Third Sunday in Epiphany
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
 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,  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,  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 Cor. 7:29-31 (ESV)
Since the earliest inception of the Christian church this passage and others like it have been used to justify all sorts of evil perversions. It is an interesting passage and taken out of context it might justify selling all you have and throwing it to the poor to become one making yourself and your family an extra burden on the state and so forth. Taken by itself and out of context it might justify divorcing your wife and joining a monastery. Leaving the proper vocations that God has called you too and living out the last days as a hermit in the desert. And if I knew Christ was coming back tomorrow, or even next month I might just quit coming into the office myself. I don’t know that I would ignore my wife for that month but then again she would probably not care to live with my new found habits should I know that Christ was coming back next month. I think things might deteriorate around the house a bit.
Some people use this passage to say, Paul thought Christ would come back in his life time. I don’t get that from this passage, especially given the rest of what Paul councils to husbands and wives and families in general. No reason to include that bit about a long life on earth when discussing the fourth commandment in Ephesians, if you think the world is going to vanish tomorrow.
The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none. Those who mourn as though they were not mourning, those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing…. What does all this mean? What does it mean that the time has grown very short; some two thousand years have passed since Paul wrote that! What would a very long time mean? How do you love your wife as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5), if you live as though you did not have one? How do you live as though you were not mourning if you are mourning, or are not rejoicing when you are rejoicing? How do you live as though you had no dealings with the world, when you do have dealings with it? And we find the answer at the very end, “for the present form of this world is passing away.”
The appointed time has grown very short. This world is passing away. Whether global warming or cooling, one thing we know; this world is not going to remain, and we definitely are not going to remain in it. Eternity is just not a reality in this world, in which no one, save Christ, gets out alive, and even He had to die first. That is what Paul means. We always think we have tomorrow, and we never know that we do. Just because the Sun came up this morning doesn’t mean it will come up tomorrow. Just because we woke up this morning doesn’t mean we will tomorrow. We may not know how long the world will be around. I’m not one of those who tries to predict it either. Christ may wait a thousand years or more to come back, and he might come back yet today. He will come back. But we know that if he doesn’t come back in our life time it will still be miraculous if we make it past ninety. I think it is miraculous I made it passed 30 with all the dumb things I did during my teen years and early twenties. Nevertheless, time has grown short, and the present form of this world is passing away. That is there is more to life than the cares of this world, and that is what Paul is getting at here. We have an eternity waiting for us when this world passes away, so we might start thinking about that and adjusting our priorities accordingly.
Too many people live as though this world is all there is, that the cares of this world are all there are. We love our wives and our families as though this were true. We mourn the loss of loved ones as if this were true. We buy sell and amass wealth as if this were true. And Paul is addressing this. This tendency to put spouses and family before God. Wives and family are tempting idols in this world. Spouses in general are tempting idols. I know people who stay away from church so as not to upset their spouse. I know people who go to churches they know teach false doctrine in order to please their spouses. We watch our sons and daughters do it, even as we point our finger at King Solomon.
No wife, no husband, no son or daughter is worth an eternity in hell. The present form of this world is passing away. There are two options waiting for us at the end of the day: heaven the free gift of Christ who died for you and me on the cross, and hell the ultimate price for rejecting Christ for whatever reason.
Mourning. Mourning is natural. I would think there is something terribly wrong with a person who didn’t feel sorrow at the passing of a loved one, a husband or wife, son or daughter, or even a close friend. Notice Paul doesn’t say do not mourn, but to live as if you were not mourning. I’ve watched it. I’ve seen the untimely death of a father, or a son, husband and wife rip a person’s heart out and steal their faith from them. Anger, bitterness, takes hold. A loving God wouldn’t do that. A loving God would not rob me of my joy in life. No but death and the devil would. God loves. He loves this world so much that He robbed Himself of His own son, and had Him put to death and sacrificed for you that you, your family and everyone else you know could live with Him in eternity in the fullness of life. Yes He even did that for your friends that don’t believe, your spouse that doesn’t believe. But what more can He do for you, for them if you or they reject the gift he gives through his son’s death and resurrection? It isn’t God’s fault that this world is full of sin and death. We are to blame for that. We are the ones who sin, not God. We are the ones who live as though this world was all there was to life, and all we need to care about. God knows better, and knowing better he sent his son to die for you that we all might be saved from even more pain and sorrow then what this world has to offer. So mourn. There is plenty in this world to be mournful about. But don’t mourn as if this world is all there is. And don’t rejoice as if this world was all there is either. We find things to rejoice about in this world. There are happy days even amidst the sin and death that surrounds us. We get a promotion at work, or a new job. We welcome a new child into this world. Find a new friend. Watch our children marry, and bring us grandchildren. We thank God for these earthly blessings. Enjoy the daily bread he gives you. The peaceful transition of good government in this country. It aint so pretty in Zimbabwe. We thank God for devout spouses and children, good friends. The clothes we wear and the food we eat, and the passing of another year in this world these are things to celebrate and enjoy. Seriously they are gifts from God. Ever seen the disappointed face on a child at Christmas when he didn’t get the toy he wanted? Ever been frustrated because you bought something for someone out of love for them and they didn’t care for it? God gives us this life, and the blessings we need to support it, they are gifts. The least we could do is enjoy them a little. Not to the point of abuse, that would be to rejoice as if there wasn’t anything more to life than this world. But enjoy. Perhaps it is a fine line between enjoying and abusing.
God gives us spouses so we can enjoy sex for instance, without worrying about aids and fatherless children. He gives us spouses so we don’t abuse his gift of sex with every opportunity and turn it into a source of pain, sorrow and hardship in life. Pain and sorrow that come from diseases that lead to death. Hardship as those diseases disabilitate. Sorrow as the aftermath of death as the result of abusing sex. You know the abortion of unwanted children. It isn’t talked about much; most women who have abortions regret them and live a life of sorrow afterward. And it can be a hardship for a woman to raise a child on her own. It can even be more of a hardship for that child to grow up without a father.
The same is true of drugs and alcohol. Enjoying life does not mean living such a hard and fast life that you don’t make it past your eighteenth birthday. Or live with Jim Morison’s goal of dying young and leaving a good looking corpse. That is I suppose an understandable choice to make if you think this world is all there is, and you can’t stand the pain that inevitably comes in this world. I tend to think people who live like that are trying to drown out the suffering, numb the pain of life. Somehow they got it in their head that life was no longer worth living, only abusing. This is the kind of life Paul is warning us about.
Dealing with the world as if this was all there is. We don’t have to live like that, we know better. We know we will die. We don’t have to live making every choice in life on a scale of whether or not it will make us live longer or not. We know we don’t have any control over that. But we also know we have a life in eternity waiting for us in the here beyond. We know there is more to life than this world. That when the present form of this world passes away, we will have the full glory of the gift that Christ gave to us when he died on the cross for our sins. The gift we enjoy even now because we were baptized into his death so that just as he was raised from the dead so we too might walk in the newness of life. There is more to life than this world, there is the gift of Christ that is eternal life, and there is forgiveness, life itself without pain death and suffering.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds with Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.