Monday, 4 August 2014
But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none,1 Corinthians 7:29
This verse is generally taken to mean that Paul thought of the coming of the Lord as “right around the corner” and that the expectation for a long and normal life before His coming was unlikely. Although this is possible, it is not the only explanation and it dismisses his words of verse 26 which speak “of the present distress.”
Considering his words here with that in mind, a more probable view of what he is speaking of comes to light. He begins with, “But I say, brethren.” He continues with the idea that his words are directed to “brethren,” meaning believers. It doesn’t exclude that his words could be applied to unbelievers, but his concern is to those in the fellowship. For them, they need to consider that “the time is short.” The word used here is sunestalmenos which means “contracted” or “drawn up, as if into a narrow space.” It is a word which is elsewhere used in the act of “furling” a sail. It goes from being a large, open sheet, to a condensed roll which takes up little space.
So, is Paul referring to the expected return of the Lord, or “of the present distress?” Because he has already referred to the distress of the moment, it seems unlikely that he would suddenly jump to “the return of the Lord” without specifically stating this as a reason for his coming admonition. He isn’t going to refer to the coming of the Lord specifically until chapter 11, and that is in the context of taking the Lord’s Supper. When he speaks in detail about His coming, it will be in chapter 15. This will be after countless admonitions for the conduct of life, even a long life ahead.
Therefore, the probability strongly suggests that Paul’s words are intended for those in Corinth who were facing a high degree of uncertainty because of the conditions around them and they would therefore point to the same for anyone living in a time of exceptional turmoil. If this is the state of things in the world around the believer, he says “that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none.”
Without considering the words of the coming verses, what he says here could be misunderstood to mean that no regard should be given to one’s wife. This is not his intent, as will be seen. Rather, he is saying that the attitude of clinging to one’s wife in the hopes of a long and prosperous marriage isn’t recommended. Because of the present distress, one should understand that the wife may be taken away suddenly (through whatever the distress is – plague, famine, war, persecution, etc.).
In such a difficult time, clinging to the marriage as if it were a long and permanent arrangement could certainly lead to heartache and bitterness.
Life application: The context of the times is important when understanding biblical applications. We are to enjoy the things God has blessed us with, but if we assume that the life we live today will be the same on the morrow, we may find bitterness and disappointment. It would be unwise to expect a good job, a stable family, and a garage full of nice toys during a time of economic collapse. Context is important when evaluating life, just as it is when evaluating the Bible.
Lord, I know that the time around me is like a sail being furled in. There will be a moment when it will be gone and I certainly don’t know the speed with which my sail will be fully secure. It could be a long and pleasant roll through the years, or it could end suddenly with an abrupt pull of the cord, drawing my days quickly to their termination. For this reason, I will spend my moments wisely – seeking Your face, praising Your name, and attempting (even if failingly) to glorify You in all ways. It is my heart’s desire to keep my sail in the face of favorable winds until no more can be captured. Amen.