2 Corinthians 5:1-11
When we are burdened by the future
(Strength in Weakness : How to live as followers of Christ)
Are you burdened
by the future? Thank you for your prayers for my visit to Jordan. It was a privilege to share in a strategic meeting
of church leaders from right across the ME - Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Eqypt, Kuwait and Palestine burdened by the future. They had never
met together before but as evangelical pastors of their countries, they
represent the only hope for the Middle East. Their future
is uncertain. The church is struggling to survive while millions enter a Christ-less eternity.
In the very Biblelands, the very place where Jesus lived and died and rose again for them, the vast majority of people do not know Him. Under pressure from the older unreformed denominations, and persecution from Muslims, especially in Egypt and the Gulf, these men and women are often attacked or criticised because of their links with Western Christians. My aim was to help encourage them to remain faithful to Jesus and build an indigenous Middle East church independent of but in fellowship with Christians from other parts of the world.
It was sad to say goodbye to the brothers and sisters I met knowing they face daily the threat of martyrdom for following Jesus. It is good to be home but when ever I do return I feel a little more unsettled in England too. I think that is healthy.
In the passage
before us tonight the Lord tells us not to get too comfortable with this place,
too settled with our bodies, or too complacent about the future. I don't know
what you think of Australian soap operas. About the only thing I envy is the
glorious weather they always seem to enjoy. But "Home and Away" would
make a good title for this passage. The Lord uses three illustrations to ensure
we keep a sober perspective, on life and death, on home and away.
Image 1: Moving from a tent to a house 5:1
“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Cor. 5:1)
Paul knew all about tents. He was an itinerant tent maker. He must have spent much of his time repairing and patching old tents. How appropriate to compare life to a "tent". Have you ever gone camping? As a family when the girls were much younger, we used to go camping in France for our holidays.
Its a great way to relax although a lot depends on the weather. When I think of living in a tent I'm reminded of the ants and spiders that would crawl in under the flaps, of the dirt that would creep into the bedrooms. How the wind makes so much noise, how everything feels so damp when it rains, how the water drips from the seams or holes. Maybe that is why we gave up camping. The beauty of camping is in living simply, living in harmony with nature, which means you may have to rough it at times. Life in a tent gets pretty basic - and a shower or mattress can seem a luxury.
How appropriate to compare our bodies to a tent. Life is both temporary and vulnerable. So fragile and vulnerable.
What a relief to know we are going to get a new one. How exciting to know we have an eternal house in heaven. In John 14:1, Jesus promises, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” Death does not mean we shall be homeless.
Our tent-house will be succeeded by the heavenly house. The new dwelling we look forward to is eternal and from God. Thankfully it is not made with human hands! To our minds this present existence is solid and real, whereas our coming existence seems shadowy and insubstantial. This passage reminds us that the reverse is true. The life which is to come is strong, permanent and real. Life is a journey and we are moving from temporary accommodation, from what is only a tent to permanent accommodation. What a prospect.
Image 2: Moving from Mortality to Immortality 5:2-5
“Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, Because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Cor. 5:2-5)
One of the
inherent tensions of living between a temporal and an eternal perspective is
the knowledge that even when everything around us and in us is so vibrant with
joy and beauty, we know that it is only fleeting and vulnerable. It only takes
an earth tremor, a road accident, or a cancer scare and we are reminded how
closely life and death coexist. The English word "mortal" tends to
obscure the harsh reality.
In Latin it actually means "riddled with death" and means the same as our word "mortuary". Yet everything invaded by or touched by death will one day be absorbed, will one day be swallowed up by life. To explain this Paul changes his imagery from buildings to clothes. The process of moving from this life to the next is not so much like removing one set of dirty torn worn out clothes and putting on clean new ones. The idea here is of putting on the second set of clothes over the first without removing them.
Think about it. One day death is going to die! Death will be swallowed up by life, by something larger, stronger, more powerful. Paul depicts the process of moving from mortality to immortality as like a large shark overtaking and swallowing a smaller fish whole. The one will disappear into the other. Life isn't necessarily easier for knowing this. We groan under the heavy load of responsibilities, problems and temptations. The sense of restlessness, of incompleteness, of dissatisfaction with our spiritual state is not a sign of spiritual immaturity. It is actually evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
There's a big difference between moaning and groaning. Moaning comes from being dissatisfied with myself or with other people. Comparing or complaining about other people. Wishing things could be different. The groaning described here is very different. It is proof of the Holy Spirit's work renewing us daily, in and through life’s difficulties, preparing us for our future existence. The best is yet to come. I was reading F.B Meyer's commentary on the life of Elijah recently.
