|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||'The Time is Short'|
|Text||1 Corinthians ch.7 vv.29-31 |
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"But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 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; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away" (1 Corinthians 7, 29-31).
Let me say a little about the Epistle as a whole. The Epistle to the Romans is the most systematic statement we have of the doctrines of the Gospel. This first Epistle to the Corinthians is the fullest statement we have about church practice. Romans is the primary Epistle dealing with the doctrine of the Gospel and 1 Corinthians is the primary Epistle dealing with matters of church practice. It is to this letter we would especially look for guidance about a whole range of practical, ecclesiastical concerns and practices.
1.MARRIAGE - A GIFT AND ORDINANCE OF GOD
2.THE END OF ALL THINGS
Amongst the concerns and practices which the Apostle Paul handles, is the one to be found here in 1 Corinthians 7 because, in this chapter he deals with the very practical question of marriage. You would have noticed in the reading that he says many things concerning the subject of marriage. We cannot possibly summarise the whole of what the apostle says but I want to make some of the points clearer.
The first thing the apostle makes very evident to us is that marriage is the gift of God and it is an ordinance of God. All kinds of alternative forms of co-habitation have been invented by the sinful human race but there is only one of these which is given by God and that is marriage. If sin had not entered into the world the pattern would be this - that every man would have his wife and every wife would have a husband for life so that that would be the way mankind would live. Sin, of course, in many ways has brought in complications, to say the least, and difficulties. The apostle therefore deals in this Epistle with some of these difficulties.
One of the things he makes clear therefore, is what I am going to call the 'second principle' he announces and that is that when a person is converted and is a Christian he must only marry in the Lord. He must marry a Christian. That is a point that he makes clear.
The third issue he goes on to is this: what happens when unconverted persons marry and then after marriage one or other of them is converted but their spouse is not converted. What happens then? Should the believer leave the unbeliever? That is a very practical question and one that the apostle handles. He does so like this. He says that when a person is converted after marriage and finds himself/herself now married to an unbeliever, they are not called upon to leave the unbeliever. They should not take steps to leave the unbeliever. If the unbeliever is content to dwell with them - if they continue under the roof living as husband or wife and are willing to be married now to a believer and Christian and they are content to stay in that situation - then the believer is obligated to remain in the home and with the spouse.
Then he comes to another situation. "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace" (verse 15). This is another pastoral situation. Supposing after marriage one or other of the parties is converted and their spouse refuses to remain. What do you do then? What is to be the Christian attitude if the unbeliever, to whom they are married, resents what has happened and refuses to do the part of a wife or of a husband respectively? What is the Christian's duty to God then? The apostle says, "A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases." The Westminster Confession and many other theologians understand that to mean that that constitutes legitimate grounds of divorce.
The Bible seems to make clear two legitimate grounds for divorce. One is fornication, which gives grounds to the other party. The second ground for divorce is desertion - what we call wilful and irremediable desertion. The apostle explains all of this. This was most relevant to the church at Corinth. They needed to know these things because this kind of problem was very common. In western society - America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and other countries - these problems almost vanished you could say, for hundreds of years. People scarcely needed to know much about these things because they were hardly practical issues in society. However, in the last fifty years all these problems, which were in Corinth of old, have surfaced again. It is therefore necessary for Christians to refresh their minds and memories as to what the apostle teaches on these matters.
There is a fifth practical issue which comes into this chapter too: the stupidity and wrong-headedness of trying to suggest that celibacy is a more sacred or holy condition than that of marriage. This theory came in during the middle ages and, sadly, it is very common in the Roman Catholic Church. It is their official position - that it is a more holy condition to be unmarried than married. That is one reason why they do not allow their priests to marry, with fearful consequences. The Bible under no circumstances ever places a man or a woman under the prohibition that they must never marry. The Bible does not do that. Marriage is honourable in all, says the Bible. It is a doctrine of the devil says Paul to forbid marriage. Where people need it, it is legitimate to seek it and to enter in to it. These things seem elemental, they might even seem unnecessary to say, but they are very important in a world which again is reverting so quickly to Paganism. We must rehearse and refresh our memories as to the practical duties and teachings of the Word of God.
