Date: 26 Feb 2017
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:1-10
In last week’s sermon we saw Paul talking about himself quite a lot and opening up about the suffering and opposition that he faced as he served Jesus Christ as an Evangelist and Preacher. Now in these opening ten verses of 2 Corinthians 5 Paul continues in that same vein by once again talking about himself. However, on this occasion his comments could just as easily apply to us as well; wherever he says “we” we could quite easily substitute “I”. As you think about that for a moment, let me ask, where would we prefer to be, here on earth or in heaven with Christ?
In the verses that we looked at last week Paul likened us to jars of clay, fragile containers that were used to store God’s great treasures. Now in these few verses he likens us to a tent, a temporary and flimsy dwelling place; great for camping for a few days but not something that you would want to live in permanently. Paul certainly likes to conjure up interesting images.
Just as most people would have been familiar with jars made of clay, so they would also have been familiar with tents. These flimsy but portable structures were used mainly in Old Testament times and there are numerous references throughout the Old Testament to the people living in tents, and we also need to remember that the original Tabernacle was also a tent. As I mentioned last week we know from Jesus’ teaching, using an everyday object with which people were familiar was an excellent way of getting across an important point.
Our Dwelling Place
Many people living today plan for their retirement; they look at downsizing by moving from a large family home to a new and well equipped retirement Flat somewhere comfy and cosy and possibly by the coast. Everywhere you look retirement ‘villages’ are being built. Then there are those TV shows that deal with home makeovers and improvements. One of the better of these programmes is DIY SOS which is shown most days on one channel or another. In that programme a failed or delayed building project is picked up by Nick Knowles and his incredible team of helpers and volunteers and turned into a palace that is beyond the wildest dreams of the family whose home is rescued. Disaster is turned into delight in just a few days. It’s perfectly reasonable for people to want to live somewhere that suits them and where they feel comfortable, especially as they head into their final years.
But what about eternity? Does anyone think about that or aren’t we bothered? Do we as believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour ever think about life in paradise with Him? We pray that it will happen one day and so perhaps we should think about it and live our lives in such a way that will ensure that we will live out eternity in paradise with our Saviour. Do you ever wonder what type of dwelling that will be?
Paul makes only three short comments in these verses about the nature of our future heavenly dwelling place. He helpfully tells us that it is, “a building from God”, it is “an eternal house in heaven” and it is “not built by human hands” (5:1). Compare that brief picture with that of the flimsy tent that Paul says is our human body. There seems to be no comparison to me. The tent will wear out; it may fall down; it may need regular repair; whereas paradise is ready and waiting and will never need repair since it has been built by God’s hands and not by the hands of sinful mankind.
It is at this point, from 5:2-5:5, that Paul talks more of himself that anyone else in particular. Whilst we could put ourselves into what Paul is saying that may not be too helpful. Paul says that he groans as he is “longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (5:2). It may seem strange to some but Paul actually wants to die so that he can take off his fragile earthly body and replace it with this glorious “heavenly dwelling”. Paul wanted nothing more than to be with his Lord, Jesus Christ. He told the Philippians in a truly powerful verse, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). If he carried on living then Paul would serve Jesus Christ, which he felt was better for the believers in the churches that he founded. However, if given the choice, he would prefer to die as that would be “gain” since it would mean that he could be with Jesus. Paul actually seems to be looking forward to death, something which reminds me of a quote from the film director and comic actor, Woody Allen. Mr Allen is reported to have said, “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t to be there when it happens.” Paul wasn’t afraid of death either but he did want to be there when it happened. Could we say the same about ourselves? I realise that that’s a difficult question and whilst death will happen to all of us eventually, I’m not sure that everyone would honestly say that they were looking forward to it.
Paul was trying to explain all this since it appeared that a number of the Corinthian believers had now begun to doubt that they would ever be resurrected with Jesus. Paul raised that issue in 1 Corinthians 15:12 where he commented, “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” The Greeks believed that in death the body would be stripped from the soul leaving the soul totally naked. Some in the church were starting to believe that this was true which is why they started to doubt that they would ever be resurrected and receive new bodies. As any good Pastor would be, Paul was anxious to nip that thinking in the bud hence his comment in 5:4b where he told them, “what is mortal may be swallowed up by life”. The “mortal” is the life that we live right now; it is temporary and will end, whereas “life” is the life that we will have when we join Jesus in paradise, it is eternal and will never end. Hopefully we can see from 5:4a that Paul didn’t agree with this Greek philosophy since he knew that when he died he would not be unclothed, or naked, he would be “clothed with our heavenly dwelling” a far greater dwelling than the earthly tent of a body that he left behind. This heavenly dwelling brings eternal life, a life that is immortal rather than the mortal existence that we have now and that could end in death. For those who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, death has no hold over us; death does not win in the end. All of this will happen, of that I have no doubt. Paul had earlier told the Corinthians, “We're not all going to die - but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes - it's over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we'll all be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51b-52 The Message). That’s how we will move to being clothed in our new heavenly dwelling, in the blink of an eye!
