2 Corinthians 5:1-10
Placing this Passage
We have come to chapter 5 and verses 1-5 in our study of 2 Corinthians. Paul is continuing to give a reason for the hope that he has. He says in verse 6 the verse that directly follows after our passage this morning, “So, we are always of good courage…” and in verse 8, “yes we are of good courage…” Why doesn’t Paul lose heart? Why is he always of good courage in the face of what looks like a ruined life, suffering, and death? 5:1-5 continues the grounding of the hope that he has.
So as we come to this passage we expect to find the content of Paul’s faith. Among these verses he repeats the phrase “…we know that,” again telling us that Paul is sharing the content of his faith, which grounds his courage. Paul believes something that gives rise to a courageous life for Jesus.
In the past few weeks as we have seen the grounding of Paul’s hope, it has served to be the grounding for our own hope and my prayer is that this will be true this morning as well.
Living in Tents
So, as we walk through this passage remember that it is intended to equip us to be courageous.
Let’s jump right in and take a look at verse 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.
So let’s make some observations:
First, we know that Paul is speaking to the nature of our physical bodies by calling them tents. He has called our physical bodies jars of clay (4:7), mortal flesh (4:11), outer self which is wasting away (4:16). And now tents. Following Paul’s consistent theme in this passage he is emphasizing how our physical bodies are transient – lasting a very short time, not permanent. That point he now is hammering again, as we see him contrast ‘tent’ with ‘building…eternal in the heavens.’ So we are to view our mortal bodies here as tents – temporary dwellings that are not intended to be permanent structures.
Second, we see that Paul knows that if this tent, that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hand, eternal in the heavens.
So Paul’s bold confidence and willingness to die, to have this tent torn down, grows from the fact that he knows that he has a permanent building from God, a house, described as ‘not made by hands’ (that is human hands, but made by God), eternal in the heavens. Now what is this building that we have from God?
Well, if we follow the analogy though I think we will find that Paul is talking about the resurrected and glorified body that each of us will have. If we place our passage along side 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 it seems abundantly clear (to me) that this is what he has in mind.
1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Paul is grounding our courage in the fact that you if these tents are destroyed we know for a certainty that have a building from God, not made with hand, eternal in the heavens.
Don’t Fret About the Tent
I don’t know how many of you have been tent camping, but I’ve done a bit of that kind of thing – enough to know that I like being and sleeping in my house more than in a tent. Yes, it is fun to get out in the wilderness and out into the quiet and to simplify your life for a few days, but if you asked me which I prefer – I would honestly say, I prefer my home and bed to a tent and the roots in my back.
Well, this simply isn’t true of my children. Tent camping is novel enough and they are young enough to think that sleeping in a tent is far better than sleeping in the house. And so we have done some back yard tent camping. And of course I must be with them and so I end up sleeping on the ground outside with my boys, not but a few feet from my bed and my wife inside – thinking to myself: this is not to be preferred.
This is something of the contrast that Paul is setting up. Though every believer who has not yet died is living in a tent, they own a home. The worst that can happen is that he tent to taken down – praise the Lord!
We look at Paul’s life and think, “how can he be so bold and so ‘reckless’ with his life and limb for the sake of Christ?” And Paul looks at us and says, “why are you crying about your tent coming down when you are standing on the front lawn of your house!”
Brother and sisters these are not our permanent dwellings. Do you know that you have a building from God, a house not made with hand, eternal in the heavens? If we know that, why are we so timid about risking the tent to make Christ known? Paul is emphasizing the certainty of the far superior, permanent home that we have from God through Jesus Christ.
Now, I want to show that this is not a novel thing in the history of God’s people. This kind of faith is in fact the defining mark of the people of God.
Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16,
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God…
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
The parallels to this passage in Hebrews are striking. Abraham lived in tents; we live in tents. Abraham was looking forward to a heavenly city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God; we each have a building from God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.
The difference is that Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 is talking about a our earthly tents (meaning earthly bodies) and contrasting these to our heavenly buildings (heavenly bodies). In other words, Paul seems to be talking not about real estate, but about our bodies, and he is simply using well known dwellings to convey and illustrate the nature of case, whereas the author of Hebrews seems to be referring to a place of inheritance, a homeland, a country, a city.
