This holiday season was a first in my family: this is my older son’s first year at college, so this was the first Christmas when we’ve had a child come home for a little while and then go away again. On the first weekend of January we took him back to school to begin spring semester, and then we took down all the Christmas decorations at home. Everything seemed to end at once, and the Christmas season suddenly felt as though it had been painfully brief. (But don’t feel too sorry for me; I am delighted not to have to share my bathroom anymore!)
I suspect most of the time we don’t realize how quickly time passes until we look back on it. In the middle of living, we’re more likely to feel the minutes ticking, the hours creeping, the days dragging. How might we live differently if we could recognize how short the time is, even when we are in the midst of the messes and delights of daily life? In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul seems to have this perspective. He realizes—and wants the church to realize, too—that even though the hours may creep and the days may drag until Jesus’s return, in fact the time is short. God’s people need to learn to live in a way that does not cling to everyday life, because “the present form of this world is passing away,” and soon. He does not tell the believers not to marry, or mourn, or rejoice, or shop, or deal with the world at all, but to live “as though” they did not. Our task, Paul says, is to live in the midst of life with awareness that this world—its messes and its delights—are not permanent. We cannot be ready for Christ’s coming if we cling to structures and systems and even feelings that are already passing away.
Paul’s insistence that “the appointed time has grown short” seems ironic—maybe even ridiculous. Paul wrote these words nearly two thousand years ago; the earliest believers expected Jesus’s return at any time, and we are still waiting. Perhaps on God’s timeline of eternity, even millennia are a flash in the pan, but it seems impossible for us humans to look back at thousands of years—and look forward to who knows how many more—and sense that the time has been short. Jesus said, “about that day and hour no one knows” (Mt 24:36); our job is not to calculate “that day” on the calendar, but to wait as though the only thing we need to cling to is the promise of God’s new world, whenever it comes. We can wait faithfully without clinging to this world in the midst of daily messes—the wet towels on the bathroom floor, the extra dirty dishes, the racket of guitar practice (just to name a few hypotheticals). We can wait faithfully without clinging in loving relationships, in line at the grocery store, and singing “Joy to the World.” And we can wait faithfully without clinging—even in our grief—every time we have to say goodbye.
- Consider the list of “as thoughs” Paul names in 1 Corinthians 7. How have you experienced each of these? How do these experiences add meaning to our lives? How might they distract us from faithful expectation of Jesus’s return?
- Psalm 62 describes God’s ultimate trustworthiness; the psalmist says God “alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken” (v. 2). How does remembering we can put our faith in “God alone” help us not to cling to earthly things?
- Do you feel that time is dragging or flying? What situations or circumstances seem to cause time to rush by, or to slow down?
- One possible response to feeling that time is short is to “seize the day”—trying to experience life to the fullest, making every moment count. How might this approach be an act of faith? How is Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians different from “seizing the day”?
Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.
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