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“The Things of this World”
1 Corinthians 7:29-31


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Third Sunday after the Epiphany—January 25, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A few weeks ago a German industrialist, who was one of the richest people in the world, by jumping in front of a train.  Even after the recent economic upheavals, he was still worth over $6 billion.  But, he could not cope with the losses he had suffered.

The Apostle Paul’s advice for us in today’s Epistle Reading is particularly appropriate for this time, when many of us may also despair because of losses we are facing in our investments, or retirement funds, or the value of our homes.

“What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 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.”

Paul begins by telling us to put things into proper perspective, God’s perspective: “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short.” 

The time is short for the whole world, because our Lord has promised, “Behold, I am coming soon!” All throughout the New Testament, the Second Coming of Christ, the final judgment, and the end of the world at the Last Day are pictured as happening immediately.  John writes, “Dear children, this is the last hour.”  James says, “The Judge is standing at the door!”  Paul says in Romans, “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”  Peter says, “The end of all things is at hand.”

But, it has been nearly 2,000 years since those words were written, which doesn’t seem short to us. Peter explains, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

“What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short.”  The time is short also for YOU, personally.  As Psalm 90 says, “The length of our days is seventy years, or eighty, if we have the strength . . . they pass quickly, and we fly away.”  Hebrews declares, “Man is destined once to die, and after that to face judgment.”

Because of our sins, we all deserve the judgment of eternal damnation in hell.  But, Paul says in 2nd Timothy, “There is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day—and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing.”

At the final judgment, you will not be sentenced to punishment.  You will instead be declared “not guilty,” because the Judge himself already took all the punishment for you.  As Isaiah says, “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.”  Paul puts it this way in Ephesians, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God.” 

By his suffering and death, Jesus suffered the punishment, and paid the penalty, for all your sins.  As Paul says in Romans, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  His resurrection assures you that your sins are all forgiven, and you shall also rise to eternal life.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Paul begins by telling us to put things into this perspective of eternity: “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short.”

“From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none.”  This comment of Paul seems a little jarring.  The greatest earthly blessing, comfort, and joy you can have in this life is a loving spouse and family.  As Christians, shouldn’t we be thankful to God for this great blessing? 

But, Paul is echoing the words of Jesus himself: “Anyone who loves his father or mother MORE than me is not worthy of me, and anyone who loves his son or daughter MORE than me is not worthy of me.”  The reason Paul starts with this greatest of earthly blessings is to emphasize that NOTHING at all in the world, not even what you hold most precious and dear in this life, should be more important to you than God, and your relationship with him.

“From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not.”  Like the stock market, life itself has its ups and downs.  In the market, you’re supposed to look at the long-term picture and ultimate outcome, and not get too exhilarated about the highs, or too down about the lows.  Paul says it is the same with the ups and downs of life:  “Those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not.”

The book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.  A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot;  a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

And, whatever lows and losses you may suffer in this life, the ultimate outcome is assured.  “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus promises, “for they will be comforted. . .  Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” 

“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.”  Everything you have is just on temporary loan to you.  Again, Ecclesiastes says, “All the things I had toiled for under the sun . . . I must leave to the one who comes after me.”

This really hit home to me when I worked as an archaeologist in the Middle East.  We would gradually peel back the layers from thousands of years of human occupation.  Each hundred years or so would be compacted into a layer, usually a few inches, maybe up to a foot thick.  All that was left of so many lives would be some broken shards of pottery, maybe a few dozen stones still in place from the wall of a house, some coins that had gotten dropped on the ground over the centuries, if we were lucky we might find a mostly intact oil lamp or other piece of pottery. 

I excavated in the tombs, where people’s most prized possessions, especially jewelry, were often buried with them.  Our greatest find, which I discovered in a tomb I was excavating, was a lovely gold ring, still in perfect condition after being buried 2,000 years.  But, that was about it.  Thousands of lives, over thousands of years, and all that remained was a handful of artifacts, which are packed away in a museum storeroom in Amman, Jordan.  Genesis says, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” and that also applies to all the possession you hold so dear.  Paul puts it this way in 1st Timothy, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”

“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.”   That is the key to finding a God-pleasing balance in your life with regard to the things of this world.  “Those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.”

Paul is often misquoted as saying “Money is the root of all evil.”  But, what he actually says in 1st Timothy is that the “LOVE of money is the root of all evil.”  Money and wealth itself is not inherently evil.  But, if we LOVE it, if we give money and wealth an improper place in our lives, then it becomes evil, as Paul says in Colossians: “greed, which is idolatry.”  Jesus put it this way, “You cannot serve both God and money.”

That doesn’t mean you must divest yourself of your material possessions.  Material things and possessions are not inherently evil.  As James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father,” and Paul tells Timothy, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

It is impossible to live in this world without material possessions.  But, you must keep things in their proper place.  Paul says in Romans, “They  . . . worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”   You must instead keep things in their proper place, and worship and serve the Creator, rather than created things.  As Paul tells Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Paul explains in Romans why faith in Jesus Christ is the secret of contentment: “If God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  God will never forsake you in your need, for he has already freely given you the most precious gift: “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” Jesus says, “and all these things will be given to you as well.”  “Keep your lives free from the love of money,” Hebrews says, “and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’  So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. . .’”  Paul puts it this way in Colossians, “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

“Those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”  That is the ultimate reason for you not to cling to the things of this world.  “For this world in its present form is passing away.”

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus tells Peter and Andrew, “’Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.”  These fishermen were really successful small businessmen, who owned some very expensive equipment, their boats and their nets, which were hand-woven and quite valuable.

“When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.  Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”

The lesson to be learned from the example of these first disciples is NOT that Jesus wants you to abandon your job, your business, your worldly goods and possessions.  But, to be Jesus’ disciple, you must abandon the out-of-whack priorities of the world, and put possessions in proper perspective.

“What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 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.”

Amen.

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