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 7:29–31.
The above passage presents a category that we, as 21st century Christians living in the west, try to ignore: things that are good, things that are perhaps necessary, things that are contexts for glorifying God, and yet at the same time, things that are “passing away” and, in a sense, “worldly” (vs. 33).
We tend to make much of marriage, family, work, career, education, planning for retirement, having great experiences and going on great vacations. In giving ourselves to such things, we recall that God created such things, and we give thanks to God for them.
And this is good and right!
But at the same time, there is a sense in which such things are worldly and temporary, in ways that are difficult for us to admit. Marriage is passing away. Family is passing away. Whatever business or career or church you build, whatever money you save, whatever influence or position you attain is passing away.
That doesn’t make these things meaningless. That doesn’t mean become a monk or nun and reject all that is in the world. The passage does not say “have no dealings or concerns or ties with the world.” It is unavoidable that you will; it’s a part of living in this world. Rather, let the fading and temporary reality of your dealings or concerns or ties in the world inform how you engage them.
In other words, keep a lose grip on the things of this world, even the good things like marriage, family, work, pleasure, education.
Yes, such things can be contexts for glorifying God and for bearing fruit that lasts, and so work hard, love deeply, and serve well, for the Lord’s sake.
And yet beware of becoming consumed by such things as if they were eternal, ultimate, our highest end and purpose in life. These are not ultimate things. And when a good thing becomes an ultimate thing, it has become an idol, and God has something to say about idols.
“The appointed time has grown very short…For the present form of this world is passing away.” And yet, in light of Christ and the gospel, we have hope for the future, and a purpose and mission in the present: proclaiming and making much of Christ.
Do our lives reveal that we believe this? That our homes are not our hope, that our vehicles are not our hope, that our income and savings are not our hope, that our ability to go on vacations and have great experiences is not our hope, that even our marriage and kids are not our hope?
Is it evident that we are living for more than this, that we are devoted to the Lord above all else?