A sixth point I now draw attention to from the apostle's exposition concerning marriage. The sixth thing here is - the nature of a single life. That is to say, God, according to Paul, gives a gift to every man and woman. Some are called on to marry - that is God's gift for them. Some are called on not to marry - they are called on to a single life. In our pagan world this is often made the butt of reproach - as though you are a second rate citizen. That is not the view of God. That is not the teaching of heaven. It is not the Word of God. If a person is called by God to a single life then, says God, there are certain advantages to that. For one thing, a person's whole life can be given in the service of Christ.
Where people are married, they have duties within the boundaries and context of marriage, which means they are not so free as they would otherwise be. However, a single person has this great advantage - they can devote the whole of their mind and thoughts, strength, attention and resources, to God and to His work. The apostle makes that very clear, so clear indeed that he says, "Look at me. I wish that every Christian was like me." Meaning, unmarried - he was not married himself. His time was his own and his resources were his own. He spent the whole of his time in the active service of our blessed Saviour, Jesus Christ. The apostle says, "I could wish every Christian was as I am: free from all the responsibilities of marriage, children and of having a home to look after. I wish everyone were like that." He says very quickly, "But, of course, I appreciate that everyone has his or her own gift of God - one in this way and another in that. We must go according to what God has given to us, being very different in our gifts and emotional makeup. The apostle makes this very clear that among Christians it is a most honourable calling to singlehood and a single life.
Our society is in danger of forgetting all of these principles. Our society is crumbling to death for want of getting back to this very chapter. Here is the practical chapter that social workers and health visitors and panels that advise about marriage need to get back to. They need to throw away their manuals of psychiatry and get back to 1 Corinthians 7. It is what will put reality, health, prosperity, happiness, security and all other virtues back in to society. After all, the question of marriage and family life is the basic building block of society. Where this is crumbling, as it is crumbling today, sadly, then security disappears. We need to have these practical teachings. We all need them for helping ourselves and for helping one another and for living as we are called upon to live as Christians in this life.
Embedded in this amazing chapter are the words that I have announced as my text. "But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 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; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away" (1 Corinthians 7, 29-31).
The apostle now lifts his mind above the practical and he brings us all to consider one of the greatest truths to be found anywhere in the Bible. It is that very soon everything that we know in this world will come to its end. All forms of society and all that we know in our present life is soon to change, to change for ever. He puts it like this, "The time is short" and again, "The fashion of this world passeth away" (text). It is very obvious that he is telling us in these words that as Christians we are to understand that society as we know it - with husbands and wives and marriages and children - is only to last for a little bit longer. Very soon the end of all these things will come.
A reader of the Bible might say to himself, "Oh yes, I know what he means. He means that life is short and soon we will all die." No, no, he doesn't mean that. That is not the meaning here. Other passages of the Bible certainly dwell on that theme but that is not what the apostle means here. He is not speaking about the brevity of life; he is speaking about the shortness of human time. Very soon, the whole world - and everything in it that we now know and are so familiar with - is going to come to an end. The fashion of this whole world is going to change. He is referring, of course, to the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This teaching that 'time is short' is something that every Christian needs to drink deeply into. Many texts remind us of this. Listen to this one - "Till the day break and the shadows flee away" (Song of Solomon 2, 17) - a wonderful statement. This world as we now know it with governments, police forces, hospitals and the things that make up society is a very temporary arrangement. It is all going to change when the shadows of sin and death are over. When the Lord Jesus returns from heaven, everything we now know to be happening will be at its end. The fashion of life will be over and done. Or, take a similar text, "The night," says Paul, "is far spent, the day is at hand" (Romans 13, 12). By the word 'night' he means the world as it now is, with sin and death, trouble, affliction, persecution, injustice, cruelty, murder, lust, abuse of every kind - it is the night time. The night is 'far spent'; soon the morning light will come. It is a beautiful picture of the coming again of the Husband, our Lord, our great Saviour - Jesus Christ. He is coming back soon. It won't be long.
