Last month I began a series on what it means to glorify God.  We looked at how we glorify God in our bodies.  This month we continue the series by exploring how we glorify God with our focus.  Paul writes to the Corinthians:


29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live 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 goods, 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. (I Corinthians 7:29-31)


If there were a list of passages that require further explanation this must be on it, and probably close to the top.  The first verse in this passage is something that confuses us at times.  Sometimes we read in Scripture “the time is near,” and then we think, “that was written almost 2,000 years ago.”  Was Paul wrong? 


In the Bible, the arc of history is typically measured not in quantifiable time, but in events.  Have you ever used Google maps, or something similar when you traveled?  Perhaps you remember before phones had internet, when you would go to MapQuest and print the directions off on paper.  You might even remember flipping the pages of the Rand-McNally Atlas, trying to discover which highway you accidentally turned onto.   


If you printed off the directions to my mom’s house in Georgia from where I live in Louisiana, you would find a long list of dozens of instructions.  This list is composed of events if you will.  Turn onto this road.  Merge onto this interstate.  The starting point is my house, the destination is my mom’s.  All the things listed must take place to get from one to the other.  Some of them take only a few seconds, like turning onto a road.  Other’s take hours, like driving on I-65 from Mobile to Montgomery. When Paul says that the appointed time has grown very short, he means that we are near the end of the list of things that must happen before the end.  In other words, Paul is speaking not of quantifiable time but rather of time as sequential.


Another way we might conceptualize this is by thinking about baking or cooking.  We go through a lot of steps in putting it all together.  We slice and dice, we open cans, we pour.  Every time we bake or cook, we probably do a dozen things before we reach that final step of putting it in the oven, or the smoker, or the crockpot.  Sequential we have reached the final step, yet often that final step takes longer than all the others combined.   


Now that we grasp what Paul means when he says, “the appointed time as grown very short,” all that’s left is to make sense of the rest of it.  To understand what Paul means by the rest of it, we need to read what he has said through the lens of the last statement in v. 31.  “For the present form of this world is passing away.”  It’s related to what we already saw with “the appointed time has grown very short.” The shape of our life here on earth, this side of eternity, is not how life will look in heaven.  Paul wants us to keep this in mind, even as we live on this earth. He is inviting us to consider this fact, to filter our relationship with others, our experiences, and how we view our possessions through that lens. 


How does this relate to our marriages?  Let me begin by saying, it DOES NOT nullify the commitment we have made to them, and the faithfulness that the covenant of marriage demands.  The same Paul who said, “let those who have wives live as though they had none,” also said this:


25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:25-31)


It seems clear to me that Paul expects husbands to love their wives above all others, save the Lord.  For that reason, I think what Paul is saying is very similar to what Jesus himself says in the gospel:


23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Matthew 22:23-30)


The Sadducees were trying to view everything through the lens of marriage, and because of that they failed to grasp the nature of eternity.  Jesus, and in this passage Paul, want us to view everything through the lens of eternity with God.


In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, one of the main characters, Anakin Skywalker, is slowly converted to the dark side.  The conversion itself is tragic, but even more tragic is the method of his conversion.  Anakin is convinced that the only way he can save his wife, whom he loves above everything else, is by embracing the power of the dark side.  When his marriage becomes the lens through which Anakin sees the world, it becomes possible for him to invert good and evil, light and darkness.  Anakin did not start out with the goal of becoming evil, rather he reaches that point because his focus is on the wrong thing.    


Just as we cannot view life through the lens of our relationships, neither can we allow our focus to become fixed on how well, or poorly things are going for us.  Specifically, Paul says let those who mourn live as if they do not mourn, and those who rejoice as if they do not rejoice.  What does this mean?  I think Paul understands that as humans, we tend to allow the circumstances of the moment to overwhelm us.  When things are going well, we forget that life is full of hardships, and because we forget that when the hardships finally come- and they also show up eventually- we are caught off guard.  Similarly, when sorrows come it is easy to forget the many blessings we enjoy.  Paul is cautioning us against viewing life through the lens of life’s ups and downs.  Circumstances change, but God does not. 


Consider the example of Job.  When Job’s life is turned upside down by Satan, we read of his response:      


20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20-21)


At the height of his misfortune and in the depth of his sorrow, Job remembers that we come into life with nothing, and we take nothing with us when we leave this life.  We will experience both blessing and loss during our time here on earth.  The one constant through it all is God.  In like manner, Paul wrote:


10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)


The Apostle, writing from prison, shares with us the lessons learned from his own experience.  The key to life, whether it be up or down, is to draw strength from the Lord. 


