We look to the hope of the resurrection which gives us the courage to live lives for Christ in a fallen world.
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
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. 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. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
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. 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.
When did you learn that the world was shutting down? For most of us, it was a Wednesday. We heard murmurs that the WHO was declaring a global pandemic, which was so ethereal and other-worldly that it didn’t really register. Then we heard that America’s Grandpa, Tom Hanks had caught COVID-19, which, although he was in Australia at the time, felt strangely close to home. And then the NBA canceled the rest of their 2021 season. By that time people had begun getting emails from work that they weren’t to show up at the office tomorrow. Then we knew that something was serious.
What have we learned in the past 613 days? For most people, we’ve learned that community is precious, life is frail, and the world is full of uncertainty. I remember walking through a Home Depot only a couple months after the pandemic was declared, and having the unfortunate ill-timed cough while asking a question to one of the associates. I might as well have just said, “Do you know where your bathroom fixtures are? Oh, and I have avian bird flu.”
This uncertainty has extended into all different facets of life. The way we work has changed, the way we travel, and the way we do education. Evangelism around the world has to adjust to an awareness of personal space, social distancing, not to mention the myriad of social, economic and political questions that have been stirred up by the pandemic. What does it mean to be a minister to others? What does it mean to be the church in a post-COVID world?
Uncertainty has always been a part of this world. It’s a reminder that we’re not in control. The pandemic has only sharpened our awareness. But Paul knew uncertainty. He knew that he wasn’ in control. But he knew who was. And he made that awareness a key component of his ministry. He learned that ministry from weakness and dependence is not only necessary in this world, but that it is preferable. World strength and influence is fleeting. Learning to minister in weakness is one of the secret powers of the Christian minister. I’d never heard of the Strength/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats exercise before Sean Leoni introduced it to me, but this is how we are to be thinking. How does a weakness become a strength? How does a threat become an opportunity? If we are to live in an uncertain world, then we need some foundations that we can be certain of.
A Ministry of God’s Power in Man’s Weakness
Let’s say three things about the context of this passage and as a reminder of what 2 Corinthians is about in general. First, it’s Paul’s most personal letter. He shares his heart, his inner motivations, and his spiritual struggles multiple times throughout the letter. We’re going to see some of the same tension we saw in 2 Corinthians 1, or what we see in Philippians 1 at play here, where Paul talks about what it’s like to be stuck between this world and the next. Second, this book is about Paul defending his ministry. Over and over, Paul, a small man with a new religion, must establish his credentials when accusations rise that he is weak and untrustworthy. Third, 2 Corinthians is about strength in weakness. It’s about power from frailty. Paul’s enemies present themselves as strong in the flesh and Paul as weak. But Paul sees the Gospel as displaying power in weakness as the Spirit shines in glory through our simple faith.
2 Corinthians 4 ends with a powerful statement, not an argument, but a banner that flies over the Christian life. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Bodies Made for Heaven
This, like Romans 8:28, is one of the great hope-giving passages in the Bible. And like Romans 8:28, it rests on deep theological foundations. What follows in the next ten verses of chapter five are supporting structures for this passage. They are the bricks in the lighthouse that hold the light aloft so we can see it.
It begins with an assurance: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God.” How do we know this? We can look back to 4:14 for the answer, “knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” We know that we have an eternal body kept for us in the heavens because Jesus has an eternal body. And we know that he has an eternal body because he rose from the dead, never to die again. This is why his resurrection is unique. Others came back from the dead, but they died again. But death, it says in Romans 6:9, no longer has dominion over him. I love asking my kids about what happened to Jesus. He died on a cross, they say. And then what? And then he was buried? And then what? And then he rose from the dead, they say? And then what? Well, he’s alive now! Listen to how Jesus describes himself in Revelation 1:17–18:
“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
Death once had dominion over him, but now he holds the keys. He alone can unlock the graves. Why emphasize this? Because we know that this body is going to die, but we need to know that we have an undying, unfading, eternal body waiting for us. Imagine if you were driving around a beater, and your dad hung a pair of keys up beside the back door, and he told you, these are the keys to a brand new sports car. And he told you that as soon as that beater finally bit the dust, you could grab those keys and the car would be yours. You certainly wouldn’t panic when you saw smoke coming out of your exhaust or the radio fritzing out on your car. You’re literally counting down the days when you can leave that car in a ditch, walk home, and grab those keys. We know that if this old car is destroyed, we have a better one sitting in the garage.
