Free from anxieties

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In 1 Corinthians 7:29, Paul says “From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none.”  What does he mean by this? Well, we know from the rest of the chapter that he cannot mean either that they should separate from and divorce their wives or that they should commit to an a-sexual, celibate partnership.  Indeed, Paul seems to be making it explicitly clear, not that sex was a good thing for procreation but that pleasure was a legitimate purpose of sexual intercourse, contra some of the ascetic philosophical solutions of the day.[1]

So what is he saying? The crucial clue is in verse 32 where he makes it clear that his desire is to free his readers up from anxiety.  He is talking of worldly worries, he does explicitly want us to be anxious concerning our spiritual commitments. 

In other words, Paul does not deny the realities of life.  Marriage, sex and children are part and parcel of life just as grief and mourning are.  Yet, those things can become all so over consuming  so that they fill up our time and our emotions.  They become all we think about and we expect the world around us, our priorities and those of people around us, including of the church to be shaped by our circumstances and our anxieties.  The world has to fall into line with me and my needs.

As Christians we cannot live like that. Rather, our priorities should be the Lord’s priorities.  This means that a married couple should look to Christ.  It means that instead of selfishly looking to marriage to meet my needs and appetites, or even hoping it will be a cure for my temptations, I look to Christ.  It means that together, a husband and wife should be united in seeking to serve Christ first with their lives and bringing up their children to seek the same priorities.

[1] C.f. Clampa and Rosner, 1 Corinthians, 274.

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