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1 Corinthians 7:29–31

“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” (v. 29).

Paul’s counsel to betrothed Christians in Corinth that it is good for them not to go through with marriage is highly contextual and most likely based on unique circumstances confronting the church (1 Cor. 7:25–28). Understanding this allows us to now move on to the Apostle’s elaboration of this teaching. As we will see, both the reality of the Corinthian situation as well as some broader principles help us apply Paul’s instruction today.

Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 7:29 that his advice takes into account the reality that “the appointed time has grown very short.” While some commentators think that Paul is referring to the time of the second coming and its imminent realization, he is more likely referring to the special distress afflicting the Corinthian church, which is mentioned in verse 26. The direction he gives in verses 29–31 supports this. In other books where Paul deals specifically with the return of Jesus, such as 1–2 Thessalonians, the directive he gives in light of that reality is to continue living just as if the world is going to continue on for some time. For instance, 2 Thessalonians 3:12—after an earlier discussion of the man of sin who will appear at the end of the world—instructs Christians not to make a great fuss and stop working but to live quietly and continue laboring to support themselves. In other words, the imminent return of the Lord is to motivate faithfulness in very ordinary and what we may call “normal life” ways. Paul’s instruction in today’s passage in light of the “appointed time” growing short is different. He says to live in ways that do not reflect an enduring existence in this world (1 Cor. 7:29–31). Whatever the appointed time may be, since the response to it is not to continue “normal life,” it must not be the return of Christ but a period that will soon pass. Therefore, Paul thinks it better, though not required, to abstain temporarily from certain features of everyday life.

Nevertheless, Paul’s justification for thinking it better to abstain temporarily from some parts of normal life is not grounded only in the passing nature of the distress that was confronting the Corinthian church. Paul is thinking primarily not of the imminent return of Christ in 1 Corinthians 7 but of the transitory reality of the present created order. He notes that the “present form of this world is passing away” (v. 31). That truth should affect how tightly we hold on to anything in this world.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Matthew Henry comments, “Possess what you must shortly leave without suffering yourselves to be possessed by it.” While God allows us to enjoy His creation, believers must be careful not to become inordinately attached to the things of this world, no matter how good they are. They are passing away and a new heaven and earth is coming.

For Further Study
  • Psalm 142:5
  • Isaiah 34:4
  • 2 Peter 3:10
  • 1 John 2:15–17

Counsel for the Betrothed

The Concerns of Marriage

Keep Reading The Christian Ethic

From the March 2021 Issue
Mar 2021 Issue