But the principle is the same: just as Abraham walked by faith believing that God would keep His promises to bless him with a heavenly home, so we walk by faith believing that God has made provision for our everlasting dwelling with Him to include a body and a place (not to mention that these two ideas are not mutually exclusive in Scripture – I think of Revelation 21 for example, where the images are mixed such that the place, the holy city, the new Jerusalem, is people, the bride, the wife of the Lamb, you and I(v 2 and v9). So I don’t want to make the lines between these things too deep or try to separate them too much. So again the principle is this: we walk by faith that God has made provision for our dwelling with Him).
Now look at verse 2-4 as Paul clarifies this faith dynamic,
2For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4For 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.
So what does it look like to live in tents now, but believing that we have a permanent building from God? Paul says it looks like groaning.
But not just any sort of groaning. Lots of people who do not trust in the Lord Jesus Christ groan in this life. Believers and unbelievers groan in this world, but the groaning Paul is describing here is a Christian groaning. Qualified by the word longing. We groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.
What Paul means here is that we should be groaning to be out of the tent and into the house. We should long to enter the eternal dwelling. As Paul says in verse 4 while we are still in this tent we groan, being burdened. There should be among Christians, not a grumbling, complaining, discontent, but at faith filled assurance that this is not as good as it gets. This body with its burdens is not all we have to look forward to – not by a very long shot.
So often we use the phrase, ‘the rest of my life’ when we are talking about what takes place from now to the grave, and of course we may mean the rest of this life, but I fear that for many of us we put far too much stock in this life. I hear it so often among us who should be putting stock in the next life.
Joni Eareckson-Tada will not be a quadriplegic for the rest of her life. She will only be paralyzed until she puts on her heavenly dwelling. For the rest of her life she will enjoy a building from God.
So often we think and dream only about what we can do in this body and accomplish in this body and experience in this body, but we need to recognize that what we can do and accomplish and experience in these bodies will never be the fullness of our lives. No matter how comfortable or pleasant or meaningful the experience is, it is nothing compared to what has been prepared for us by God through Christ.
Are all your plans for this life, flavored with a confidence and longing for the next?
In these verses, Paul adds a clarification that I think is very important and he shifts the illustration slightly. First, notice how he shifts the illustration slightly in verse 2. He says, ‘For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling‘ that phrase put on anticipates a shift in the illustration. He goes on in verse 3, ‘...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.‘
So Paul began talking in terms of building material and then introduces the idea of clothing. And he does it to add an important clarification. Paul is not groaning in this body longing to be freed from embodiment. He is not longing to be ‘unclothed’ and ‘naked’ in that sense. He is in fact longing to be further clothed – to put on the heavenly attire that is as much better as a heavenly eternal building is to an earthly transient tent.
This is important because in Paul’s day (and our own) there was (and is) a popular Greek notion that the goal and aim is to be released from the body. Some think that the highest attainment of the human being is to be released from this physical world. But Paul says, that is not the aim at all, it is not the Christian hope.
We are meant to be embodied and will be throughout eternity, yes in bodies far superior and permanent, but bodies all the same. Some Christians have the unbiblical notion that our eternal life will be a disembodied life in the clouds, but the biblical notation is that our eternal life will be an embodied life lived on a new earth.
So Paul is telling us that what gives him courage in ministry in the face of dangers and death is the knowledge that he has a building from God eternal in the heavens and that what he is in now is merely a tent. And his life in the tent is flavored not with protecting the tent at all costs or with setting his hopes for happiness in the tent or fretting that the tent is getting shabby, but rather his life is flavored with a deep groan for his inheritance, a longing for his new and better home with God. He is not longing to cast off the temporary as though that were a good thing in itself, but rather his longing is to don the eternal which has been secured for him in Christ.
So as he says in verse 4 that he wants to be further clothed, “…so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” Paul does not long to die; he longs to to be swallowed up by life. And this is the hope of all the saints who diligently seek and have sought the Lord and who trust and have trusted Him. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Luke 20:37-38). We do not long to die; we long to swallowed up by life.
Do our lives have this kind of longing about them? Do our lives have this kind of faith, like Abraham, who was looking forward to a city from God? And is this kind of faith evidenced in our lives by courage and faithfulness in the face of danger and death? When being a Christian means loosing out in this world, do we fret and complain and despair? Or is your heart set on the God who is able and who has promised to reward those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6)? Are we confident that we have a building from God? And do we look forward to that reward with a deep longing? And as verse 5 explains, is that deep longing built upon what God has done?
