First Corinthians 7:25-40
Living The End Times
1. The passage we read today is a continuation in its contents from verse sixteen. It has already been touched upon in chapter seven and from verses eight on about unmarrieds and widows, but it will be referred to here again in this passage.
2. Just like the first half of chapter seven, in this portion as well, Paul's position is very negative in regard to marriage. "If you are joined to a wife, do not seek to dissolve that bond and if you are not joined to a wife, you should not seek for a wife. However, if you do marry, you do not sin and if an unwed woman marries, you did not sin. But, those who marry will bring troubles upon themselves. I do not want you to have such troubles," (verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight). "If someone feels that his passions are so strong and he is capable of a behavior that is not appropriate to his betrothal vow regarding his young lady, and he cannot suppress himself past it, let him do as he wishes. He will not be sinning. Let them marry," (verse thirty-six). I would say there is more than a few people who feel resistant to the discussion of whether getting married is a sin or not.
3. As I stated previously, when we read this passage it is important to recall that Paul is not developing a comprehensive statement about marriage. He is writing this as a response to the questions given him by the Corinthian church. Of course, he is not speaking about all marriages. The reason he has covered this issue of whether getting married is a sin or not is that he must have been asked from the believers of Corinth if "Getting married was a sin?"
4. But, there is something else even more important we shouldn't overlook, it is Paul's mindset of the urgency of the end-times. This is at the background to Paul's statements. In the scripture passage we read today, a number of sentences appear in which it clearly show this. "As we are now in a state of crisis so pressing in upon us, I think that we should conduct ourselves like this," (verse twenty-six). "Brothers, I would like to say this. [God's] set time is pressing in upon us," (verse twenty-nine). So, today, I would especially like for us to think together about living consciously of the end-times as Paul did.
God's Set Time Is Near
5. In The Apostle's Creed we confess, "From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead." The one coming to judge is Christ. We call this the second coming of Christ. At that time the righteous judgment of God will be given. God's judgment will bring the end of this current world as we know it. Of course, that is not the end alone. It means the beginning of the new world that will be under the total control of God.
6. It appears that Paul believed that the second coming of Christ would happen in his own life time. That's why the text says, "As we are now in a state of crisis so pressing in upon us," and "[God's] set time is pressing upon us." In all reality the second coming did not take place within Paul's life time. No, far from that, it hasn't happened yet today after nearly two thousand years have passed since then. But, is what Paul said completely wrong?
7. No, it wasn't. Because in regard to the time of the end Christ had this to say: "That day, that hour, does no one know. Neither do the angels nor does the son know. The father alone knows. Be careful and stay alert. For, you cannot see when that hour will be," (Mark 13:32-33). If one does see the time, the important thing would be "the hour." But, since we don't see when that hour will be, the important point is [in the word] "current," or "now." How we are living right now is what we will be held accountable for.
8. The end of an individual life is "death." No one will debate the fact that they don't know when "death" will come for him or her. Therefore, in a certain sense, it is right to live consciously of the end. The reason it is the ending hour is that it does not lie within human hands. This is the same for history. Even when it comes to the end of history, it does not lie within human hands. Since that is so, it is right to live consciously of the end.
9. God sets the final hour. Unless "the end" is the one God set, it isn't "the end." Jesus said, "Even if you hear of the disturbances of war and of rumors of war, do not be confused. These things are set to happen, but it is still not the end of the world," (Mark 13:7). No matter how critical or how desperate it might get, unless the end is the one God set it isn't the end.
10. In contrast, the end God has set to be will be the real end. And ultimately the righteousness of God will permeate. This world has absurdities and irrationalities all through it. So often things don't make sense. If there was a God, we wouldn't expect all this nonsense to be left around like it is. The time is coming when God's truth will make sense. The time is coming when we, who feel helpless in asking "Why?" over and over in this senseless world, won't have to ask any more.
11. But, it will also be a time when everything will be counted with absolute precision at the righteous judgment of God. We mustn't forget that. No one can escape from this. We can live as we please. We can live going according to our very desires. It's kind of like when you go into a restaurant and order as much as you'd like. But, you had better not forget. The time to pay the bill will come. That's the end God has set. Just as it is foolish to keep eating and drinking without thinking of paying, it is foolish to live without thinking about the end of one's personal life or even of the end of the world. In that sense, it is very important that we listen hard to Paul's words, which he seriously understood as imminent of the end-times.
