2 Corinthians 5:6-10
Last time we looked at verses 1-5. This morning we are going to examine 6-10. Last time Paul told us that his courage was built on the resurrection and the new body that will be his. This week he will tell us that it is built on being presented to Jesus, being brought safely home. So after we read our section I will pray for God’s help and then we will walk through this passage and we will see if we can’t get a handle on what encourages Paul and what should be the source of great encouragement for us who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, I’d like to start by walking through this text and showing you what Paul is not talking about. “What? Not talking about?” Right. As I have read and studied this passage and then gone to trusted, wise, and godly commentators and pastors to see how they have understood this passage, and then gone back to this passage again and thought and puzzled and studied it again, I am convinced that many commentators end up inserting into Paul’s words meaning that he himself did not intend to communicate.
So here is the issue: There are many pastors and commentaries who look at Paul’s discussion here in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (which we began last time) and say 1 of 2 things. They say either, Paul is talking about where Christians go immediately after they die throughout these verses or he is talking in certain places about where Christians go immediately after they die but additionally in other places he is talking about the Christian’s great hope of resurrection, presentation, glorification, and eternal inheritance.
But as I study this passage I am convinced that Paul does not address the question of where a Christian goes when they die – as frustrating as that may be to some people. Instead, I am convinced that Paul is simply explaining in this passage that his boldness is built upon the fact that he knows that God has prepared for him a full inheritance which is an eternal weight of glory, secured through Christ Jesus ready to be revealed in the last time.
Let me show you why I do not think Paul is talking about an intermediate state at all in this passage and I’ll do that by walking through the passage with you from verse one.
If you glance back at verse 1, you will recall that we saw last time that one of the things that gave Paul great boldness in ministry was knowing that this earthly body, he describes it as a tent, flimsy and transient, is not the thing he is banking his hopes for life and joy upon. No, he said, “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.” There is an absolute certainty that we have a house from God – eternal in the heavens.
And given that just a few verses earlier in 4:13 Paul said explicitly that his boldness was build upon the fact that he knew that He who raised (past tense) the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise (future tense) those who trust Him and will present (future tense) them to Jesus, it seems clear to me that Paul has in mind here in chapter 5 verses 1-5 that if this tent is destroyed we have a new resurrected and glorified body secured through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
But also, when you compare 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 to this discussion, as we did very briefly last time, and you see the consistent themes and language of perishable and imperishable, mortal and immortal, putting on, death and resurrection, you are left with a pretty strong argument that in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, that Paul is talking about putting on an imperishable, glorified body at the resurrection (and included then is the full inheritance).
Add to this that the Spirit in verse 5 is the present guarantee of our inheritance, that eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, which includes a glorified body. Paul is longing to be swallowed up by life as he says in verse 4. He is not longing for an intermediate state of disembodiment.
I believe Paul has been talking consistently about acquiring the full possession of our inheritance, which includes the resurrection and glorification and presentation to Jesus.
The one place Paul might possibly be talking about an intermediate state between death and resurrection is when he says in verse 3, “…if indeed by putting it on (talking about the building from God) we may not be found naked.” But even if this is what he is talking about there, his point is that this is not his great longing – full possession, the redemption of his body, being swallowed up by life, that is his great longing.
So as we come to verse 6-10 I believe it is most unnatural to think that Paul is suddenly shifting focus to talk about an intermediate state. Let me just read 6 to 8 to you and you can decide if Paul is simply emphasizing what he has already said (my view) or introducing an additional thought:
2 Corinthians 5:6-8
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.
Now, if you were here last week, doesn’t that fit just exactly the picture he have us in verse 1-5? Paul knows, he believes, he is sure of certain things. As he says we walk by faith, not by sight. And what does he believe, even though there is no outward manifestation of it yet, which keeps him always of good courage? He knows that while he is living now in the tent – it will be away from the Lord and so by necessity it will be by faith not sight but his point has been he would much rather be, that is he would prefer to be away from the body (the tent) and at home with the Lord (in the house).
It sounds to me like restatement as he turns to emphasize why he lives like he lives.
As a side note: I think the New Testament gives indication in other places about an intermediate state (Luke 16:19-31; 23:43 (2 Corinthians 12:3?); Philippians 1:21-24; Revelation 6:9-11), but I will not launch out into a discussion on the intermediate state as I think it goes far afield of what Paul is thinking about. At the end of the day, we who belong to Jesus have nothing to fear; He will take care of us. God has prepared us to be swallowed up by life. He has raised Jesus and will raise those in Him.
But, you know, there is another reason why I am finally convinced that Paul is here talking about the final resurrection and that is verses 9-10. And these verses are where I think we will find a great blessing this morning.
