1 Corinthians 7:29-31


Before studying this text the pastor ought to read all of 1 Corinthians 7 carefully. In our day many people have a frivolous attitude toward married, sex, and fornication. Marriages are agreed to very carelessly. Sex is indulged in before marriage. If the marriage does not please, divorce is easily obtained. Multiple marriages are becoming very common. But marriage is a very serious matter. People need all the spiritual resources they can get. In 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 Paul lays down the basic principles of marriage.

One of the main reasons for marriage is to keep man from living in sin, verse 9. Verses 10-16 tell us that we must keep our marriage vows even if the marriage does not suit us. Verses 17-24 can be summarized in verse 20: "Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called." NKJV. Our text for today falls in the last section, verses 25 through 40, which verses speak to the unmarried and windows. Everything we do in this life should be done in such a way that we constantly keep one eye on everlasting life. In this life we are only pilgrims and strangers. Marriage, the sorrows in life, the joys in life, and our vocation are not permanent nor are they ends in themselves. That is what our text is all about.

1 Corinthians 7:29 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 chapter contains some very basic principles as to how we should view our relationship with our spouse. On the one hand, marriage is a lifelong union which should not even be broken by a difference in religion, verses 10-16. On the other hand, people should be content with their lot in life, no matter what it might be, verses 17-24. And thirdly, Christian was should live with a certain spiritual detachment toward their marriage, their profession, and all circumstances in life. Such is the will of the Lord.

This is the sort of thing which Paul is referring to in Colossians 1:9-11: "For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with a knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may have a walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, for all patience and long suffering with joy." 

To live a faithful, contented, detached married life is something which with mere men is impossible. Christian living and virtues come to us only through the means of grace. Therefore, pastors must diligently preach the Word, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

Paul begins our text with the words "What I mean." These very words are found again at 1 Corinthians 15:50, translated by NIV as  "I declare to you, brothers." 

Morris: These words give what follows a certain heightened solemnity.
Robertson-Plummer: 'But, though I counsel none to change their earthly state, I do counsel all to change their ATTITUDE TOWARDS all earthly things.' We have the same expression, introducing solemn warning, 15:50; 10:15,19. . . . Paul does not refer to what precedes, he is not repeating what he has just said. He is reminding them of a grave fact, which has to be considered in connection with marriage, and indeed with the whole of life.
Lenski: The preamble: 'But this I say, brethren,' impresses the following statements upon the hearts and minds of Paul's Corinthian readers. Unless they understand these well they will not penetrate into the inwardness of Paul's advice and instruction regarding marriage.

The first statement which Paul makes has caused much discussion. RSV: "The appointed time has grown very short." TEV and NIV: "There is not much time left." NEB: "The time we live in will not last long." AAT and NASB:  "The time has been shortened." Robertson-Plummer: "The allotted time has become short." 

Some think that Paul is referring to verse 26: "I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress -- that it is good for a man to remain as he is" (NKJV). Others think that the thought is akin to that found in Romans 13:11: "And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed" (NKJV). Robertson-Plummer think that "time" denotes the period before Christ's second coming. Likewise Lenski who adds that our passage is speaking of what Christ spoke in Matthew 24:22; that God compresses the season marked by tribulation, "so that it may not be so extended that his saints cannot bear it." 

Morris: It is probably best to see a reference to circumstance at Corinth . . . The crisis was not far off. The result is that all sorts of human values are transformed. In particular, they that have wives must be as though they had none.

Whatever the meaning is, from the context we know that Paul is speaking about spiritual detachment in the various situations of life.

What does "from now on" mean? Some version translate: "from now on." Thus RSV, TEV, NIV, and NASB. Others render it: "while it (the shortened time) lasts." Thus AAT and NEB. Lenski translates: "as for the rest" or "henceforth." Robertson-Plummer: "So that, henceforth those also who have wives may be as though they had none." 

We quote RSV on the whole verse: "I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on let those who have wives live as though they had none." 

