Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, August 16, 2018
Search this site.View the site map.

The Demands of the Kingdom of God

Mark 1:14-20 and 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

I think this is a difficult passage. And I think it’s made more difficult because we don’t know the whole context of what’s happening here. In verse 26, Paul says, “Because of the present crisis…” And we don’t know what that present crisis is. Perhaps Paul is addressing a very particular situation. But all we know is what Paul says to do about that crisis: “If you are not married, it is best to stay as you are.”

That’s a little strange because Judaism and Christianity have both, in general, exalted marriage as a good thing. Paul used marriage as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Why would he advise against it here?

Probably, it was because of some momentary crisis that we don’t really understand. But we can find other examples of this in Scripture. In Jeremiah 16, which was written just before the final conquest of Jerusalem by the armies of Babylon, God spoke through Jeremiah and said, “Don’t get married or have children. War, famine, and disease are coming.” It was no time to get married or have children.

But then, in Jeremiah chapter 29, he is writing to the exiles which had already been taken to Babylon. And he tells them, “Build a house, plant a garden, get married, and have children. Do not dwindle away in that foreign land.” In the case of the exiles, the momentary crisis was already over. For them, it was time to get married, have children, and carry on with the regular business of life. So perhaps, Paul is addressing a similar situation in Corinth. “For now, don’t get married. But the situation might be better in a little while.”

Since we don’t know the situation in Corinth, we can’t say why Paul gave this instruction. But the general principle at work remains the same. We are not to be possessed by the things of this world. We belong to the Kingdom of God. We should use the things of the world, but we should not be owned by them. We should not get lost in the things of the world such that we lose focus on where we really belong.

Paul mentions here four things that we should be wary of. I’ll address them in reverse order.

The last thing he mentions is things, material things. Now one of the words we use for things is “possessions.” It’s a very appropriate word, but not in the way we think. We think we possess things. The truth is that things can also possess us. They

can absorb our time, money, and energy; and in so doing, they can turn our attention away from the things that are truly important.

Several years ago, I read a book by Randy Alcorn called “The Treasure Principle.” And I remember this illustration he used about the danger of possessions. The story goes that a man decides to buy a boat. “It would be fun to have a boat.” But then, of course, once he buys a boat, he needs a trailer to put it on. And then he needs a truck to haul it to the lake. And of course, you want something to do while you’re on the boat, so he goes out and buys waterskis, and fishing gear, and a new cooler. And then he decides it’s too much trouble to haul the boat back and forth to the lake every weekend, so he rents a slip at the marina. And then he figures that if he’s going to drive to the lake every Saturday, he really should stay till Sunday to make it worth the drive. So then he buys a camper so they can stay at the local campground instead of driving home. And then of course, boats cost money to keep up. You know the definition of a boat, right: It’s a hole in the water you throw money into. And so on. The point he’s trying to make is that a possession can turn around and possess you.

And the truth of the matter is that “the earth is the Lord’s and so is everything in it.” (Psalm 24:1) We should “use the things of the world, but not become attached to them.” We are only stewards on behalf of God. In the end, we own nothing, so we must also be careful that nothing owns us.

The next two things Paul mentions are “weeping and rejoicing,” meaning happy circumstances and sad circumstances. Both will come into our lives at various points. When things go well for us, we need to remember that they are not going to last. And when things go poorly, we need to remember that won’t last either. We shouldn’t get lost in either situation. And neither should stop us from doing God’s will.

And the first thing Paul mentions is the subject of the whole chapter: Marriage. Marriage is good, certainly. It is our most important and intimate earthly relationship. But even still, we must not let marriage get in the way of an even more important relationship, our relationship with God.

Even marriage is something that belongs to this world. Jesus told us that in Luke 20, the story about the woman who was married seven times. “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” And Jesus answers “In the resurrection, people will not marry or be given in marriage.”

I find that difficult to accept. And I don’t think it means that we cease having personal knowledge of each other in eternity. But the new creation is going to be different from the world we know now, and Jesus tells us that marriage, as we know it, will not be part of the resurrection life. So not even marriage should stop us from knowing God and doing his will.

Ultimately, we belong to God, not to the world. And so we shouldn’t allow anything other than God to become ultimate in our lives. We need to give attention to all these other things. Certainly we need to give attention to our marriages. We even need to give attention to the things we “possess,” since they really belong to God, and we should take care of God’s belongings. But the challenge is not to allow any of these things to become ultimate.

Mark chapter 1 tells a story, that I think, illustrates what Paul is saying:

It begins with Jesus’ message: “The promised time is here. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent of sin and believe.” Now the word repent means to turn away from sin, not just to turn away from the consequences of sin! After we turn from sin, we should turn to God. Both are necessary.

And if we truly believe God’s Kingdom is near, then we should hold nothing back. When Christ returns, his Kingdom will be over the whole world. But for now, his Kingdom is over all the lives of those who belong to him.

This message is illustrated in the lives of the four fishermen apostles. Now this is not the first time these men have met Jesus or heard him. John’s Gospel tells us that at least some of these men had been followers of John the Baptist. They met Jesus in Judea, at the urging of John. And they have spent some time with him already. Mark leaves that part of the story out for the dramatic effect when Jesus does call them. His Gospel focuses on the radical and immediate demands of the Kingdom.

Following a rabbi meant making great personal sacrifices. To follow a rabbi meant to leave home, family, and work. And these guys had good jobs. Fishing was an important industry in Galilee, fish being the primary protein in the diet of Jews in Galilee. And these guys were doing well at it, well enough to have hired men working for them, which meant that they were at least in the small middle class.

Following Jesus would also mean leaving the predictability, stability, and security of their lives. And we know that Jesus took these guys into some situations where they never would have chosen to go on their own.

Normally, students chose to follow a rabbi of their own accord. But in this case, Jesus calls them to follow him. He calls them to leave it all behind for the sake of the Kingdom. He calls them out of their daily work and into divine work.

Jesus does the same in all of our lives. He is calling us to lay aside the ordinary, to put him first in everything, and to belong wholeheartedly to the Kingdom of God. Are we willing to answer his call?

Verse of the Day...