Key Verse: 1 Corinthians 7:29a, 31b “…the time is short…the form of this world is passing away.”
I’d like to caution you before reacting to Paul’s apparently low view of marriage in this chapter. First of all, read 9:5, “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas (Peter)?” Apparently, as he delineated the rights of apostles, Paul felt the need to defend his and the others’ right to take a wife along on missionary travels. Whether or not Paul actually did so remains unestablished. But there is, at least, room to believe that he was married.
Secondly, look at those key verses (29 & 31). Paul had a very-real expectation that the end was near. Jesus was coming back soon, and life for the believer should be as uncomplicated as possible — “I would like you to be free from concern”, he says. Marriage brought concern about this world’s affairs, whereas singleness brought the potential for single-mindedness in the “Lord’s affairs”. (vv.32, 34). He wanted as many believers as possible to “live in a right way in the undivided devotion to the Lord” (v.35). So it wasn’t so much a low view of marriage that fuelled Paul’s words in chapter 7, but an urgent view of the shortage of time before the Lord’s return.
Theologians call the hope of the soon return for Christ the doctrine of “imminence” — meaning that the Lord’s return could be today, so be ready. Anticipate the Day of the Lord; live in the light of it and look forward to it. Do this, and your values will be altered. Your eyes will rise from the immediate concerns to the far horizon, where the dawn of the kingdom of Heaven is about to break.
Key Verse: 1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”
Have you a pet sin? Once that’s been with you for years? Perhaps It’s relatively secret (apart from any “shared” sinning it may have precipitated with other secret partners). You’ve brought it to God many, many times, but it’s still there. You haven’t mastered it yet. In fact, if the truth were known, it has mastered you.
When you read Paul’s words in the second half of chapter 6, there’s a tendency to react immaturely to his hymn of freedom — “if all things are lawful for me, then lets get on with sinning!”, something inside you cries. But the very thing you think of doing is probably the very thing that has mastered you, or would if it could. Paul, on the other hand, after declaring that “all things are lawful for me,” goes on to quickly add, “but I will not be mastered by anything (v.12b NIV).
Maturity is an elusive thing. We assume a person is mature because he/she is “adult”. They’re in their 40’s or 50’s and have had time to develop — they’re refined and objective. They’ve got their act together; their judgment can be trusted. Not necessarily so.
Some of the most immature people I have known are “up in years”. All their lives they’ve demanded and got their own way. They’ve specialized in making life meet their own needs — often at the expense of the needs of those closest to them. Indeed, their needs have mastered them.
Contrast these self-absorbed ones to the truly free spirit. Here’s someone who has recognized the potential tyranny of his own needs, and has determined, rather, to meet the needs of others at the expense of his own short-term satisfaction. He’s a soul with eyes fixed on the far horizon. Under God, he is master of his own destiny. Truly free and truly God’s.
Egypt to Nazareth Matthew 2:19-23
Joseph, like his patriarchal namesake, was a “dreamer”. Here in these four verses of scripture we read of a third, then a fourth directive dream. Joseph receives from the Lord. The third instructs him to go back to Israel. The fourth moves him and his young family on to the region of the Lower Galilee to a town called Nazareth. It was here that Jesus lived the next thirty years of his life, working as a carpenter side-by-side with his mentor Joseph. We can only imagine the conversations, the family meals, the fellowship with friends and neighbours, that helped shape the emerging Messiah.
Nazareth was, and in many ways still is, an inconsequential, nondescript town. Situated on a range of hills overlooking the Jezreel Valley, its only distinction was its proximity to international trade routes. It was a frontier town, out of the mainstream, and marked with a peculiar accent. Indeed Nazareth and Nazarenes were looked on with scorn by the Jewish world to the south of them. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was a common slight. So even the moniker “Jesus of Nazareth” had a certain innuendo — yes he was from Nazareth, but he was also “from Nazareth”, not to be taken seriously. (It took more than a bit of getting used to be being called “Notzrim” when I and my family first moved to Jerusalem in 1981. I was often introduced by my Israeli friends to others as a “Notzri”. Not much good out of that town. I always felt slightly diminished). Nevertheless that’s where Jesus grew up, and that’s what makes Nazareth a name of honour to this day. He was “called a Nazarene”.
Key Verse: 1 Corinthians 4:41 “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. “ (NIV)
Paul appears a touch arrogant here. “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court,” he says. Not only does he have little regard for what people think of him, he doesn’t really care what he himself thinks of himself, “I do not even judge myself” (4:3). He refuses to succumb to false guilt.
Psychology tells us there are two kinds of guilt: false guilt and true guilt. False guilt occurs when you accept the blame for not meeting the expectation of others, or yourself. True guilt occurs when you transgress moral law. One is subjective in its orientation, the other objective.
In the final analysis, there’s only one Judge who should concern us. It’s this Judge that Paul fears — “It is the Lord who judges me.” (v.4b).
But here’s the sticky part. Why be subject to judgement at all? Why not eat, drink, be merry, and die — blissfully extinct and obliged to no one?
If you’re at all like me, you probably have had moments when you wished you weren’t constantly accountable — not just to self, family, and friends, but to God. Sometime you just want to be free to be selfish.
Well, for the Christian, that’s not how it works. The Lord is coming. That truth is our hope and our discipline. We’re going to be called to account. We’ll be facing the ultimate court. Without further appeal.
Thank God we’ve got a good lawyer — Jesus Christ Himself, ever living “to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25). He knows what it’s like to be human. And He pleads a good case.