CONTEXT – False teachers in Corinth are attacking Paul and trying to undermine his ministry. We also learn from ch. 1:8-9 that Paul recently came close to death. So he knew that he might very well die before the return of the Lord Jesus. So Paul is defending his ministry to the Corinthians and teaching them about the body and the soul and death and resurrection and eternal life. Let’s read from 4:7-5:10 and our text will 5:1-10.
Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
One of the most popular ‘Christian’ books of recent times is a book by Joel Osteen called ‘Your Best Life Now.’ It mentions God on just about every page but as one reviewer said, “That is just window dressing.” The reality is that it is “nothing more than the soggy old self-help pop-psychology that people have been lapping up for a generation – with the word “God” thrown in every once and a while for good measure.”
Well, on the one hand, what we read about here in 2 Cor. 5 suggests that it would be far better to borrow Osteen’s book title but change it to ‘Your Best Life Later.’ And many others have made exactly this suggestion; it is not original to me. And it is made because this passage and others make it abundantly clear that the life we live in the glory of heaven is immeasurably richer than the best life we can live on earth. But there is also a sense in which it would be quite right to stick with ‘Your Best Life Now.” And this is because the best life here is the life lived in view of eternal life; it is knowing Jesus Christ and the hope of eternal life that enables you to live well now. And this is not pie-in-the-sky theory. Paul faced the danger of martyrdom almost everyday, and these heavenly truthes encouraged him in his work. And while many of us probably feel fit and well now, we all know that illness or injury or death can strike in a moment; our bodies are very weak and frail.
So let’s give our attention to this passage where THE APOSTLE MAKES USE OF HEAVENLY REALITIES TO INFORM OUR EARTHLY EXISTENDCE.
And he does this first of all by EXPLORING the dimensions of OUR HEAVENLY FUTURE in vv1-5 and then by EXPLAINING what this mean for OUR EARTHLY EXISTENCE in vv6-10.
I. So first of all, Paul explores the dimensions of our heavenly future in vv1-8.
A. We read, “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.”
1. Perhaps you B&G know that Paul was a TENTMAKER; he made and sold tents to earn a living. So this was a very familiar illustration for him. And you cadets and gems and the youth group stayed in tents last weekend. Many of us have stayed in a tent on holiday. It’s nice for a day or a week, perhaps. Wind/rain/flimsy. Always nice to get back to a proper home. So Paul is making a contrast here between a tent and a proper house.
2. And if you look back at 4:7, he refers to “JARS OF CLAY.” The false teachers had been very personal in their attacks on Paul – weak, sickly, almost dead, un-eloquent in speech, unimpressive human being. But Paul says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay.” The human body is a jar of clay – not strong/weak/fragile. In 4:16, he says, “Our outer self is wasting away.” Our bodies are like tents – temporary dwellings/weak and frail existence.
3. And the time comes, for all of us, when “the tent that is our earthly home (our body) is destroyed.” We saw this just this week – TANIA DALTON. NZ netballer. Very fit. Touch rugby. Dead in a moment! The fact is that everyone will die unless the Lord Jesus returns.
4. But death is not the end. Speaking to believers, Paul says, “We have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” We read earlier from EXODUS 33 – Tabernacle/tent. It was a copy or a type of heaven. Dimensions/design/detail. And in that tent, Moses would meet with God and speak with Him, face to face. Wow! But the tent came down/packed up/temporary/made with human hands. But “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
a. And remember that Paul is speaking about our bodies here. And we all know what happens to them when we die. We have seen the coffin going into the ground. And we know what happens in the earth – earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Our bodies decompose. But the Bible is very clear – Jesus’ resurrection was a BODILY RESURRECTION. The grave was empty; the grave-clothes were folded. And Jesus showed His disciples His hands and feet and He even ate fish with them. Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection. And so will it be with all those who die in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:52-53, “The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this … mortal body must put on immortality.” The bodies of those who die having believed in Jesus Christ will rise from the grave and be glorified, changed, eternal bodies. Our resurrection will be a bodily resurrection. And that is the ultimate heavenly reality that Paul is rehearsing here – resurrected and glorified bodies after the return of Jesus.
