Today’s reading from 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 is not, in some ways, the best advice to give to others. I wouldn’t tell a married person to live as if they were single. I wouldn’t tell someone who is mourning to act like they are not. And I wouldn’t tell anyone to pretend as if they are not living in the real world. This passage shows us why knowing the context of biblical writings is important. If we take these verses at face value, we would end up making some un-Christian life choices. But if we remember who Paul was and what he believed, this passage makes a little more sense.
Paul honestly thought the world was going to end tomorrow. The end times were not metaphorical, symbolic, or something that will happen “in the near future.” For Paul, if today was Sunday, the world is ending on Monday. He had no idea that there would be a Christian church 2000 years into the future. Paul wrote, preached, and shared Jesus with an incredible sense of urgency. The current structure of the world was about to be undone. Everything, including our relationships, society, and culture was going to change in ways we couldn’t imagine. Paul could, in the same breath, encourage slaves to not worry about being free and spouses to act as if they are not married, because the world was about to change. And even when Paul did act like relationships were important, he always assumed they wouldn’t last. Living a long and faith-filled Christian life was not something he spent much energy on.
As Paul aged, his writing slowly changed. His ministry lasted over twenty years and the amount of urgency in his writing dropped (but only by a hair). He never lost the hope that he would see Jesus’ return in his lifetime. And in some ways, the Christian life is rooted in that expectation. Every Sunday, we say out loud that Jesus will come again. And we, as a congregation, mean it. But the questions we ask about daily living are different. We don’t assume that because Jesus will return tomorrow, we can ignore today’s responsibilities. Instead, because we know Jesus will come again, we live everyday as he did. We heal what needs to be healed. We repair what is broken. We take seriously our relationships. We care for the earth like God does. We bring good news to the poor. And we think about others before we think about ourselves. Since we expect Jesus to return, we live as if he is already here. And, in away, he already is because he is present whenever we gather together.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for the 3rd Sunday After Epiphany, 1/21/2018.