[T]he appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 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, 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. 1 Cor. 7:29-31
We fit church into our busy weeks. We find time most days to pray for a few minutes and to do some reading of Scripture. On bad days, we might go the whole day praying only in passing as we hustle from one preoccupation to the next.
I do not know what all followers of Christ do in their every day lives, but the description above could be said about most days in my life; and, from speaking to many other people, I think it might also describe the lives of many (most?) other self-professed followers of Christ in these modern times more or less.
We live in a world that is constantly demanding our attention. The words Paul spoke to the Corinthians above seem out of place in our harried, modern society in which we fill most moments of our day with work or some form of entertainment, including the very phones that we all carry. But, if the world was passing away in Paul’s day when he wrote to the Corinthians, how much more is it passing today?! How much closer to the end are we?
Recorded history goes back thousands of years. We celebrate the monuments to that history, from the Egyptian pyramids, to the gigantic heads on Easter Island to modern skyscrapers. We live with the illusion that humanity and life as we have known it will go on forever. We know that it will not, and it can not, but we live our everyday lives as if we have all the time in the world (except to meet our work deadlines, put away retirement money and plan for the next car purchase, vacation or college for our children).
If Paul were preaching today, I wonder what he would say? Would it be any different?
Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! Psalm 39:6
These words in Psalm 39 was penned hundreds of years before Paul was born. The words of the Psalmist were old when Paul said “the world is passing away! Paul would have been in similar relation to the words of the Psalmist when he spoke of the world passing away.
like a flower of the grass [the rich man] will pass away. James 1:10
James was citing Psalm 102 when he spoke of the fate of the rich man. These words were poignant to the followers of Christ that James addressed within a generation of Jesus walking the earth in person. Now, thousands of years later, have those words lost their poignancy?
[F]or ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls….’ 1 Peter 1:24
All flesh, rich and poor alike, everyone who was ever born – in fact all humanity – all the people who have ever lived, are like the lower of the grass: here today, gone tomorrow. God keeps bringing me back and back again to the same theme.
My son and I visited a new church last weekend. Two new churches in fact. We promised some friends who are members of a “Harvest” Church about ten miles east of us that is forming a new congregation where I live that we would visit them. We asked what time church began, but I did not bother to ask where they meet because I thought I knew.
On Sunday morning we headed out to where I thought we were going. We got to the place where I knew we needed to turn, and there was a sign that said “Harvest Church to the right” with an arrow. Except, I thought we needed to go left, so I turned left.
We arrived a few minutes later at the Harvest Bible Chapel to a full parking lot, and we caught the last half of the sermon. Clearly, church started well before the time we were told. We also did not see our friends anywhere. I did not think about the sign I had ignored until after the sermon was over.
The sermon was about signs!
My son and I spoke immediately after the sermon was over and concluded that this was the wrong church. We should have turned left at the sign. So, we left and made it to the other church, Harvest Church, the one we were supposed to be visiting, the one that was left when I went right, and caught the second half of that sermon too.
I guess I was supposed to hear the sermon at the first Harvest about the signs of the “last days” out of Mark 13. I thought I knew where I was going, but I was wrong! Even when I saw the sign, I took the path I had already constructed in my head, ignoring the sign, and continued stubbornly forward to the wrong place.
Even I can understand the message God was showing me. Do not ignore the signs! Jesus said,
No one knows the day or the hour (Mark 13:32), but when the signs appear we should recognize that Christ is near, “right at the door!” (Mark 13:29)
The Old Testament Prophet, Isaiah, said,
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; ofor the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; pbut my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed. Isaiah 51:6
The signs are everywhere. We have not arrived to our ultimate destination. We are sojourners and travelers in this temporary sphere that travels through time and space that did not always exist.
“The world is passing away…” (1 Cor. 7:31), “but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:25 (citing Isaiah 40:6, 9)) “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mark 13:31)
If this is true, and I believe with everything in me that it is, then this reality should affect every moment, every thought and everything that we do, but I confess to you that I often do not live as if this were reality. God is faithful, though, to continue to remind me. Even when I ignore the signs and follow my own path, God is there – even at the “wrong destination” – reminding me to follow the signs. What a gracious God we serve!
And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:17
Why would we not want to serve a God like that! We look forward to the day of the Lord, and we should live like it. Peter tells us
the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 1 Peter 3:10
The possibility of heavenly bodies burning up and dissolving is something that Peter probably had a hard time imagining. Today, with our knowledge of nuclear science, it is not that hard to imagine. Weapons of mass destruction are capable of wiping all of humanity out within hours. We even have novels and movies about the apocalyptic idea that, today, certainly is within the realm of possibility.
All of Scripture tells us that this is not just a possibility; it is the inevitable.
This world, this life is not all there is. The Christ-like figure holding the sign reading, “The end of the world is near”, is a cartoonist’s joke. It is the reality of this temporal life we live and a reminder that there is something else to come.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded…. 1 Peter 4:7
The world may or may not end tomorrow, or the next day, but it will end. Your life, my life, will end. Let us live the reality of that truth and devote ourselves all the more to God who loves us.