Paul is writing in order to admonish the Corinthian church toward unity through maturity in the faith. In Chapter 7, he admonishes them toward contentment because contentment facilitates growth to maturity. Now, Paul explains why contentment is advantageous in this life.
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1 Corinthians 7:29-35
29 τοῦτο δέ φημι, ἀδελφοί, ὁ καιρὸς συνεσταλμένος ἐστίν· τὸ λοιπὸν ἵνα καὶ οἱ ἔχοντες γυναῖκας ὡς μὴ ἔχοντες ὦσιν, 30 καὶ οἱ κλαίοντες ὡς μὴ κλαίοντες, καὶ οἱ χαίροντες ὡς μὴ χαίροντες, καὶ οἱ ἀγοράζοντες ὡς μὴ κατέχοντες, 31 καὶ οἱ χρώμενοι τὸν κόσμον ὡς μὴ καταχρώμενοι· παράγει γὰρ τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου.
32 Θέλω δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀμερίμνους εἶναι. ὁ ἄγαμος μεριμνᾷ τὰ τοῦ κυρίου, πῶς ἀρέσῃ τῷ κυρίῳ· 33 ὁ δὲ γαμήσας μεριμνᾷ τὰ τοῦ κόσμου, πῶς ἀρέσῃ τῇ γυναικί, 34 καὶ μεμέρισται. καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἡ ἄγαμος καὶ ἡ παρθένος μεριμνᾷ τὰ τοῦ κυρίου, ἵνα ᾖ ἁγία καὶ τῷ σώματι καὶ τῷ πνεύματι· ἡ δὲ γαμήσασα μεριμνᾷ τὰ τοῦ κόσμου, πῶς ἀρέσῃ τῷ ἀνδρί. 35 τοῦτο δὲ πρὸς τὸ ὑμῶν αὐτῶν σύμφορον λέγω, οὐχ ἵνα βρόχον ὑμῖν ἐπιβάλω, ἀλλὰ πρὸς τὸ εὔσχημον καὶ εὐπάρεδρον τῷ κυρίῳ ἀπερισπάστως.
Living in a dying world (v. 29-31)
But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.
But is a contrarian term. Paul is admonishing the church to live in a way that is counter-cultural. Instead of seeking to fulfill all their dreams and lusts and preferences and expectations, Christians are to be content—and can be because Christ is truly their all-in-all. Instead of living like the current way of things will always be the way of things, Paul admonishes the church to live as if nothing is what it seems because the time has been shortened and the world is passing away. He applies this across the board—to everyone in every circumstance. You lived one way while you were of the world apart from Christ or immature in the faith, but from now on:
- those who have wives should be as though they had none,
- Paul is not here encouraging people to get divorced or neglect their spouses. He is providing a way for Christians to live within their marriage relationship. Instead of being needy or believing that their wives are their all-in-all, they are to individually fix their eyes upon Christ and focus on following Him. Contentment discourages neediness. Neediness causes us to place all of the attention of those in our lives on us rather than Christ. Neediness causes us to expect of others such that our expectations cause them to take their focus off Christ—whether in marriage, the church, workplace, or concerning our selfish expectations of pastors. There are many who, because of bad expectations, are focussed on needy people rather than on Christ. To clarify, needy, here, refers to a person’s heart and attitude, not an actual, physical need that is pressing. When we are in Christ, we become less clingy and needy because Christ alone is our all-in-all. Instead of telling them what they want to hear and justifying their bad expectations, Paul is honest in his admonition. Don’t be so needy. Neediness facilitates immaturity, takes others focus off of Christ, and causes division (cf. Chapter 1).
- If you are married, focus on Christ rather than your spouse. This is the only way you will be able to serve your spouse for his or her good rather than draining him or her of all energy, time, and devotion to King Jesus. This applies to every relationship. Our neediness and expectations cause many to forsake honoring Christ because they feel a need to please us. No one can bow before both Christ and man.
