Sermon: “The Present Form of this World is Passing Away” (1 Corinthians 7:25-31)
25 Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. 29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.1 Corinthians 7:25-31, ESV
Last week we talked about evaluating the assignments we find ourselves in, the circumstances and situations in life. The opportunities that arise; opportunities to potentially change our assignments. Just to refresh, let’s look at the words I’m talking about. Look back at 7:17,
17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.1 Corinthians 7:17, ESV
The idea of these assignments, these are our circumstances, the areas where the call of God intersects what we are doing. The call of God comes to us wherever we are, the call of God transforms and transcends, as one commentator put it, everything about our circumstances.
The default rule that God gives us is that we should remain in our assignments, but that the call of God lifts us to approach our relationships and our work, the assignments that we have, in a radically different way because of the call of Jesus Christ. That call of God is the call of the gospel to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. We can do that no matter where we are. You are not required to change your circumstances in order to follow Jesus.
There’s another idea in verse twenty-one. Paul is addressing those who are bond servants. He’s saying it’s not essential that you get out of your bond service in order to follow Jesus. But if you have an opportunity, he says in verse twenty-one, avail yourself of the opportunity. There are times that come when we have lawful and providentially available opportunities to change our assignments in life. To move into different kinds of relationships, as Paul is talking about here, to get married or to take a different job or to move somewhere. All of these, as they are biblically permissible, as these providentially available opportunities come up, we don’t need a specific word from the Lord about whether or not to take those opportunities.
We already have the word from the Lord. God has already spoken to us. As God speaks to us, we come dangerously close to blasphemy when we treat God like a magic eight ball. When we ask him our questions, shake it up and will get yes definite, or concentrate and ask again. This is close to blasphemy when we do this because God doesn’t work this way. He speaks once for all in his word and there are things that are clearly right and things that are clearly wrong and then a lot of other things that God says frankly are not essential. We are not talking about sin and obedience to the explicit word of the Lord. When God gives a word, it is sin to disobey it and it is obedience to follow it.
In many cases in life, Paul acknowledges that he himself has no command from the Lord. An inspired apostle of the Lord has no explicit command from the Lord. What are we supposed to do?
I had a lot of people who asked questions or asked about specific instances in their life that they were facing. They are saying, how do I evaluate these assignments and opportunities? Paul, in the gracious provision of God, models this process for us in this passage. He tells us exactly what it looks like when we don’t have an explicit command from the Lord to do one thing or another.
25 Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 1 Corinthians 7:25, ESV
Your translation may have the word “opinion” instead of “judgement”. Judgement is probably the better translation because the word “opinion” gives the idea that it is Paul’s feelings. They are his feelings and you could take them or leave them as you please. At the same time this is less than a command. Instead he has a judgement. Paul is saying because of the mercy of the Lord he is giving us a trustworthy, faithful example of how we think through and navigate the places that we don’t have a specific word from the Lord, but where we have to weigh assignments and opportunities.
We see that as Jesus tells us, we are called to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. As long as you are seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, as you live this life, lawful providential opportunities will present themselves. As long as you continue seeking the kingdom of God there’s a sense in which you can do whatever you want. As long as Jesus Christ and what he has explicitly revealed is first and foremost in your life, then in these non-essential issues you can do what you want. We will talk about how to work this through.
The point I’m trying to make is this is not the categories of sin and obedience. It’s a different category all together that Paul wants to lead us in. It’s not a matter of following the word of the Lord or not. Rather we are in the realm of wisdom, of prudence. These are things for discernment and for sober judgment, not about obedience or disobedience.
So, when we are talking about these things, we have to ask what falls under these categories? What would it look like to live wisely? Here’s the general rule that Paul gives, it’s our big idea for today. Live for what looms eternal, not for what is presently passing away.
That’s the criteria that Paul gives to help us to evaluate wisdom and prudence and sober discernment. We are going to see three sections to this.
- Count the Cost of the Present Distress
- Consider the Shortened Time
- Commit Yourself to What Abides Forever
Count the Cost of the Present Distress
In this passage in verse twenty-five, when Paul says, “now concerning”, this is the second time we’ve seen this particular phrase. This signals to us that he isn’t speaking off the top of his head about his concerns, he’s actually responding to the questions that have been posed to him by the Corinthians. Here specifically the Corinthians have asked a question of whether virgins, unmarried people, can get married. Whether that is a permitted thing or a forbidden thing.
