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;…
Very impressive is the apostle's manner in always rising above the mere details of duty to great ruling verities. Throughout this chapter there is a constant reference from rules to principles, and nowhere is this more conspicuous than in these verses.
I. THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF THIS LIFE.
1. "The time is shortened." The apostle seems to have in view the coming of Christ, of which the troubles of the time appeared to be the harbingers. Any day the "sign of the Sea of man" might be seen in the heavens, so brief was the interval. Long centuries have rolled away since then, and the strained eyes of the Church have not yet beheld that sign. Still, the utterance of the apostle is not mistaken. Though the horizon that bounded his vision has been widening with the ages, the time is still short. For us the practical truth is that our life span here is brief, whether its boundary be the Lord's coming to us or our going to him.
(1) The time is short as compared with other periods. Brevity is a relative thing, according to the standard of measurement. The present average of human life is brief compared with the limit of "three score years and ten;" this term is brief compared with that of the antediluvians; the years of Methuselah are but an handbreadth compared with the duration of the earth; and this again is as nothing compared with eternity. Life seems long in prospect, short in retrospect. "Few and evil" (Genesis 47:9) is ever the old man's plaint.
(2) The time is short as compared with our life task. Every true ideal of life seems to mock the little space we are given to reach it. "Art is long and time is fleeting." We learn little more than the alphabet of knowledge. We have but placed a few stones on the building when our work day is over, and we leave the structure to be completed by others. What can we accomplish in one short life for the perfecting of our Christian manhood, the extension of Christ's kingdom, the redemption of our fellow men? But let us not either lower our ideal within attainable limits or fold our hands in despair. The true work of this life, stripped of its temporary form, is carried over into the life to come and continued there.
2. "The fashion of this world passeth away?" (ver. 31). It is like a scene in a theatre - vanishing while you gaze on it.
(1) This is true of external nature. All is in a condition of flux; there is nothing permanent. The face of the earth, the boundaries of sea and land, even the everlasting hills, - all have changed and are changing. And at last, when the day of the Lord comes, "the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10).
(2) This is true of human life.
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players."
(As You Like It,' act 2, sc. 5.) Within a single lifetime what changes do we see! Nations rise and fall; governments come and go; public men play their parts and then pass out of sight. How few of the friends of our youth and manhood remain with us till old age! New actors are ever coming on the stage and the old disappearing. The customs of society, modes of living, the whole environment of life, are like so many shifting scenes.
(3) This is true of ourselves. The seven ages (see reference above) are the seven acts of our little life drama; and each successive age brings its characteristic habits of mind. Standing amid all this transitoriness, where nothing is stable and abiding, we need to hold by the Unchanging in order to keep our balance.
II. THE PURPOSE OF GOD IN THE BREVITY OF LIFE. The time has been shortened that we may sit loosely to all earthly things. Their temporary character is to be remembered in all our relations to them. This is illustrated in several particulars.
1. The married life. "That those that have wives may be as though they had none." The apostle does not say that celibacy is a more spiritual condition than marriage. There is no asceticism in his teaching here or elsewhere. The married are to be as the unmarried, remembering that marriage is one of those things that are passing away. While loving husband and wife, we are not to forget that the time is short. This stage of existence is but preparatory to another, where "they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Luke 20:35).
2. Sorrow. "Those that weep, as though they wept not? Tears are not forbidden to the Christian. This is no stoical precept, bidding us refrain from weeping as inconsistent with our dignity. Grief is human, and all that is purely human Christianity encourages. "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). The liker we are to him, the more tender of heart, the mere sympathetic shall we become. But we are to weep remembering that the time is short. Sorrow also is transitory. It must not master us or break our hearts. Whatever touches the spring of tears - bereavement, loss, pain, the sufferings of others - belongs to the temporary condition of things. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5); "And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes," etc. (Romans 21:4). Therefore weep as though you wept not.
3. Joy. "Those that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not." Christianity does not frown upon earthly happiness. It is the part of Satan to represent the religious life as one of gloom, and the teaching of some Christians gives colour to the falsehood. Nature, literature, the arts, society, domestic fellowship, - all may pour their tributaries into the stream of our gladness. None should enjoy God's world like God's own child. But here the tempering thought comes in - "The time is short." Even this is not our highest joy, for it springs from a source that will soon be dried up. The "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8) belongs to the region of faith, and flows from those things which faith alone apprehends. Apply this to amusements. Pure and wholesome entertainments are to be encouraged, especially for the young. But whatever will not bear the thought of the brevity of life is not good for a Christian. Instead of the sword of Damocles or the death's head, the believer moderates his joy with the thought that "the Lord is at hand."
4. Possessions. "Those that buy, as though they possessed not." Christians are not forbidden to engage in trade or merchandise with a view to the acquisition of property. Every lawful calling is open to them. They are not prohibited from possessing wealth. The real question is - What place has it in the heart? Earthly possessions are to be held under the recollection that they belong to a transitory state of things. The man of substance is to sit loosely to what he possesses, not forgetting that "the things which are seen are temporal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).
5. The use of the world. "Those that use the world, as not abusing it." All that God gives us of this world is to be used as ministering to our need. The thing to be guarded against is the wrong use of it. It is to be our servant, not our master. God has put it under our feet (Psalm 8:6), and we must keep it there. We abuse the world
(1) if we seek it as the chief good of life, or
(2) if we use it so as to hurt or hinder our spiritual life. - B.
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;