Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 12 2013 - 1 Corinthians 7:25-40 – Passing world

As I said yesterday, it’s not easy to understand some parts of 1 Corinthians. It’s clear that there were a number of issues over which the Corinthians were divided or were seeking advice, and Paul sets about addressing these issues. But for us it’s like listening to one end of a telephone conversation and trying to work out what it’s all about.

The latter part of chapter 7 is a case in point. Paul speaks about a particular crisis facing the Corinthians and discusses whether it is good to marry in these circumstances. We don’t know what that crisis was and it’s therefore difficult to understand how Paul’s words relate to the issues we face. Maybe the Christians at Corinth were facing a threat of persecution that was leading some to think that might have to flee the city, or maybe, as so often in first century cities, there was an outbreak of a deadly infectious disease.

Whatever the crisis may have been, one thing is clear; Paul reminds the Corinthians that the present order of the world is passing away. He wants Christians to live for, and towards, the age to come rather than living simply for the present world. He warns them about clinging onto present possessions as if these were the things that defined their life: “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). The inclusion of their closest relationships in this list may seem harsh, but I believe that Paul is reminding them that those they love most deeply in this world could easily be snatched away from them. They are to be ready to face the loss of all things.

In the goodness of God, we may not be facing a crisis like that which was threatening the Christians at Corinth, but we too need to be reminded that “this world in its present form is passing away.” We are to live lightly towards the things of this world but also to use generously and well all that is given to us. We are to acknowledge that we are strangers and pilgrims who are seeking a better city, a city with foundations. 

It’s not easy to get this balance right. It’s not that we are to turn our backs on the things of this world, for it remains the good creation of our heavenly Father. But neither are we to make worldly goods, reputation or power our aim and pursuit. All these things can easily be stripped from us; we brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it except our character. We need to build for the coming kingdom and not for the present moment. What are you devoting your energies to? Will it last the test of time – and of eternity?

Heavenly Father, I find this passage confusing and difficult to understand. But help me to understand this, that “this world in its present form is passing away.” I rejoice that the day will come when there will be no more injustice, no more pain, no more conflict and warfare. You have promised that, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, there will be a new heavens and a new earth characterised by righteousness and peace. Help me by your Spirit to live now as one who is praying and working for the world that he will create at his coming, when all things shall be made new.

Peter Misselbrook