Epiphany 3b

Preached: January 25, 2009

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The Time Is Short, So Focus
1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus is 1 Corinthians 7

I'm saying this, brothers: The time has been shortened. As for the rest, let those who have wives live as if they didn't. Let those who weep live as if they did not weep. Let those who rejoice live as if they did not rejoice. Let those who buy live as if they did not possess it. Let those who use the world live as if they did not thoroughly use it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior,

Last Tuesday, January 20, a new president took office. But President Obama's work started well before then. Since the election November 4 he's picked people for his cabinet, gathered teams of advisors, formulated plans for economic stimulus. According to news reports, this presidential transition has been more focused and busier than many others.

Why? Because the time is short. The new President wants to act quickly to stimulate the economy, to refocus the fight against terrorism, to ease the burden of health care and energy costs, to bring change. Now you may question how dark the clouds and how dire the storm of the present problems are compared to the tragedies and crises of past generations. But the fact remains, when we sense that the time is short, that decisive action is need, then we sharpen our focus, channel our energy, and concentrate our efforts.

We've seen that in the political sphere these past weeks, but what about your spiritual focus? Where is your energy concentrated? Where are your efforts channeled? Through these words that the Holy Spirit gave the Apostle to write, he challenges us to examine our focus and to live our lives knowing that the time is short. Yes, dear friends, the time is short, so focus. That's the theme to keep in mind.

1) What does the Apostle Paul cross off the list showing that they are not to be our key focus?

But what are we to focus on? That's one of the struggles of the new administration. What do they focus on? The economy, Guantanamo, Iraq, Iran, health care, energy, technology, the environment, the Middle East, poverty, and the list goes on. But having a list is the opposite of a focus. A focus comes to a single point, concentrating on what's most important.

What are we to focus on in our own lives? People have listed many things as the key focus for a good life, even promising the best life now. But the Apostle Paul crosses them off one by one. They are not to be our key focus. Let's look at that list.

What about family? Is that to be our key focus? Children are the future. No one can replace the time Dad and Mom spend loving, training, and disciplining their children. The Bible clearly says that children are a blessing from God, a reward from him (Psalm 127:3), a crown to the aged (Proverbs 17:6). Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them Psalm 127 says (Psalm 127:5).

And loving care for the children begins with love between husband and wife. When a house is torn by strife or divorce that hurts the children more than we like to admit. Even a calm coldness between parents does its damage. Modern psychology says that the best way to love your children is to love your spouse. And the Bible certainly urges such deep, selfless love. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. . . Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:25, 33 NIV).

So since the time is short, is family our key focus? Are we to concentrate our time, money, energy, and effort on spouse and children? The Apostles crosses that off the list. “From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none” (1 Corinthians 7:29 NIV). This does not erase what the Bible says about the husband loving his wife, the wife submitting to her husband, parents showing loving care and discipline to their children, and children obeying their parents. But it puts it in perspective. As important as family is, it is not the key focus.

What about the troubles in life, the crises? Should we focus on them, on those things that cause us to cry, to mourn, to be sad. Should we focus on them in order to fix them, in order to improve life on this earth, in order to give the next generation a better inheritance? Should curing today's sad problem for a better tomorrow be our key focus? The Apostle crosses that off the list. “[T]hose who mourn, [should live] as if they did not” (1 Corinthians 7:30 NIV).

What about the things that make us happy? Should we focus on the positive, on building self-esteem. A mind focused on setbacks and failures digs the ruts of life all the deeper. A mind filled with negative thinking pulls down its heart and those around him as well. So should our key focus be on making ourselves and others feel happy and joyful? The Apostle crosses that off the list. “[T]hose who are happy, [should live] as if they were not” (1 Corinthians 7:30 NIV).

What about the things we buy, the things of this world that we use? Of course we don't want to focus on materialism. But can't the things we buy and use be used for good? Even those who do God's work here on this earth ask for our money and offerings to help them carry on that work. So shouldn't we focus on what we can buy and accumulate so that we can use it for good? The Apostle crosses this off the list as well. “[T]hose who buy something, [should live] as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them” (1 Corinthians 7:30, 31 NIV).