What Paul says is that you are in the wrong category. It’s not an issue of that. The word here is virgin, the ESV says betrothed. It may mean people who have become engaged to one another. That was more serious than our engagement, it was considered a contractual obligation, but it was something less than consummated marriage. He’s saying it may refer to people who were betrothed or it may just refer to virgins in general.
Concerning these virgins, Paul says I have no command from the Lord. You are seeking a clear word from the Lord on this and there is not a clear word from the Lord. Instead we need to come into the realm of wisdom and judgement. That’s what Paul says, “I give my judgement as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.”
What is this judgement? How is Paul teaching us to think through these kinds of questions? In verse twenty-six, look at what he says.
26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 1 Corinthians 7:26, ESV
Since he’s giving a judgement, one commentator said, you might think of this as a legal opinion. He’s evaluating these things; he’s saying I hold, or I think.
What is the present distress? Paul is talking about the intense persecution that Christians were facing at this moment in time. Persecution that very shortly, he suspected, was going to come or perhaps had come, to the Corinthian church. He is saying, look, you need to understand the cost of what it will mean to follow Jesus. You have to count that cost. You have to understand exactly what you are getting yourself into when you find Jesus.
When the trials and persecution come, and brothers and sisters if we think that we are going to be free from persecution forever, that’s not the pattern of human history. When persecution comes to Omaha, NE, we have to count the cost of what that’s going to mean. We have to understand that whatever comes our way we are called to faithfulness and nothing less.
We have brothers and sisters, you can read their stories, in China who are giving up everything and being jailed right now for the sake of Christ. If you read Voice of the Martyrs, they have a daily update on all around the world where believers are being slaughtered because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is saying if you are in those contexts and you’re considering getting married, you also have to think about what the call of marriage will require of you. What does that require of you?
It means that you can’t lightly get out of marriage. Remember that Jesus gave a command that Paul cited back in verse ten,
10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.1 Corinthians 7:10-11, ESV
That is the command of the Lord. That is what God clearly requires for those who are married in verse twelve, he as an inspired apostle of the Lord.
12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.1 Corinthians 7:12, ESV
The command that God gives, what it means to follow Jesus in the midst of a marriage, means that you can’t depart from your spouse except in the case of sexual immorality or such willful abandonment that it cannot be remedied. Those are the only exceptions to what marriage requires of you.
What Paul is saying is that you have to hold both of these things up. You have to understand what persecution may require of you and you can’t turn away from Jesus. You also have to understand what marriage will require from you and you can’t separate from your spouse. You have to soberly look at both of those realities and say can I legitimately do both? Is it intelligent to as I count the cost of what it may mean to follow Jesus, can I do both?
Even Jesus gave a warning that for those with young families, they will have a harder time when persecutions come. In Matthew 24:19,
19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!Matthew 24:19, ESV
It will be harder in families, especially when those families have little children, it will be harder to deal with those persecutions when they come. You need to count the cost and figure out if this is something you can actually do.
The rule then is in verse twenty-seven,
27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 1 Corinthians 7:27, ESV
Persecution does not release you from your marriage vows. Are you free from a wife? Don’t seek a wife Paul says. This is judgement. He’s saying don’t go out of your way to find a wife if you are free from a wife. An opportunity may present itself for you to be married, but he’s saying in light of this present distress it’s good for you not to go down that road if you can.
But, verse twenty-eight, if you do marry you have not sinned. If a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. We are not in the category of sin and obedience, there’s no direct commandment that everyone must be married or not be married in that sense. Paul is saying this is not in that realm, but the realm of wisdom and prudence. you have to count the cost of the present distress and think a wise informed decision of what you can handle.
Paul says that those who marry will have worldly troubles and I would spare you that. Paul is saying this is my judgement, it’s not a law but you need to think it through.
If we need to evaluate new opportunities in light of our assignments. This is going to take some careful thinking about what is required of us in the present. Those of us who are married, we may need to look at certain opportunities and decline them, maybe for work or for ministry precisely because what those opportunities would do to infringe upon the biblical requirements we have to our spouses and children. If an opportunity takes in a direction that is contrary to what we promised our spouses or what God requires to us for our children, then it’s wrong to take that route. You can’t shirk on either side.