Prepared Us For This
Consider verse 5: He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
Paul says that God has prepared us for this very thing, that is, God has prepared us for putting on our heavenly dwelling, for being further clothed, for being swallowed by life. God is the One who has prepared us for that very thing.
And how has he done it? He has done it by means of a New Covenant in Jesus’ blood. “God has done what the law weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).
Yes, by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ God has done all that is necessary to secure the promised inheritance, the heavenly dwelling, the over clothes, the being swallowed by life, the city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God, the better country where righteousness dwells, the great and blessed inheritance where, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). This is what God secured through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for those who will trust him. It is God who has prepared us for this very thing.
And are you aware that God has given you, and everyone who is in Christ by faith, a down payment on that inheritance? He has given a guarantee that you will be swallowed by life. The very power that raised Jesus from the dead has already been given us in the form of a down payment – and that power is abiding with us and in us – we are already a new creation, we are already living stones, being built up upon The chosen and precious living Cornerstone, as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). This is already true, even thought now we have this treasure in jars of clay, mortal bodies, flimsy tents.
God Himself has prepared us to swallowed up by life everlasting and He has now given us the guarantee, the down payment, the promised Spirit of God written upon the tablets of our hearts. God has given us the Spirit who gives life and freedom and transformation and righteousness. In Christ Jesus we are already a new creation in our inner person as we have been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. Praise God from whom all blessing flow!
To Have the Spirit
And it is in fact this down payment of the fullness of life with God that is now at work in us.
The promise of the Spirit came, not just with the promise of forgiveness and cleansing and a place and abundant provision for nourishment and safety from enemies and the elimination of war (Ezekiel 36:25, 28,29), but with the promise of new affections and desires and obedience (Ezekiel 36:26-27). We were promised that our hearts of stone would be replaced with hearts of flesh – that is hearts that feel what they ought to feel toward God.
And we now, “…have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” Affections for our Father have come to these once stony heart! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:16-17).
Listen to how Paul continues in Romans 8:23-25:
we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
What Paul is describing here and in 2 Corinthians is what gives him courage to stand for Christ when it means suffering and wasting away and pain and death. And here he as told us what gives him courage is what he knows.
He knows that that this body is but a temporary tent and that he has a permanent house from God through Jesus Christ. And his great desire and longing is to acquire the full possession of that heavenly garment – that this mortal vessel would be swallowed up by life. And He knows that it is God himself who has prepared him for that very thing, who has given him the Spirit as a guarantee of that possession. The very fact that Paul groans and longs and hopes for what he does not see is evidence that he has already been given the firstfruits of the Spirit.
Comparing Our Faith to Paul’s
Do you and I live like Paul with courage? Do we consider our bodies here very temporary and flimsy and not at all what we consider our permanent home? Do we long, while yet in these bodies, for the heavenly country where God will be honored and we will finally be made perfect, rejoicing as we ought in the life giving rays of His glory?
Does your faith in Jesus Christ reach beyond Sunday morning, beyond religious events and gatherings, beyond this life? Does your faith in Christ give you hope for life everlasting?
If, as you think about your life, you see that there is no longing, that you are totally caught up in the things of this world, that there is no cry to be with your Father, that there is not willingness to let go of the tent, if you see that there is no longing in your life perhaps you have not yet repented of your sins and believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ. He stand triumphant and powerful to save! Do not walk away from Him but turn away from the works of darkness and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
If, as you think about your life, you see that there is longing but it is so small and so weak and it comes and goes, it warms and then cools, than my friend, turn your eyes upon Jesus – make it your aim to learn of Him as the one necessary thing, make use of his many provisions for your soul: read his word like your life depends upon it. Wake up from slumber and cast down those desire and works of the flesh and do good. Pray! Pray for God’s strength, Pray for and with those who love the Lord Jesus. Get those who love Jesus into your life and into your home. Encourage one another daily as long as it is called today that you may not be drawn away by the deceitfulness of sin.
If, as you think about your life, you see that there is longing, there is that cry from your heart to please and be with your heavenly Father, there is a willingness to let the tent come down because you know that God has prepared for you an eternal dwelling and reward beyond all comparison through Jesus Christ, if these are present, than as 2 Peter 1:5-11 says,
…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.