“I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be 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 possessions, 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.”
What Does That Mean?
It is hard to truly understand what Paul is trying to say. He advises those who have wives to live as though they had none. I mean what kind of message is that? ‘Those who have wives as you have none’, it requires interpretation. Is it the message that you should take your wife for granted, or is it the message to not to take your wife too seriously? If you by mistake think that that’s the message and you’ve practiced it, you will probably be in big trouble. You know, these days if you don’t listen to your wife and take her for granted, probably you will starve or you can’t do anything. If you are going to make an appointment you have to first check with wives. When I arrange visitation, I don’t arrange with the husbands. I arrange with wives, because if they say yes, it’s yes. If they say no, it’s no. Fortunately, that is not the message Paul is trying to communicate. Paul does not say, to take your wife for granted.
Weeping, rejoicing, buy things, dealings all over the world… they’re all very much part of what we do and what we experience. Common experiences and important things are very much part of how we live day by day. You know, there are times when you have experience, great joy of life. When you have your first child in your hands, when you get a job you want so much, when you meet a special person of your dreams… you experience great joy when we go through these things. There are also times when you experience the sadness of life. When we lose our loved ones, when we had difficulty with our job or our business, with our boss. There are children who are in trouble at school or in their personal lives. We feel the deep sadness of life when we experienced these things. When there’s a family fight, conflict, difficulties, relational difficulties, we experience the sadness of life.
So we only experience joy, rejoicing and we experience sadness, weeping. That’s very much part of who we are, and what we experience, and these are really important moments of our lives. When you experience joy, you want that moment to last forever. “I wish that this moment is everlasting. I’m so happy. It’s just perfect right now. I hope nothing changes, that it just eternally stays there as it is.” When you experience sadness, you don’t want it. You want that to pass by quickly, but somehow you feel like that sad moment will be with you forever. You have this worry that this suffering and sadness will never disappear, will never go away. “Will it be with me for the rest of my life?”
We Are More Than Our Circumstances
St. Paul in today’s passage is saying that these moments will not be with us forever. They’re passing by, they are transient. He said in verse 31, “for the present form of this world is passing away.” So marrying, reaping, rejoicing, and doing business, they are all important human activities, but still they are not permanent. They will not stay with us forever. They’re important and we should do our best to do well with all those, but we cannot attach eternal value to it. We cannot assign eternal value to these things that we experience. If we do that, we’ll be disappointed. We will be disillusioned. When we experience these things going away from us, we will overreact to our situations. That suffering comes to us, and if we attach permanent value to that suffering that we experience, we will be consumed by our fear for that suffering. Suffering may come, but it will pass. Same with joy. When we experience joy from our circumstances, we wish that joy we get in the things of the world may be permanent, but that’s not possible. The joy will soon go away. At the prayer retreat, in our group a woman shared “You know, I set this standard on my life, you know about children, about finances, about help and all that. I just wished that I could just maintain that level and when it goes down, when it crumbles, I worry and I worry that it may crumble.” And she said, “I’ve experience being crumbled, I experienced being at the bottom of my life. And then all these years I built up to get to this standard again, but now I’m more worried than before. What if this just crumbles? What if my children, what if my finances, what if my help?” The fact is we have no control over that.
I shared this with you at the retreat, there was a movie called Shadowlands, that portrays the life of C.S. Lewis who was a professor at Oxford University and a great Christian writer. Later he became converted and became a great Christian writer. He married Joy Gresham, a divorcee from the United States in his late age. All his life, he was just a scholar living in an ivory tower. As soon as he got married he realized how great life is. He really enjoyed the married life, but soon after the marriage they discovered that she had cancer. While taking care of her he experienced what it mean to truly love somebody. That’s something that he never experienced before as a scholar, but he understood what it meant to truly love somebody, but at the same time he experienced how painful it was. Once they went to their favorite part in England, a rural area, they really enjoyed being there, Louis, filled with happiness and joy, he said this to Joy Gresham, “This is my kind of happiness, by the present moment is entirely self contained, untarnished by any fleeting thought of what has come before or what may come later.” He really enjoyed that moment, not bothered by any other things, that pure present moment he enjoyed. Then joy his wife gently rebuked him saying, “That’s only temporal isolationism. That happiness cannot be genuine if it involves shutting off the past or the future, what is yet to come to the future infuses the very texture of what is now experienced, the pain that is part of this happiness now.” That’s the deal. She realized that that moment can not stay there forever. That beautiful moment, however beautiful that moment may be, cannot stay there forever. So after that, she passed away. Joy knew that the joy that they experience at that moment cannot be self contained. Nothing in this world can be self contained. They all pass by. You will soon disappear and the suffering will replace the joy. After her funeral, C.S. Lewis said, “A child chooses safety, but a grown person chooses the suffering, the pain is part of the happiness. Now I find I can live with the pain after all.” That’s the deal. What St. Paul is teaching us today is to experience inner freedom, inner freedom so that you may not be so attached to things that pass away – so that you may not be so obsessive about the things that cannot stay there forever, eternally.
Live as though not, let those who have wives 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 possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present of this world is passing away. With inner freedom, we can handle all our life situations including the transient nature of life. It doesn’t depress us, it doesn’t make us feel hopeless, so instead of trying to hold on to what cannot be held on to, hold to God, who is permanent, who is eternal. Our inner freedom prepares our heart to let go of things that have passed away. When you try to hold onto the things that pass away, you become so powerless, helpless and hopeless. You lose the meaning of life. No matter how painful your life may be right now, the pain will pass away someday. Don’t let the pain consume your life. We are more than just victims of our temporary circumstances. We are stronger than that. You’re stronger than that. They cannot completely control us, we have eternity within us. We have eternal life within us. Those who only have hope for the transient things, the things that passed away, ultimately will find meaninglessness of life. But when you find that eternal life in you, that in spite of our transient nature of life, we can live out our life with courage, joy, hope and peace. What are you holding onto? Things that have passed away, are you scared to let go? Hold on to what does not pass away. Everything may pass away, but not the light of the word of God.