On the other hand, if you are a single person and you have an opportunity to become married, you may need to look at the call on your life, at what you may feel that God is leading you. Perhaps into difficult ministry. You may need to think that it is wise for me not to get married.
What Paul goes on to say, is that we have to look at more than just the present. We have to look soberly in wise judgement at the present day and consider our lives and what is happening right in front of us. We also have to turn our attention from the present to the future.
Consider the Shortened Time
Paul says this in verse twenty-nine.
29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 1 Corinthians 7:29, ESV
Now what does Paul mean by that when he says the appointed time is short? Does that mean in Paul’s mind there’s only a handful of years left until the return of Jesus? Well, if that was true, 2,000 years later we would say Paul you were wrong about this. That’s not what he’s saying. In Greek there are two words for time. One is “chronos”, where we get our word chronology from. It refers to time in the sense of duration, lots of events that lead one to another, time that you would identify on your watch or calendar.
That’s not the word that Paul uses here. Otherwise I would say that he’s saying there’s not much time left on your calendar until Jesus returns. He’s not saying that. Instead he is talking about a different word for time, kairos. The word that refers to a sense of a season or an age.
These distinctions may not be clear so let me give a couple of illustrations from my own life of home improvement projects. I don’t like home improvement projects, but I’ve had to think a lot about them this past year. About six months ago we had some sewage back up into our basement. Because of that we had to tear out a bunch of things and decided that it was a good time to remodel the basement as we wanted to. It is biblically permissible, we think this lines up with what we are trying to do, so we are going to move forward doing it.
What that required was for us to take all of our stuff out of the basement and store it in our upstairs living room. We’ve been living with a hampered amount of space for a while, so we’ve been keenly aware of how important it was to finish the project. Here’s the issue, we couldn’t move our stuff out of the living room until we had laid flooring in the basement. We couldn’t lay new flooring until we had painted the walls. We couldn’t paint the walls until the drywall was done. We couldn’t hang the drywall until the insulation was put in place. We couldn’t put the insulation in place until the HVAC people came to put in more return vents because apparently, we didn’t have enough return vents. We also needed the electrician to come add new wiring. We couldn’t get that set up until the framing was in place, but we couldn’t get that done until the contractor could get his schedule lined up to get this job done.
Each of these elements took a painful amount of time. Chronos, there was a sequence to it. You could look at this project and if you knew the sequence of things that had to happen you could say we are five out of eleven-billion step and it took a long time to get through this, but you could see where you were in a sequence. That’s chronos, it’s different word than Paul is using here.
Instead, Paul is talking about kairos, that means season. Here’s another illustration from my home improvement life. Last winter was very hard, very snowy and frozen. That cold took a toll on my driveway. It made new cracks form which were not features, but bugs. It caused some of the concrete chip away. Last spring, just as the weather was starting to warm up, I realized I needed to fix that. You go to Menards and they tell you they see this concrete patching substance. I took it home and realized that you can’t apply it if the temperature is going to drop below 40 degrees in the next 48 hours. This was a long time ago and it was still in the spring and I realized that I’m going to have to wait until the kairos changes, the season changes.
I had all summer. So, I kept waiting. I knew that I had all of this summer to do this project, until the calendar turned to October. I lived my entire life in Nebraska, and I know that when you get to October, winter weather is looming. You may have warm weather all through October and potentially into November, but probably not. Winter weather is going to hit at any moment. You are going to get overnight freezes and snow and frozen rain at any time. On Monday I realized that my time was up. The kairos was here. So, I hurried and patched my driveway as well as I could.
There’s not a clear chronology for this. You know that this winter weather is looming over you, but the difference between these two times is that you don’t know when this is going to come. What Paul is saying when Paul says that the appointed time is growing very short. He’s saying, brothers and sisters it’s perpetually October in Nebraska. It is perpetually a time when eternity is looming over us and whatever you need to get done before the freeze comes, you had better get it done. We must live in the light of a new season that is looming over us. A season that isn’t just short, just a changing kind of a thing, but a season that will endure forever when the kingdom of Jesus Christ comes.
How should we live in light of this? Paul finishes this by telling us what we proactively should do. If eternity is looming over us, remember that our big idea is that we should live for what looms eternal, not for what is presently passing away.