- those who weep as though they did not weep,
- The circumstances in this life often cause us distress. When we dwell on negative circumstances, we drown ourselves in self-pity and get stuck. When we recognize that God works all things together and has His own agenda in all things, we don’t have to get stuck in our self-pity. Self-pity comes from selfish desire and an entitlement mentality. Even if the circumstances of this world cause us distress, we are to deny ourselves and move on. Life isn’t about us.
- those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice,
- On the mountains, like in the valleys, our focus is centered on Christ rather than our own victories, defeats, successes, failures, expectations, let-downs, offenses, works, preferences, and so on. Life isn’t about us getting what we want or seeing what we thing we ought to see in others. Contentment is the way in every season of life.
- those who buy as though they did not possess, and
- You might not know, but you do not get to keep anything you acquire in this life. There are many who idolatrize their homes, ministries, businesses, material possessions, and money. If we have, we are to focus on Christ as if we have nothing. It is true that the God-honoring work we do will be preserved, and each one will receive a heavenly reward according to that work (cf. 3:12-15). It is not true that we get to keep the material possessions, positions, statuses, titles, reputations, degrees and so forth we earn for ourselves according to the ways of the world.
- those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it.
- Paul, here, does not claim that it is wrong to make use of the world—its economy, social structure, politics, religion, corporate hierarchy (which is the new caste system), and so forth. He does admonish the local church not to get too caught up in making use of the world, whether for personal, corporate, or ministry gains. The world changes, and dishonors God in many ways. We are to focus on Christ, and honor Him in everything—being willing to give up that which invites us to live contrary to our calling in Christ. There are many gains to be made in the world according to the world’s ways. Even if we make such gains, we are to live as if we do not. Contentment and humility go hand-in-hand.
- Leaders are to live as if they are not leaders, teachers as if they are not teachers, pastors as if they are not pastors, bosses as if they are not bosses, landlords as if they are not landlords, the rich as if they are not rich, the poor as if they are not poor, and so on. Life is not about you. Focus on Christ.
For the form of this world is passing away… Here, it almost seems as if we encounter a contradiction in Paul’s thought. He has so far been post- or amillennial in his optimism concerning the persistence of the world, claiming that those things that honor God will never perish, Christ is overcoming the world, and the fire to come is purifying rather than destructive (cf. 1:18-31; 3:12-15). Out of context, verse 31 seems to indicate that the whole world will pass away, which is inconsistent with Paul’s previous eschatology. In context, we see that the world refers to that which is not of Christ, the ways of malcontent, the world’s economy, social structures, politics, corporate tendencies, and so forth. These things are passing away and a better kingdom is overtaking the planet. Therefore, we do not hold too fast to the ways, expectations, and preferences of the world. We focus on Christ because He is establishing His ways and making foolish the ways of the world (cf. 1:18-31).
Undistracted devotion to the Lord (v. 32-35)
But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.
Paul’s application particularly concerns the marriage relationship, but the principle applies across every arena of life. Live simply. Don’t divide your interests. Live in secure and undistracted devotion to the Lord.
This is why we do not hold others to unbiblical expectations or preferences no matter their positions in this world or relationships to us. This is why we resolve not to cave to unbiblical expectations and bad religion. God desires our undistracted devotion, and we cannot serve two masters. I have personally given up jobs, ministries, and positions (even in the church) because the unhealthy expectations of others would have caused me to live in sin and deny my calling in Christ Jesus. I have chosen the path of undistracted devotion to the Lord. My wife is so supportive in that, not requiring me to divide my attention too much. She is truly a Proverbs 31 and 1 Corinthians 7 woman and leads me to Christ rather than away from Him. To have a distraction is not sin, but many things that distract us from our service to God can lead us into sin—especially the bad, selfish expectations so prevalent in the world. Instead of seeking sordid gain by “people pleasing”—which leads us into the use of flattery and manipulation to keep our positions, statuses, reputations, titles, paychecks, and so forth—we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. We are admonished by Scripture to live content, humble lives. Why? Life is about Christ, not us. We are not to be inwardly focussed, but outwardly.