"The Time Between Now and When" Bible Study on 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
January 21, 2021, 4:50 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (New Revised Standard Version).

29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Before we consider this passage from 1 Corinthians, I also invite you to read this Sunday's Gospel Lesson from Mark 1:14-20.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Unlike some Sundays, we have a nice connection between the Gospel Lesson and the appointed lectionary Epistle Lesson, on which I will be basing this Sunday's Reflection.  Both lessons, 1 Corinthians and the Gospel (Mark1:14-20), have to do with questions:  "What time is it?" and "How then shall we live in the present time?"  And they're good questions to ask during this time of pandemic.

In this Sunday's Gospel, Mark 1:15, Jesus proclaims "The time (kairos in Greek) is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news."  One can sense the urgency of the moment.  God's reign is breaking into human history.  A sense of urgency also characterizes the beginning of this Sunday's selection from 1 Corinthians 7.  The Apostle Paul declares: "Brothers and sisters, the appointed time (again the Greek word, kairos, is used)  has grown short" (1 Corinthians 7:29).  Apparently, Paul expects the imminent return of Christ in his glory, when "the present form of this world" will pass away (7:31).  That expectation has important immediate ramifications for how life is to be lived by believers in the present.

You will note, in both scripture selections, the Greek word for time, kairos.  This sense of time is different from the Greek word for calendar and clock time, which is chronos.  Kairos can be translated as "significant time infused with Divine meaning," or as "time appointed by God," or "time of crisis."  In a sense, all of these meanings of kairos could be appropriately applied to the use of the word in this Sunday's lessons.  As God enters (or should we say invades) human history as Jesus the Christ, and the kingdom of God breaks in among us, time is transformed, given new significance that it would not have without God's actions.

Paul, writing to the Christians in Corinth (probably around 55 or 56 C.E.), has been dealing with a number of issues that congregational leaders must have brought to Paul's attention.  Remember, Corinth was a port city famous for its depravity and loose living.  Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sensual lust, was the patron deity of the city.  Some of the Corinthian Christians were among the former worshippers of Aphrodite.  So, in the early parts of 1 Corinthians 7 before verses 29-31, Paul addresses relations between the sexes.

What about marriage?  Paul is clearly in favor of staying single, but marriage can be a remedy for the problem of sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:1-9).  Paul speaks against divorce but also recognizes the possibility that divorce might be the best action in some cases (7:10-16).  Paul seems to recommend avoiding unnecessary changes in life situations.  In the present moment, slaves should not think of themselves as inferior without freedom, though they are free to accept freedom if offered (7:11-24).  Married couples should remain in their present state (7:25-28) "in view of the impending crisis."  Paul's mention of the "impending crisis" (verse 26) suggest that Paul's directives for behavior in the present time are based on Paul's sense that life as we know it is coming to an end very soon.  In light of that impending ending, we need to focus on what's important and not become obsessed with what's unimportant.  If making the vows of marriage or being free from bondage aren't important matters, what is important?

Notice Paul's expression "as though not" (in Greek, hos me) that occurs no less than five times within these three verses.  Paul says that we are to live "as though not" married, enslaved, mourning, rejoicing, buying and selling.  In short, we are to live as if we were not living in the present age.  In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Paul encourages that we are to disengage from the preoccupations and concerns of this age because, the world as we know it, is passing away.

And yet, in Paul's other letters, he has more to say than simply disengage.  For example, in Romans 12:9-21, Paul has a detailed set of directives for Christian behavior within the Church (12:9-13) as well as outside of the Church (the Body of Christ - 12:14-21).  Then there is Romans 13:1-10, where Paul urges believers to be subject to the governing powers.  Twice in Paul's letters, he summarizes the Ten Commandments by referring to the Love Commandment (Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 5:14).

All of this is to say that we are to hear Paul's call to disengagement because of the ending of the age alongside his appeal for engagement with the present age in the name of Christ.  We do not abandon the world, but we do not live by the world's standards.  Perhaps Paul sees the challenge that Christians face is not the question of being disengaged or engaged, but rather to be up front in the world, knowing what we know now that Christ has entered human history.  So, the question is not, "Will we withdraw from the world, or should we be fully immersed and engaged in the world?'  The question is: "How do we live in the world now that Christ has come, is coming, and will come among us as we continue Christ's ministry on earth?"

And now that we know an old world is ending and a new is beginning, how then shall we live?  What Paul says is that the ending of one age and the beginning of another puts our life today in a different perspective.  A lot of things that we think are so important don't seem important anymore.  Put another way, what will we do with our time between now and when everyone gets the vaccine?  Jesus put others first; he gave people a second chance.  Jesus said, "Let tomorrow take care of tomorrow, for the worries of today are enough for today."  Let's do the same.  It's a new world, a new beginning.


Pastor Greg Rupright


01-22-2021 at 8:34 PM
Pat May
Thanks for putting a rationale -if questioning - face on the reading/s.
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