The Existential Reality of an Eschatological Hermeneutic (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

When my wife and I moved from California to Missouri, we possessed 8 tons of stuff. At least that’s what the moving company told us. My books weighed 3.5 tons, almost half the weight of our entire shipment. Some people would say I own too many books.

Specifically, my wife says I own too many books. To which my reply is… Well, I don’t really have a good reply since I do, in fact, own too many books.

But I don’t want to part with what I call, borrowing a phrase from Gollum, “my preciouses.” Jefferson said, “I cannot live without my books.” I know what he meant. Then again, I doubt Jefferson ever had a few hundred pounds of books almost fall on top of him. Evidently, I cannot live with my books either.

I say that in order to ask this: In the short time we have on earth, are we living for the right things or are we living for the wrong dreams?

In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Paul writes:

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.

 My dad always jokes that he’d like to preach about the existential reality of eschatological hermeneutic. This would be a perfect text for that sermon. The eschatological hermeneutic is found in verses 29a and 31b: “the time is short” and “this world in its present form is passing away.”

The existential reality is verses 29b-31a. Paul talks about four things: whom we love, how we feel, what we buy, and what we use. We know Paul believes that marriage entails regular sexual intercourse (7:2-5) and is not a sin (7:28). We know he thought that a loving person “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (13:6). We know he worked a trade to support himself (9:6). And we know that possessed and used stuff, including clothes and books (2 Timothy 4:13). In other words, we know that our relationships, feelings, possessions, and use of time are—or can be—both good and legitimate.

But Paul wants us to travel lightly anyway. His advice—mostly rhetorical in verses 29b-31a—drives home a point. Your spouse will die. Your emotions will fade. Your purchasing power will pay diminishing returns. And your stuff will lose its usefulness over time. In light of these facts, how will you live?

Grandma used to cite this poem:

Only one life

‘Twill soon be past.

Only what’s done

For Christ will last.”

 That’s as good a start to an answer as you’re likely to find, and the existential reality of an eschatological hermeneutic.

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