For those in healthy marriages or with material “creature” comforts, this passage can seem harsh or unwieldy. Why would Paul disregard the importance of a healthy relationship or the opportunity to rejoice over God’s provision?
Paul believes that Christ’s return is imminent. The “old age” of strict adherence to the law has passed; believers now live at the beginning of the “new age” of Jesus. Paul advises those followers who live in the in-between time.
Paul encourages individuals to remain in the same social system as they were when they first accepted Christ—even, and including, those with a lower social standing. American history has shown the dangers of this passage when taken to its extreme: an affirmation of oppressing minority groups and keeping those deemed socially unworthy beneath those with authority. But as New Testament scholar Richard B. Hays explains in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Paul’s “immediate pastoral concern is to set his readers free for wholehearted service of God wherever they find themselves located in the present time” (123).
In light of Christ’s return, “the present form of the world is passing away.” Social systems and roles hold no value in God’s new order. Paul emphasizes the priority of commitment to God in light of God’s reign. We acknowledge our ties to roles, relationships, and possessions but avoid overattachment to any of these. We pledge our allegiance to God and God alone.
Creating God, create within us a sincere desire to serve you in every aspect of our lives. Strengthen us to align our priorities with yours and to do so with conviction. Amen.
Things are not always as they seem. To Jonah it appears that the people of Nineveh are beyond hope, so he runs away rather than going to preach to them. God has other plans; to Jonah’s surprise, the Ninevites turn to God. To our eyes, social standing and wealth may seem to divide people into different classes; but the psalmist declares that in God’s economy, all are equal and will be repaid the same. Paul echoes the theme of the temporary nature of all things in this life; they should not be our source of security. Jesus opens his ministry in Mark by proclaiming that God is breaking into history to overthrow what has been accepted as the way things are. Sometimes God’s perspective is not our perspective.
• Read Jonah 3:1-5, 10. When have you experienced God’s call to a task you would have preferred not to undertake? What happened? What did you learn about God?
• Read Psalm 62:5-12. When have you experienced God as refuge and fortress? How do you actively embody God’s hope and offer it to others?
• Read 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. How lightly do you hold your job, your relationships, your possessions, given the passing nature of the present age?
• Read Mark 1:14-20. When have you heard Jesus call to you to follow? How did you respond?
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