Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 18- The Right Use of Earthly Things

January 18
I Corinthians 7:29-31- the time is short. From now on those who are married should live as if they were not; those who mourn as if they did not; those who are happy as if they were not; those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world , as if not engrossd in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Calvin: “The good things of this life are to be enjoyed as gifts of God. If we must simply pass through this world, there is no doubt we ought to use its good things in so far as they help rather than hinder our course. Thus Paul rightly persuades us to use this world as if not using it; and to buy goods with the same attitude as one sells them. [Here are three principles: ]1) The use of God’s gifts is not wrongly directed when it is referred to that end to which the Author himself created and destined them for us, since he created them for our good, not for our ruin…where is your thanksgiving if you so gorge yourself with banqueting or wine that you either become stupid or are rendered useless for the duties of piety and of your calling? 2) They who have narrow and slender resources should know how to go without things patiently, lest they be troubled by an immoderate desire for them. 3) All those things were so given to us by the kindness of God, and so destined for our benefit that they are, as it were, entrusted to us, and we must one day render account of them. “ (Inst . III.1-5 sels.]

Calvin believed in balance. He didn’t believe in the extremes of the ascetics who saw everything in the world as evil. But he also didn’t believe in those who would “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die.” He didn’t believe in such strictness that we don’t enjoy life, or in such laxity that we can’t really appreciate what we have. Our lives are gifts from God, and we should enjoy the gift.
In our culture, we see self denial or putting on the brakes to our pleasures as wrong. If you mention fasting to the average American Christian they may think you’ve lost your marbles- almost like the people who beat themselves with whips. But there is a balance between withholding and punishing. It really boils down to who is God. Today, we post-enlightenment, post-modern Christians act as if we are the judge of what is right and wrong, instead of God’s being the judge. We are the judge and jury of which scriptures we will accept and which ones we will reject. We are almost like the believers in the days of the book of Judges- “every one did what was right in their own eyes.” The problem is that without an anchor to hold us back, we plunge headlong into the way of selfishness and uncontrolled, unbalanced self-indulgence. God, and the scriptures are a check on our pride and our decadence. But they also help us to rightly enjoy the good things of life. A key example is sexuality. God made us sexual creatures and put desires inside of us. But he put boundaries around us to guide us and keep us healthy. Unbridled sexuality leads to unhealthy living (physically, mentally,socially and spiritually). The boundaries were committed monogamous husband-wife relationships. Sexuality enjoyed in a committed, marital relationship is a great and wonderful gift of God. Sexuality outside of marriage leaves mental, sometimes physical, and always spiritual scars. Calvin would not say we should abstain from all sexuality (unlike the monk’s vow of chastity and poverty), but would not give into the sexual revolution’s idea of “if it feels good do it.” Sexuality is just one example. Buying and selling earthly goods is another. Calvin would not have us live in rags, but neither would he have us be a slave to the latest fashion. Calvin was always a proponent of the middle way.. Our society is paying the price now for our excesses. We do not want to swing on the pendulum to asceticism as our goal. Our goal should be to use the gifts God has “entrusted” to our care. Today so many are out of balance- it shows on our credit card "balances." It is important to have a goal in the way we use earthly things- gifts given to us from God.

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