Jesus and Political Perspective (I Corinthians 7:29-31)
I. Politics and Religion
You've probably heard the classic warning to avoid talking about politics and religion in mixed company, or at the dinner table. In fact, some of you have had to learn the hard way about why that warning often makes sense. But in spite of its merits, in spite of the wisdom behind that caution, this morning we are going to talk about both of those topics: politics and religion; and we're going to talk about them together.
Now, why in the world would I ever want to wade into such turbulent waters; into what is becoming, it seems, an ever-deepening morass of tribalism and toxicity? Why would I deliberately address conversational categories that tend to divide people, rather than bring them together? Why would I want 'to stir up the pot' and possibly irk or alienate some of you? Well... precisely because of those possibilities and realities.
Let's bring these topics of politics and religion to the word of God this morning, as we seek to hear his otherworldly and authoritative word. Turn if you would to I Corinthians 7.
II. The Passage: “The Present Form of This World is Passing Away” (vs. 29-31)
Let's begin by looking together at verses 29-31. Now a quick word about the context here. In this letter, Paul is addressing a variety of questions, questions that were sent to him by the Christians in Corinth. Some of those questions had to do with marriage. Just before our main text here, in verses 25-28, Paul has provided some guidance to those who were engaged to be married, but wondered if they should now in light of the kingdom of God. Paul informs such people that they are free to marry, but still wants them to think about their decisions with what we might call a 'kingdom mindset'. Look with me at our main text, starting in verse 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,  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.
Now undoubtedly, this is a strange passage; certainly not one I've heard taught very often. To make sense of it, let's use three phrases from the text to go a little deeper. Beginning at the end, look first at verse 31 and the phrase...
1. “This World is Passing Away” (vs. 29a, 31b)
The Apostle John made the same declaration in I John 2:17. But what might Paul mean here?
Using the context, I think this final phrase of the passage is linked to the opening phrase of the passage. Look back at verse 29... This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. Why has the time grown short? Because (v. 31)... the present form of this world is passing away. Notice that Paul calls it “the appointed time”. What does that mean? It means God has appointed or decreed that the days of this present age are numbered.
In the NT this is not a unique statement. A few chapters later in this same letter, Paul would remind the Corinthians that those living after the birth, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ are those “on whom the end of the ages has come” (10:11). The Apostle Peter made an equally definitive statement when he wrote, “The end of all things is at hand...” (I Peter 4:7). This is why the early church used the language of the OT prophets and called this age “the last days”. But please don't think 'doom and gloom'. As Paul expressed it, For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11)
So these bookends in verses 29 and 31 remind us about what should be the perspective of every genuine follower of Jesus: “the appointed time has grown very short”, for Jesus Christ is coming like a “thief in the night” (I Thess. 5:2), and when he does, this age, this world, will come to an end. But I also want us to consider a second phrase. Look back at...
2. [the phrase] “As Though” (vs. 29b-31a)
What exactly does Paul mean when he says “as though” in verses 29-31? It's a phrase he repeats five times in three verses. Well, I think we can say what he doesn't by the phrase. The context makes that clear when we look at his first example here. Look at his first use of the phrase at the end of verse 29: From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none... Since Paul has just provided, in this same chapter, countless instructions for husbands and wives, instructions for honoring Christ in your marriage, he cannot mean 'go live like a bachelor' and 'ignore or neglect' your spouse. So then... what does he mean?
I think if you look at all five of the “as though” examples Paul has provided, keeping those 'bookends' in mind, it's reasonable to conclude that Paul is talking less about actually doing or not doing certain things, and more about how we do certain things; about our mindset; about our priorities; that is, asking, “Is our mindset about the everyday, are our priorities, shaped by God's “appointed time”; by the fact that... the present form of this world is passing away?”
Therefore, husbands should not live for a kind of 'romantic redemption', as if marriage was the greatest good and a source of ultimate contentment. No. Even marriage is passing away, and will give way to the only marriage that will truly last, the only marriage that can offer ultimate contentment: Christ and his bride, the Church. But let's apply this to one more phrase...
3. “Those Who Deal with the World” (v. 31a)
Using that idea of an “end of the ages” mindset, how might we understand the final example, given at the beginning of verse 31: [Let] those who deal with the world [live] as though they had no dealings with it. The word translated “deal” here is a word often used in the sense of 'making use of something'. So what might Paul mean when he speaks about having an “end of the ages” mindset while making use of the present world?
Well, he must mean that Christians, genuine disciples of Jesus, should be socially, vocationally, commercially, and politically involved in the world... but not in a worldly way; not in a way that sees earthly things (even good things) as ultimate things. Instead, followers of Christ should do so with an “end of the ages” mindset, knowing that the present form of this world is passing away.
III. Kingdom Confusion?
In light of verse 31, in light of the everyday, do you see the connection between politics and religion? For the follower of Christ, things like political involvement must be radically shaped by God's authority, by God's time table, and by God's coming judgment on the powers that be. If we were to adopt Paul's style, we might express it this way, “Let those who are politically involved live as though they had no involvement.” Why is that? Because, brother and sisters... the present form of this world is passing away.
