Living With an Eternal Mindset: II Corinthians 5:1-5
Introduction: This life is flimsy. It is short. It is a vapor yet we are so apt to treat it as permanent and lasting. Paul is telling the church at Corinth to see the things that are unseen for they are eternal. That is what I aim to do this morning as we got through these five verses phrase by phrase. May we have eyes to see what is unseen.
1. This life is temporary; God builds permanently (verse 1).
The meaningful depth of the word “for.” Paul begins the chapter with the word “for” which means he is basing what he is about to say on what he just previously said. Let’s look at chapter 4 verses 16-18. What he is saying here is that each day you live, is another day that you are coming closer to death. That should be depressing right? No! The reason this is not depressing is because everything that happens in the Christian’s life is preparing for him or her a beauty, grandeur and magnificence that is beyond comparison in heaven.
Paul then explains how we don’t lose heart. Look to the things that are unseen because they are more real and permanent than things that we see in front of us right now. CS Lewis described this life as living in a shadow land of things that are to come. Paul wants to move his readers beyond a fatalistic, discouraging, Charlie Brown like attitude that results in us losing heart. Don’t lose heart. The best is yet to come because what we see right now is just dust and ash compared to the eternal weight of glory that will be revealed.
That context sets us up next to better understand what Paul is saying here in verse 1. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed.” The phrase “we can know” is amazing in itself. The promise to the Christian is unshakeable and real and draws a distinction from all other religions. The Christian can look to the promises of the Bible and find unshakeable hope. These words are not meant for your soul to read over lightly. Read a promise like the one we find here in verse one and spend a couple minutes in your devotions thinking about the magnitude and weight of that promise and then ask God to cause you to know the depth of it.
We can look back, starting at Genesis 1 and see every time that God showed his faithfulness to his people. He did not abandon them even in the darkest times when his face seemed far away. He gave a promise of a coming Messiah to Adam and Eve when they sinned. He fulfilled his promise to Abraham that he would have a son at the age of 100 years old. He raised up Joseph out of the pit when it was the darkest time in his life. He fulfilled the prophecy of the Old Testament when the Word became flesh and lived among man. All our promises of God find their yes in Jesus Christ. Because of him we can know that this Word is true.
Next, consider the wording Paul uses in verse 1 when referring to our bodies. He uses the word tent as a figurative way to describe our earthly bodies. The word means a hut where our spirit abides. If you have ever experienced a camping trip with a fierce storm bearing down on your campsite, what was a likely thought that has gone through your mind? I sure wish I was in my house right now. I had an experience like that when I was camping in Sam Houston National Park in Texas. We had set up our tents in the thick woods and we could hear the thunder like a distant train bearing down on us with increasing force. We woke up the next morning to find trees down all over the place and we breathed a thankful prayer to God that none of them had landed on our tents.
This life that we live in our bodies is flimsy and temporary. That is why Paul chose to use a word like “tent”. King David said we live for 70 or 80 years maybe and then we die. “The years of our life are seventy or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away (Psalm 90:10).”
Isaiah 40 is a powerful chapter that describes the permanence and preeminence of God and the temporary, tent-like nature of man. “All flesh is as grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass (Isaiah 40:6-8).” The next time you are mowing your grass, stop for a minute, look down at those blades of grass and consider your life. It’s length is like the life of a blade of grass.
Paul then says that these tents that are currently our earthly home will be destroyed. They will be dismantled. Our bodies break down as we get older. Things begin to take longer to heal. Muscles don’t recover from wear and tear at the same pace they used to. Eventually the body begins shutting down or is eaten away by cancer or other disease. For others, life is taken away abruptly and quickly. Either way, for every one of us, we know that that this flimsy tent will someday, somehow be dismantled.