Resurrection and Presentation
If we remember that the context of these verses includes chapter 4 and verse 14 we will see that there is a strong parallel here between what Paul said there and what he says here in 5:1-10. In 4:14 Paul told us that his boldness to speak grows from what he believed, namely that because God raised Jesus, God would also raise Paul, but not only raise him but also present him to Jesus. Well, as we have seen Paul focused on the resurrection in 5:1-5 and now, in verses 6 to 10 of chapter 5 Paul moves the discussion to focus on the presentation. And that becomes explicit in verse 10. Allow me to read from verse 6 again and listen to how Paul begins zeroing in on being presented to the Lord Jesus Christ. He says,
2 Corinthians 5:6-10
6. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7. for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10. For we must all appear [be presented?] before the judgment seat of Christ…
So, to finish the argument, is finally why I think Paul does not have the intermediate state in mind at all. Paul has been talking about what he knows about the fullness of time, the consummated blessing, the promised imperishable inheritance, the resurrection, and now in theses verses, what he knows about the presentation of the church at the final trumpet. And he has been talking about this these end times blessings since 4:7 to the present verses. And this is what gives him great boldness as he walks by faith in the promises, not by sight.
Judgment and Joy.
This morning I want to give our attention to verse 9 and 10 where Paul says,
9. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10. 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. 11aTherefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.
Allow me to make some observations about these two verses, particularly as they tell us about the presentation, and here Paul focuses on the Judgement Seat of Christ:
- Who will be judged?
First notice who will be judged. Paul says in verse 10, “For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ…” Paul is speaking to the church in this letter and so we can say with confidence that every individual in the church will appear before this Judgment Seat. When we look to this text and ask the question, ‘who will be judged at the Judgment Seat?’ two things are clear: first that there is an inevitableness and unavoidableness about who will appear (‘we must all appear’), and a universalness and individuality about who will appear (‘we must all appear’). In other words, every single person who is in Christ will without question appear before this Judgment Seat.
- Judged for what?
Notice second, that the judgment is about what has been done in the body. We will each be receiving ‘what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.’ This judgment is according to works. ‘He will render to each one according to his works…’ (Romans 2:6). Do not be deceived, each one of us will be judged according to the true intention of our deeds in this life, whether they where good or evil.
- Who is the Judge?
Notice third, who it is that will be the Judge: It is Jesus. It is the Judgment Seat of Christ. He is Lord and King of the Church. Ultimately everything we do as a Church and as individual members of the Church must be done as unto the Lord Jesus and an account will be given for how each one honored Him in this life and in this local church. Christ is the Head of the Body. He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. He is the Husband who loves and protects and pays the debts of His Bride. He is the Vine we are the branches. He is the High Priest who sacrificed Himself and intercedes for His people. He is the Cornerstone upon which we are built. He is the Master we are His servants. And we will each individually give an account to our Master.
- What is the mode and manner of the Judgment?
Fourthly, what will be the manner of this judgment? Well notice this word ‘appear.’ Now, this could simply mean that each one of us will be required to show up for this Judgment Seat, but as we saw a few weeks ago, we know that this judgment will be a revealing and an exposing of our true heart motivation and intentions. Like a refiners fire we will be shown to be what we truly are. We will all appear and all will be laid bear before Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
- What is the Standard of Judgment?
Fifthly, what is the standard of judgment that will be used? The implication here is that because Jesus Christ, the Righteous One is the Judge this will be a judgment of perfect righteous judgment. There will be no mistakes, no oversights, no injustice, no bias, no whisper of corruption. This judgment will be 100% accurate, no appeals possible.
- What is the Nature of this Judgment?
But sixthly, what is the nature of the judgment? Let us not be confused on this point, the nature of this judgment is so important. Is this a judgment unto death and condemnation and destruction? No! According to 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 this is a judgment unto reward.
The Scriptures are clear that there is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), we know that whoever believes in [the Son] is not condemned (John 3:18a), we know that whoever hears [Jesus’] word and believes [the Father] who sent [Him] has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).
Yes, we know that through faith in Christ, God the Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance of saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:3-14). That is all secured by faith in Christ.
But this judgment, the Judgment Seat of Christ, is for every member of the Church, the Bride of Christ and it is unquestionably not unto death, because we are built upon the sure foundation, Jesus Christ the Righteous. This judgment is not about whether you will be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Instead this judgment is all about how we, as a citizen of heaven, have built upon that foundation, Jesus Christ, and whether what we have built will be burned up or celebrated throughout eternity.
Paul describe this Day in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15,
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
- What will be the Result?
So seventhly, what will be the result of this judgment? Notice verse 10: ‘so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.’ There will be a direct connection between what we have done in this life and what is received as a result. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:15 some of us (all of us in some measure I’m sure) will suffer loss on that day. The result may be, because of what we have done in the body today, that we will suffer the loss of what might have been our reward. And conversely, Paul says here and in 1 Corinthians 3 some will receive a reward for the good that was done in the body.
