As each of us look at our lives, we realize we have a variety of chapters through which we move. For many of us, we could probably lay out four grand divisions:
- The childhood and adolescent family years … growing up through high school to adulthood.
- The higher educational and career preparation years … college, professional/trade schools, grad school, etc.
- The career years – the biggest chapter, probably divided by the growing family years and the empty nest years.
- The retirement years.
That second chapter – the educational years – was for me a longer chapter than most go through. This is common in ministry preparation, as churches – especially back then – just don’t hire many 22-year-olds for pastoral ministry, and the advanced instruction of the seminary years simply add up. And for me, having been a collegiate five-year double major, with Dallas Seminary’s four-year master’s program, it totaled nine years of full-time education. So, there you are at age 27-28 and you’re still hanging around the starting line.
As I reflect on that decade of life, it was indeed a mixed bag of really awesome experiences, along with some very awful, terribly protracted, and scary times as well.
Among the great experiences were …
… being out your own for the first time and living away from home and meeting lots of new people in your same stage of life.
… you find yourself learning so many new and interesting things, while at the same time learning that there is so much more that you don’t know than you ever imagined.
… the social environment is amazing, as you’re making life-long friends. And in my case, a couple of years into this time I met my best friend for life, and we were married four years into this decade.
… between Philadelphia and Dallas, I met a huge list of some of the most prominent people in the evangelical world – not just the teachers and guest lecturers and pastors, but sitting in classes next to Tony Evans, Andy Stanley, Chip Ingram and others.
But at the same time, there were some really annoying things about life in that decade …
… the pressures of high-level education – the endless papers and tests and academic demands.
… how to makes ends meet, and working jobs at odd hours of the day and night at UPS and cleaning swimming pools, while also trying to be a minister of music.
… moving halfway across the country and away from family, buying a small starter house for the huge price of $36,162.
… and just wondering when this preparatory and transitional time of life was going to end, while remembering that it had a goal up ahead – a multi-decades lifetime of serving God and the church community.
I share this story to say that this is kinda what the passage we’re going to look at today portrays when talking about the Christian life. It is a mixed bag of stuff as well. There is the knowledge of who you’re related to and the calling that you have, yet there is the pain of life for an extended time in a fallen and sinful world. How do you get through it? Well, you keep your eyes on the ultimate goal of what it is about – pleasing God with your life, so that you may be pleased in the end by His reward to you for this lifetime of service and purposeful dedication. We could say that the goal is about not getting our eyes stuck in this world, but to keep our ultimate gaze out ahead – maximizing life in this world for eternal purposes.
Our second-week study in this series takes us to 2 Corinthians, especially in chapter 5, though we’ll start with the final verses of chapter 4.
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, trust 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 activity of your earlier life. 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. And as we look at this passage, I think we may develop it by pointing out three major thoughts from it. When studying Scripture, you want to look for repeated words, as well as for words that are the major words in a section – communicating the main idea. So as you read these verses, look for some repeated words and big ideas.
2 CO 5:1 Now 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 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 with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2CO 5:6 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 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, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
So what did you identify in the way of repeated words?
- The word “Groan” is repeated several times.
- The words or ideas about “home” … “tent” … “dwelling” are repeated.
- The word “Confident” is repeated several times… as well as when it says “we know”
And what do you see as the big idea?
Rather clearly, the idea of having a goal of pleasing God would seem to be the direction the passage is moving, leading toward verse 9 in particular.
Putting that all together …
- 1. We are made for an eternal life in a heavenly dwelling… (that which makes us confident)
- 2. We are currently dwelling in a place with definite problems… (that which makes us groan)
- 3. We should determine to live with goals that are beyond this world… (that which makes us motivated)
So let’s look at each of these three big ideas.
- We are made for an eternal life in a heavenly dwelling… (our confidence)
a. It is a permanent home.
5:1 – Now 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.
This pictures more than just an everlasting place to live, it also anticipates an eternal relationship with God. That is so much bigger than simply muddling through a short life here, no matter how great that life can be, no matter how much may be accumulated in this life. Whatever, it is brief and soon passing away, to be replaced by an eternal reality.
We need to remember the original creation of man. Why did God create mankind, doing so in His image? It was for the purpose of having a relationship that was the ultimate sort of perfect! And then sin messed it up! But God’s grace and plan of restoration was even bigger yet! And so that is the purpose for a perfect and eternal home – to restore all things to the way they were meant to be. As it says in the passage: Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose.
This is our confidence. And what also bolsters our confidence?
b. The Spirit is our down payment.
