1 Corinthians 7:29-31
But this I say, brothers, the time is short: it remains, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;…
Is it, then, the aim of Christianity to turn this world into a dream-land? Are we to undervalue life's sweetest affections and deepest sentiments as if they were but appearances? Surely no! Such an interpretation misconceives this passage alone and the whole Bible teaching; for no other book is more intensely realistic than the Word of God, and nothing places more value on common life.
I. LET US LOOK AROUND AND RECALL SOME OF OUR EXPERIENCES TO SEE WHETHER WE MAY NOT FIND A CLUE TO THIS REMARKABLE PASSAGE.
1. When, on some summer afternoon, parents watch the sports of their children and perceive their realisation of the game, do they not feel that to the child there is value in these things? And yet, when they consider the after-life of the child, do they not smile at his dream-land? It is to the parents as if it were not. And when the children grow up they feel that, when compared with the larger experience into which they have entered, that early joy was unsubstantial. In like manner, it is in the power of the ripened mind to look forward toward a coming state whose glory and perfectness shall cast all present realisations into such relative inferiority that they shall seem to be but shadows.
2. There are two states of mind in which men have an experience in business. The reality and importance of business is solemnly to be affirmed. And yet there are times when men feel disgust at wealth, and at all the means by which it is sought. But there are hours in which men feel, not that earthly treasure is despicable, but that there is a kind of treasure with which that which the earth affords bears no comparison.
3. He who has built a palace for his affections knows two experiences of the like kind. The earnest reality of heart-life — nothing can take from its importance. But there are times when there is a vision of the coming love in comparison with which all that we here knew in respect to heart-love is but a germ, or a plant in its early years.
4. Some there are who will tell you that in sorrow there is a like experience. The reality, the power, and the dominion of sorrow no man disputes. Yet, as in storms, sometimes there are moments when the clouds part and let through the whole gush of the sun; so, out of anguish, often, the soul rises to a vision of the work which sorrow does for men. "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous," &c. And in these higher moods we look back upon sorrows as if they had been no sorrows. Who remembers, when once his feet are upon land again, those weary storms that well-nigh rocked the life out of him but yesterday?
5. Thus in joy too we learn to rejoice as though we rejoiced not. We learn, blessed and beautiful as is the present, to wait for the more glorious disclosure that is just beyond. Have we not, then, in these and like experiences, the interpretation of this sublime truth of the sacred Scriptures? In another way John comes at the same truth, where he says, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God. and it doth not yet appear what we shall be." You are to live as if all things here below were transient. You are not to rest in them as though you were satisfied with them. Let us live as though all these symbols of the life to come were but shadows and dreams.
II. IN VIEW OF THESE ILLUSTRATIONS CONSIDER HOW THE DEEPENING AND ENNOBLING OF HUMAN LIFE DEPENDS, NOT ON THE IDOLATRY OF ITS PRESENT LOW ESTATE, BUT ON SO EMPLOYING ITS EARTHLY LETTER AS TO DESCRY WHAT IT IS GOING TO BE.
1. Take love, the finest feeling. We are to lift up our conceptions to a state in which our character will turn on this feeling, not occasionally, but as an ordinary experience. And when we have thus raised the ideal that ideal comes back to teach us how pure and noble it ought to be.
2. Nothing else is a better guard against immoderation and the vulgarising tendencies of business than that habit of mind which the apostle here indicates. We take business too often as an ultimate end. We do not let it prophesy anything to us. The wickedness of this world is not that men are addicted to business, but that they look at it only on the earth side; that they fail to hear its testimony of higher things. So soon as a man is satisfied that there is higher wealth than this world affords; that his life consists not of the abundance of the things which he possesses, he is fitted to acquire wealth and administer it.
3. All the experiences which we have in our varied life of this habit of mind which the apostle enjoins, will tend, not to destroy our conscious enjoyment in the present sources of innocent good, but to give us a finer joy. Men, for the most part, do not know how to find the honey in the things of this world. You will never suspect where the honey of a flower is; or, if you did, too large is your hand to be thrust in to get it. But the bee draws out the hidden stores. Its very fineness gives to it what your coarseness withholds from you. We are not fine enough to discover the joy that is hidden in many of the relations of this life.
4. So, too, cares and disappointments, such as waste life, are forestalled and resisted by this habit of mind. "For I would have you without carefulness." Not without occupation, but without corrosive anxieties. He that feels that his life here is but transient, and that his true life is craning to him. lives above those annoyances. The higher our conception of life the easier will life become.
5. This view lifts us above those fluxes and refluxes of pain and suffering that come from death. What is death? When the apple-tree blossoms you laugh, and you do not cry when you pick the apple; but when man blossoms man laughs, and then, when God picks the fruit, he cries. In winter I planted under glass, and depended upon artificial heat, and waited for the time when I might remove my early plants. But now, in these June days, I have taken them into the broad, exposed garden, and put them where they are to blossom, and they did not weep when I put them there. Now God has raised us under glass, and nurtured us there, that we might bear transplanting into another and better sphere, and when He comes, and takes us, and plants us out in His open garden, is that the time for us to cry? Now let us thank God, not that men die, but that they live. Let us mourn as though we mourned not.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;