Now this is where I think we really need to be thinking deeply this morning.
I am convinced that most Christians do not have a robustly biblical view of the Day we will stand before the Lord or of heaven. I know that I have a long way to go in conforming my thinking to what is revealed in Scripture. But here are just a few things that maybe you have not thought much about:
Just taking 1st and 2nd Corinthians seriously, we have to wrestle with the idea that even as we will all enter the kingdom and eternal life by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, we will not all enter with the same rewards.
In the New Testament there is in fact indication that there will be degrees of greatness in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-4 child in their midst – ‘whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Most humble, most exalted), there is indication that there will be differing degrees of responsibility and authority (rank?) (Matthew 25:23 parable about talents), and there is indication that these rewards are given to the humble, the Christ-like, the servants in heart, regardless of rank and station and authority here (Ephesians 6:8 ‘as unto the Lord,’ slaves will receive back all the good they have done).
I think it is important to keep clear that the great inheritance we are looking forward to and eternal life is described as a new heaven and a new earth, not in a cloudy spirit world, described as a kingdom, not just a concert hall, with tasks and responsibilities, not lack of employment and inactivity. There will be ruling and authority given to the servants of Christ. And upon that earth where righteousness dwells God will reign supreme in every heart, Christ will be king, and His saints will reign with Him, zealously doing all things to the glory of God.
And in this everlasting kingdom we are told that some of us will have greater rewards and greater responsibility and greater authority depending upon our faithfulness to King Jesus right now. The flip side of that is that some of us will receive fewer rewards because we have not been zealous and faithful here.
When God Reigns in Every Heart
Is that right? How can these things be? Will there really be distinction in reward when all will be made perfect? Will there really be some blessed with more than others when we will be glorified? If eternal blessing in perfect peace and joy comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, how does our faithfulness here add to that reward?
I think we need to be careful not to speculate or fabricate, but clearly Scripture reveals that our life for Christ matters on the Day we are presented to Christ. I think it is essential to hold all that Scripture reveals together. How do we put these things together?
Maybe Sam Storms can help us begin to think about this. Consider these incites from Sam Storms (I don’t know if I agree with everything he says here or maybe the way he says it, but this is very rich and thought provoking):
Perhaps the differing nature and degree of reward will be manifest in the depth of knowledge and enjoyment of God that each person experiences. People often balk at this notion, but they shouldn’t… Hardly anything will bring you more joy [in heaven] than to see other saints with greater rewards than you, experiencing greater glory than you, given greater authority than you!
There will be no jealousy or pride to fuel your unhealthy competitiveness. There will be no greed to energize your race to get more than everyone else. You will then delight only in delighting in the delight of others. Their achievement will be your greatest joy. Their success will be your highest happiness. You will truly rejoice with those who rejoice. Envy comes from lack. But in heaven there is no lack. Whatever you need, you get. Whatever desires may arise, they are satisfied.
The fact that some are more holy and more happy than others will not diminish the joy of the latter. There will be perfect humility and perfect resignation to God’s will in heaven, hence no resentment or bitterness. Also, those higher in holiness will, precisely because they are holy, be more humble. The essence of holiness is humility! The very vice that might incline them to look condescendingly on those lower than themselves is nowhere present. It is precisely because they are more holy that they are so very humble and thus incapable of arrogance and elitism.
They will not strut or boast or use their higher degrees of glory to humiliate or harm those lower. Those who know more of God will, because of that knowledge, think more lowly and humbly of themselves. They will be more aware of the grace that accounts for their holiness than those who know and experience less of God, hence, they will be more ready to serve and to yield and to go low and to defer.
Some people in heaven will be happier than others. But this is no reason for sadness or anger. In fact, it will serve only to make you happier to see that others are more happy than you! Your happiness will increase when you see that the happiness of others has exceeded your own. Why? Because love dominates in heaven and love is rejoicing in the increased happiness of others. To love someone is to desire their greatest joy. As their joy increases, so too does yours in them. If their joy did not increase, neither would yours. We struggle with this because now on earth our thoughts and desires and motives are corrupted by sinful self-seeking, competitiveness, envy, jealousy, and resentment.
Hum. Is that soul stirring to you? To think about glory, where we will no longer be sinful but instead, where we will be purely motivated by love for God and love for each other?
I think, if we consider what the nature of the heavenly kingdom will be like (the greatest are the most holy and humble, the most Christ-like) and we consider what the nature of relationships will be like in the kingdom where righteousness dwells (loving as Christ loved and pure), – I think, if we consider heaven as it truly will be and then we consider, what Paul says in 1st and 2nd Corinthians and what our Lord indicates elsewhere, that some will have greater responsibility and authority and blessing and reward in heaven, I think pastor Storms is right, the rewards will be …deeper knowledge and enjoyment of God and thus a deeper experience of joy.
