I’ve said several times before that Paul is having to defend his character and his ministry in this letter to the Corinthians. The members of the church which he had planted had begun to doubt him and to criticise him. They had begun to doubt him because he had changed his travel plans more than once. And so, it seemed to them that he was an unreliable man, always changing his mind, saying one thing one day and another thing another day. He can’t be trusted. And they criticised his ministry because he didn’t seem very impressive to them compared to come of the other preachers who had come to Corinth. The new preachers boasted about themselves and their credentials and their abilities. Paul will refer to them later as ‘super-apostles’; and that’s perhaps how they presented themselves to the people. Not just apostles, but super-apostles, who impressed the people by the things they said and did.
So, Paul was having to defend himself and his ministry. And I’ve said this before, but Paul had to defend himself and his ministry, not because he cared about his own reputation, but because the gospel was at stake and the members of the church in Corinth were in danger of being led astray by these new preachers. Later in the letter, Paul will refer to how Eve was deceived by the serpent and he will say that he was afraid that the believers in Corinth will be deceived and led astray by these new preachers. And he refers to them as false apostles and as deceitful workmen, as those who masquerade as apostles. They masquerade as apostles, they pretend to be apostles, but they’re not true apostles. So, Paul needs to defend himself and his ministry so that the people will listen to him and will not be fooled and taken in by these new preachers who will only lead them astray.
And so, we’ve spent the last few weeks reading about some of the things Paul said to defend himself and his ministry. And last week, when he was speaking about suffering, we noted carefully the pronouns Paul was using, because he was distinguishing between ‘us’ and ‘you’. When he referred to ‘us’, he was referring to himself and his ministry team and by extension to gospel preachers in every generation. And he was saying that the life of a gospel preacher very often is patterned after and modelled on the life of the Lord Jesus, who was a man of sorrows who was familiar with sufferings. So, we preachers very often suffer. But while death is at work in us preachers, life is at work in you. And when Paul referred to ‘you’, he was referring to the members of the church in Corinth and by extension to believers in every generation who receive the free gift of eternal life when they believe the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
From verse 11 of chapter 5, Paul will continue to distinguish between ‘us’ and ‘you’. However, in today’s passage, he only refers to ‘us’. So, he’s still referring to the life and experience of preachers. However, since in today’s passage he’s writing about the resurrection, then what he says in this passage applies to every believer, because every believer will be raised at the resurrection. And we can divide the passage into three parts, beginning with verses 16 to 18 of chapter 4.
Verses 16 to 18
And verses 16 to 18 can be summed up by the words ‘everyday perseverance’ and ‘eternal perspective’. Paul has been writing about the suffering which gospel preachers have to endure. But every believer suffers in one way or another, because this life is a troubled life. And so, we need everyday perseverance. And then, Paul goes on to say that we need to have an eternal perspective to help us to persevere everyday.
Verse 16 begins with the words:
Therefore we do not lose heart.
He’s repeating what he said in verse 1 of chapter 4. Yes, preachers are only jars of clay. They’re ordinary and they’re weak. They’re hard-pressed and perplexed and persecuted and struck down. They carry around in their bodies the dying of Jesus. They are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake. Death is at work in the preacher. All of that is true. Nevertheless we do not lose heart, says Paul.
And I explained before that the word which is translated ‘lose heart’ has a variety of meanings which are all inter-related. It can mean become discouraged or become weary or become lax or become timid. When our work is not going well, we become discouraged. When once we were excited by it, now we feel weary and tired because of it. We might become lax and we don’t make the same effort. When once we were full of confidence, we’ve not timid and fearful, because it’s all going to end in disaster. And the end result is that we want to give up.
But here’s Paul saying we do not lose heart. We’re not going to give up. That’s true for preachers, because we know that while death is at work in us, life is at work in those who hear and believe. But it needs to be true of every believer, because while every believer will suffer in this troubled life, you must stand firm in the faith and persevere everyday. No matter what troubles you encounter in this life, you must stand firm and persevere.
The troubles may be caused because we live in a fallen world and things are not the way they’re supposed to be. And so, there’s trouble at home and there’s trouble at work. There are disappointments and there are frustrations. There’s disease and there’s death. There’s the coronavirus crisis; and, after the coronavirus crisis has passed, there will be something else. Our life is a troubled life. And believers will also suffer for the faith, because we have to work hard to resist temptation, which is hard. And then an unbelieving world will put us under pressure to conform to their wicked ways. An unbelieving world will despise us and mock us for what we believe. And that too can be hard to endure. But instead of giving up, and giving in, you must not lose heart.