But is that your mindset? As the electoral coals are stoked daily by a never ending stream of social media chatter, 24-hour news channels, campaign ads, and the 'echo chambers' of political pundits, all around us there are disturbing indications that many believers are struggling to walk in the “end of the ages” mindset that God himself has prescribed here through Paul. Let me share some symptoms of what we might call 'kingdom confusion':
First, in the current political climate, we are presently seeing many Christians unnecessarily ensnared by things like, fear, frustration, anxiety, and anger. All of us have and can battle with such feelings, but are we allowing them to rule us? And are we rationalizing this by claiming we're simply concerned citizens?
Second, in the current political climate, we are tempted to identify more with political allies than with fellow citizens in the kingdom of God. Our enemy, the devil, would love to divide us over things that should not divide us, and distract us from the eternal priorities that should unite us... when we have an “end of the ages” mindset.
Third, in the current political climate, many believers are confusing political goals with the mission and methods of Jesus. Politicians come and go. Political agendas change. Rulings get overturned. Laws can restrict and reward, but they cannot redeem. Should that cause us to withdraw and become cynical? Absolutely not. But, understanding the times, it should drive us to pursue, above all, something far greater than any political goal or tool or strategy: the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation”. (Romans 1:16)
Fourth, in the current political climate, many Christians have opted for a political playbook, rather than the standards of God's word. We may be in the world, but we are not of the world. We don't have to play the world's games when God has called us to run his race. God defines the issues and the terms of our activism, not the political parties, and not the media's 'talking heads'. As one writer asked: “how do we advance the values we believe in without becoming complicit in values we do not?”
Fifth, in light of the political climate, many seem more invested in their earthly citizenship than their heavenly citizenship. It's quite amazing how animated and invested and opinionated and passionate certain Christians can be about political issues and figures, but at the same time, lazy and reluctant and flaky and apathetic when it comes to the kingdom of God... to activism and advocacy and engagement in the name of Jesus Christ.
Sadly, many professed followers of Jesus seem more concerned about how the country is (quote-un-quote) 'going to hell' than they do about the people in their own life who are literally going to hell. Brothers and sisters, this should not be the case. Faith family, this is an indication that something is terribly wrong. In contrast to worldly ways, Paul wrote in Phil. 3:20
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ...
Why is it then than many are more invested in the Pledge of Allegiance than pledging their allegiance every single day to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; to the Prince of Peace? Surely this is 'kingdom confusion'. Body of Christ, our ultimate allegiance does not lie with any earthly power. No, our eternal naturalization papers had been signed with the blood of Jesus. We are now first and foremost citizens of heaven, subjects of, servants in, God’s kingdom.
Pastor and author Mark Dever reminds us, “Before and after America, there was and will be the church. The nation is an experiment. The church is a certainty.” Friends, patriotism is not a biblical concept. Subjection and honor are. Obedience and respect are. But not patriotism. Does that make it a bad thing? No. But it must be subservient to and shaped by biblical truths. This is why C.S. Lewis referenced that topic in his classic, “The Screwtape Letters”. This is how one demon advises another about deceiving his victim and distracting him from Christ...
“Let him begin by treating Patriotism or…Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce…Once you have made the World an end and faith a means, you have almost won the man and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.”
In light of that temptation, in his book “How the Nations Rage”, Jonathan Leeman reminds the reader of his gospel-centered goal:
“I want to help us be less American so that we might be more patriotic. To put it another way, I want to help you and me identify with Christ more so that we might love our fellow citizens more, no matter the name of our nation... We become better friends to America by loving Christ first.”
Brothers and sisters... [Let] those who deal with the world [live] as though they had no dealings with it. Why? Because the appointed time has grown very short, and the present form of this world is passing away. Fellow believers, according to God's word, we are “sojourners and exiles” (I Peter 2:11); “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14) “Therefore,” we are told in Hebrews 12:28, “let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken...”
Look around. Our neighbors, our fellows citizens are struggling. They are afraid. They are angry. They are lost. What do they need most? Our country doesn't need more Democrats, Republicans, Greens, or Libertarians. It needs more Christ-followers. It doesn't need those who identify with the elephant or the donkey. It needs those who identify with the Lamb. That's why, over the next three weeks, we need to use this political hostility as a spiritual opportunity to both sort our kingdom confusion AND ready ourselves for how God wants to use us as “salt” and “light” for his good and gracious government; that is, for the kingdom of heaven. Would you pray even now for this study, for your own heart, and for our neighbors/our nation?
More in Jesus 2020
September 27, 2020Jesus and Political Discourse (II Timothy 2:23-26)
September 20, 2020Jesus and Policy Agendas (II Corinthians 4:15)
September 13, 2020Jesus and Perfect Leadership (John 6:66-69)