Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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March 2007 • Volume XI, Issue 11


Marriage in this Passing World (1)

The apostle Paul gives three reasons in I Corinthians 7:25-34 why is it preferable to remain single. First, the argument from sin: there are distress and trouble in marriage (25-28; CR News XI:10). Second, the argument from eschatology or the last times: "the fashion of this world passeth away" (29-31). Third, the argument from our chief end: "how [we] may please the Lord" (32-34).

However, it is not preferable to remain single if you burn sexually: "But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn" (9). This is a command to those who do not have the "gift" of sexual self-control (7), yet they must marry "only in the Lord" (39).

Of the three arguments given above, the argument from eschatology is the most unexpected and striking to us. But the apostle, who was soaked in eschatology and understood the unity of God’s truth—that all biblical doctrines are related—was inspired here even to treat marriage in the light of eschatology.

Again, we see that marriage is a subject that requires thinking, sober thinking, including considering it from various angles, because marriage is two people becoming one flesh, for better or for worse, for life.

The two key eschatological phrases in I Corinthians 7:29-31 are "the time is short" (29) and "the fashion of this world passeth away" (31). Together these two phrases speak of created reality from two different aspects: time ("the time is short") and space ("the fashion of this world [kosmos] passeth away").

"The fashion of this world passeth away" refers to the transformation of the creation at the last day. Similarly, II Peter 3 tells us that the world will be purged with fire and the heavens and the earth will be renewed. According to Romans 8:19-22, the creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption. Matthew 19:28 refers to "the regeneration" of the heavens and the earth. "The time is short" teaches us that it will not be long before all this takes place.

The phrase, "the fashion of this world passeth away," helps us reconcile apparently contradictory scriptural statements. Some verses speak of the permanency of the world: "the world also is established that it cannot be moved" (Ps. 93:1; cf. 96:10). Other verses predict the destruction of the world: the heavens and the earth shall "perish" (Ps. 102:26) or "pass away," "melt" and "be burned up" (II Peter 3:10). I Corinthians 7:31 explains that it is "the fashion of this world [that] passeth away." The world itself is permanent; God decreed and wills that it shall forever be and that man will always live there. But "the fashion of this world"—its external circumstances—will pass away. This is what will "perish" (Ps. 102:26) and "be burned up" (II Peter 3:10).

"The fashion of this world" which passes away includes all of man’s achievements on this planet: civilizations; cities, towns, hamlets; airports, harbours, roads; factories, libraries, homes—and everything in them! For "the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (II Peter 3:10).

Luke 20:34-36 contrasts this world/age with that world/age which is to come. In this world/age there is marriage (and thus families and children), death (and thus dying, aging and sickness) and non-resurrection bodies (in which we currently live). In the world/age to come there is no marriage (and thus no families or children), no death (and thus no dying, aging or sickness) and glorious resurrection bodies. Revelation 21:4 unfolds the idea of "no more death" in the world to come: there will also be no more "sorrow," "crying" or "pain," for "the former things" will pass away.

Our text (I Cor. 7:29-31) develops the idea of marriage as passing away, as one would expect in I Corinthians 7: "But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none" (29). "The fashion of this world [including marriage] passeth away" (31).

In the phrase, "the time is short," time is not simply the succession of moments until Christ’s return, but it is the designated time, the time appointed for salvation and the service of God in this life. The word "short" is, literally, "shortened" or shrunken or contracted. But what does it mean that "the time is short," when almost 2,000 years have passed since Christ’s ascension into heaven?

Here we should point out several things. First, time is short from God’s perspective, for with the timeless One 1,000 years are as 1 day (II Peter 3:8). Second, time is short from the perspective of the endless ages of everlasting glory. Third, the next great divine wonder work is Christ’s second coming and the renewal of all things. No great redemptive act and no other age or dispensation are to come between now and Christ’s return. Fourth, the signs of the end of the world—including wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes (Matt. 24:6-7)—point to and foreshadow the grand truth that "the fashion of this world passeth away." Fifth, time is "shortened" in that everything which happens in this world serves the goal and end in such a way that all God’s purposes are fulfilled so that Christ returns for His bride, the church, as quickly as possible. Rev. Stewart


And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti (Esth. 2:17).