Paul goes on to say that outwardly we’re wasting away. The word he uses which is translated ‘wasting away’ can be translated ‘corrupted’ and it refers to the way something can be destroyed by corrosion. Cars are better protected these days, but in the past the body work on cars would be ruined because of rust, which would eat away the metal. Holes would appear and bits would fall off. And Paul is saying that we’re wasting away like that. Last week we thought about what Paul might have looked like after the times he had been whipped and beaten and stoned and ship-wrecked. No doubt his skin bore many scars. No doubt he often felt broken. He could see himself wasting away, because he had been battered and beaten and broken. But we’re all wasting away in one way or another, because as we get older, our bodies begin to break down. When we were young, there’s nothing we couldn’t do. As we get older, we’re not so sure. Can I climb those stairs? If I sit down in that low seat, will I be able to get out of it again? Will I be able to bend down to pick up my socks? Our eye-sight goes. Our hearing goes. Our hair and teeth fall out. When once we never saw the doctor, now we’re often at the GP. Outwardly we’re wasting away. And, of course, eventually we will die; and our bodies will decay in the ground.
But, says Paul, inwardly, we’re been renewed day by day. Paul is referring back to what he said at the end of chapter 3 where he said believers are being transformed into God’s likeness. God works us in by his Spirit to transform us more and more into his image. And this is an ongoing process, which takes place and which doesn’t happen all at once, but which happens day by day. So, while we may be tempted to become discouraged because outwardly we’re wasting away, and living just gets harder, yet you mustn’t give up, because while you’re outwardly wasting away, God is at work in you to renew you inwardly in his likeness. So, when we ask ourselves, ‘Why am I going through this? Why is life so hard?’, we need to remember that God is at work in us to renew us in his image.
And then Paul goes on to refer to our light and momentary troubles. The word which is translated ‘light’ can mean ‘insignificant’. And the word which is translated ‘momentary’ means ‘for the moment’, ‘for the time being’. Well, in previous weeks, I’ve listed Paul’s troubles and the terrible suffering he endured: being whipped and beaten and stoned and ship-wrecked and left for dead and he was imprisoned and he suffered hunger and thirst and so on. And yet, here he is describing his own troubles as insignificant and for the time being only.
Now, he still refers to them as troubles. They are still afflictions which pressed down on him and which threatened to crush him. And there are things you have suffered; and those things were hard to bear. If they weren’t hard to bear, they wouldn’t have troubled you. So, we’re troubled and we’re afflicted and these things put us under pressure and we often feel overwhelmed by them and crushed.
So, why would Paul refer to them as light and momentary? Well, they’re light and momentary compared to what they will lead to which is an eternal glory which far outweighs or surpasses them. More literally, Paul refers to ‘an eternal weight of glory’. So, our troubles are light compared to the glory to come which is weighty. And our troubles are for the time being only compared to the the glory to come which is eternal and will never ever come to an end.
And Paul says that our present suffering achieves this eternal weight of glory for us. That is, it produces it and leads to it. We ask ourselves:
Why am I going through this? Why is life so hard? What good can come out of this?
And Paul’s answer to us is that something good does come out of it, because it will lead to glory in the life to come, so long as we persevere and do not give in or give up, but keeping trusting in Christ our Saviour.
And so, we should fix our eyes, our attention, not on what is seen. Everything we can see is temporary. It’s for the time being only. It’s for this life only. But the unseen things, the heavenly glory to come, which we can’t yet see, is eternal.
Think again of the contrast between Paul and the new preachers in Corinth, these super-apostles. They looked impressive, whereas Paul looked ordinary and weak and broken. They looked impressive, whereas he was scarred. But what we can see is only temporary. It will not last. Their outward glory will not last. Paul’s outward brokenness will not last. Instead of focussing on those outward things, believers are to focus on the eternal things to come, which we cannot yet see, but we believe in them, because God has promised to give them to us when we enter the glory to come.
