The Winding Sheet of Time

The Winding Sheet of Time

Ernest Wilson

In the First Epistle of the Corinthians chapter 7, the Apostle Paul gives instructions to the saints at Corinth in regard to marriage relationships, and he uses the expression, “The time is short.” The word he employs for “short” (sunestalomenos) is an interesting one, occuring only twice in the New Testament, in this passage and in Acts 5:6. There it is used for the wrapping up of the dead body of Ananias in its last winding sheet. The word is derived from the verb, sustelloto place together, to draw together, or contract. Marvin Vincent says that it is also used for furling a sail or packing up luggage. In this instance the R. V. gives correctly the force of the passive voice, “The time is shortened;” therefore, it is ready to be wrapped up. The time (kairos not chronos) is not the time of mortal life as Calvin thinks, but the season, the period, or the age. Paul pictures the foreshortening of the time which must elapse before the coming of the Lord. The idea is that the period has been so shortened that the Christians should hold earthly ties and relationships loosely.

Just as Ananias was dead and wound up in his winding sheet for burial, so with the present dispensation, its sails have been furled, its luggage packed; the grave clothes are wrapping it around, and soon it will terminate in the coming of the Lord.

The Apostle applied this fact to five phases of the Christian’s life which should be conducted in view of the shortened time: Marriage, sorrow, joy, commerce, and daily life in the world (29-31). All or any of these things are liable to occupy time and attention unduly. All should be viewed from the standpoint of the approaching end of the age. If this was true in Paul’s day, how much more so in ours upon whom “the end of the age is come.” Let us look briefly at these five relationships of life.

MARRIAGE: This is the home life and is the immediate context of the passage. In a heathen community like Corinth there must have been many complicated and difficult cases to settle among the believers. Every pioneer missionary has similar experiences. Paul gives a fourfold answer to their questions summarized at the end by the three principles of verse 39: Marriage is for life; remarriage is permissible only on the death of one partner; marriage must be in the Lord, that is, there must not be an unequal yoke; and this holy and divine relationship the foundation of society, must be subordinated to the fact of the imminent return of the Lord. All are not called to completely sever home responsibilities like Paul and many another devoted pioneer evangelist. On the other hand, some people make a god of their home, their own comfort and personal well-being has first place with them.

SORROW: “Those that weep as though they wept not” (V. 3O).

This points to the tragedies and bereavements of life. Oh the tears that are shed in secret! It is possible to allow our sorrows and trials to so occupy our thoughts that we have not time for the service of the Lord. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” Often God’s choicest saints are those who drink most deeply of this cup. We must not allow the cares of this life to choke the good seed. Weeping may come in to lodge at eventide but joy cometh in the morning. Undue occupation with our troubles, after all, is another form of selfishness.

JOY: Life is not all sorrow and weeping. At times the sun will shine brightly and prosperity will knock at the door. Paul, eleven times over, bids the Philippians to rejoice. The Christian life is a life of joy. Some seem to flit through life like a butterfly going from flower to flower sipping nectar. They never learn that “Life is real, life is earnest, and the grave is not its goal.” The pleasures and joys of this life are transient, over occupation with even our blessings can blind us to the fact that “Men die in darkness at our side, without a hope to cheer the gloom.” We are here for a little while to help pluck them from the burnings.

COMMERCE: “Those that buy as though they possessed not” (V. 30). This points to the subtle snare of making money and possessing things. The rich fool of Luke’s Gospel chapter 12 is the type. Modern business men and politicians discussing the budget talk glibly of billions. Millionaires have come to be very ordinary individuals. For the Christian now it is the piling up of things to be left behind for the Antichrist and his servants. Scripture exhorts us not be slothful in business, but it is possible to be so occupied with it, that we have not time for the things of the Lord.

THE WORLD: “Using but not abusing it” (Using to the full, R. V. margin). Another version says, “Every contact with the world must be as light as possible, for the present scheme of things is rapidly passing away.” The Christian has been taken out of the world by the cross of Christ, and then sent back into it as an alien (John 17:6 and 11). His citizenship and politics are in Heaven (Phil. 3:20). Contacts in school, business, and factory are unavoidable and legitimate but he must never contract an unequal yoke to become like Lot in Sodom, sitting in the gate and administrating their civic affairs. That would be using it to the full, going all out, becoming like one of themselves. The reason given is that the fashion of the world, like the current Paris creations or the latest city models, pass away like the moving panorama of the picture show. John tells us, “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:17). Thus Paul, in a few brief words, applies the great truth of the shortness of time and the imminence of the coming of our Lord Jesus to our matrimonial, emotional, commercial, and social lives.

The atomic age with its grim portents of apocalyptic judgments has dawned. “It is later than we think.”

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Elijah was pre-eminently a man of prayer, being thus accustomed to dealing with the Sovereign of the universe at His lofty throne, he did not dread Israel’s petty sovereign sitting upon his throne, whatever might be the strength of the armed guard around him.

From “Elijah the Tishbite”

by W. Fereday