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Everything Is Changing!

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
29What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30those 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; 31those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Waking Up To a New World

One of my favorite short stories is The Metamorphosis  by Franz Kafka.  It is the story of Gregor Samsa, a young traveling salesman who lives with his parents and his sister.  A rather non-descript life, except that one morning Gregor awakens to find that sometime in the night he has changed into a large cockroach.  Or as Kafka puts it, “a monstrous verminous bug.”  A cockroach.  

Here’s how Kafka begins the story:

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug. He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.

“What’s happened to me,” he thought. It was no dream. 

The story goes on about the difficulty Gregor faces as he comes to grips with his new form, the struggle simply to roll over from his back, and the reaction of family and his employer.  It is a great understatement to say that Gregor Samsa went to sleep in one world, and woke up in another world entirely.

The Situation in Corinth

In the brief passage we read today, Paul is writing to tell the believers in Corinth that “the world in its present form is passing away.”

The city of Corinth that Paul visited had been rebuilt less than a 100 years before, after its destruction in 146 BC.  Paul arrives there about 50 AD, and finds a thriving, prosperous cosmopolitan city.  Jews are among the inhabitants of Corinth because all the Jews have been made to leave Rome, and many resettled themselves in Corinth.  

The Corinthian church is composed of many faithful members — Aquila and Priscilla perhaps form the core leadership there. Acts 18:1-11 provides the historical background for us:

1After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 

4Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.[a] 6But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

7Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.9One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

The church in Corinth was also home to many new believers and we get an insight into the struggles of new Christians who are seeking to live life differently than they did as former pagans.  Paul writes to the church in Corinth about:

  • Divisions in the church.
  • Immorality among the membership.
  • Lawsuits among believers.
  • Sexual immorality.
  • Marriage
  • Food sacrificed to idols.
  • The difference between the feasts of idols and the Lord’s supper
  • Order in worship
  • The proper preparation and observance of the Lord’s Supper
  • Spiritual gifts — prophesying, speaking in tongues, knowledge, miracles
  • The body of Christ in the church
  • The resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead
  • Offerings
So, they had lots of problems, but were well on their way to being a viable church made up of both Jews and Gentiles.
It’s A New World
But in the passage we read today, Paul’s instruction for them is “the time is short — the world in its present form is passing away.”  In other words, everything is changing!
Now, we’re no stranger to change ourselves.  In the last 100 years we have seen amazing changes:
  • Invention of the automobile
  • Invention of the airplane and manned flight
  • Invention of the telephone
  • Invention of electrical distribution systems and the light bulb
  • Discovery and harnessing of atomic energy
  • Space flight
  • Man walking on the moon
  • Discovery of antibiotics
  • Cure for diseases that have plagued mankind for centuries
  • Invention of the computer, the internet, and all electronic devices
  • Life that gets cheaper, easier, and busier
As a matter of fact, social scientists tell us that we encounter so much change that the only thing we are certain that will not change is change.  And, change is not what it used to be.  During much of the 20th century, we lived in an era of continuous change — by that I mean that one change led to another.  The invention of the internal combustion engine led to its use in the horseless carriage — the automobile.  One invention led logically to the next.
But now sociologists tell us, we live in an era of discontinous change.  Change no longer takes place in an linear motion.  Change is all around us, popping up in places we never imagined from our cars to our computers to our economy to our politics and even to our religion.
Everything is changing!  We can learn something about how we cope with change from Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians.
The Church’s History of Dealing with Change
Now, the Christian church has not always dealt very well with change.  Let me give you a quick run-down to illustrate my point here:
  • Less than 200 years after Jesus, the church in the 3rd century has already become corrupt.  So, a group that came to be known as The Desert Fathers (although there were women, too) left the cities and moved to live an ascetic life in the barren deserts.
  • In 313 AD when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan and returned property back to Christians, the church entered a new era, the era of politics.  Constantine saw the rising population of Christians as a powerful force in his empire.  Whether his conversion was genuine or not, Constantine managed to bring the church under the political umbrella of the Roman empire, leading to her further corruption.
  • About 300-years after that, others decided that the way to preserve the church was to form bands of the highly dedicated.  The monastic movement gathered devotees who would dedicate themselves to work and prayer.  No longer would they live alone as hermits, but would band together into communities to work together, to share the gospel, to bring salvation to new lands.  
  • Around 1000 AD the church dealt with the rising Muslim world by engaging in military campaigns to drive the “infidels” from the holy city of Jerusalem, to eradicate entire populations of unbelievers, and to impose Christian rule on the entire civilized world.  Not our best moment, and we still reap the whirlwind today.
  • In the 1500s, many in the church saw its corruption, and armed with the emergence of rational thought of the Enlightenment combined with the invention of moveable type, the Protestant Reformation set about to reform the church, and then, when that failed, to reinvent the church.
  • About 200 years after that, Christians rallied to the cry from freedom, and Christians from around the globe sought countries in which they could worship freely.  Our own nation became a refuge for a wide variety of religious expressions — as long as they were Christian — as we developed freedom of religious practice and expression led by Christians, and Baptists in particular.
  • The darkside of those colonial years was the affirmation of slavery by many Christians, including those who would later become the founders of The Southern Baptist Convention in 1845.
I could go on and on, but what picture do you see emerging here?  It is the story of a church which is reacting to the changes it sees around it — changes in politics, money, and power.  
That is not what Paul is suggesting to the Corinthians.  
Not The End, But the Beginning
It is not the end of the world that Paul warns them against.  It is not his advice to gather all the believers on an high mountain top and wait for the second coming of Christ.  No, the change Paul speaks of is not the change of a church reacting to the world.  It is not the change of a church adapting to the world around it to become more powerful, more wealthy, more worldly.  Paul says, “The world as we know it is passing away.”
Why?  Not because God is destroying it, but because Christians are remaking it.  Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth about marriage, money, and worship matters because Christians are different — we live in such as way that we reflect the coming kingdom, not the current kingdom.
That’s why Christians should not live their lives like everyone else — we serve a different king, a new world order, a coming regime, that is present and will one day be pervasive.  Until then, things are changing. The world is being transformed, Christians are empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit to bring life, not death, to this world that is God’s creation.
The world as we know it is passing away, but it is because we live our lives differently than others.  We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, love is our language, hope is our watchword.  We are changing the world by our lives.  
A Story of Change
In David Augsburger’s book, Helping People Forgive, he tells this story:
During the 1915 massacre of more than a million Armenians by the Turks, a military unit attacked a village, killing all the adults and children and taking the young women as hostages.  An officer led a raid into a home in which he shot the parents, gave the younger daughters to his men, but kept the oldest daughter for himself.
After months of captivity and unspeakable abuse and servitude, she escaped.  Over the years she rebuilt her life, and took training as a nurse.
One night while on duty in a Turkish hospital, she recognized the face of a desparately ill, comatose patient in intensive care.  It was her captor and abuser, the murderer of her parents.  He was unconscious and required constant care to survive.  A long and difficult convalescence followed, with the man too ill to recognize his surroundings.
One day as he was much improved, the doctor said to him, “You are a very fortunate man.  Had it not been for the devotion of this nurse, you would never have made it, you certainly would be dead.”  
The officer looked at the nurse a long time.  ”I’ve wanted to ask for days — we have met before, have we not?”
“Yes,” she replied, “we have met before.”
The officer knew instantly who she was and what she meant. “Why did you kill me when you had the opportunity? Or why didn’t you just let me die?”
“Because,” the nurse replied, “I am a follower of one who taught, love your enemies.”
That is why the world as we know it is changing.  It is changing because we are changed.  It is changing because we as followers of Christ live by new rules.  It is changing because God’s kingdom is finding a home in hearts and minds.  It is changing because we follow the one who said, ‘Love your enemies.’”