Verses 1 to 5
So, we all need everyday perseverance and we all need an eternal perspective. In verses 1 to 5 of chapter 5, Paul goes to speak about the resurrection body. Firstly, though, he refers to our earthly tent. Do you see that in verse 1? And he’s referring here to our earthly body. More literally he refers to our ‘earthly home which is a tent’. So, he’s talking about our earthly existence which is like a tent in that it’s temporary. That’s the great thing about a tent: when you’re done with it, you can take it down and fold it up and put it away. It’s temporary. You use it for a few days on holiday, but then you put it away. Well, that’s what our earthly existence is like, because one day it will come to an end. One day our bodies will be destroyed. We’ll die and our dead bodies will be buried in the ground, where they will decay and become dust. However, believers have no need to be anxious about that, because just as when we give up living in a tent, we go back to living in a house, so when our earthly existence comes to an end, we have a building from God.
Paul is now referring to the resurrection body which all of us will receive when Christ comes again to raise the dead. And this building from God is an eternal house, says Paul. Whereas this old body will die and decay, the new resurrection body which God will give us is immortal and imperishable. And it is heavenly in the sense that it will be perfectly suited to life in the new heavens and earth. And Paul says it’s a house which is not built by human hands. In other words, it’s from God and it’s from God alone and he gives it to his people.
So, that’s what we can look forward to. That’s the glorious future God has in store for his people. Right now, in this life, we have to endure troubles and afflictions. Right now, in this life, we suffer in various ways. Our earthly body will one day die and will decay. But God has something glorious in store for us when Christ returns and we’ll receive this new, glorious, imperishable body which is perfectly suited for eternal life in God’s presence.
Meanwhile, while we wait for that, we groan, says Paul in verse 2. We groan because of the troubles of our present existence and because we’re longing for something better. Paul says: we groan because we long to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling. So, now he’s picturing our resurrection body as something we put on like a garment. When we’ve put on this new garment, this resurrection body which we’ll receive when Christ returns, then we won’t be found naked. Do you see that in verse 3? The word translated ‘naked’ can also mean ‘under dressed’ or ‘inadequately dressed’. So, when you go out in the heavy rain, you want to make sure you’re adequately dressed for the rain; and you’re wearing waterproofs and boots and a hat or hood. When you go out into the cold, you want to make sure you’re adequately dressed for the cold; and you’re wearing lots of layers to insulate you from the cold. Well, we want to make sure that we’re adequately dressed for eternal life in the new heavens and earth. This old body is totally unsuitable, because it’s weak and perishable and spoiled by sin. It’s fine for this life, but not for the life to come. However, at the resurrection, God will give his people a new body, which is imperishable and immortal and which is perfectly suited for eternal life in the world to come. We won’t be under-dressed, but we’ll be perfectly dressed.
And so, Paul groans and longs for the time when what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. What is mortal — that is, our earthly bodies — are weak and perishable and subject to death and decay. But the day is coming when Christ returns and this old, perishable, broken body will be swallowed up by life and we’ll live with the Lord forever.
And look what Paul adds in verse 5:
It is God who had made us for this very purpose.
This is God’s plan for us. So, right now, you’re enduring all kinds of troubles and afflictions. Right now, you face trials of various kinds. You ask yourself: Why am I going through this? Why is life so hard? What good can come out of this? But God has something wonderful in store for you, because his plan for you is for you to receive a new, imperishable, immortal body which is perfectly suited to everlasting life in the new heavens and earth. That’s his plan for you. That’s what he has prepared for you.
And to reassure you that this will happen, he’s already given you his Spirit as a deposit to guarantee what is to come. He’s sent his Spirit from the presence of God above to live in you and to reassure you that one day you will receive everlasting life in God’s presence.
How do you know whether you have the Spirit or not? After all, we can’t see him or touch him or smell him. How do we know we have him? We know it because of the effect he has in our lives. He’s the one who enables us to repent and believe. He’s the one who enables us to call out to God as ‘our Father’. He’s the one who makes us want to obey our heavenly Father. So, do you believe the gospel? When you’re in trouble, do you call out to your heavenly Father? Do you want to obey him more and more? Then you have the Spirit. And the Spirit living in you is the deposit who guarantees to you that even though you are outwardly wasting away, nevertheless you will receive this new body and you will have everlasting life in God’s presence.
Verses 6 to 10
So, we need everyday perseverance and an eternal perspective, keeping in mind the glory which God has in store for us. And God’s plan for his people is for us to receive a new, imperishable, immortal body which is perfectly suited to everlasting life in the new heavens and earth. In the final verses, Paul writes about his longing to be with the Lord and his desire to please him.