The thought is this: we are as Christians to realise the shortness of life. We must say to ourselves, "There is not much left of human history." Already the world has been going for about six thousand years. That is a realistic figure. Six thousand years is about the age of the universe. We can't be sure to a day or a year or a hundred years or perhaps not even to a thousand years but you are not far out if you say the whole history of the human race and the history of the sun, moon and stars and the whole universe is about six thousand years. We do know how to calculate it because in the Old Testament God gives us the ages of Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel and so on up to Noah. We know the ages of the patriarchs after the flood up to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Therefore, within certain limits we can say how old the world is.
The Old Testament period lasted about four thousand years. The New Testament period has lasted for about two thousand years. Six thousand years then is roughly the age of the whole universe. That is not very long when you remember that with the Lord a thousand years is just like one day, and one day like a thousand years (2 Peter 3, 8). When you remind yourself that before the world began there was an eternity in which God was on His own: there were no creatures, no universe. Just a few short years is all the history of this world and it will soon be over. When our Lord returns time will be up.
Jesus Himself puts it like this. He says, "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me" (Revelation 22, 12). Our Lord is coming soon. Soon our life will be over. Soon everyone's life will be over. "The night is far spent, the day is at hand" (Romans 13, 12): the day of God, the day of glory, the day of judgement. It is soon going to be at an end.
What else does Christ say? "There should be time no longer." Do you know that verse in the book of Revelation? "There should be time no longer " (Revelation 10, 6). I find that a very stirring verse, it sends a shiver down my spine. Think of it again, "There should be time no longer." What a day that will be - when all the clocks suddenly stop. Big Ben and all the others will stop their movement after hundreds of years. Time shall be at an end and it will never begin again. There will be no more time once time finishes and the whole world comes to its abrupt and sudden ending. Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us like this. He says, "Let your loins be girded about," He says, "and your lamps burning; And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding" (Luke 12, 35-36). Isn't that a beautiful picture? It is that of a household with servants and they each have their duty to do: some in the garden, some in the kitchen, some making the beds, some making the food. He says, "I am the master of the house and I am going to a wedding. When I come back, I want to see you all at your post - each one doing what you are called upon to do. Faithfully doing what I have given you to do, with your loins girded."
Let me explain the meaning of 'loins girded'. The loins, of course, are the waist. In biblical times, men wore clothes down to the feet - long flowing robes. Their garments down to the feet were only convenient when they weren't working. As soon as you began to do a job, the first thing you did was to pull up your skirt - I suppose you would call it - into the belt so you shortened the skirt and it impeded you less. You would be freer of movement. To 'gird the loins' therefore meant that you got ready for action. Today we would say that you 'roll up your sleeves'. Our Lord said, "When I come back I want to see everyone of my people in their place, doing their work. I am going to go away," He says. "When I return suddenly without warning, I want to see you all doing exactly what you should be doing - serving in that place of faithfulness". Therefore, He says, "have your loins girded and your lamps burning."
My dear friends, that is the way the Apostle Paul describes the present state of this world. It is a place, state and condition in which all things are very impermanent. The fashion of this world is perishing - it is passing away. The time is short.
If this is the case, says Paul, then it must have a profound effect upon all that we do and even upon the way in which we think. If the time is short then, he says, this should have an effect upon us. What is the effect to be? "It remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 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; And they that use this world, as not abusing it" (text). The great application is this. If time is short and if the fashion of this world is passing away, then obviously, we mustn't become too absorbed by the things of this world - not even in things which are legitimate and good and wholesome and proper. It is quite legitimate for a Christian to love his home, garden, car and work. It is only right that he should love these things. It is proper that he should love his wife or the wife her husband or the children. All these things are right.
Our friendships, our relationships - we should love them and enjoy them - but, says the apostle, we must use the things of this world 'as not abusing' them; that is to say we mustn't make too much of them. We are to make too much of nothing, nothing at all in this world, not even the tenderest thing - not even homes, friends, family, husbands, wives and children - all of these things must be looked at in the light of the shortness of the time in which this world is to continue. This is what our godly forebears used to mean when they would say to their children that we are to sit loose to everything in this world. It is an uncommon expression today but many of you will know it very well - Sit loose to all the things of this world. It means, don't become too attached to anything, - not even the tenderest things - because the apostle tells us it behoveth that they that have wives and husbands be as though they had none. That could be greatly misunderstood. It doesn't mean to say that we should be negligent of our duties to one another - we must love one another. It means we must take everything, even the most precious things of life, in the context of the shortness and brevity of everything.
