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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:There's No Time to Waste
Text:1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2015
Added:2015-12-31
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 75:1,2                                                                                   

Ps 1:1,2,3

Reading – Romans 13:8-14; 1 Corinthians 7:17-40

Ps 102:5,6,11

Sermon – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 67:1,6,7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Congregation of our Lord Jesus, have you ever been in a serious hurry? Suddenly found yourself pressed for time? Maybe you were rushing out the door to church, still tying your tie. Or doing some last minute vacuuming and dusting, just before company came. Or maybe you had a school assignment that you hadn’t started yet, and it was due tomorrow. It’s not enjoyable, being in a hurry—it tends to cause a person stress. Yet being pressed for time does focus the mind. It’s clear that this is what you need to do, and everything else will have to come later. We don’t want to waste any more time, but we need to get going.

That’s true for our daily schedules, and true for our lives as followers of Christ. Being aware of “the time” is good. Realizing life’s urgency can sharpen our focus, and move us to action, as the Lord wants. And it’s good to think about how we’ve been using the days that God has entrusted to us. Are we wasting any time? Do we try use each day to its fullest, in God’s service? Do we make the most of our time, and strive to progress in our walk with the Lord? Or do so many hours disappear into the black hole of distraction, with nothing to show for them?

These are the kind of questions God’s Word puts before us. For Paul tells us that the “the time is short” (v 29). The days are passing by, Christ is coming soon—which needs to shape how we live right now. As Paul says, “From now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it” (vv 29-31). I preach to you God’s Word on this theme,

The Spirit says there’s no time to waste:

  1. the time is short
  2. so we keep our priorities straight
  3. and our vision clear

 

1. the time is short: In a way, these three verses come as a surprise. They’re almost like the digression that some school teachers are known to make. The teacher’s busy talking about algebra and he suddenly diverges to comment on something just barely related, like automotive design. “Following a rabbit trail,” that’s called. That’s what Paul does in his letters too. He can be right in the middle of explaining something, when he breaks off to speak about his ministry, or to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. At first glance, that’s what our text looks like: a digression.

Because for this whole chapter, he’s been writing to the Corinthians about the matter of marriage. Paul had almost a dozen issues to raise with the believers in Corinth: some about ethics, some about theology, some about church life. In this congregation, the struggle was made worse by the surrounding culture, which was deeply immoral. So the Corinthians were confused about what they should do in the situation of a believer married to an unbeliever. And what was a husband’s obligation to his wife? And what about divorce, and what about children?

Paul’s got a lot to say, because these were difficult days in Corinth. Difficult, and not just because of strife in the church. But because it’s always hard for Christians to be holy in the midst of a wicked world! As verse 26 says about the desirability of a person remaining single, “I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress.” To that idea of remaining single we’ll return later. But for now, notice that Paul is aware of the trouble around the Corinthians, and around us.

There is “distress” right now. It comes in the form of chronic temptation. Sometimes in the ridicule from unbelievers. There is frustration in the struggles we have at home, and in the church, and at work. Beloved, this is all going to continue, or it’ll even get worse in the coming days of our life: there will be sinfulness, temptation, persecution, brokenness. It won’t go away. And Paul says we have to take these things into account. We can’t be naïve, but be aware of what’s going on in this world, and tread carefully.

He stays on this theme at the beginning of our text: “But this I say, brethren, the time is short” (v 29). The Corinthians must realize just how urgent things are right now. They can’t continue the way they were, blending in with the world and facing each day without a care. They had to get serious, because there wasn’t much time left! But was Paul right? He was all upset, about how “the time is short.” Yet didn’t Paul write this nearly nineteen centuries ago? And what happened? Well, time marched on (obviously). All the distress quieted down. The Corinthians got “an extension,” it seemed—they had a lot more time to repent than Paul first figured.

It’s kind of like reading some of the predictions from during the Cold War, when the United States and Russia were just about ready to blast each other into oblivion with atomic bombs. It seemed pretty dire back then! Or even when the year 2000 was about to begin, and everyone was worried about how all the computers would blow up when the clock struck 12. At certain times in history, people have cried out that the end of the world was all but certain. But what happened? The distress went away, and the urgency faded.

So was Paul wrong? Isn’t this an overreaction, telling the Corinthians to act like they weren’t married, to stop weeping and rejoicing, to let go of earthly things and just hunker down and prepare for the end? It’s not an overreaction, and this is why: the Lord’s view of time is always different from ours. We’re always bound by time. Our days are numbered, and our life quickly passes by. So we think in fixed quantities: seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years. We all know that we’re [this many] years old. We all know we have [this much] time to do what we need to do, whether that’s cleaning the house, or finishing our project, or paying off our mortgage.