Paul then moves on to juxtapose that temporary flimsiness with the permanent weight of eternity. The good news is that the Christian has a building from God. A building draws a picture of something permanent. When we think of buildings we think of permanence. You plan on seeing the same buildings that you drive by each day as you go to work, or run errands or do chores. Right now a carnival is in town a few blocks from my house. Many of the people working on that carnival are living in tents. I plan to see them gone come Monday morning. However, the building that houses the law office that is just across the street and has been there for the last 7 decades, made of stone and brick, I plan to still see. God is preparing for the Christian a permanent building for us that is not made with human hands.
I want to you to see this morning what the Bible says heaven is like. Whether it be because of poor Bible reading or unhelpful influence by the culture, we may think of heaven as a boring place or we may think of heaven as a place that is filled with disembodied spirits. Maybe the Far Side cartoons have had an unrecognized influence on us so that we think of heaven as a place where we will float on clouds, strum harps and wear diapers. That is not how the Bible describes heaven! We see here in these passages that Paul describes it as a real, physical place. He uses phrases like “weight of glory” and “building from God”. I want to lean on two people who have been very helpful in helping me get excited for heaven.
CS Lewis helped me see that the earthly desires I have are meant to point me that which only God can satisfy. Randy Alcorn helped me see that heaven is a real, physical place that is material and helped paint a picture from the Bible as to what it will be like.
Let’s start with Lewis. In 1941 he gave an address at Oxford University Church entitled “The Weight of Glory.” He begins by showing that the New Testament is full of verses that promise a reward. It is a good thing to want enjoyment and our own good but we all to often settle for things that don’t truly satisfy.
“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
That paragraph changed the way I viewed my Christian life entirely. We have longings as humans that only an infinite God can satisfy in eternity. Instead of looking to our home in heaven, we seek out other temporary fixes in this world to try and dull that craving. Lewis, later on in the sermon, describes what is meant by the word glory.
“For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of all things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last…We can be left utterly and absolutely outside- repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored. On the other hand, we can be called in, welcomed, received, acknowledged. We walk every day on a razor edge between these two incredible possibilities.”
This helps us understand better what Paul is saying by a weight of glory in II Corinthians 4. Right now we walk by faith and not by sight, but in heaven our faith will be our sight and God will show us his glory visibly through the face of Jesus Christ. This also shows us the incredible stakes of our lives right now. Each day we are standing on the brink of eternity. Death is only a second away and in a moment we could be standing before the judgement seat of Christ. The joy of heaven is real and this is serious business of which we are talking about this morning.
So CS Lewis helped me see that the longings that I have now can’t be satisfied in worldly endeavors. “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” The New Testament describes us as strangers and pilgrims that are passing through this life. Our desires are not too strong, rather we try to allow them to be satisfied with things that can never fully satisfy.
Next, Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, helped paint a picture in my mind about what heaven is going to be like by studying what the entire Bible has to say about heaven. He begins the book by telling the story of Florence Chadwick, a woman who attempted to swim the 26 miles between Catalina Island and the coast of California. The weather that morning was overcast and foggy which caused her to barely see the boats that were following her as she swam. After 15 hours she begged them to pull her out of the water even though her mom was telling her that she was close. When she got on the boat, she looked over the bow and could see that she only had a half mile left. She said, “I think I could have made if if I could have seen the shore.”
Alcorn says, for the Christian the shore is Jesus and the place he has prepared for us. If we can have a picture of what that looks like and what it will be like it will bring vision, encouragement and hope. “No matter how tough life gets, if you can see the shore and draw your strength from Christ, you’ll make it.”
I am going to read an excerpt from Alcorn’s book on heaven to help you see the truth of the glimpses the Bible gives us about heaven. (Page 19)
Look out a window. Take a walk. Talk with your friend. Use your God-given skills to draw or build a shed or write a book. But imagine it- all of it- in its original condition. The happy dog with the wagging tail, not the snarling beast, beaten and starved. The flowers unwilted, the grass undying, the blue sky without pollution. People smiling and joyful, not angry, depressed, and empty. It you’re not in a particularly beautiful place, close your eyes and envision the most beautiful place you’ve ever been- complete with palm trees, raging rivers, jagged mountains, waterfalls, or snow drifts.
