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Bible Commentaries

Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 7

Verse 20


‘Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.’

1 Corinthians 7:20

This is an exhortation much needed in the present day. Men and women often think that if only their circumstances were different they could serve God better. But the true service of God is not a question of environment.

I. Make sure you are in the right place.—In all Christian service it is of the first importance to be sure that we are in the place that God has chosen for us, and that we are doing that which He would have us do. If we are assured of that, then let nothing induce us to change. The words of the Church Catechism ‘to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me’ applies quite as forcibly to spiritual as to material things.

II. In that place remain.—If God is using you in the place where He has put you, there remain until He makes known to you that His will is otherwise. Much of the ineffectiveness of Christian work to-day is due to a feeling of unrest, almost of discontent. Men and women think they have large gifts, and they are anxious to obtain a wider sphere. But our whole purpose should be not to seek any other sphere than that which the Lord Himself shall choose for us. It may be a small sphere, and we may think our talents are wasted there, but depend upon it the sphere, however small it may be, is large enough when we remember that we shall have to give an account of our stewardship there. Young men with speaking gifts sometimes think that they can serve God best as lay preachers, and they disdain the more humble charge of a Sunday-school class. Yet how great is the responsibility for the souls of the children! and no one need desire a higher form of service.

III. Seek to do God’s will, not your own.—The true remedy for all unrest and discontent is to bend to the will of God. The man who can say from the heart ‘Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth Thee’ will be ready to ‘abide in the same calling wherein he was called,’ knowing that there he can live and work to God’s glory.

Verse 29


‘The time is short.’

1 Corinthians 7:29

What are the practical conclusions the Apostle draws from this truth?

I. Domestic relations.—Home influence is the sacred source which gives character to everything in life. ‘They that have wives be as though they had none.’ The dearest ties and associations of life must not detain the heart. It must be taken up only with Jesus, and every affection must be kept in subjection to Him. There must be a sitting loose to the nearest and dearest for His sake. This must be the test of everything, and must give its character to every domestic duty, and to every affection of the heart.

II. The sorrows and trials of life.—‘They that weep as though they wept not.’ These too must take their tone from this truth. They are now nearly filled up. We are not, like Mary, to continue at the sepulchre, but to speed with messages of love to the weeping ones. We must sit loose to our sorrows, for sorrow will soon end.

III. Joys must not detain the soul.—‘They that rejoice as though they rejoiced not.’ There are hours of delight. God plants flowers in our way; yea, many that are sweet. But to all we must sit loose. The one Rose of Sharon has won our hearts, and this must impart its fragrance to every other. Christ is our joy.

IV. ‘They that use this world as not abusing it,’ or ‘not using it to the full.’ It does not mean abusing it in the sense of perversion, but only the right use of what is according to God’s will. We are to engage in its business, its duties, its callings; to use its money, its air, its opportunities for good—to ‘use’ them all for the Lord. Without Him nothing; with Him all things according to His will.

—Rev. F. Whitfield.


The rule has been laid down that time ought to seem short as it passes along and great as we look ahead. And the reason is this. We measure time by the number of ideas which pass through the mind or the actions we do in succession. As these ideas or actions pass, if they be good and pleasant ones, they make the time appear to go quickly, but if we take a retrospective view, the longer the time seems to be. And therefore every man ought to have many ideas in his mind and perform many actions: and those ideas and actions happy ones. Thus time should be little as it goes; great when it is over.

I. There are three reasons why time is short.

( a) We ought to be thinking a great deal about eternity. And to the eye that has been dwelling on eternity, all time, everything we can measure, must be short.

( b) Good occupations make shortness. There is a great deal to do. Alas for the man who finds any day of his life too long! That man cannot be living as he ought to be living.

( c) No man who is very happy complains that the hours run sluggishly; and whether we are happy or not happy, we ought to be happy.

