So Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor. 7:29). And that brief statement had huge implications for the way that believers in Corinth were to live. It would seem that much of the advice the Apostle gave them in this chapter, for instance, not to marry – was relevant to what he calls ‘the present distress’, some serious difficulties in their near future. We live in a different historical situation, but whatever difficulties the future may or may not bring, it should be clear – even if we are still relatively young – that the time we will be in this world is indeed short. And the way we live out the rest of our lives here should be profoundly influenced by the fact that time is short and eternity is long. John Calvin says:
“This life which we are now spending is . . . of short duration. Let us not therefore be . . . entangled by it. . . . All things that are connected with the enjoyment of the present life are sacred gifts of God, but we pollute them when we abuse them. If the reason is asked why Paul writes as he does, we shall find it to be this– that we always dream of continuance in the world, for it is owing to this that those things which ought to be helps in passing through it become hindrances to hold us fast; Hence . . . the man who considers that he is a stranger in the world uses the things of this world as if they were another’s – that is, as things that are lent to us for a single day. The sum is this–the mind of a Christian ought not to be taken up with earthly things or to repose in them; for we ought to live as if we were every moment about to depart from this life. It is the duty of God’s children to spend well the short period of time which is left to them before they enter heaven. But let us take a step back to consider the position of the unconverted; they too have only a short time before they enter the eternal world and yet they are running down the broad road to never-ending destruction. They only have a short time to prepare for eternity, and they do not know how soon that time may end.”
Apart from divine power, sinners will continue to presume that they have plenty of time; they never feel any urgency to seek the Lord Jesus Christ and find forgiveness and new life in him. As one year passes into another – as, for instance, 2009 passes into 2010 – we should feel that death is coming increasingly near. We should feel a conviction that neither wives nor husbands, neither prosperity nor adversity, nor anything else in this world, whether good or bad, should be allowed to distract us from preparing for eternity, for the time is short. Even if the evidence is piling up which indicates that the remaining years of our life will most likely be few, do we face up to the urgency of preparing seriously for eternity? As illness afflicts us, as disabilities interfere with our lives, as the body grows weaker, and the mind also, do we go before God with increased urgency as poor guilty sinners who need to be forgiven? Do we go to him, in the name of Christ, pleading with him to do what we cannot do – to save our souls?
This world is full of distractions, and Satan is adept at using them to divert the attention of sinners from their souls and from the eternity which they will so soon enter. God gave his own Son to die in the place of sinners; he has given a clear revelation in the Scriptures of his gift; he has also made it plain that the time during which sinners may receive this gift is short. How great then is the force of these words: ‘Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near’ (Isa. 55:6)!
There are some who, having sought the Lord before it was too late and called upon him while he was near, have found him and are therefore sure of a place in heaven. Yet it is they, in particular, who are reminded that ‘the time is short’. Why?
1. They are not yet ready for heaven. Yes, they have the fundamental preparation; they are justified; they have a right to the inheritance of the saints in light. Further, they have new hearts and are beginning to serve God. But it is only a beginning, and they need to make progress. They are in danger of being impeded, in their progress towards glory by many things which are in themselves perfectly legitimate. But their progress will be impeded if they allow an unconverted wife or husband to have too much influence over their lifestyle. They may indulge in activities which, if not obviously sinful, are at least questionable, and they may not give the time to prayer and Bible reading which they otherwise would.
2. The time to serve God in this world is short.Believers have already spent more than enough time in the service of the devil; they have good reason to confess,’The time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles’ (1 Pet. 4:3). And why waste more of the precious resource of time, when there is so little of it left? Now their time ought to be focused on serving God in a world which is given over to wickedness, a world which is ready to perish.
Clearly ministers have a great work to do: to preach to dying sinners the glorious gospel message: of salvation through a crucified Redeemer who is now exalted to give repentance and forgiveness of sins. Ministers have only a few short years during which they may preach this gospel, and their hearers too have only a few short years before they must appear before their Maker. Thus every sermon must expound and apply the Word of God, and there ought to be a particular focus on the central point of the gospel message: Christ and him crucified. Whatever other activities may occupy the minister’s attention, he must not forget that his main duty is to preach the gospel, which requires proper preparation. At the same time, it should be remembered that the minister is not a machine; he needs, for instance, relaxation and sleep. And, it scarcely needs to be said, ministers as much as anyone else are under the authority of the command: ‘Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it’ (Eph. 5:25).
Rowland Hill had a clear sense of the shortness of time:
Some say we live in the land of the living; more properly it may be said we live in the land of the dying. For let us resist whatever diseases we may, I am witness that time brings on the diseases of old age, which are never to be resisted. Friends may surround you and tell you that you may yet see many days, but at last we must die.
Accordingly he wished to continue preaching as long as possible; he told a brother minister:
Old, very old, as I am, yet still I trust I find it not less my privilege than my duty to dedicate the very last of my declining strength to His glory in the accomplishment of the sacred work. Should a physician tell me that my life may be endangered if I continue to preach, I will answer him, ‘Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God’.
3. Believers have only a short time to live to God’s glory in this world. In heaven they will serve him perfectly, but however imperfect their service may be in this life, they perform it in the face of God’s enemies. Some of them may suffer much from mockery and even from outright persecution, and all of them are subject to the devil’s temptations and to the resistance of an imperfectly-sanctified heart. But as they follow on, more or less faithfully, towards heaven in such circumstances, they glorify God in a way that is not possible in heaven.
As Christians live out what may be very ordinary lives, they are – to the extent that these lives are consistent – showing that true godliness is possible. In various ways they live as lights in the world and act as salt in the earth. This is how they are directed to spend their short time in this world: ‘Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10:31). And when their short time in this world is over, they will be brought home to the house of many mansions.
– Kenneth Macleod