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The Present Distress

An older sister in Christ was a member of a rural congregation. Right on the heels of her recovery from a painful attack of gout in her feet, she developed a severe ear infection. When the preacher greeted her at the door after Sunday morning worship, he asked how she was. Before the woman could answer, her husband interrupted: "We don't rightly know, Preacher. We just got one end of her fixed and now the other end's gone bad." That story brings to mind an old adage sometimes heard from people who feel life has piled more than their fair share of problems on them — "If it ain't one thing, it's another!" We spend a lot of time trying to escape, ease, and even eliminate stress from our lives. But the fact of the matter is, stress just keeps on coming. Stress is part and parcel of life. Like the old farmer said about milking cows — "The hardest thing about milking cows is that they never stay milked." And the hardest thing about life is, it never stays problem-free very long. The hardest thing about stress is that it never stays completely relieved.

Lily Tomlin once said that the chief cause of stress is reality. I don't know if Lily ever reads the 'Bible, but she reflected a Bible truth in that statement. The Bible message is that we live in a world dominated by sin and the devil and that trouble is here to stay (Job 14:1; John 16:33; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 5:19). Stress-free living can't be found in this life but will be a reality in eternity for those who live and die in the Lord (Revelation 14:13; 21:1-5). Meanwhile, if Scripture and human history mean anything, stress is here to stay. The apostle Paul, certainly no stranger to stress, penned a statement in 1 Corinthians 7:26 that has intrigued me for years. In context, he is encouraging people to remain in whatever marital status they are currently in. The reason he gives is stated in the verse: "I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress; that it is good for a man to remain as he is."

Now, neither Paul nor any other Bible writer ever taught that marriage within the will of God is a bad thing. But Paul did teach that sometimes and in some circumstances staying single can be the best thing. Such was the case at Corinth. What was the present distress? Likely it was coming persecution and/or the destruction of the Jerusalem by the Roman general Titus in A. D. 70 (about 10 or 12 years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians). These crises would make it impossible to live normal lives. That distress no longer puts Christians under pressure. But distress is a daily factor in our lives. Problems and pressures are always present, for married and single Christians, in every age. The continuing priority for Christians is not to seek escape from all stress so that we can live a life of self-indulgent ease. The challenge, in the words of Paul, is, in the midst of whatever present distress we find ourselves, to "keep the commandments of God. . . remain with God. . .and please and serve the Lord" (7:19b, 24, 32b, 35b).

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