Psalm 16:11 –
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Those rewarded most greatly in heaven, it seems, will know God best and love Him most, which will mean they will be most happy and most holy… And we will rejoice for them.
No One Deserves Heaven
But consider also that we will all see ourselves rightly as once fallen creatures, who were children of wrath, who deserved to be cast into outer darkness, but by grace and grace alone we were rescued and washed and forgiven by Jesus blood and righteousness. We will stand before our Lord Jesus and He will assign us a place in His kingdom and we be thrilled to be a doorkeepers in His house if that is where we are assigned (Ps. 84:10)!
And all our crowns and rewards will finally only be owning to God’s grace and goodness and wisdom, not our wisdom and goodness and ability. Any degree of holiness and faithfulness we attain in this life is owning to God’s grace, God’s Spirit, not our inherent goodness. It will all be to God’s glory, which will only serve to increase our joy.
So, heaven will be a place where redeemed sinners have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and to be there, even as a the lowest servant, will thrill us eternally. And there we will all be free from selfishness and pride – motivated by a pure love for our glorious God and a pure love for His people – rejoicing to see others rejoicing in God. We will all be zealous in that place to do good and serve and come under and please the Lord!
That is what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like.
We Make It Our Aim To Please Him
But I think we can begin to see that the Kingdom of Heaven should already be breaking into this place, that our citizenship and heavenly employment is already underway. This, the church, should be a kingdom outpost in a foreign land. We are already citizens of heaven and Jesus is even now already our Lord and what we do in this life really does matter and we will be rewarded with joy according to how we have honored Him here.
As Paul said in verse 9, ‘So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.’ Serving the Lord, pursuing His glory, working to see others happy in Him should be our focus now. Heaven is not where we begin living! Heaven is not where we begin securing more and more happiness in knowing and loving God and helping other become more and more happy in God! That should be our daily pursuit now as citizens of heaven!
Is this your hearts desire: knowing the fear of the Lord, that is, the deep awe and reverence for the glory of your Lord, do you make it your aim now to please him? And not just to please him yourself, but to persuade others (verse11)?
Why are you waiting for heaven to start living like Jesus is truly your King and Lord and Master? We should now, in this hour be laboring to please Him.
Laboring for Joy
Now, let’s be clear that what we are laboring for is not salvation, its not forgiveness, its not escape from misery. In Christ those things are secure. Revelation 21:4 says that God will be with us as our God and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. There will be no sadness or fear – even if you are doorkeeper. We are not laboring to become a citizen of heaven.
Though let’s not fool ourselves, citizens of heaven (even the door keepers) do demonstrate that they are truly are born again. God is not mocked…
…the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Citizens of heaven will not go on in sin. Those washed and set apart and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will purify themselves just as he is pure, but that does not secure forgiveness it merely demonstrates that you have been born of God’s Spirit.
But again, we are not laboring for forgiveness or salvation, that is secured by trusting in Jesus Christ, rather what we are laboring for is deeper joy, deeper apprehension of God, and more glory to God; we are laboring to secure as much joy for ourselves and for others as we possibly can, which, in other words, is to be laboring to behold and love and be satisfied in God through Jesus Christ more and more and to help others do the same.
I do not want to enter the kingdom having wasted my life here on trivial and selfish things, rather than on what will last and flower in joy eternally. On that Day we will see that to seek the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ without reserve, without divided heart should have been our one aim here as it will be our delight to do thereafter. Nothing done for Christ will be wasted. CT Studd wrote;
Only one life; twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Paul’s life in this world was marked by a faith in the promises of God realized in Christ Jesus, promises of resurrection and presentation, promises of an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, promises that this mortal transient flesh would be swallowed up by life, promises that we have a building from God eternal in the heavens, promises of happiness unimagined, promises of reward for those who are faithful in Christ Jesus. Paul believed God and longed for the Day when he would enter into the joy of God’s rest secured through Christ Jesus and it was evident in his life in this world.
Does 2nd Corinthians 4 and 5 describe the flavor and fragrance of our lives? If we share in Paul’s hope and faith we ought also to share in his boldness and courage, his desire to please Christ and persuade others. If boldness, courage, zeal to please Christ, and persuade others in not present in your life it is a faith issue. It has everything to do with what we believe.
Do you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead? As a testimony that He satisfied divine justice and that in Jesus alone there is forgiveness of sins and life everlasting?
Do you believe that all God’s promises find their yes and amen in Christ Jesus?
Do you believe that God will raise you, and all who trust Christ, and present you to Jesus for reward and joy?
Do you believe that God has prepared for you a house eternal in the heavens?
Do you believe that God has prepared you to be swallowed up by life?
Do you believe that nothing good done for the Lord will go unrewarded?
Do you believe?
If so – Let us make it our aim to please him and persuade others with courage and love.