Epiphany 3 + January 18 & 21, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin
Text: I Corinthians 7:29-31
Hymn: All Depends on Our Possessing (CW, 421)
Being an actor means that, for awhile, you pretend to be someone you are not. Serious actors really concentrate on their roles. They try to be realistic with their emotions and actions. However, for as real as thy try to act, actors know they are only acting - at least they should. If an actor in a Shakespearian play really thought he was Hamlet, prince of Denmark, his friends would tell him, "You need to see a psychologist." If an actor in an action movie really thought he could jump out of a plane, his friends would tell him, "Snap out of your fantasy. Come back to reality."
In a way, this describes how we Christians must view our existence in this world. All the world's a stage and God is the producer and director. God has assigned each one of us our specific roles: parent, child, teacher, student, friend, citizen, worker, church member, and so on. While w are living on this earth, we must perform our roles faithfully and diligently.
However, as we live in this world, we must realize the same thing an actor on stage realizes. An actor knows that his true life is not his temporary role on stage, but in his permanent existence in the real world. On a larger scale, we Christians know that our real existence is not in this temporary life on earth. We know our real existence is to live forever in the perfect glory of everlasting life in heaven. We Christians know, and believe, and confess: The world gives way to God's kingdom.
Accepting this truth helps us understand Paul's words in our text:
"What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away."
At first glance, it seems as if Paul is saying, If you are married, get a divorce. If you have an emotion, suppress it. If you have possessions, give them away. However, Paul is not telling us that. All through our text, he keeps saying "as if." In other words, we view our earthly relationships, emotions, and our earthly possessions as gifts of God, but only as temporary gifts.
Now, you might say, How can God's Word tell husbands and wives to "live as if we were not married?" Doesn't the Bible tell us that divorce is a sin? Doesn't God want us to build strong marriages? Well, yes, God does command husbands and wives to love and honor one another> But we dishonor God if we put our spouse in first place instead of our Savior. If we say "I love you" to our spouse every day, but only pray to God once a week, then we have confused our priorities. So we need to repent of putting our spouse ahed of God. We need to pray to God every day. We need to find our greatest joy in his love and in his forgiveness of all our sins by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God's Word also tells us, "...those who mourn [should live] as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not..." (v. 30) Once again, God is not saying, You should never be sad. And you must never be happy at all. No, it's okay to have emotions. God made us with emotions. However, we must keep our emotions in their proper place. Here are some examples: if we get caught in traffic, we blow our top; if our boss gives us too mush work or if our teacher piles on the assignments, we seethe with anger; if our neighbor's barking dog wakes us up on our only day to sleep in, our blood begins to boil. In contrast to getting upset with such worldly events, ask yourself, Do I get that upset when someone takes the name of the Lord in vain? Do I get that sad when someone rejects saving faith in Jesus? Do I get as irritated over the spread of false doctrine?
Likewise, just think how happy we get over things that don't really matter: students overflow with joy when a snow day cancels school; we wait all week so we can party with our friends on Friday night; we get hysterical watching our favorite team play. Being happy about these things is not a sin. But ask yourself, Do I overflow with even greater joy because God has cancelled my debt of sin? Do I wait for an eternal celebration with all God's saints and angels in heaven? Do I rejoice because Christ's victory on the cross is better than any sports victory?
Yes, we must admit it. We frequently experience more sadness and more joy because of earthly things rather than because of the Kingdom of God. So we need to repent of our wolrdly obsessions when it comes to misplaces emotions.
This is also true of our possessions. St. Paul says, "...those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them..." (v. 30-31) We must ask, Do I own my possessions, or do my possessions own me? Am I slaving away at my job only to become a slave to the things my paycheck buys? Or do I use my energy and money the way God wants me to? Do I use them to support my family, to donate to worthy charities, and to support my church?
When we do not use our possessions in the proper way, we need to repent of our worldly obsession. We need God's forgiveness. We need his power to put the things of the world in their proper place. That's because "this world in its present form is passing away." (v. 31) We need to repent of our worldly obsessions because our sinful nature loves this world and everything in it. Our sinful nature doesn't ever want to leave this world.
But think about it. What if this world never passed away? Just imagine how terrible life would be id we had to live forever with aches and pains, with disappointments and frustrations. just imagine how painful life would be if we had to struggle with our sinful nature forever. What if you had to spend eternity repenting and feeling guilty? Just imagine how awful it would be if we had to put up with the sins of others - racism, hatred, stealing, lying, betrayal - and we had to put up with these sins forever.
No, we want this world, with all its evil and sin, to be over and done with. Of course, while this world exists, we will all be like faithful actors, performing the various roles that God has given us to do. While we are on the stage of this world, we will fight against the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. But we want this sinful world to be over and done with.
Thankfully, that day is coming. We will throw off our earthly existence. We will live forever with Jesus is perfect joy, perfect peace, and perfect safety. We Christians rejoice because God promises in Revelation 21, "God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
It's been said, "Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good." That saying blames Christians for concentrating their thoughts on eternity and not contributing to life on this earth. Of course, we Christians must never be lazy, useless, or unconcerned about the needs of the world. But we must keep this worldly life in its proper place. This world is passing away. This world gives way to God's kingdom. So repent of your worldly obsessions. Rejoice in your heavenly salvation, purchased and won for you by the blood of Christ. And if anybody ever tells you, "Christians are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good, don't take it as an insult. It's a compliment.