Maybe you’re not sure how you feel about sports cars. It’s a rough analogy. But we don’t need to imagine how we might feel about our actual predicament, because Paul gives us a picture. It’s a picture of two kinds of groaning. Look at the parallels of verse two and verse four. Verse two: “For in this tent, we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” And verse four: “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed”. So in verse two, there’s a longing kind of groaning, and in verse four, a burdened kind of groaning.
Sometimes we groan with longing for heaven. We long for things to be made new, for things to be made right. I can feel an ache for the fullness of what God has promised. A hope-filled longing. A hunger for God. A desire for the kind of knowledge that only comes from seeing each other face-to-face. It’s this longing that C.S. Lewis is so good at expressing in his autobiography Surprised By Joy, and in the Narnia books.
Sometimes, though, we groan from the burden. My littlest Christopher groans every time someone picks him up, and I realized he makes that sound because that’s the sound dad and Grandpa make when we pick him up. The kid is heavy. But we groan from the weakness in our bodies, from the tenderness, from the fragility of our bodies. There’s a little club in our church called the BBC that anyone can join. BBC stands for the Bad Back Club. The members are great, but you probably don’t want a membership if you can help it.
This second kind of groaning is the weight of being merely human. Anyone and everyone feels it. It pervades our bodies, and the state of the world. We know that this place is fading. Like the song says, “I am living in a land of death. The trees are burned and gray. There’s a smoldering smoke overhead. And the night looks the same as the day.” What makes Christians different? Is that when we groan under this burden, it’s a pointer to what we know. That this world, and these bodies, will be replaced with something permanent. So we groan, not that we would be unclothed, turned into immaterial spirits, but that these bodies, and this world, which we know God created good, but which have been marred by sin and death, will be healed, renewed, resurrected. We want to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Listen to Paul’s declaration in 1 Corinthians 15:42–43: “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” Brothers and sisters, we know that because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, we will receive bodies like his, not mortal bodies, but bodies of life. And we know, not only because he has risen from the dead, but also because he has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So that we might not only know in our heads, but that we know, and believe, in our hearts.
I’ve never been chronically in pain, but I remember being super sick in January of 2020, laying on our bathroom floor feeling more pain than I’ve felt in a long time. And as I lay there, I remember the feeling that God is still good, and that he will take care of me, and that the Spirit was reminding me that this is only a passing thing, but there is glory for those who cling to Christ. It is his Spirit that reminds us that all the promises of God find their Yes in Christ, and it is also his Spirit that lets us cry out Amen to God for his glory. It is his Spirit that points us back to Christ and reminds us that even when we are away from him, we are still found in Him. So we have the historical reality of the resurrection, and then we have the help of the Spirit to experience a portion of that resurrection life now.
Bodies Made For Him
Because of the promise of resurrection, we know that we have new bodies made for heaven. And because God has guaranteed this, it says in verse six, we are of good courage. But courage for what? Paul expands our understanding of these bodies, because he wants us to understand how the promise of new bodies makes us fit for ministry in this life. So in the next few verses, he shows us not only how our bodies are made for heaven, but they are made for him.
He starts with a reminder that, from the perspective of life here on earth, we are at home in these bodies and away from the Lord. We don’t see him. We don’t live in his presence except through the ministry of the Spirit. And though that is a comforting promise, we know it is not the fullness of the promise. The Spirit tells us that we’re getting more than just a new car. We groan, longing to no longer be away from the Lord. And we know that both our bodies and our sin limit our experience of God’s presence.
And here in verse seven is one of these great pilgrim verses of the Bible. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Some translations say, “live by believing”, which is the meaning, but the picture is of the pilgrim walking towards his eternal destination, that celestial city, and to the city of the living God. And this journey is one we make in faith. The Spirit is our guide, and we walk by the promises and the assurances of God. Why do we walk in the shadows of this dying world? So that the world would know that there is a God who makes promises, and a people who trust in those promises.
And what is this eternal destination toward which we are heading? Paul returns to his exhortation. We are of good courage on this journey, because we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. Remember that in verse 5:1, our home was simply these eternal bodies. But now, we see that home is more than a new body. Home is being with the Lord. Paul understands that when we die, but before the resurrection judgment in verse 10, we don’t exist in some soul sleep or stasis, but that for a season, we live in this in-between time. But this time is with the Lord. The promise is that even before we are raised again in the new creation, when we die, we will be home.