B. But the fact is that many believers have died and will die before the Lord Jesus returns. So most believers will experience what we call THE INTERMEDIATE STATE – the period of time between when we die and when Jesus returns. Now, in 2 Peter 3, Peter refers to the writings of Paul. And he says that some of the things that Paul says are hard to understand. Well, I suspect that this passage was one that Peter might have had in mind! Read any commentator on this passage and you will find translation and interpretation questions about almost every verse! But taking other Scripture into account, we will try and keep this as uncomplicated as possible. So we read, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”
1. And Paul repeats this reference to groaning while we are in this tent again in v4. ROMANS 8:21 uses the same word in reference to the whole of creation. We read there, “The whole creation groans…” Creation looks forward to the day when it “will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Creation can’t wait for the day when it is the new creation; when it is free of all the corruptions and infections of sin. Well, similarly, Paul and all believers can’t wait for the day when we will have our resurrected, imperishable, immortal, sinless, glorified bodies.
2. But this is where it gets a little trickier, as Paul continues, “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.”
a. Paul knew that the moment believers die, their souls go to enjoy a conscious existence with Jesus in heaven. There is no purgatory, as the RC believe, where we must go and slowly pay for all the sins we have committed on earth. There is no soul sleep, as some cults and even some Christians mistakenly believe. Our souls go immediately to be with Jesus in heaven. Jesus said to the Thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” We learn from Jesus’ account of the rich-man and Lazarus that they had a conscious existence, one in heaven and one in hell. And Paul says, in Phil 1:23, “I desire to depart and be with the Lord.” So Paul looked forward to being with the Lord Jesus in heaven.
b. But what his words here about not wanting to be found naked or unclothed reveal is that he shuddered at the thought of death; he saw death as the ultimate intruder. He would have much preferred the return of the Lord Jesus than to have to go through death. And also, even though his soul would go immediately to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven, he viewed that existence of being a naked or unclothed soul, a soul without its body, a distant second to how we shall be after the Lord Jesus returns. We are body and soul creatures. Our ultimate destiny is to be body and soul creatures in eternity. So while Paul looks forward to being with the Lord in the intermediate state, by far and away, he would much prefer to go straight to the body and soul existence of eternity than to have his body spend anytime in the grave.
3. And the LAST PART OF V4 reinforce this: “So that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” What it is that ‘swallows’ the mortal now? It is death’s grave. It is that awful moment when our body or the body of our loved one is lowered into the cold, dark, damp earth. We can make it a nice Rimu coffin and we can put shiny handles on the side and we can cover the coffin with flowers and throw in some rose petals. But the earth will swallow the mortal remains of the body. So Paul looks forward to the time when the body is ‘swallowed up by life’; when it is raised and glorified and immortal!
C. And VERSE 5 says, “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” This morning we spoke about regeneration – being born again. Well, that work of the Holy Spirit is sometimes also called a spiritual resurrection. We go from being dead in sin to alive in Christ. And because it is the work of the Holy Spirit, it cannot be undone – it will end with our physical resurrection to eternity. And that is why Paul speaks of it as a guarantee.
1. Indeed, this is why, way back in v1 Paul could say, “We HAVE a building from God.” It is so certain that Paul does not say that we will receive a building from God but that we have it. Because His promises to us are Yes! and Amen! in Christ, He speaks in the present tense, not the future tense.
II. So when we die, our souls shall go immediately to be with the Lord Jesus. This is the intermediate state. That is good! But when the Lord Jesus returns, our bodies will be raised and glorified and reunited with our souls. This is the eternal state. That is best! This is what we mean by Your Best Life LATER! But knowing this is what makes for Your Best Life NOW! And we see this as Paul EXPLAINS WHAT ALL THIS MEANS FOR OUR EARTHLY EXISTENCE in vv6-10.
