What To Do When Life is Short

A Clash of Cultures ~ 1 Corinthians 7:25-40

Big Idea: Our time on earth is limited. Don’t waste it by restlessly searching for the “perfect life.” Devote our present lives fully to God instead, mindful of the coming end.

“Two and a half years.” That’s what her London doctor said. Annabel had beaten breast cancer before, back in 2010. But this time, in June 2012, just months after she lost both her parents in a tragic car crash, Annabel was diagnosed with stage four bone cancer.

What would you do if that were you?

Annabel decided to leave her husband.

Fifty-six-year-old Annabel Nnochiri had been married for 28 years.1 “Knowing I had a short time to go,” she said, “I knew I couldn’t live the rest of my life just being a housewife.”

So, after getting the blessing of her 19-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, art teacher Annabel moved out, started painting again, took up salsa dancing, and went traveling around the world.

“I thought I’ve got two-and-a-half years left and I don’t want to be in this house. I don’t want to be cooking dinner every night… I want to be free!”

How would you live the last two years of your life? What radical changes would you make in order to, at last, be free to live your perfect dream-life?

The Corinthians probably asked these same questions too.

While we don’t know for sure what “the present crisis” was (7:26) – possibly a severe famine that hit Corinth in AD 51 – we do know that the hardships experienced made them acutely aware that “the time is short” (7:29). This means they probably expected the crucified-yet-resurrected Jesus to return again very soon and usher in his new heavenly kingdom on earth.

Time is short. So we need to get ready. Now.

But what does this look like in everyday life? Singles stay single? Couples get divorced? Families get left behind so we can serve God full-time, without distraction?

While the time is indeed short, it doesn’t mean all our time on earth is a waste. Engaged to be married? Go ahead. No plans to marry? That’s OK too. Neither group is spiritually superior to the other (7:26-28).

For Christian widows who want to remarry, Paul’s only proviso is that the new husband “must belong to the Lord” (7:39). In other words, if one is free to marry again – not “bound” to anyone – don’t be in a mixed marriage anymore (cf. 7:12-13). Marry a Christian instead. (This proviso would apply to singles who are marrying for the first time as well.)

What truly matters is not our marital status, but how we live out the days we still have.

Paul also wants the Corinthians to be free. But unlike Annabel, this does not necessarily mean free from marriage. Rather Paul wants them to be free from worldly concerns.

So much of what we do daily, we do in order to gain the world. We work so we can earn. We earn so we can buy. We buy so we can accumulate even more stuff. We do this because the world says things will bring us happiness, status, and security. (Marriage can’t guarantee these things either.)

Yet Paul says (7:31), “this world in its present form is passing away.” In other words, this present world has no permanence. It will pass. So don’t be so “engrossed” by it. Don’t let worldly concerns dictate how we live and how we feel today.

Yes, a married Christian should rightly be “concerned about the affairs of this world” especially how we can please our spouse (7:33). But only to a certain extent. That is not the sum total of all our daily concerns. Our ultimate concern should be how we can “be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit” (7:34).

This means we are to hold on lightly to worldly things, so that, we can hold on ever more tightly to heavenly things. That’s how we can “buy something” and yet use it “as if it were not theirs to keep” (7:30). We derive joy not from owning a thing, but from using it to make others happy in the Lord.

What’s the point of selfishly hoarding 20 Ringgit today when we stand to gain a billion US dollars tomorrow? Likewise, 20 minutes of our life-time when we stand to gain eternal life at Jesus’ return. Let’s resolve to spend our lives generously for the gospel today, trusting God will more than abundantly reward us tomorrow.

1 Annabel’s story, along with 11 others living with terminal cancer, was told in a BBC documentary “A Time to Live” in May 2017.

Questions for personal reflection or group discussion:

1. If indeed you only have one or two more years to live like Annabel, what do you think would be Paul’s personal advice to you on how you should spend the remainder of your days, in the light of all he has been emphasizing in the past few chapters?

2. What can you do now to train your mind and heart to “hold on lightly to worldly things, so that, we can hold on ever more tightly to heavenly things”?