You know how different the apostle's teaching is from the spirit of the world. The spirit of the world is to idolise everything - to make too much of one's house, garden, wedding day and all these things. If you took the apostle's advice seriously in the commercial world today, I suppose half the magazines for sale would disappear. This, however, is the Bible way of thinking. Time is short; everything is changing therefore let us live our life not simply in the context of time but of eternity which is coming upon us all so soon. The apostle therefore says we are to think of even these lawful things in that way.
He goes even beyond that to our emotional life and the states of feeling which we have. Notice, he says, "they that weep, as though they wept not: and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not" (text). That needs a word of explanation. What does the apostle mean there. He must mean this. We are not to be too elated about anything. On the other hand, we are not to be too upset about anything. We need to know that because as Christians we can become almost devastated by things that happen. We can be extremely upset, extremely troubled. These things can, as it were, almost make us die a death: trials, troubles, sorrows, and fears. Or occasionally, excitements and joys can, as it were, lift you up to the third heaven.
Our experiences, says the apostle, of happiness and sadness must be tempered by the remembrance that life is short and that the world itself is of short duration. Soon everything is going to change. There will be no more fears for godly people. Soon there will be nothing to cry about. We need this teaching - don't we? Many a day you and I feel that we are going to die of sadness because so many things in this life upset the Christian. There are so many things to overwhelm him - so much bad news. It is half-killing to a Christian to live in this world to hear of the bad news, trials, troubles and changes. You think, "How can I live through this? When shall the happy day of my death and burial come?" Well, says the apostle, remember when your emotions lift you too high or sink you too low then bring this thought to mind - "Brethren, the time is short... the fashion of this world passeth away" (text). That is his advice: to moderate and to modulate, to make easier the emotional strain and burden which believers feel in this life.
Why is it that Christians are not to go to excesses of emotion or excesses of enjoyment of the things of this world? There are three reasons - firstly, because it is idolatry. To love any creature too much is idolatry. We are not to idolise anyone or anything. We are to keep everything in its place under God. God alone is to be the object of our supreme delight, our supreme adoration - nothing else, nothing at all.
The second reason is this. When people make too much of house and garden, car, job, friend, family, husband, wife and children it is really a kind of blindness. They are forgetting the doctrine which is here - that the end of all things is just round the corner. My friends, in just a few more years all Christians will be in heaven. Why then are we so overwhelmed by the tiny things of this world and the tiny changes that upset us? Of course, we have to be responsible; of course, we have to do our duty. I am not suggesting that we turn a blind eye to responsibilities and duties - that is not the teaching of the Word of God. Rather, let our attitudes to all these things be tempered by the remembrance that the fashion of this world changes.
You may say that's all very well but with the state of our country and the world with wars, famines, starving children and Aids victims - how are we going to live another century as a world? My friends, I don't know whether we will live another century or not but it is all under God's control. If millions of these poor children born with Aids all go to heaven in the end, does it very much matter that they had a poor little life in this world? Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Can we not trust our Maker and our Judge to do what is good or must I bear the weight of the world upon my shoulders? If we do, it will crush us; it will kill us. Even love for one another within the bond of marriage has to be restrained to what is under God.
The great and wonderful preacher Charles H. Spurgeon, in Victorian times, was one day going to preach at a huge hall in London. Beside him in the horse-drawn coach was the young lady to whom he was hoping to be married. As they got closer to the place where Spurgeon was to preach his mind became more and more absorbed with his message and the responsibility of preaching to six or ten thousand people, he forgot she was there. It happens to people who are to preach or address public meetings that they forget everything but what they are going to say. Spurgeon stepped out of the coach and forgot she existed. The officials put him into the vestry while his young lady had to fight for her life amidst milling crowds of people straining to get a seat inside to hear this great man. She got very angry. "He's forgotten all about me," she said as she turned round and went straight back home and shut her bedroom door behind her. When the sermon was over he looked for his young lady and couldn't see her anywhere - then somebody said she had gone home. He realised what had happened and he said, "My dear, much as I love you, I must put Jesus Christ first." She said she never made that mistake twice.