But God is not bound by time, He stands outside of it. And his schedule is on a scale that we can’t even imagine—as it says in 2 Peter 3:8, “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” God doesn’t think of deadlines and closing-dates like we do. What we do know of God’s schedule is through a handful of major events. The way God looks at it, there’s only four global, truly momentous events in all of history. There is creation. Then there’s the fall into sin. There’s what the Bible even calls “the fullness of time (when Jesus came to this earth as a man). And finally there is Judgment Day and the renewal of all things, when Christ returns. That’s the big sweep of history. That’s what God’s been working on.

And here’s a remarkable thing: We’ve already reached the turning point! The climax of all of human history has already happened—it happened with Christ’s death and resurrection and ascension, and the Holy Spirit’s outpouring. So there’s just one main event yet to take place: the second coming of the King! Which means we stand near the end of history. Even now, we’re in the final countdown—the last days.

Jesus’ return may not be in just a handful of days or years, but it is in plain view. It’s ready to take place. In this regard, we do know the future, and quite clearly! We don’t need a crystal ball, just the holy Scriptures. And as Jesus said, and the apostles confirmed, you can see the signs of his approach going on all around us. So the time is short. It was short in Paul’s day, and it’s short today. And the Spirit wants this to colour our view of things. How does the “shortness of the time” transform our behaviour? And how do we approach the hours and days and months that God is giving us? We need to live with that urgency we mentioned: with our love for each other sincere, and our prayers earnest, and our words and conduct holy.

The Holy Spirit speaks like this elsewhere too, in Romans 13. After urging the congregation to love one another, Paul writes, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (v 11). “Know the time:” things are wrapping up, they’re almost over. So it’s high time to get serious. Final salvation is at hand—it’s even closer than it was yesterday! And because it’s so close, our lives need to be different. We’re pressed for time, so don’t get distracted by trivialities. Don’t be sidetracked by temptations. There’s so many of these! But as Paul continues in verse 12, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:12-14).

 

2. so we keep our priorities straight: Now comes more of the “so what?” If the time is short and the kingdom is at hand, how should this change us? Beloved, we need to live like those who hold a different passport. Our citizenship is in heaven! Which means that this world, and everything in it, takes a distant second place. It’s not our true home, so it doesn’t provide our lasting treasure or give us our real purpose.

To make this point, Paul gives five illustrations: about marriage, about weeping and rejoicing, about buying and consuming. And these verses teach us to ask often: “Is this something that’ll be helpful for serving God? Will this choice that I make, this pursuit of mine, this daily interest—will it advance the kingdom of Christ in these last days, will it further my devotion to him, or is it just going to get in the way?”

The first illustration connects to the rest of the chapter, “From now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none” (v 29). As we said, Paul’s been talking about marriage. It can be a great blessing, but it can be trouble too. Because no matter how filled with the Holy Spirit, no matter how devoted to each other, when a husband and wife are joined together, problems are bound to come. You’ll disagree about lots of little things, and maybe some bigger things. When you’re married, you’ll have your own worries, and someone else’s worries too. In short, distractions will be many.

So Paul advises that in these last days, “Those who have wives [or husbands, for that matter] should be as though they had none.” There’s a danger of misunderstanding this. Does it mean you can be unfaithful to your spouse, or give up on your marriage, because Paul said to act like you weren’t married? Or does it mean that if you’re single and you’re praying to receive a partner, that you should stop doing so, because marriage isn’t worthwhile anyway? No, Paul is saying something else. The urgency needs to change things for us, and it needs to give us a different outlook. Because being single or being married is never the critical question of our life. Either one is fine. What’s important is that in either situation, we live in full dedication to God. Our human relationships can never be the main thing, but everything is to be governed by our walk with the Lord.

He explains this a bit more in the following verses. Like verse 35, when he talks about “[serving] the Lord without distraction.” There can be distractions in life, and there can be many cares. But marriage, or any other earthly circumstance that we’re in, can’t be allowed to take away from loyalty to Christ! For the married person then, there will be times when the comforts of home have to be denied. Or when the joys of being with your spouse have to be delayed. You sacrifice them, because the Lord is calling you to work for him in this world, or in the church. Do that work, because you’re here to please God, first of all! Of course, we can serve God through our marriage; and we do that by being godly husbands and faithful wives. But we’ll be godly and faithful, only if we have the right outlook. That we’re here, in all things, for doing God’s will!

Also for those who are single, or those who are widowed, there can be hard times and concerns—like loneliness and isolation. But again, by far the most important thing is our union with Christ. That’s where our true value is. It’s Christ alone who gives our real identity, who gives our lasting worth. Whatever our situation in this life, our priority should be his honour, and his coming glory!

For a second illustration, Paul considers our emotions. Because the time before Christ’s coming is short, “Those who weep [should be] as though they did not weep” (v 30). On its own, this statement too, runs counter to the Bible’s teaching. For shouldn’t we mourn with those who mourn? Is this saying that we should be callous in the face of hardship, and never shed a tear? No, it means we should let the light of eternity shine into our sadness too.