So then, what is our key focus? All the best things this world can think up the Apostle has crossed off our list. And the things that are left, like focusing on me and my fun, or entertainment, or sinful pleasures, even the virtuous unbeliever recognizes as unfit for our focus.

2) What are we to focus on?

What are we to focus on? This short snippet cut from 1 Corinthians doesn't answer that question, does it? But in the context of the rest of the chapter and especially in the context of all of Scripture, the answer becomes very, very clear.

In this chapter, 1 Corinthians 7, Paul deals with the question of whether to get married or not. He writes, “It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:1, 2 NIV). Rather than burn with passion that will lead to sexual sins, it is better to get married and use God's gift of sex the way he intended it between a husband and his wife. And those who are married should not withhold themselves from their spouse, except possibly for a short time and then only by mutual consent for prayer. But even then they need to come together again soon so that Satan will not tempt them.

On the other hand, if God has gifted someone so that they are not tempted by sexual passions, then it may well be better to remain unmarried. Why? Paul explains in the verses following the text. “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs ; how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world ; how he can please his wife ; and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world ; how she can please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34 NIV).

And now you have your answer, don't you? These words point us to where our focus is to be whether married or unmarried. Our number one, primary, undivided, key focus is not family or fixing sad problems or finding happiness or buying and using things. Our focus is the Lord. The rest of Scripture brings this home. For example, Jesus said, “Seek first [God's] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV). Jesus taught Martha that the Lord and his Word is the one thing needful (Luke 10:38-41 NIV). His parable of the rich fool who built bigger barns and hoped for the good life shows the danger of failing to focus on the Lord. That very night his life was demanded from him (Luke 12:16-21).

What are we to focus on? On our Lord, on his word and his work. For you see, he is your Lord. He purchased you to be his own. In this chapter verse 23 Paul repeats those words we talked about last week in chapter 6, “You were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 7:23 NIV). Yes, you, dear friend. Jesus paid the price for you. He paid the price of his own body and blood sacrificed on the cross for you, so that he is your Lord and you are one of his redeemed, blood-bought people. He comes to you in the Lord's Supper with his body and blood to bring home to you that he has truly bought even you. You are his. You are no longer imprisoned under the law's conviction. You are his. You are no longer a slave to your sinful desires. You are his. You are no longer held captive by the fear of death. You are his. So focus on him, your Lord. Focus on him by focusing on his word and work. And since you are his, he will certainly take care of you, wont he? So you can focus on him, leaving the cares and worries of this life in his hands.

3) Describe the kind of life that has that focus.

Examine how you spend your time and money, your effort and energy, your talents and abilities. As you serve your family, are you doing it to serve your Lord and draw them closer to him? As you work to solve problems and comfort those who mourn, are you giving glory to your Lord? As you enjoy the happiness of life, are you enjoying it as a blessing from your Lord? As you buy and use the things of the world, are you employing them as gifts from your Lord temporarily entrusted to your care for service to him?

For you see, to focus on our Lord doesn't mean to devote our every minute to reading his Word and attending worship. It doesn't mean to give all our money into the offering plate. But, dear friends, it does mean to keep him at the center, at the focus, of all that we do, Sundays and every other day of the week. It means to make our choices and decisions by going to him in prayer and looking to his Word for guidance, keeping his word, work, and will as our number one priority. It means that we honor him with thanks as the Giver of all that is good. It means that whatever we do, we do it for his glory, giving him the credit by letting others know the great things he has done. It means serving him with all that are and all that we have in the different roles and opportunities he gives us. And as we keep him as the focus at the center in all that we say, think, and do, that will also show itself in the way we treasure his word and generously support his work.

Focus on your Lord, for the time is short. We don't have a date on the calendar like Inauguration Day as a deadline. I can't tell you the number of years, or months, or minutes you have left. But the time is short. As the Apostle Paul tells us, “This world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31 NIV). Jesus is coming again, and then it will be too late. He is coming soon. And who knows when our last moment will come, when death is at hand? So don't wait until tomorrow or next week or some time later to focus on your Lord. Today, right now, he calls to you. It is not yet too late. Focus on your Lord, who has bought you to be his very own.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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