It shows the outworking of this great principle which is spoken of in this passage of the Word of God: the end of all things is at hand; time itself is short. The whole world is soon to be changed, therefore, it behoveth they who have wives and husbands to be as though they had none.
That brings me to my third point, which is this. The Christian, therefore, should always live his life here below with a daily and holy urgency. Wasn't this true of Jesus Christ? Read again the Gospel stories; how little time Christ had to himself. Take the Gospel of Mark, the word 'immediately' keeps on cropping up. Jesus performs a miracle here and then immediately He is called upon to do something else. He goes preaching a sermon and immediately is called upon to go somewhere else. He hadn't a moment to Himself.
So much was that the case that His own family one day found Him preaching and He was so busy He hadn't even time to eat. His family said He was beside Himself. In other words, they said this Son of ours, this Young Man, this Jesus of Nazareth - He is half mad. He is preaching all the time, working all the time - He has gone mad! The explanation, however, is that our Lord is a perfect example to us all of what we may call holy urgency. That is the way we are to live. "He that walks with Christ," said someone, "must needs run at full pace." Like a father walking briskly with a little child at his side, the father is walking but the son has to run to keep up with his father, so we with Christ. If you will walk with Christ, you will find yourself running full speed to keep up with Him because He is such a perfect example of how we should be in urgency.
Listen to the Apostle Paul - "So run, that ye may obtain" (1 Corinthians 9, 24). He puts it again like this - "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I buffet my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Corinthians 9, 27). Holy urgency to get to heaven - "This one thing I do," says Paul, "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead" (Philippians 3, 11). That is the only thing that mattered to Paul in the end and it should be the only thing that matters to you. House etc. have their place; friends and family have their place: thank God, for them all - they are all precious in their place. However, there is one thing every Christian supremely desires to do - and if you haven't got an urgency for this one thing then you are not a Christian - and that is, he wants to get to heaven. He wants to see God; he wants to see His Lord. He wants to hear his Lord's voice saying, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25, 21). Other things are all right in their way but this supremely is the Christian's desire.
Someone once reproached Charles H. Spurgeon and said to him, "Mr. Spurgeon you are preaching too much. You will kill yourself; you'll damage your constitution, Sir." He was preaching roughly ten times a week. Spurgeon smiled and said, "If I had a thousand constitutions I would gladly ruin them all for Jesus Christ's sake." There is no answer to that. That is holy urgency. This is not a message that we should all be rash and immediately go and ruin our health. No, it is possible to push everything to an extreme. It does, however, remind us that above everything else we are to be serving Jesus Christ. We are to be doing what little we can to promote His great cause and Kingdom.
It was said about John Calvin that he was a walking hospital. He had about sixty illnesses. His whole digestive system was ruined through what he was given to eat at a certain college - the College Montegue in Paris, I believe. He was given bad food badly cooked and he was a martyr to digestive pain. He couldn't sleep: he had headaches and migraines. He had nausea and all sorts of things. Yet, when you look at that man's achievements - his books fill a shelf as long as both your arms will go - what an achievement. How did he do it? It was holy urgency. When he was a dying man his friends said, "Rest, relax." He said, "Would you have me idle about my Master's service?" The time is short; all things are soon to change.
John Wesley said - and this is Methodism at its best - "Do all the good you can, to all the persons you can, as long as ever you can." That is beautiful. Or again, applying it to our generosity, he said - "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can." That is biblical religion - earn all, save all, give all you can. No wonder society is lifted up when it becomes changed like that. It was teaching like this that made our countries the nations they once were, with an empire behind them, because they were unconquerable: hard work, labouring six days a week to glorify God because the time was short and the world was soon to be changed and therefore there was not a moment to be lost. We must serve God continually. When nations have views like that, they are bound to ride high. No wonder many thought for some centuries that Britannia ruled the waves. It wasn't that Britannia was anything important; it was that the scriptural principles of life were embedded in Scotland, England and Wales in those days. Before other nations got the gospelling powers we had, these principles were being outworked and we were invincible, unconquerable, overwhelming and respected everywhere because the Bible was our Book and our Rule.
Dear friends, let us not forget that the time is short and the day is at hand.
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