A. In vv6-8, Paul basically SUMMARIZES all he has said thus far – while we are “at home in the body,” while we live on earth, we are “away from the Lord,” we are not with Him in heaven, whether that be the intermediate state or the eternal state. But we are of good courage. Ok? We live in confidence and hope and assurance, even though these are things of faith and not sight.
1. I am sure you can remember a time when you were ill and you felt wretched. But you saw the doctor and he prescribed medicine and he told you that the medicine would be effective and you would get completely better. And knowing that makes all the difference. Right?
2. Well, we can’t see heaven. We can’t see people’s souls go up to be with the Lord Jesus. We only have the promise of Jesus in the Bible that He will return and that our bodies will rise and be glorified. But we have His Spirit and the promises in the Word of God are true and reliable.
3. In 1 THESS. 4:13 we read this, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep (which means those who have died) that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” So, yes, we shudder at death; yes, death is an intruder. But Jesus is the resurrection and the life. We know that the grave is not our final resting place! We are of good courage!
4. And as we come to v8, it is right and proper and perfectly reasonable that we would prefer to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” over continuing this earthly life, which is so assaulted and violated by sin and death. There is nothing wrong with praying that the Lord Jesus would come back to earth now or that the Lord would take us to be with Him. There is nothing wrong with preferring to be in heaven. The Bible often uses the language of a PILGRIMAGE to describe our earthly existence – we are on a journey to our true home, which is heaven!
B. But now we come to vv9-10, which is where Paul states THE MAIN IMPLICATION of all that he has said. He says, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. 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.”
1. Now, we will come to the main implication in a moment. But let’s first think about what Paul says in v9 about pleasing the Lord whether we are home or away. For at first read, if ‘home’ refers to our earthly life and ‘away’ refers to life in heaven, it sounds like Paul is suggesting that we can displease God in heaven? Well, the first thing to note is that there is absolutely nothing else in the whole of Scripture that would support the idea that we will be capable of wrong-doing in heaven. But note also that v10 is very clear that Judgment Day will be about what was done “in the body.” So Paul does not mean here that we can do wrong in heaven. What he means is that whether the return of Jesus finds us at home in the physical body, or away, i.e., already separated from that body by death; what counts is that we sought to please the Lord while we lived.
2. And that leads us into the main implication of these verses, which is that “WE AIM TO PLEASE HIM.” Those words should sum up the way that we believers think and talk and behave – “we aim to please Him.” In Philippians 1, which is where Paul speaks of his preference to be with the Lord, he says, “For me to live is Christ.” He knows that while he has breath, he can be a useful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. So while we may pray for the return of Jesus and long to be with Him in heaven, we use each second that He gives us to honour Him with every aspect of our lives.
a. And we do this, knowing also, that all that we have thought and said and done will be EXPOSED on the Day of Judgment. Let us not think that because we are saved by grace alone and will be welcomed into heaven because of the obedience and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus that this holy God is no longer concerned with our holiness. One ancient preacher said we ought to live as though the Judgment Throne of Christ were present wherever we are and that He is listening in to all our thoughts and every conversation and observing everything we do. For surely, as Christians, as those saved by grace alone, as those who have the hope of a heavenly future, we have every reason to live holy lives! We should not need to blush about a thought, word, or deed that the Lord Jesus sees.
b. But let us also be encouraged with the REWARD LANGUAGE here. What does Romans 8:1 tell us about the believer? “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ.” Paul is not suggesting here that we must still undergo a punishment for our sins. Jesus said, “It is finished.” So while our wrong must be exposed to vindicate the holiness of God and to magnify the sacrifice of Christ, the punishment that our sins deserve has been endured by the Lord Jesus on the cross. But all that the good we did in the body, all that we have built on the foundation of Christ, shall be rewarded!
What a wonderful motivation to aim to please Christ that we are given in these words! What a gloriously practical doctrine is the doctrine of the last things. Believer, your best life will be later, in heaven, with Jesus. But knowing this means you can live your best life now, as you look forward to being with Him and receiving a gracious reward. Amen.