Commit Ourselves to What Abides Forever
Look at what Paul says at the end of verse twenty-nine,
29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 1 Corinthians 7:29, ESV
Paul has made it abundantly clear in this chapter, that just because persecution comes, even in light of whenever Jesus is going to return is coming, your marriage vows are permanent in this life until death do you part. So, he’s not saying that in light of looming eternity leave your spouses and get serious about the kingdom, whatever that would mean. He’s saying in light of eternity, if you have a spouse you cannot treat that person as if they were the end all and be all of your life.
Even your marriage is temporary. Not temporary in this life but temporary in eternity. Jesus says in the resurrection we will neither marry nor be given in marriage. You have to live in light of that. That means, fulfilling and discharging all your responsibilities in a way that God has commanded of marriages. But you can’t live as if your spouse was the end all and be all of your life.
Paul goes on in verse thirty,
30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods,1 Corinthians 7:30, ESV
He’s not saying just get over your sadness in life, he’s saying keep in mind that the day is coming when God himself will wipe away every tear from your lives. Mourn in that light. Not with the despair of those who have no hope of ever being comforted. Not only that, but Paul also goes on, “those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing”.
Paul commands us elsewhere to rejoice, but he’s saying not in the individual things that happen in this life. Today is a day I rejoice, and tomorrow is a day I mourn, and you go back and forth. He’s saying when you rejoice, don’t rejoice in the joys and triumphs of this short and passing life. Rejoice in the eternal joy that you have in Christ.
Finally, he talks about business dealings. It doesn’t mean that we can’t engage in business in this world, but as one commentator summarizes helpfully, we can’t be absorbed or engrossed in such things. We need to busy ourselves with the commerce of heaven. To lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. Paul tells us at the end of verse thirty-one,
31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.1 Corinthians 7:31, ESV
It’s an interesting word there, “For the present form of this world is passing away.” It only appears in one other context in the New Testament and that’s in Philippians 2, which talks about the Christ hymn about Jesus. “Have this mind in you which was also in Jesus who being in the very form of God”. That’s a different word, where Paul is saying that’s a fixed form that Jesus has had a God from all eternity past. “He was in the form of God, but he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
So, Jesus took the form of a servant, was born with a human nature in the likeness of men. But here’s where we come to our word, “And being found in the fashion of men.” That doesn’t mean that Jesus pursued the fashions of this world. What it means is that when you saw Jesus, he appeared in a fashion which wasn’t quite permanent. He forever took upon himself a human nature, but during Jesus’ earthly life and ministry when you came upon him the glory that he has as almighty God was veiled. You didn’t see it; you didn’t recognize it except during the transfiguration when the glory of God burst forward from his body on top of the mountain. Otherwise he just looked like a normal person. But that person was passing away.
Once Jesus Christ fulfilled everything he was called to do in obedience by humbling himself to death, even death on a cross. For this reason, God the Father exalted him and gave him the name above every other name and at the name of Jesus every knee should bow on earth and over the earth and under earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Now Jesus still has his human body, but it’s taken a different fashion. It’s still human in every respect, we are going to have the same human body but it’s going to be changing its appearance when you look at Jesus Christ now. You will not be able to help but to call him Lord and bow down at his feet. That fashion passed away. It was something for a time, as Jesus fulfilled all of his sufferings in this life and then passed away as now, he is exalted forever in glory.
What Paul says is that the present form of this world is passing away. We will always live in this world, indeed the purpose of God is to resurrect this world, to burn it up and to remake it. But the world will not always look as it does now. When I was in high school, I had a wise person tell me this isn’t real life. I thought, what do you mean, this is my real life. I got out of high school and said, oh the drama and the fighting, that’s not real life, college that must be the real life. Someone else wise told me that college wasn’t real life. I thought, what do you mean, this is my real life? Then I got past college and thought, oh wow college wasn’t real life.
What Paul is telling us is that real life, as we experience it now isn’t the real life that we will experience for eternity. So, we are called to live in this world, but not to live for this world. It’s passing away. We have only a temporary time to be here. It’s October in Nebraska and eternity is looming over us. The appointed time has grown very short. We live in this world, but we live for another world.