One of the last postcards he wrote to a friend days before he died read "Dear Brother, I have raced you to heaven. I am just off, see you there. Love, F.B.Meyer". Once we have established the fact that our eternal home is in heaven, we can face life comfortably. We know where we are going, so we can concentrate on the present. We are moving from a temporary tent to a permanent home. From mortality to immorality.
Image 3: Moving from being absent to being present (5:6-10)
“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:6-10)
essentially not so much being in a particular place but being in the presence of
a particular Person. If the phrase "going home to be with the Lord"
sounds crass or superficial, then its a reflection of how tightly we are
hanging on to this world. Our life now is to be marked by faith not by sight.
In the new age to come we shall "see" him and be with the Lord. But
in the present age we relate to Him by faith.
The Corinthians like many today thought the New Age had already come. They were fixing their eyes on what is seen, they were living by sight. Desiring spectacular and miraculous signs daily they were expecting in the present what really lies in the future. At the same time they were blind to the daily renewal of the inner nature which is the quiet imperceptible work of the Spirit, who is preparing us for eternity. Although we long for heaven our purpose is to please God in the here and now. Our goal is to please God, what ever our situation. Why? Verse 10.
“Because we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." (2 Cor. 5:10)
Its important to
realise what this is not saying. The Lord is not talking about judgement in the
sense of condemnation, but rather evaluation. It is not the loss of salvation
which is at stake. We can never lose our salvation because it was never ours to
find or gain in the first place. We are saved by grace, we are sustained by
grace. We cannot lose our salvation but we can lose our commendation. We are
not saved by good works, but we are saved for them.
Think about Paul. He had been appointed an Apostle. He had been entrusted with the Gospel, with the responsibility of founding churches. One day he would have to stand before the Lord Jesus to give an account of his faithfulness as a missionary. The day we die we will have the ultimate performance review. And we have between now and then to prepare for it. How faithfully are we using our time? What are we doing with our resources? With the opportunities God has given us to serve him? To make him known? Ros Bentley died last month. For those who knew her, she has left us an example and a legacy of faithful, life long Christian service. And yesterday I received a letter from her solicitor advising us that she has left us another legacy worth £30,000. We give thanks that her faith will live on here at Christ Church in more ways than one. But it also made me reflect that what we have written in our will’s says a lot about how we view the Lord and all he has entrusted to us. Do we see our possessions are our own or His? Where does our stewardship end? This last verse reminds us that we have been saved, not for a life of aimlessness or indifference or complacency, but for a life of serving the Lord.
History is moving to its consummation on the great and glorious day when Jesus returns. On that day each one of us will stand before Him to give an account of our service. Let the image of that scene before the throne of God fill your mind and transform your life. Paul took this coming day very, very seriously. So much so he continues in the next verse, "Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.”
He goes on to describe, verse 19-20, “he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:19-20)
As Christ followers, we are moving from a temporary tent to a permanent home. We are being transformed from mortality to immorality. With eternity in our hearts and with heaven as our home, God calls us to be His ambassadors, ambassadors of heaven on earth, inviting, calling, urging people to be reconciled with God.
On my last day in Jordan I travelled down the Kings Highway south toward Aqaba to visit Petra. It is the area in which Moses and the people of Israel wandered for 40 years in disobedience before they entered the promised land. As the snow fell on the mountains overlooking the Jordan Valley, and thinking of the cost my friends had accepted in following Jesus I remembered the words of one of the greatest preachers of our generation - Martin Luther King. Ian Fordyce has cited them in this month’s connection. They form part of the sermon Martin Luther King read the night before he was assassinated.
"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter to me now, because I've been to the mountaintop, and I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has it place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's Will, and He has allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I have looked over, and I have seen 'The Promised Land'. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to 'The Promised Land'! So I'm happy tonight, I'm not worried about anything! I'm not fearing any man! 'Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the Coming of The Lord!'"
C.S. Lewis said about the same time "No one is ready to live on earth until he is ready to live in heaven." Are you ready? Lets pray.