My entire life I have been an Atlanta Braves fan.  Over the last several years, as the Braves have once again risen from the doldrums, they have been guided by a new manager, Brian Snitker.  This latest stretch of success has even included another World Series title in 2021 (I was there for the clinching game 6, but that’s another story for another time).  I mention all of this because I have noticed something about Brian Snitker as a manager.  Over the long course of the 162-game season, Snitker never seems to get too high or too low.  At the conclusion of each game, he fields questions in the same even-keel manner.  After decades in the game, he knows that each season will come with ebbs and flows. If he allowed the outcome of each contest to frame his outlook, every season would be a roller coaster.  Life is like a baseball season in many ways.  There will be great games, and games we would rather forget.  There will be winning streaks and there will also be times when we wonder if we will ever win another game. If we live and die with each victory and defeat, life will be filled with constant anxiety.  Life is not about its highs and lows; it is about the one who gifted us life.  Joy and sorrow are real, but they do not overwhelm the ultimate reality that is God.


Next, Paul addresses our possessions when he writes, “and those who buy as though they had no goods.” We in a nation with the phrase “In God We Trust” emblazoned on our money, yet it is the money itself that we often put our faith in.  How easy it is, especially when you live in the richest nation on earth, to view life through the lens of wealth and possessions.  We buy, and then believe the lie that we need to buy even more.  We view our car as old before the note is even paid off.  The house most people on earth would see as a mansion, we are convinced, is too small.  The clothes that are still like new aren’t in fashion anymore.  We watch a show on HGTV and decide that the appliances that work just fine in the kitchen need “updated.”  All around us is a culture that drives us to consume more…and more…and more.  But to what end?  Where does it end? Jesus speaks to this when he tells a story in Luke’s gospel, a story whose genesis is a squabble over possessions.


13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)


Woe to us if we spend so much time viewing life through the lens of our gifts, that we neglect to pay attention to the giver.  Elsewhere, Paul warns against the dangers of materialism and the desire for wealth.


But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (I Timothy 6:6-10)


Again, we notice the reality that we come into the world with nothing and leave the world with nothing.  Why spend life focused on things that you cannot take with you when you die?


Finally, Paul challenges how we view our relationship with the world when he states, “and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.” When the United States was very young, its first President, George Washington, warned against the danger of entangling alliances.  No one knew better than Washington that the United States would not have been a nation without the help of others, particularly France.  Yet, he also understood that often alliances are made because other nations seek to use one another to their advantage.  There will be times when the world appears to be on our side.  As I mentioned previously, our nation has “In God We Trust” on its currency.  But does that mean the government is a staunch ally of Christianity?  Or could it be that the decision was made to include that phrase because that was the direction the wind was blowing at the time.  If we allow ourselves to become entangled by our dealings with the world one of two things will happen.  We will either be used or left disappointed.  It is entirely possible we will be disappointed because we realize that the world has used us. Make no mistake, the world is against God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  It might not always seem so but given enough time the world’s true intentions and loyalties will be revealed.  This is why in his farewell discourse to his disciples, Jesus tells them: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)


Jesus came to this world because God loved it, but Jesus also understood that the world was against him.  It was with this understanding that Paul wrote elsewhere to the Roman church: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2) As Christians, we are not to adopt the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach.  The reality is, the one we live to glorify, God, has won the victory. 


It is easy in life, for our focus to become fixated on our relationships…our successes or failures…the good times and the bad…the things we have…the status we achieve. Yet, all these things are temporary, and if we try to view the world through these lenses, if we try to put these things at the center of our life, we will be disappointed.  Timothy Keller put it this way:


“The ultimate reason for our misery, however, is that we do not love God supremely. As Augustine so famously put in prayer, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” That means, quite simply, if you love anything at all in this world more than God, you will crush that object under the weight of your expectations, and it will eventually break your heart.”

It may be that as you read this you are heartbroken. 

Maybe a relationship has ended…

Maybe the good times you were enjoying have come to an end…

Maybe you’ve lost a prized possession…

Maybe you don’t enjoy the same status you once did…

All these things happen in life.  But you know what the one constant is?  Jesus!  Jesus is the one whom we glorify in this life, by making him our focus.  My challenge to you is to switch the lenses, because when we view the world through the lens of Christ, everything comes into focus.

-Justin Simmons live in Glenmora, LA and is the. Preacher for the Glenmora Church of Christ