This is a reality we must remember: “The present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31).
The nearly two thousand years since Paul penned these words might feel like a long time to those of us whose mortal lives are “like grass” (Psalm 103:15). But it’s not a long time at all. Two millennia are “like yesterday when it is past” to the Ancient of Days (Psalm 90:4). To him, “the appointed time has grown very short” and is rushing toward the end (1 Corinthians 7:29).
None of us should be too casual about wasting time. In God’s timeframe, each of us is given a life span of a breath (Job 7:7) to play our terrestrial part in his purposes. And the global church has a relative few minutes remaining before Jesus returns and the present form of this world becomes a memory.
This calls for clear heads. And keeping our heads clear is not easy. It’s hard. But if we don’t do the hard work, we will spend valuable time on the ephemeral at the expense of the eternal.
Divided Interests Are Costly
Paul keenly felt the shortness of time and the need for strategic living so that we make the best use of our time in these fleeting evil days (Ephesians 5:16). He wanted us to “be free from anxieties” and not have divided interests (1 Corinthians 7:32–34).
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul was addressing whether or not Christians should marry. And he advocated singleness “in view of the present distress” (1 Corinthians 7:26), though he made it clear that this was his trustworthy apostolic judgment, not the Lord’s command (1 Corinthians 7:12–13, 25).
But this is how Paul approached all of life. He lived lean and traveled light in order to minimize “worldly troubles” and divided interests (1 Corinthians 7:28, 34). That’s why he told Timothy, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). And this must be our approach to all of life as well.
Divided interests are costly. Every relationship we nurture, every activity we engage, every cause we get involved with, and every decision about what we will own and where we will live has a time, energy, concentration, and often financial cost attached to it. They all require some investment of life. The more divided our interests, the more diluted our lives.
Undivided Devotion Means Saying “Know” and “No”
When Paul calls us to live radically for the sake of the kingdom (like foregoing marriage), what he is trying to do is “secure [our] undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). He isn’t calling us to altruism but to true hedonism. God is the great Gain of life, the great Prize worth winning (Philippians 3:7–8, 14), and he’s worth giving up everything to have (Matthew 13:44).
But to pursue this joy in whatever levels of undivided devotion God calls us to — and there are different callings and gifts (1 Corinthians 7:6–7) — requires prayerful discernment and gracious ruthlessness. We need to know a few things, and we need to say no to many things.
We need to know what our calling is right now. Perhaps our vocational and other callings are clear, or perhaps we are waiting on God for further guidance. But whatever the case, there are things God is calling us to for his sake right now. And we must give ourselves to those things and not other things.
Which means that we also must know our limitations. I’m preaching to myself more than anyone else here. I have friends who have greater capacities than I do. They can read faster, write faster, organize more efficiently, and all around manage more things than I can. So they may be able to say yes to more things than I can and be faithful in their callings.
But as hard as it might be to admit, I’m not like them. I am who I am. And being me requires that I know, within reason, my limitations and how to say no to many things I may want to do or have so that my interests aren’t too divided. It’s hard, but a kind of ruthlessness is necessary to be faithful.
Live Lean and Travel Light
Divided interests are too costly to remain carelessly in the budget of our lifetime. Diversifying may be a wise financial investment strategy, but when it comes to time, concentration and focus yield the highest kingdom returns.
If you’re like me, it may be time for an audit. Let’s examine our relationships, vocations, activities, commitments, possessions, and living arrangements to see where we can divest ourselves of distracting interests and unnecessary anxieties.
We get one breath to live on earth. How we live matters. And soon this world’s present form will pass away.
In light of this, let us prayerfully discern our callings, know our limitations, and resolve to say no to anything unnecessary that unfaithfully divides our interests. Let us live lean and travel light in order to pursue a devotion to the Lord as undivided as possible.