II. If you desire that time should feel short, live straight to the present—the present duties, the present joys, the present trials; the past all forgotten, the future all undiscernible. You have nothing to do but with the passing moment. It will glide by very rapidly if you will always live only for the present. Don’t be long about anything. Concentrate. Hold everything that has not an eternity in it by a slight hand, by a loose hand; it is not worth much, for ‘the time’ indeed is very ‘short.’ Live for eternity, love for eternity, marry for eternity, die for eternity, work for eternity. Carry with you the thought, and let that thought be always eternity, eternity, eternity is coming!

III. What we want is to be exceedingly practical.—Too short now for all that fretting about little things. Too short to flit away an hour when every moment is golden. Too short to be careful when the future we care about may never come; and if it comes will be only for a little while. Too short to hoard up, when ‘this night thy soul may be required of thee.’ Too short to quarrel, when already we stand before the door, and we are all about to go in together to stand before His judgment seat. Too short to mourn for those who are gone—when they will so soon come back again. Too short to weep—when God is so soon to ‘wipe away all tears from our eyes.’

IV. But it is not too short to pause and feel its shortness, and praise God for its shortness. Not too short to realise that the two worlds are one. Not too short to leave whatever is not true and holy, and begin now the heavenly. Not too short to see our union with Jesus and His saints. Not too short to do something for Him before we go in and ‘finish the work which He has given us to do.’

—Rev. James Vaughan.


‘ “Millions of money for an inch of time!” cried Elizabeth, the gifted but ambitious Queen of England, upon her death-bed. She had enjoyed threescore and ten years. Like too many of us, she had so devoted them to wealth, to pleasure, to pride, to ambition, that her whole preparation for eternity was crowded into her final moments; and hence she who had wasted more than half a century would barter millions for an inch of time.’

Verse 31


‘The fashion of this world passeth away.’

1 Corinthians 7:31

We can well imagine that St. Paul in writing these words of his Epistle to the Corinthian Church was thinking of the shifting scenes of a theatre. No doubt he had often been in a theatre. To the ancient Greek or Roman the drama was the great teacher. It was to him what the pulpit, the parliament, and the newspaper are to us. He there heard the noblest deeds of his countrymen described and praised, and the glory of his land upheld, in language which fired his zeal and sent him forth burning to do great deeds. And it was such a theatre which the Apostle took for his text in writing for the beautiful, wealthy, wicked city of Corinth. In one place, if you remember, he compares life to a race; in another to a fight in the arena. Here he changes the metaphor and likens it to the shifting scenes of a play—‘the fashion of this world passeth away.’

I. How true this is of our lives and those of our neighbours!—The scenes are ever being shifted, men never continuing in one state. In one scene we may look upon a parent rejoicing over the birth of a son. Bright hopes kindle around the cradle. The rich man has an heir to his wealth, or the careful trader looks forward to a partner in his business. The scene changes. The grey-haired father stands weeping in a prison cell, and in that cell lies a man stained by sin, branded with crime. Can that be the once innocent child by whose cradle so many bright hopes were conjured up, so many urgent prayers uttered? Can that be the once proud father who now cries in his anguish, ‘Would to God thou hadst never been born’? There is another scene bright with the merry music of wedding bells. The scene changes. The lights are gone out; the air is full of farewells to the dying. The widow’s weeds replace the bridal veil, the death knell tolls from the same church tower where once the wedding bells rang so merrily. ‘All the world’s a stage.’ Some people make their life a farce full of careless song, and others make their life a tragedy. With most of us there is a mixture of both in our lives. Life has times of both smiles and tears, and flowers and thorns for all of us. The day comes when the drama is played out, the last scene shifted, and the curtain falls. ‘The fashion of this world passeth away.’

