Most of us do not live daily with fear of mortality. However, some who live with life-threatening medical conditions would differ from the majority. I think also of several of our missionaries in more remote and hostile conditions. They may not always know what dangers could be lurking nearby.
The Apostle Paul was a guy who had a profound sense of these dangers. He suffered greatly for his boldness for Christ, getting beaten up so significantly on one occasion that he appeared to have died. And we see from the overall flow of Paul’s writing that he pretty much expected it to not be a matter of “if” he would be put to death for his ministry work, but “when.”
Always remember that Scripture verse references and chapter divisions are not original but were added at a later time. We are sometimes left to scratch our heads as to why a division was made at a certain point … like this transition today from the end of chapter four to the beginning of chapter five. Let’s bring back those final three verses from the previous chapter to set the stage today …
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Paul is speaking of the wasting away of the human body. If you haven’t had this experience yet, thrust me, believe me, it’s coming! It is a startling thing to realize that you simply can no longer do something that was a regular event of your earlier life (like running from filming a kids scene at the ark out back and into the church where the main group was rehearsing, only to have knees ache and sciatic nerve feedback for days afterward!). And Paul says that these momentary troubles cause us to have a perspective that helps us to let go of this visible, physical world and to rather cast our vision above to the permanent world that is yet to come.
He continues to flesh out these thoughts as we turn to the next chapter …
2 Corinthians 5:1 – For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Yes, the failures of human weakness and the difficulties of mortal life lead to a groaning. Ugh! Y’all laugh at me for my endless running and baseball illustrations – the things of life I like the most – and here Paul is like me (or am I like him?) giving an illustration about something of regular familiarity. Remember that Paul was, by trade, a tentmaker.
Surely he thought about life, ministry, theology, big issues, etc. while he was working on tents. And what better illustration of the aging process than an aging tent. The older the tent, the more it was tattered, developing holes that needed to be repaired (surgeries!), and the more that it simply wore out and became frail. It you’re a person of that time who was living in a tent that was getting ravaged by the elements of time, you might wish for the day you’ll be able to trade it in for a new tent.
And here’s another reason for this tent illustration of the human body to be such a good metaphor: it was actually used of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In John 1:14 it says of Jesus … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. The Greek word for dwelling is of a tent / tabernacle. Christ took on our human form, our tent, to be like us in all things, yet without sin (Hebrews 2:14-18).
Paul says that it is God’s plan to make us this way. And beyond that, he has put the Spirit into our lives as a deposit – a word that takes an entire phrase in English to translate the idea of a down payment with the promise of the full payment that is yet to come.
So we are intentionally left by God in a position of mild, albeit growing, frustration with a human house that fades away. But this gives us perspective …
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
Yep, Paul says, it can be frustrating, but it causes us to have to trust God in faith while looking forward to a better home with the Lord. Meanwhile, the appropriate life plan is to live our time here in productive ways that please God; that is the picture to have and the main idea to think about in our daily routines.
And if that is not enough motivation, Paul reminds us that there is a court date appearance we must all face. Understand, this judgment seat is not about salvation. This is for those who know the Lord to either gain great rewards for things accomplished while living in the “human tabernacle” or to suffer an empty loss at having little accrue due to foolish camping follies in our tent life.
So, how’s your tent life coming along? Do you have some holes and thin spots? It’s OK, someday you’ll be done with the camping life in living in such a temporary home. You’ve got a house just up ahead … actually, it’s a mansion. So, chin up – go do something productive for the Kingdom of God right now.