So we are not only meant for the home of a new body, but we are meant to be home with the Lord. It is not merely that our bodies are our new home, nor even that heaven is our new home, but that our new home is with the Lord. He is our home. Just like I would say to my wife, home is wherever you are, home is wherever the Lord is. And that gives us courage.
Bodies Made For His Work
This courage is not simply to live this life. This courage is not simply about getting a foot out your front door, though there are days where that’s where it has to start. This courage is about our job as ministers of the cross. Whether we are home with the Lord, or away from him in this world, we aim to please him. In this broken down house, we can and should still aim to please God.
We Aim to Please Him
What does it mean, that we “make it our aim”? Certainly, we set it as our goal. But what does this look like? I want to make an observation based on the two other places in the New Testament that this word for “make it our aim” occurs. The first is in 1 Thessalonians 4:11,
 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,  for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,  and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, (1 Thessalonians 4:9–11)
So the word for “make it our aim” is translated here as “to aspire”, and Paul’s goal is to encourage the Thessalonians to continue to live peaceable lives serving and loving in their community. The second is found in Romans 15:20,
and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation
The word for “make it our aim” is translated here as “make it my ambition.” This is in Paul’s declaration that he is leaving the known Christian world to make Christ known. Can you see the contrast and the complementary nature of these? Now, I’m not saying that you get to pick an emphasis and just make that your aim. What I’m saying is that sometimes making our aim looks peaceful faithfulness in our community, and sometimes our aim looks like getting on a place to look for people who have never heard the name of Jesus. How are you making it your aim to please him?
This is how the Gospel will reach the world. Some will make it their aim to establish communities of faithful fellowship, serving, loving, shining as a beacon in a dark city. And some will make it their aim to please him in going where there is no light at all. And both of these please the Lord. How are you making it your aim to please him? You’ve got no excuse. Whether at home or abroad, whether in strength or weakness, we can please our Lord.
We Will Answer to Him
And because we have no excuse, we know we will have to answer to him. Look at verse 10. Because we belong to God, we aim to please with the bodies we have. But we also know that, because we belong to him, we will also be judged for what we do in these bodies. Now we believe that all the world will be judged for what they have done in the body. But that is not the judgment that Paul is referencing here. Notice that there is a “we” in verses 6, 7, 8 and 9. In each of these verses it’s referring generally to believers. And so it is likely that the “we” in this verse is referring to that same group.
So if you’re not a Christian, let me draw this out a bit. You should know that there is a judgment that is coming, and you only have this life to give an account before God. Every deed, every word, every thought will be measured on one side of the scales. And on the other side will be the holy perfect law of God. And all of your sins will reveal that you have accrued not righteousness, but disobedience and rebellion against God. And Paul tells us that what we earn from all our sins is death. Now we’ve just been talking about how everyone is going to die, so how could sin earn me what everyone is already going to get? Well, all these promises that we’ve been talking about of a new body and a new home in heaven are only for those who have no sin on their account. But for those who have sin on their account, there is no hope of a new body or a new home. The burden of this life has no hope of a life to come.
But those who trust in Christ have no sin left on their account. Not because we have not sinned, but because the account has been paid in Jesus Christ. There was an exchange of accounts. Jesus stood before the judgment seat of Pilate, innocent of sin but declared guilty. We, through that same man, will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, guilty of sin but declared innocent. So for believers, there is no condemnation left, no death left for us at the resurrection judgment. Instead, there is an evaluation. A dispensing of rewards based on what we have done with the time, tasks, and gifts given to us in this life.
What will you do to please the Lord with the body that he has given you? What will require courage? John Paton was a man who left Scotland to go minister to the island of Vanuatu, where less than twenty years earlier, Scottish missionaries had been killed and eaten by the indigenous people on the island. When he declared his intent to go, a man named Mr. Dickson was shocked and said, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” This is how John Paton responded:
Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer. (p. 56)
We’re all headed for the grave. But Christians know that the grave is just the turning of the first page in our story. We have so much more life ahead. We are now in a time in the world where COVID has made our mortality all too present. We need of this kind of courage to be ministers of the Gospel. Whether you work with the sick, the homeless, the hurting, or the unreached, what will you be willing to risk to bring the message of a new life into a dying city?