This is no pie in the sky promise that will never be delivered. It goes without saying that we have no idea as to when all this will happen; it could be any second now or it could be years away. Although only our Father in heaven knows the exact date and time, we do know that it will happen and there is no point in us speculating and trying to calculate when it will happen. In the meantime we have been given the Holy Spirit “as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 5:5). When we are struggling in our earthly lives it can sometimes be difficult to focus on the heavenly dwelling that awaits us. That is why God didn’t want us to be alone and sent the Holy Spirit to be with us. In the latest version of the NIV that we use Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as an Advocate (John 14:16). The earlier version of the NIV calls Him a Counsellor, the ASV refers to Him as a Comforter, whilst the ESV calls Him a Helper. I’m sure you get the picture; the Holy Spirit has been sent to be with us to help us, comfort us and counsel us when times get tough and to be an advocate to speak on our behalf when we need Him.
Paul was totally confident of what was to come. He had the Holy Spirit within him always, strengthening and helping him through all the tough times that he faced. Notice that Paul happily tells us twice just how confident he is. In 5:6 he says that “he is always confident” and again in 5:8 he says “we are confident”. Whilst that leaves us in little doubt as to how Paul feels, do we agree with him? Are we also confident of what awaits us in heaven? If not, then why not? Perhaps if we aren’t as confident as Paul appears to be then we should seek to draw nearer to Jesus and be filled again with His Holy Spirit. We have this great promise of eternal life in paradise with our Lord and Saviour and so we should have every reason to be full of confidence. As if to give us a gentle nudge, Paul reminds us in 5:7 that we live by faith when he tells us, “... we live by faith, not by sight.” We may not be able to see God but our faith should give us the confidence and the assurance to know that we will soon see Him and be with Him. The clue to Paul’s confidence as I see it is the presence of the Holy Spirit with him. It is the Holy Spirit Who kept him going and Who spurred him on to keep serving Christ despite the opposition he faced; despite the painful persecution he faced; and despite feeling down and despairing from time to time. We face some of those problems from time to time and that is why we need to constantly be filled with the Holy Spirit. Earlier in 2 Corinthians 4:16, Paul had said, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” It was the Holy Spirit Who was renewing him and it is the Holy Spirit Who will renew us when we turn to Him.
It is often said that home is where the heart is and that thought may well have been with Paul as he faced somewhat of a dilemma. I suspect that Paul’s heart was with the Lord but for the time being he had to settle for being away from Him. He makes it clear that because he was “at home in the body” it meant unfortunately that he was “away from the Lord” (5:6). His real preference, and no doubt where his heart was, was to “to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (5:8). He couldn’t have it both ways and had to accept that it was better, at that time, for him to be with the people in Corinth and the various other churches with which he was involved. He knew that the Lord would decide when the time was right for him although I suspect that Paul would have preferred it to be sooner rather than later. Notice though that Paul didn’t just shrug his shoulders and sit back sulking. On the contrary he was determined to do all that he could to please the Lord “whether we are at home in the body or away from it” (5:9b). The Apostle John shared the same opinion when he said in his first Epistle, “...now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” (1 John 2:28) Even though Paul was confident of what lay ahead that didn’t stop him from striving to serve the Lord with all the energy that he could muster. We know from Paul’s letters to them that whilst the Thessalonians did seem to have had confidence in what awaited them when the Lord returned, they showed an opposite attitude to Paul when they simply sat back and waited. That is not what Paul wanted nor is it what we should be doing. Yes, we can share in Paul’s confidence at moving to our heavenly dwelling at some time to come, but we should also share in his desire to continue to serve the Lord and share the good news of Jesus with as many as possible in the meantime.
As if to reinforce the need for us to continue to serve Jesus Christ, Paul reminds us in 5:10 that we will all have to stand at the judgement seat and account for what we have done, whether it is good or bad. If we simply sit back, as the Thessalonians did, then that may well count against us. However, if we keep working and keep serving then that will not only benefit those who we try to help but also ourselves when we come to stand before our Judge and Maker. It is good that we can have confidence in what is to come but it isn’t good if we let that confidence lead us to complacency.
Once again we see Paul opening up about himself and how he feels about his situation. In these verses he uses another metaphor to describe our earthly bodies by likening them to tents. Tents are useful and portable but they are also flimsy and temporary. In contrast to the tents in which we now find ourselves, Paul reminds us that we have a heavenly dwelling awaiting us. We will exchange these temporary tents for our heavenly dwelling either when we die or when Jesus returns, whichever comes first. Paul was looking forward to it with great anticipation and couldn’t wait for it to happen. How about us? Are we like Paul and looking forward to moving into our heavenly final home or are we sceptical and full of doubt? Paul tried to encourage the Corinthians by pointing out that they had been given the Holy Spirit as a deposit towards what was to come and the Holy Spirit would be with them until they moved home. Similarly, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit within us that gives us the confidence to be certain that all this will happen.
Let’s all be like Paul and look forward to that heavenly dwelling that will be ours eventually, but in the meantime let’s also remain faithful to Jesus Christ and serve Him in whichever way He calls.