Okay. Our “light and momentary afflictions are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (4:17). Got it. But what about my body? It’s “wasting away” (4:16), and it’s the only one I’ve got. Am I just going to turn into a spirit and float on clouds forever singing praise songs to Jesus?
In today’s text Paul explains why he has “good courage” about the future (5:6), even if his body is destroyed . . .
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Paul likens our body to a “tent that is our earthly home”. A tent, of course, is a temporary and rather flimsy home. If destroyed, writes Paul, ” . . . we know we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
We wouldn’t choose a building as a metaphor for our body (except as in “body-building” at the gym). Paul does, though, to contrast our tent-like present body with our eternal body by and from God, which we’ll have “if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed”.
Knowing this gives wasting-away-body Paul confidence. “So we are always of good courage” . . . “Yes, we are of good courage” (2 Corinthians 5:6,8).
For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:2-4).
Paul explains a further reason for confidence that borders on anticipation. Why does Paul “groan” in this tent-body? Several reasons. First he groans with “longing to put on our heavenly dwelling”, like a woman giving birth groans to consummate the (painful) process and finally hold her child.
Second, in this tent-body he’s “burdened”. The Greek is barumenoi–to be “weighed down”. His wasting-away body weighs him down.
I relate. Since developing primary lateral sclerosis, which has left me unable to walk (I can barely lift my foot an inch off the floor) and with other hurtful symptoms, I know what it’s like to be “weighed down” by my body. Listen closely; you’ll hear me groan.
Third, Paul explains he groans about the possibility of being “unclothed”. Instead, he wants to “be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life”. Greek ekdo-o is translated “unclothed”. Literally it means to “strip off clothing”. Figuratively, as Paul uses it here, it refers to death when the body is “stripped away” from our spirit. It’s an experience Paul prefers not to endure. He wants to be alive when Christ returns, so he might bypass “stripping”.
So Paul anticipates being “further clothed”. The Greek is ependo-omy–to put a garment on over existing clothing. This supports the idea that Paul wants to be alive when Jesus comes again, so that, instead of being without his body (a disembodied spirit), he might have the Lord put a new eternal body over the old–“so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”
Thus, Paul implies that death-before-Christ’s-return leaves the believer in a disembodied state. Though Paul prefers God put his new eternal body on over his old earthly one, he still insists, “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). He echoes that desire later in Philippians 1:21,23–“to die is gain . . . My desire is to depart and be with Christ which is better by far”.
He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee (2 Corinthians 5:5).
The dying process (climaxed for the believer in a new eternal body) is God’s work. Therefore, it must be fulfilled. Furthermore, the gift of the Spirit is a God-given guarantee. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11). The Spirit does far more than give us a feeling of assurance. As Romans 8:11 indicates, he is a living presence in us and already gives us (new, resurrection) life to be climaxed in “life to our mortal bodies”.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him
(2 Corinthians 5:6-9).
This, then, is Paul’s grounds for constant “good courage”. The Greek theirapuo refers to having “confidence or firm purpose in the face of danger or testing”. But Paul adds another reason–his knowledge that life in this body is a faith-walk, not a sight-walk. That means not yet seeing our new eternal “home” body is God-designed. Being “away from the Lord” (spatially, not spiritually), so as to live by faith, is God’s plan. But, for Paul, his longing remains: “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (even in a disembodied state!).
What gives Paul “good courage” (in the face of danger and bodily “wasting away”) is the promise of a new eternal body presently guaranteed by the indwelling Spirit But what drives him is this: “we make it our aim to please him”. What he passionately seeks after is to bring pleasure to the Lord, whatever his condition.
This, implies Paul, should be the aim of us all . . .
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Why does Paul aim to please the Lord? In his own words–“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”. In other words, the Lord will hold us accountable; a day of reckoning awaits.
Christ’s judgment seat, however, doesn’t determine salvation or damnation. It determines rewards. Paul wrote in his first letter to Corinth . . .
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
* * *
I’m struck by how huge is what we’re called here to believe. Yes, we met it before in 1 Corinthians 15–new imperishable, immortal bodies. There, however, it was a matter of doctrine, a key part of the gospel. Here it’s supposed to build our confidence in the face of danger and testing. ” . . . if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God . . . So we are always of good courage . . . Yes, we are of good courage . . . “
To have the promise of a new by-and-from-God body that creates courage and costly obedience in this life calls for BIG BELIEF. I can’t work it up. Can’t demand my self to trust. The leap from this body to that wider than I can make (even before PLS).
I have only two possible sources. One (here I go again), God’s Word. I have to fill my mind with it so I can walk, not by this body that I see, but by faith in the Lord’s promise for the body that will be. (I’m incomplete–Paul’s word is “naked”–without my body.)
Two, God’s Spirit. He must create in me an awareness of his presence in me. And his presence must assure me that he’s got me “in process” toward that Day. And, he must give me a “holy scare” that I’ll stand before Christ in judgment–a “holy scare” strong enough that I make it my aim to please him in every thing I do in this old body.
Father, through your Word and by your Spirit, please nurture in me that BIG BELIEF. In Jesus’ name, Amen.