II. This is true also of the earth on which we tread.—Earth is ever returning to earth, and dust to dust, and new life is ever springing up from death. Vast forests lie buried beneath the soil; men live and die where once the sea rolled. Where once were towns and villages now the sea has undisputed sway. Vast deserts occupy regions which once were cultivated; in regions where some of the most crowded cities of our great towns now stand our fathers picked wild flowers, and the wild beast again finds his lair among the ruins of the populous cities of old time. We hear of stars extinguished and vanished into space when their time has come, and new worlds open to the gaze of the astronomer. There is change everywhere. And some of the scenes are shifted very quickly. The spring no sooner brings its buds than the scene shifts to summer. Then, quickly, the leaves which sheltered us are dying and winter is upon us. So is it with our lives. The children of spring change rapidly to the men and women of summer, and to the fading form of autumn and winter. ‘The fashion of this world passeth away.’

III. It is true, too, of the history of nations.—Egypt, before whom Israel trembled in bondage, was once first of the nations in art, war, commerce, and education. With what changed feelings do men now regard that nation! The corner of a newspaper now suffices for its history. We all remember the boastful words of Nebuchadnezzar over great Babylon which he had built, and we know, too, how quickly the scene changed from one of arrogant might to miserable humiliation, and how perfectly the words of the text apply to that power which once ruled the world, and which even dreamed of a world-wide empire and a world-wide renown. Quickly, indeed, the scenes were shifted in the city of the Cæsars, where emperor succeeded emperor, and where each wore for a brief day the purple of majesty. So has it happened with all that has been great or wise or powerful in the world. Alexander, Cicero, Tudor or Stuart, Michael Angelo, Shakespeare, Milton, each plays his part and the scene changes, and all are gone. ‘The fashion of this world passeth away.’

IV. And if we turn from the history of the world to that of our own lives, we shall find the truth of the text still exemplified.—We who have wandered these forty years or more in the wilderness, what shifting scenes we have witnessed, how many parts we have acted, how many changes since our own home was left, and we went forth to fight the battle of life! If we visit the scene of our childhood after many years, we shall find everywhere around us the truth that the fashion of this world passeth away. There stands the house of a neighbour. We remember him so well, rich, prosperous, popular; we envied his wealth, his position. Now strangers are in possession, and the place knoweth him no more. Where once were happy faces and glad hearts, now we find those weighed down with afflictions and sorrows. Many are the plans made by the father for the future of his loved son; many a mother dotes upon the affection of her child. But how many are doomed to bitter disappointment! We all know the old proverb, ‘Man proposes, but God disposes,’ and so we see by it the truth of the text being exemplified, ‘the fashion of this world passeth away.’

V. And where is the moral?—What is the practical lesson? Is it that we should go through the world finding it all barren, looking on life with a gloomy look, a sullen demeanour, as if it were not worth having or working for? God forbid! Let us try to use this world, as St. Paul teaches us, without abusing it, and to act well the part that God has given us. Yes, let us remember it is God Who makes one man rich and another poor, who gives to one great distinction, to another to occupy a lowly position. Whatever state of life we are in, it is our duty, and at the same time our happiness, to perform that part well, remembering Who it is that gives us the part to play. Whether it be long or short it is God’s doing. Oh, how sad it is to think that there are so many who go about their day’s work, whatever it may be, without thoughts of God, without dependence upon Him. No wonder we meet so many sad countenances, no wonder so many make a failure of their lives, and then complain of their surroundings. We are all too fond of this little play that we call life, and too careless of the great reality beyond the grave. Let us try to make the motive of all we do the love of God; the rule of all we do the will of God; and the end of all we do the glory of God. Whether we be called upon to act a lofty or a little part in life, whether the purple of Dives or the rags of Lazarus fall to our share, let us endeavour to act that part honestly and humbly and with our might, taking as our model the perfect life of Him Who worked for us the pattern of true, noble manliness in the workshop of Nazareth, in the lonely wilderness, and on the Cross of Calvary.


(1)‘All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players,

They have their exits and their entrances,

And each man in his time plays many parts.’

(2) ‘Look at the graves of the greatest and fairest, look at the tomb of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral, or that of Mary Stuart for whom men fought and plotted and died, or that of Wellington who won Waterloo; and over all you may read the text, though it be not graven there, “The fashion of this world passeth away.” ’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.