2 Cor. 5:5 – Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Those last seven words are only a single word in Greek. And the idea is, like when you buy a house, the making of a down payment or earnest money is the guarantee of more to come… of a final, full payment. This word has carried over to modern Greek and is the word for an engagement ring.
So though it is true that we don’t have in our current possession all the blessings that will be ours, we can have total confidence that it is promised and totally certain.
Yet, even with these confident assurances, the current situation is our very mixed reality of living with difficulties and complications.
- We are currently dwelling in a place with definite problems… (that which makes us groan)… and I think the passage would lead us to make four observations about those problems …
a. It is temporary
How many of you can remember, years ago as a child, considering you’d probably be alive to see the dawning of a new millennium? And then doing the math to think about how old you would be when that happened? But it looked so far away! What might you be doing then? And living where? It was SO far away, you could hardly imagine it. But now, that memory seems like only a few years ago! And now, that millennial transition is over 20 more years since the Y2K scare! That time went very fast, as does life; and there is a sadness to that consideration that may even make us groan.
b. It is fragile.
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 (human tent 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’d 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).
But when we consider our tent, our tabernacle – and as we hear of all the illnesses and problems of others around us – we must conclude that our physical house is rather frail. I happened to have an annual doctor’s appointment this week, which of course meant that I had to wait in a room by myself for a lengthy time. And I was looking at all the anatomy posters on the wall. On one hand, it is quite amazing; but on the other hand, there are so many little pieces that have to all work together that it is amazing we sustain life at all!.
c. It is painful.
For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened …
Maybe you have to get as old as me to realize this, but it is painful. And not just physically, it is painful in the amount of sadness, loss and injustice that is seen. For example …
… of a class of people who are insiders and get away with pretty much anything, while others are vilified and prosecuted.
… of children and innocent civilians who become victims of crossfires and ethnic cleansings in international conflicts.
… of the accumulation of family and friends who were dear to us who pass on – sometimes in an untimely fashion.
d. It is deceitful.
We live by faith, not by sight.
The temptation, of course, is to live by sight. It is to take matters into our own hands now and fix them and make things the way we would like them to be.
- There are times when it will seem that the unsaved world is winning and experiencing endless joys and the good times.
- There are times when it seems the people of this world are more successful by their scrupulous means.
- There are times when it seems God is taking too long to answer and provide what is obvious to you that He should provide.
But it is our duty, yes, our privilege, to rather walk by faith and trust even in what cannot be seen … which Paul wrote earlier is “eternal.”
- We should determine to live with goals that are beyond this world… (that which makes us motivated)
And here again is the pinnacle moment of the passage from vs. 9 … So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
a. We work to please God.
The verb for the phrase “we make it our goal to please” was a Greek word that means to “seek honor by doing something.” This is the idea of having a reward in mind, an honor, and then figuring how to gain that reward. In my high school coaching years I had a great young woman on my team who was not only a fantastic state champion runner, she was also an excellent student. About her sophomore year, we talked about goals and objectives, and she determined she wanted to win both he scholar athlete award and be valedictorian of her class at the end of her senior year. We talked about intermediate objectives, she did them, and in the end she accomplished exactly what she set out to do. And we should wish to strive this way in our Christian lives in terms of goals for pleasing God.
b. We work to be prepared for judgment.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
This is of course a very sobering verse. When the Corinthians read this word from Paul, the immediate picture that would come to mind what was known as the Bema seat in Corinth. This was a raised stone platform where officials gave public addresses and heard legal cases, typically located at the center of the ancient forum, or marketplace in a given city. It was to this place that Paul himself was brought by the Jews before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. Their claim was to say, “This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law.” But Gallio refused to judge the case.
Let me be very clear that this future judgment seat has nothing to do with the issue of salvation. This is not a judgment about who gains eternal life, but is rather a judgment of those who are believers and members of God’s family – to determine reward, or a lack of reward. And you want to be ready for it.
Notice that there is not just a negative side to this judgment, but a positive side as well.
The only time I’ve been before a judge as a defendant is in traffic court, and the only chance I had there was to hope that the punishment would not be too bad for driving too fast. I sure would have liked it a lot more if the system would have allowed me positive points for all the courteous driving I’ve done, and not just fines for the once or twice I’ve exceeded the speed limit, always only when going to the hospital to visit a sick church member, of course!!
So, how’s your tent life coming along? Do you have some holes and thin spots? Well, someday you’ll be done with the camping life and 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. Seriously.