Sometimes those who grieve for a loved one can become totally absorbed in it. Other times a spirit of discouragement can take us away from our duty, and it can detract from our worship of the Lord. But it can’t be allowed to do that. For the power and grace of Christ change our weeping! We know that it’s temporary. So if we’re going through some heartache, and we’re tempted to give in and give up, the Spirit exhorts, “Try to be as though you’re not weeping.” As much as you can, look past it. Don’t ignore it, but press on in the love of God and his calling. Let those who mourn be reminded that all of their grieving has found its answer in Christ; as Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Another emotion that can sweep over us is rejoicing. For there are times when we’re utterly taken up in our happiness. Sometimes we have a vacation that seems almost like a little slice of Paradise—everything is just right. Or we enjoy a warm feeling of success for months on end. Sometimes the circumstances of our life are so wonderful and blessed, we feel like we couldn’t possibly be happier: We’ve arrived! Yet have we forgotten what God promised? Have we started to put our hope in things that we can see? If some earthly happiness is outshining our joy in Christ, then it too, has to be put to one side. In these last days, “Those who rejoice [should be] as though they did not rejoice” (v 30). There’s something far better in store. Our greatest joy will always be living for Christ!

A fourth illustration comes at the end of verse 30, “Those who buy [should be] as though they did not possess.” Not that we stop buying things, of course. We need clothing, we need food, we need a home to live in, and a car to drive. And to make these things possible, we need to go to our job and earn our money. But here’s a warning against the materialism that dominates this world. Any one of us can concentrate on possessions too much. Especially when you buy something special, it’s hard not to overvalue it. Maybe it’s your new iPad or game system. Or it’s a new car, a new boat. Or it’s just a new book on your shelf, or pair of shoes in the closet.

Because the time is short, we shouldn’t value these things too highly and spend our time dreaming and scheming to get them. And what about your business dealings, or your daily job? Are all the demands interfering with the holy life that Christ calls you to? As for all those nice things that you’ve got, have you learned to hold onto these things loosely? Do you buy and own, as though not possessing?

Finally, “Those who use this world [should be] as not misusing it” (v 31). All the previous activities are now summed up in the expression, “those who use this world.” That is, whatever our position in life—as we live here, as we work here, love here and grow here—whatever we’re doing, we can’t become engrossed in these things. Not preoccupied with our earthly circumstances, but as far as possible distant from anything that doesn’t help us to serve our God and Lord.

That can make for some hard decisions. Giving up a romantic relationship, because God comes first. Turning down an exciting job offer, because doing so will help us be more faithful. Revising our monthly budget, selling something that we love, breaking a bad habit, building a new habit—because doing so will help us focus better on God’s glory. It’s what our Lord taught us in the Sermon on the Mount. There he said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:33). If we put God first, He’ll provide everything good that we need. The Christian is shaped by eternity, so our priorities are straight, and our vision is clear.

 

3. and our vision clear: Would you work on a project that you knew was coming to nothing? Would you invest in a company that you knew was going to fail? Of course not! We want to be part of something worthwhile and lasting. So how good it is that we can have a clear vision of where things are going! The Spirit tells us, “The form of this world is passing away” (v 31). It won’t last forever. The world is changeable, and soon its present form will pass away. This connects to what verse 29 said, that the time is short. Already now, the world is fading. Christ’s kingdom is ready to appear. Because remember: the main event has already happened! In Jesus’ death and his resurrection, God has already determined the course of all things. He has already determined the winner and champion. There’s just one event left, when God will bring this world into judgment.

So we have to think about this carefully. Are we ready for judgment, ready for the form of things to pass away? Are there pursuits in your life right now that will be shown as worthless? Do you cherish things of no real value, things that only divert and distract? Do you trust in earthly idols that are only going to melt in God’s fire? As Peter said in his second letter, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” (3:11).

“What kind of people,” with the time short, and the world passing away? We should be a focused people! A people with purpose! There’s an urgency to our life, a deadline for this world. Think about it carefully: On the last day, will you have something to show for what you’ve done? Will you have a holy offering to present to God? And you will, when you use every day and every opportunity in the service of our Lord.

That gives a great purpose, for as long as we live. When we’re old, and when we’re young, we’re here for a reason. This life isn’t about the pursuit of our personal happiness, and the acquisition of nicer things, and a better standing in this world. This life isn’t even about those good things like our church and family and marriage and faith. Because even these imperfect things are a part of something much, much bigger: God’s great plan to restore all of his creation perfectly, through the power of his Son.

That’s what we look for, in great and growing expectation. For we know what time it is: the night is far spent—the day is almost here. Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed! So keep your priorities straight, and your vision clear!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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