- We need to count the true costs of our assignments and opportunities. Paul here is talking about marriage, whether or not a virgin should become married. Then he gets into a lot of other subjects. As we get into a new marriage, a new job, a new hobby, a new venture of any kind, we need to count the cost of what that will actual require of us. Maybe you have taken on something that you don’t have to keep forever; it is non-binding. You need to reevaluate whether that thing should stay in your life because of what it was requiring of you. Given the promises and the vows and responsibilities that you already have before God, can you really do something new?
If you are married, does whatever you are considering fit into your marriage? If you have children, will you still be able to give your children what you owe to them? How does this commitment relate to the vows that you have made to your church? We just listened to people take five vows in relation to this church. Those are all of our vows. Can you do whatever you have promised to do and still seek the good and service that God has called you to those of the household of faith?
The question that you need to ask, do you need to find good ways to decline non-essential assignments or opportunities. In light of the present distress it’s good for us to remain as we are.
- We need to consider how eternity looms large over this life. None of us are guaranteed anything in this life. We don’t know whether we will be permitted to live another day. We don’t know if today will be the day that Jesus Christ returns. We all have a temptation to procrastinate kingdom work. We always tell ourselves it’s a bad time in life, I’ll just cut corners from my devotional life. There will be a time, I just need to finish out whatever this is. I just need things to settle down a little bit.
Let me finish the story about my driveway. As a new kairos hung over me all summer long, I knew fall was coming. I was distracted by the project and I wanted to spend time with my kids and do fun things and I didn’t want to work every waking moment of my life. I had a whole lot of excuses.
So, when it finally came time for me to patch this driveway, I didn’t set it up right. I didn’t have a plan to not use the driveway, apparently you can’t drive on the driveway while the patch was setting up. I didn’t make sure that no one else drove on the driveway. Our electrician, who came back to finish some of the chronology of the work, parked his giant work van right over the patch and it cracked the sealant before it was set. I knew this day was coming for a long time, but I tricked myself into believing that I had a little more time.
Don’t let the chronos, the chronology of your daily busy schedule distracts you from the looming kairos of eternity. You can make excuses. You’ve got a thousand things to do, I know because I have them too. Don’t let them distract you from the looming eternity. If Jesus returned right now and you didn’t have time to finish what you thought you had time to finish, would you stand in confidence before or would this be one of those session where the teacher says pencils down and you think, oh my goodness can I just scribble down three more answers? Would you shrink from him in shame at his coming or have you poured out your entire life into waiting for him to come in confidence.
Life goes so fast. I was in a funeral yesterday for my wife’s grandmother who lived to the ripe old age of ninety years. It was remarkable that ninety years can be summarized in a five-minute picture slide show. One day your life will be summarized in a five-minute picture slideshow at your funeral. What are you going to do with all of it in light of eternity?
- Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Seek first the king. Are you storing up for yourself treasures in heaven? Are you devoting yourself as your constant desire to contemplate the glory of Christ every single day? John Owen wrote this in a book called, “The Glory of Christ”, “No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight hereafter in eternity who does not in some measure behold it by faith here in this world.”
If you want to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, you won’t unless you spend this life toward looking to him in faith now. What do you think this life is for? What do you think that you are supposed to use it for? For the things of this world? The appointed time has grown very short. This life is meant as a preparation for eternity. To grow in fitness as God remakes us from the inside out so that we can bear up under the eternal weight of Christ’s glory as we stand in his presence forever.
Is that how you are living right now? To see Jesus? Are you devoted to the daily reading and study of God’s word? To see Jesus there? Are you seeking after him in devotion, in prayer? Are you seeking to serve and honor Christ wherever you are? You don’t need a new circumstance necessarily, but wherever you are, are you seeking to honor Christ? That’s the issue of sin and obedience, not whether you happen to take a particular new opportunity. Does the call of Christ transcend and transform everything that you do?
If you’ve never trusted Christ, consider this, the appointed time is very short. Hear this, repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you already know Jesus consider that the appointed time has grown short. Live for what looms eternal not for what is passing away.
Let’s pray. Lord, we ask that you would give us grace to trust you and follow you everywhere you lead us. Father we don’t know what opportunities will arise, but we recognize the most important thing is for us to consider and contemplate the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. To contemplate the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and that we are called to know him and love him. I pray that you would give all of us repentance from sin and faith to look to Jesus. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.