2 Corinthians 5:1-10 ~ 20181028 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
10/28_2 Corinthians 5:1-10; I Don't Want to Be Found Naked!; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20181028_2cor5_1-10.mp3
I need to tell you something. I am dying. I don't know how much longer I will have. It may be weeks, months, years, I don't know. Maybe even 40 or 50 more years. You see, I have been diagnosed with a terminal condition. It's called human mortality. And the statistics are pretty overwhelming.
You have it too. In fact, you are one day closer to your death than you were yesterday.
I know, this sounds like a downer, and we don't like to talk about it, but there is wisdom in squarely facing our own mortality. Ecclesiastes says
It is better to go to a funeral than a party; it causes us to think about what really matters. Psalm 90 says
There is much wisdom in contemplating our own death. This is what Paul is doing in 2 Corinthians 5, and he actually finds much encouragement, much comfort there.
We are looking at 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; My aim is to step back from this passage today to take in the big picture and understand the categories in which he is thinking. We are going to skip some precious and important details; don't worry, I plan in the coming weeks to come back to some of these thing that we just won't have time for this morning.
Context of Suffering and Hope
We are looking at 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; but we need to remember that the chapter breaks are not original; they were added much later (13th cent.) for our convenience, so it is important to not allow them to disrupt the flow of thought. Paul in chapter 4 likens himself to a fragile earthen vessel (7); he says that his outer person is 'wasting away' (16). He is 'always carrying around in his body the dying of Jesus' (10) and 'always being given over to death' (11). The suffering and death of the apostle, and by extension, of every believer is the subject under consideration. Death is staring him in the face, and he is not in denial. The Corinthians on the other hand are enamored with eloquence, power, and appearance. Suffering and death in this cultural context are out of style.
But Paul aims to keep the cross central to Christianity. His focus is that Christian hope can survive, even thrive, in the face of suffering and death. “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God” (3:4) “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (3:12); “Therefore ...we do not lose heart” (4:1); “So we do not lose heart” (4:16). He says in 5:6 “So we are always of good courage”, and again in 5:8 “Yes, we are of good courage”
How can we be unshaken in the face of suffering and death? Paul tells us that it matters what you look at (4:18). We are to look not at what is seen, but at that which is not seen, the eternal weight of glory that our sufferings are preparing for us.
He held out the hope of the resurrection in 4:14.
This is it! Being in the presence of Jesus! Here in chapter 5 he details what this unseen reality consists of; his hope, the hope of the resurrection, and what happens to a believer at death.
Theological Thinking Shapes Feeling and Living
Paul answers criticism and fear with truth. Doctrine. Theological truth. He knows something, and the truth he knows shapes how he feels, how he responds, how he lives. Knowing (v.1, 6, 11) punctuates this passage. There is something we know. What we know gives confidence even in the face of outer destruction and death. Theological truth gives hope and fuels perseverance. So what is that truth?
Ironically this passage has been the subject of much scholarly debate over exactly what Paul meant by what he said, some even so bold as to accuse Paul of changing his view between the writing of 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5. These interpreters seem to ignore one of the fundamental principles of biblical interpretation; if your interpretation of a passage makes it contradict what is plainly taught elsewhere in Scripture, then your interpretation is wrong.
The Resurrection at the Coming of Christ
Many scholars have stumbled over the present tense of the verb 'we have' in verse 1.
Paul has been contrasting the temporary with the permanent, the outer person and the inner person, the seen and that which is not seen. He points to the 'tent that is our earthly home,' a clear reference to our present earthly body, which he makes explicit in verse 6 when he says 'while we are at home in the body'. Our earthly home, the tent (remember Paul was a tentmaker by trade) is our body. He is looking to the destruction or literally the taking down of that tent. He has been talking about affliction, persecution and death in the immediate context. Now he looks at what we know will happen to the believer at the death of this body.
Some interpreters assume that the present tense 'we have' must mean that immediately after death, the Christian receives his resurrection body. But this would contradict what he taught in 1 Corinthians 15, that it is at the return of Christ that we all receive resurrection bodies.