Commentators and translators are not certain about the meaning of "and" here. KJV and NASB translate it with "both" but that makes no sense. NKJV translates "even those who have wives, etc." TEV reads "and from now on, etc." The other versions simply omit it. We leave the matter unsolved.

Lenski: The first 'and' means 'even' and it singles out those who have wives, while the other 'and' are ordinary connectives . . . Now follow five lovely exemplifications of the Christian's freedom from this transient world . . . They are not brought into captivity by the world, 6:12.
Robertson-Plummer: The meaning of the illustrations is fairly clear. Married men are apt to become absorbed in domestic cares, mourners in their sorrow, buyers in the preservation of what they have bought. A Christian, with dangers all around him and the Advent close at hand, ought not to be engrossed in any of his surrounding knowing how temporary they are. He should learn how to sit loose to all earthly ties.

Popular ballads and songs and much of the thinking of the world is devoted to love and marriage. They are constantly groping for and looking for something permanent but are never finding it. This text is a very good opportunity for the pastor to dwell frankly and simply on these words: "Those who have wives should be as though they had none" (NKJV).

Kretzmann: The great day of the Lord, for whose coming the believers were anxiously waiting, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, was very near, and therefore it must be our constant aim and effort to be ready for its coming. Luke 12:35.36; Mark 13:35.36. As a consequence the things of this life must occupy a secondary position with reference to the matters of the kingdom of God . . . All these matters which engage the attention of a person in this world and are put into the hands of man by the Lord, should not become the end and aim of existence. . . In good days as well as in evil their heart's desire must be directed to the glory that is awaiting them above. People must always keep their eyes directed to the greatest gift and blessing, that of the final consummation of salvation in heaven.

1 Corinthians 7:30 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;

In this verse we have three illustrations: weeping, rejoicing, buying. The article with substantival participles denotes a class of people. Paul is not condemning weeping, rejoicing, or buying. He is warning people not to become engrossed in these things.

Morris: The Christian should accordingly not be preoccupied with his earthly circumstances. As far as possible he should be detached from them all.
Kretzmann: The things which engage the attention of people in this world are not enduring but transitory: marryings and marketings, feasts and funerals, pass before our eyes in endless, everchanging procession; there is nothing abiding, nothing of lasting value in all that this world may offer. Look at Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 13:14.
Rienecker: Earthly goods are a trust, not a possession.

Since this entire chapter is devoted almost entirely to marriage, perhaps there is a slight stress in this verse on the different aspects of marriage. Marriage has its peculiar tears and sorrows. Marriage has its peculiar joys, ecstasy at times. Marriage involves one in buying a house, furniture, car, etc. The tears and sorrows of marriage are sometimes very heavy and might cause people to contemplate divorce. The joys of marriage can be intense, so much so that people might lose sight of the Kingdom of God. And the attachment to temporal things in the married estate can be very tempting. Families are easily caught up in  "keeping up with the Joneses." The parable of the rich man found in Luke 16:19-31 is a stern warning to all of us.

1 Corinthians 7:31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

"To use" in the sense perhaps of "to use to the utmost." Lenski suggests: "to over-use, to use to excess." KJV has "abuse," NKJV has "misuse." NIV has "engrossed in." 

Much of commercial advertising appeals to addiction in food, drink, buying, and selling. We are urged to ring the last drop of enjoyment out of everything in life. Of course, we are to use all gifts that God has given us but not in such a way as to make gods of our appetites or of the things themselves.

The final verse of our text begins with an explanatory "for." The world as we now know it is passing away. Note the word "form." The world is not yet ending but its form is constantly changing.

Morris: There is nothing solid and lasting in the world system. It is its nature to pass away.
Lenski: We see at once that marriage, weeping, etc., are only a part of this form and fashion of the world, ever moving on and away, transient for a day, 'life's little day.'

Therefore, we should set our hearts on none of these things. As Paul says in verse 32: "But I want you to be without care" (NKJV).


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 40-42. Used with permission.

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