Paul saying, “Rub some dirt on it.”  Rather, Paul reminds us that the world’s ending and there’s really nothing to cry about.  Especially for the Christian, who knows that death is gain.  Yet we weep and mourn over so much.  Many of us weep and mourn over the reports from our 401ks, 403(b)s, and mutual funds.  We cry over ended relationships, broken toys, missed opportunities, as if without them, we have nothing.  We cry, when we have the greatest reason to rejoice!

But then Paul says that those who are happy live like they’re not.  Is Paul saying we hide our happiness about Jesus?  Again, Paul focuses on this world, which is ending, and says there’s more to life than rejoicing in this life.  Because if only this life makes us happy, we’re the saddest of people.  And we know that.  We know that this world is passing away.  Or do we?  As we live for the next “A”, the next big raise, the next graduation, the next wedding, the next world championship, the next season of our favorite show, the next success in our lives and then trumpet them with parties, pictures, and plaques, are we communicating that happiness in this world and its things is nice – thank you God for providing it – but not the point?  Hardly.

Which flows right into Paul’s next, closely related, admonition.  Paul says that those buying things live as if they don’t possess them.  Notice, Paul isn’t denying the need to have things.  We need food to eat, clothes to wear, homes to live in, books to learn from, and more.  But the world’s ending, so we live with what we have, not for the getting of things.  Because they aren’t ours anyways.  They’re on loan from God.  But do we do this?  Would you, like the church father Jerome, give away your entire library, or all your compact discs, all your video games, all your movies, all your MP3’s, all your cars, or all your whatever-it-is you collect, so that you could serve God more faithfully?  Or, do you exempt some of the things you have from this list of “God’s” and put it in the column that says “mine”?  Can we, who live in the world and use the things of this world, honestly, with a straight face, looking God right in the eye, say that we’re not engrossed in the things of this world, trying to squeeze every last drop out of our time here before we get to heaven, even perhaps praying to God, “Lord, I want to be in heaven, but not yet, not yet, because I really want to do, or have, or be, this, that, or the other thing,” whether that’s married, educated, rich, employed in a certain job, owning a certain toy, playing a certain game, experiencing a certain place, or food, or whatever?

The time is short.  Whether there is, as for Nineveh, only forty more days, or forty more centuries, it doesn’t change the fact that this world is passing away.  Just as the scenery inevitably changes during a Broadway show, this world too will be torn apart by Christ.  Death comes unexpectedly.  Those who cling to this world, those who divide their loyalty between Jesus and anything else, they will be cast down into the darkness of hell, where there will be the weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For they have not trusted in God alone.

But there is yet time, as there was for Nineveh.  And as God sent Jonah to Nineveh, He sends Jonah, Jesus, and Paul to us, that we may hear their words, “Repent!  See how you have turned the First Commandment upon its head in your greed and selfishness, your disloyalty, and your distrust!  Turn, turn from your evil ways and live!  That God might relent from destroying you!”  And not only through the prophets does God send you this message, but look about you!  Is it any surprise that the stock market crashes?  That retirement accounts disappear?  That our soldiers fight around the world?  That nearly-cured diseases ravage us more than ever?  That the young are taken suddenly and the old slowly and painfully?  None of this is because God is cruel, but because He loves you so, like a true, perfect Father, and He says, “Stop!  Turn around!  See how short time is!  Don’t fix your eyes upon what’s passing away!  Fix your eyes on what alone is eternal – Jesus!”

The time is short!  He’s from everlasting to everlasting.  He’s the beginning and the end.  This world in its present form is passing away.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  And what Jesus the Everlasting and Never-Changing offers is the fulfillment of all for which we long.  In sin, we are alone, but in Christ, alone no more.  Let us revise our phrase.  Not just “In God Alone We Trust,” but “In Jesus Alone We Trust.”  Looking for a spouse?  Jesus says, “I am the Groom who loves you to my own death!”  Mourning?  Jesus says, “I will turn your grief to joy.”  Happy and satisfied here?  Jesus says, “I have come to give you true happiness, happiness to the full!”  Eager to buy?  Jesus says, “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost!  What I am giving you never goes bad and never runs out!”  Tied up in this world and can’t get out?  Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.  And I’m taking you there.”

The time is short.  We cannot afford to be divided.  And trusting in God alone, trusting in Christ alone, all division disappears, so that we can live in the world, but not of the world, using what we have to offer our living sacrifices to our God, running to Him when sinful division threatens, to be sown back together by the healing thread of His Word, and the Water in which He united us to Him, and the Meal in which He assures us that there is a wedding reception beyond this world to which He invites us.  Trusting in Christ alone, you can be, and you are, free from concern.  This He promises.  Yes you can!  Amen.

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.


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