The resurrection of the dead will happen at the last trumpet. He also teaches this plainly in 2 Thessalonians 4, teaching about those who have 'fallen asleep,' a metaphor for death.
Paul is teaching that at the coming of the Lord, at the last trumpet, the dead in Christ will be resurrected, and the believers who are alive at his coming will be transformed.
The Tenses of Confident Hope
So what does he mean here, when he says that 'we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens'? This is part of an 'if' statement that is looking toward a future event. If our current home, our physical body is destroyed, we have an eternal heavenly home, a building prepared for us by God. As we see elsewhere in the Scriptures, verb tenses can indicate confident hope. In Romans 8:30, Paul describes the believer as glorified (past tense), not because it has already happened, but because God has begun his work in us and has promised to bring it to completion, and because of his faithfulness to his promises, it is as good as done. The believer in Jesus, facing death, can be confident that 'we have a building from God, a household not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.' He promised it and it is as good as a present possession.
Longing and Groaning
In verses 2-4 he voices his longing. This word 'longing' indicates a strong desire, as an infant craves milk (1 Pet.2:2). Usually in the New Testament it is used in relational terms; earnestly longing to see a dear friend or loved one (Rom.1:11; 2 Cor.9:14; Phil.1:8; 2:26; 1Thess.3:6; 2Tim.1:4; Jas.4:5)
He speaks of an intense longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, and a groaning, a sighing under the present weight. In this, this tent that is being taken down, under the present pressure a sigh escapes. We are being made new day by day as we look to the unseen, and yet we have a deep longing for more.
We have looked before at the parallels between Romans 8 and our passage. These become even more clear and helpful here. In the context of suffering and future glory, in the context of that which is seen and what is unseen, he points to this groaning.
The groaning of the believer, who has already received the Spirit as a guarantee, is a longing for freedom from corruption, the freedom of glory. This longing is for the redemption of our bodies. We long to be clothed with the glory of resurrection life.
But I Don't Want to Be Found Naked
Here he introduces the concept of being exposed or found naked, and being unclothed. He is expanding on his conception of the mortal body as a tent that is being taken down. If the mortal body is a tent that is being done away with, and if our hope is for our resurrection bodies, the imperishable glorious spiritual body, a dwelling from God not made with hands, then this hope must wait for its full realization until the resurrection. But what happens if there is a period of time between my death and the resurrection? It seems we will be in some sense a naked soul, a naked seed, not clothed by a body.
We see this in passages like Revelation 6:9-11, where the souls of those slain for the word of God and for their witness cried out “O Sovereign Lord, ...how long?” 'they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer.'
In contrast to the Greek and Gnostic philosophy of his day, which viewed release from the flaws and constraints of the body a desirable condition, Paul did not view this as desirable. We were made to be embodied. He longed not to be unclothed but to be overclothed. The word in verse 4 'further clothed' is a compound word that indicates putting something on over something else. Paul's desire is that 'we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed', that his perishable body would put on the imperishable (1Cor.15:51-52) at the coming of Christ.
To Be With Christ is Far Better
God has made us for this. He has guaranteed that we will possess it. We will be clothed with a spiritual body. It is in this context that he gives us the second thing he knows. We know that while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord.
This life is a life of looking at what we can't see. As Peter put it,
We walk now by faith, not sight. While we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. But one day, one day we will see him.
Although Paul does not desire to be unclothed, although he would rather be alive at the coming of the Lord and be overclothed, he would rather be unclothed, away from the body if that means to be at home with the Lord. This is the same thing he says in Philippians
To depart is to be with Christ. To be at home with the Lord is far better. To live is Christ. To live in the flesh is fruitful labor for others; the cross-shaped life. But to die is gain. To be with Christ is what we long for. To see him. Face to face. To know him as we are fully known (1Cor.13:12). To be at home with him. That is why we do not lose heart. That is why we are always of good courage.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org