Question: "How can it have been acceptable for Mordecai to give Esther first as a concubine to King Ahasuerus (Esth. 2:8) and later to marry him (Esth. 2:17)? Yet this event is evidently blessed of God in that the deliverance of the Jews turns on it. How can God’s blessing on Esther’s unequally yoked marriage to a heathen king be explained?"

The book of Esther tells a stirring story, the theme of which, as the question indicates, is the salvation of the church from Haman’s plot to commit genocide. It is, therefore, the story of God’s sovereign preservation of Israel, from which nation Christ was destined to come. It is a remarkable and astonishing display of the mysterious and wonderful ways of God’s providence. The whole coming of Christ, through the preservation of the church in the Old Testament, rested upon one sleepless night of Ahasuerus (Esth. 6)!

Vashti had, for moral reasons, refused to appear at a banquet her husband had prepared for all his government officials throughout the vast Persian Empire. Although she was not a member of the Jewish nation, and was not a child of God, she had higher moral standards than Esther, the Jewess. Because of Vashti’s refusal to show her beauty to a host of drunken government officials, she was divorced and deposed from being queen. In a sort of beauty contest, which involved at least one night in bed with the king, Esther the Jewess was chosen to be the new queen. She had entered the contest at the prompting of her uncle, Mordecai, also a Jew. Both were in Shushan, the capital of the Persian Empire, because they or their ancestors had been taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar and had moved from Babylon to Shushan when the Babylonian Empire had been conquered by the Medes and Persians.

Through a marvellous sequence of events, God used Esther, in her position of power, to save the Jewish nation; and Haman, the Jews’ enemy, was hanged on the gallows that he had built to hang Mordecai. It is well our readers read the story once again to refresh their minds.

The questioner asks how it is possible for Esther to marry Ahasuerus and receive the blessing of God. The assumption in the question is, of course, that, because God used Esther’s marriage to Ahasuerus to save Israel, God blessed that adulterous union. That assumption is wrong, although many commentators take the same position. Many have been the discussions (and sometimes arguments) I have had with saints who have taken the position that Esther was a true child of God. The book of Esther is itself the proof that she was not.

Think of her sins and the sins of her uncle. Mordecai’s and Esther’s families had refused to return to the promised land, when Cyrus ordered and encouraged the captives to return. Their refusal was simply due to the fact that they far preferred life in captivity to a return to the land of promise. The reason was that they had no interest in the coming of Christ.

Esther, at Mordecai’s promptings, entered a royally-sponsored beauty contest, which involved fornication with the king. What child of God would ever enter a beauty contest in the first place? What child of God would ever enter a beauty contest, thereby agreeing to fornication with the one sponsoring it? It was a gross violation of the seventh commandment. She showed that her moral standards, even though a Jewess, were lower than the heathen, Vashti. I think that Vashti is introduced by God into the history simply to demonstrate into what moral decay the Jewish captives had fallen.

By agreeing to marry Ahasuerus, Esther violated the marriage ordinance God had established in paradise, for she contradicted the purpose of marriage by being unequally yoked to an unbeliever.

The book of Esther is the only book in Scripture which does not mention the name of God. This omission of God’s name is intended to demonstrate to us how wicked everything that happened in Shushan was—a wickedness providentially used by God for good.

Did God bless the union of Esther and Ahasuerus? He most emphatically did not! It was an abomination in His sight and the curse of the Lord was in the palace in Shushan (Prov. 3:33).

But it may be argued that God used the marriage to save Israel and preserve His Christ, who was in the loins of the nation. Indeed He did! The salvation of the nation and the remarkable events that led up to it were surely under the guidance of God’s sovereign control.

But we may not conclude from this that God blessed Esther, and that she was a true believer.

A principle is at stake here. In a very broad sense of the word, it is the principle laid down by Paul in Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good to them that love God. The "all things" include all the wicked world and everything they do. It is by no means a strange idea in Scripture that God uses wicked men to accomplish His purpose. He did so pre-eminently in the cross of Christ (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28). God is completely sovereign. He rules sovereignly in all the lives of the wicked (although in such a way that they remain accountable for their sins). He uses the wickedness of the ungodly to serve the good of His church, as reprobation must and does serve election. Even persecution is the means to purify and save those who suffer with Christ. All things are yours, Paul writes to the Corinthians, for "ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s" (I Cor. 3:22-23)!

Let us together marvel at God’s wonderful providence and bow in worship before Him who governs all things for us and for our salvation! Prof. Hanko

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