Those With Wives Be Like Those Without
12. Then, we want to remember the words of verses twenty-nine and following, where Paul speaks with very impressive expressions. "Brothers, I would like to say this. [God's] set time is pressing in upon us. From now on, those with wives ought to be like those without, those who cry ought to be like those who don't, those who are happy ought to be like those who aren't, those who buy things ought to be like those who don't, those with business in the world ought to be like those who have none. For the way this world is is passing away," (verses twenty-nine through thirty-one).
13. The main thing here is the last words. Since there is an end that God has set, the way this world is is passing away. But, what is passing away is not necessarily only at the end. To say there is an end means there is an irreversible direction we are presently going into. So the things in this world are passing away second by second slowly but surely. We all know this first hand.
14. It relativizes and makes us look at all the different situations we are in when we come to live from this awareness that all is gradually moving on to the End. For example, the way things are in this world is that there are wives, there are husbands, we make our lives together. But, this is not something that is absolute, for ever and unchangeable. Actually, the spouse we live with today may quite possibly not be there tomorrow. We know that's how it is. But, no one lives expecting it to be so. Therefore, Paul went out to say, "Those with wives ought to be like those without."
15. I could say the same for happiness. The happiness in this world will surely pass away. Similarly, we could say this about the possessions we have bought today. We could say it about our business in this world. Everything in this world will pass away, whether titles or degrees. No one should regard these things as absolute. We should live with the presupposition that they will all pass away. We should not live with any illusion. We had better live realistically. To live as a believer is to live completely realistically.
16. Of course, we are not just to see and live things pessimistically. For example, the same thing is said about "crying." Sorrow is not an absolute for ever situation. Even though someone has exclaimed in pain, "Oh, I'm done for, it's all over for me!," it's not the end. Unless "the end" is the one God set, it isn't "the end." Sorrow will also pass away. There is the other side to sorrow. We who cry must live as "those who don't cry."
17. Any way, the biggest thing is that since the things of this world are passing away, we ought to live connected to what is not passing away. Paul speaks about singleness and marriage after this, but this relationship to the world is really what he is wanting to say. It is not his purpose to give us some new kind of rule. In verse thirty-five he puts it like this, "So, what I'm saying is, in thinking on your behalf, is not to put shackles on you, but to let you have a high quality life and so that you could serve the Lord steadfastly," (verse thirty-five). Yes, indeed, for it is our relationship with Christ which will never pass away. So that's why the important thing is that we are to live steadfastly serving the Lord within the relativity of the things in this world all passing away with its limited nature.
18. Then, ultimately there is one thing that he holds important, which is the awareness of the imminence of the last days, and this is overloaded with all kinds of dangers that lead to fanaticism and its spin-offs. Even today it looks the same way for us when it comes to the occults and the emerging new religions [so prevalent in Japan these past 50 years] that teach the end times are near. In the first century A.D. there were many such fanatical feelings. It is a temptation that the modern church is familiar with as well.
19. Fanaticism becomes destructive. It works towards renunciation of the status quo. It gets caught up in the power of the abnormal and different. Then, over and over day after day as it denies the value of normal every day living, it will destroy it for nothing.
20. In contrast to fanatic appeals, as Paul speaks of the imminency of the end times in a way that they do, yet, he is drawing a clear line against destructive fanaticism. For example, he doesn't say since the end is near absolve all marriages and living together with your spouses. Just the opposite, he is stating that "a person should remain in the current state one is in," (verse twenty-six). That attitude runs consistently through out chapter seven.
21. Because of the very fact that God's predetermined end is real, and that we don't know when it will be, we must live with our feet on the ground. In the current state we are given to be in, we must take it very seriously how we will serve the Lord. Quiet and sober minds are needed so that we are not kicked around by all the different things said that fan up crisis type feelings. In order for us to live with an end times faith, in a real sense, with sober minds we must see this world and ourselves as existing right in the presence of God right now.