So, in verse 6, he contrasts being at home in the body and being away from the Lord. When he refers to being at home in the body, he’s referring to our earthly existence right now and to this old body of ours. And while this earthly existence continues, we are away from the Lord. And we’re away from the Lord in the sense that he’s not with us now the way he was once with his disciples, who were able to see him and touch him and speak to him when he was on the earth. And do you remember how distressed they were when he made clear to them that he was going to leave them and to return to his Father’s side? That’s where he is right now. And so, while we go on living on the earth, we are away from the Lord. That’s Paul’s point in verse 6.
And then he adds that we live by faith and not by sight. Think of Abraham who believed God’s promises to him that one day the Lord would give the Promised Land to his descendants, who would be like the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore. And Abraham believed the Lord, even though he did not have a son of his own and even though he was only a stranger in the Promised Land. But Abraham believed what God said. Or think of Moses in the wilderness, who trusted the Lord to bring them through the wilderness and into the Promised Land, even though there were many dangers on the way. But Moses believed what God said. And we look at ourselves and our own weak bodies which are perishable and subject to death and decay. We’re not much to look at and we know that outwardly we’re wasting away and our health and strength will not get better over time, but only worse. And one day, this tent, this earthly existence of ours, will come to an end. That’s what we see. That’s our daily experience. But we live by faith, don’t we? We believe God’s word. We believe his promises. We believe him. And he has promised us something better in the life to come. He has promised us a new, imperishable, immortal and glorious body for the life to come. And he has promised us everlasting life in his presence. And that’s what we must keep in mind as we live our lives each day.
And so, right now, in this life, we’re at home in the body and we’re away from the Lord. But we long for the day when we’ll be away from this body, which is weak and perishable and subject to death and decay, and we’ll be at home with the Lord. That’s what we want. That’s what we long for. That’s what we yearn for. Someone who has been away for a long time, longs to get home and to see his family. Well, believers long to be at home with the Lord.
Now, we mustn’t hate this life, because God has given it to us. But we long for what is to come, because we believe what God has said and he has said that there’s something wonderful and glorious waiting for us in the life to come which will make the sorrow and suffering of this life seem like nothing at all.
And instead of hating this life, what are we to do? We’re to live to please the Lord, doing what is good and shunning all that is evil. We’ve to live to please the Lord, because we know that one day we’ll appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive our due for what we have done in this life. Do you see that in verse 10?
No, don’t let this confuse you. We know that only those who have trusted in Christ for salvation will be acknowledged and declared ‘not guilty’ when the day of judgment comes. And everyone else will be condemned for a lifetime of sin and rebellion and they’ll be sent away to be punished forever. We know that. But Paul’s not referring to that. He’s not referring to our salvation in this verse. He’s referring to the way God is graciously and freely willing to reward his people for what they have done in this life. Just as we don’t deserve or earn our salvation, we don’t deserve and we cannot earn any reward from God. However, he graciously and freely promises to reward his people for the good we do in this life. Think of how a parent will reward her child for doing something he was supposed to do anyway. He’s meant to tidy up after him. That’s the rule. That’s what he’s supposed to do. He doesn’t deserve a reward for doing it. But to encourage him, she’ll reward him when he does it. And that’s what God does for us. He’s given us his word to make clear to us not only what we’re to believe, but what we’re to do. He’s commanded us to love him and to love and serve our neighbour. He’s commanded us to be eager to do what is good and to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age while you wait for our Saviour to come again. That’s what he has commanded us to do. And so, if we do those things, we don’t deserve any reward. But to encourage us, he graciously and freely offers to reward us when we do what’s good.
And so, in this life, you’re to live to please him, while you wait for and yearn for and long for the life to come, when you will be at home with the Lord with a new, imperishable, immortal and glorious body.
And, of course, we don’t deserve any of this. What we deserve for a lifetime of sin and rebellion is to be condemned and to be sent away from God’s presence and punished forever. But God — who is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love — sent his Son into this world as one of us. He received a body like ours; and in his body he suffered and died, suffering far more than we ever will. And in this way he gave up his life to pay for your sins in full, so that you might receive forgiveness for all that you have done wrong. And on the third day, God raised his Son from the dead and raised him to heaven to live forever. And because Christ died for your sins and was raised to give you life, so you too will be raised from the dead to live with him forever.