Think of friends or family members who loved Jesus and are with him now. Picture them with you, walking together in this place. All of you have powerful bodies, stronger than those of an Olympic decathlete. You are laughing, playing, talking, and reminiscing. You reach up to a tree to pick an apple or orange. You take a bite. It’s so sweet that it’s startling. you’ve never tasted anything so good. Now you see someone coming toward you. It’s Jesus, with a big smile on his face. You fall to your knees in worship. He pulls you up and embraces you.
At last, you’re with the person you were made for, in the place you were made to be. Everywhere you go there will be new people and places to enjoy, new things to discover. What’s that you smell? A feast. A party’s ahead. And you’re invited. There’s exploration and work to be done- and you can’t wait to get started.
Alcorn says that he has a Biblical basis for each of these sentences and explains each of them in his book.
Often times when I am worshiping with you, Grace Church, and I have my hands lifted up in praise to God I think about what it will be like for us to worship in heaven together with a billion other saints that have passed through this earth. A billion brothers and sisters who love Jesus, from every tribe and nation, singing the most beautiful and powerful songs that we have ever sung to the One who has rescued us from sin and death.
Paul is saying in these verses that we should live with eternity in mind because the stuff of this world is temporary, and real life is not this one. It is the one to come.
2. This life involves groaning and longing (v 2, 4). Paul describes the life we now live as being characterized by groaning and burdens. As long as we are in this flimsy tent, it will be like this. Many of you have felt the weight of groaning through the death of family members or friends. It is an unseen weight that falls on you and causes you to groan, to sigh, and to pray.
What caused this groaning? Why is this world so broken and filled with pain and suffering and longing for that which can’t be ultimately satisfied right now? The cause is sin. This world became broken when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and did what he had said not to do. Sin entered the world and now infects everything and it will be so until we die and go to heaven or until Jesus Christ returns.
Paul explains this further in Romans 8:18-24. Right now all of creation is in bondage to corruption. Death and suffering are the wake of the motor of sin which keeps spinning its blades. We groan underneath the weight of the death of our loved ones. We groan underneath the weight of over 12,000 different types of diseases that infect humans. We groan underneath the weight of tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes that take thousands of people at a time and send lives into chaos. This is the groaning of living in a fallen world infected with sin. We groan and we should groan about these things, longing for a day to come in which it will not be so.
Yet there is a day coming when the wake of sin’s motor will cease when our adoption is fully complete in Christ and our bodies are redeemed. We should hope for that day and long for that day in patience. A few years ago I watched as bone cancer ate away at my Grandpa’s body for months. We asked God to take his life because he was groaning underneath the weight of the cancer. There is a day coming when death and sin will be no more, but for now, we groan and we should have a craving to be with the one who created us.
3. Eternal life is not only spiritual (v. 3, 4). What Paul is saying when he refers to being unclothed or naked is a reference to our physical body. When you die, you will either go to heaven or hell, but you will not go there as a spirit. You will go there as a human being with a real, physical body.
When God created Adam, he made his body first and then breathed into him a living soul (mind, will, emotions and capacity to worship). When the Christian receives a resurrected body he will be further clothed. It will be a body that is free from the curse of sin and will be eternal. This is further expounded on in I Corinthians 15. Paul says, “There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of heaven is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another (v. 40). If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven (v. 44-47).”
The first man, Adam, was created as a physical being. You were born into this world as a physical being, you will die as one, and you spend eternity in heaven or hell as a physical being. Paul is pushing back against any notion of gnosticism creeping into the church.
This idea of gnosticism is a collection of loosely held beliefs that state the material world is only an illusion and the spiritual world is good and pure. If that is true, then what you do to your body has no bearing or consequence to your spiritual life. You can treat your body like an amusement park, pump it full of drugs, sleep around, get drunk and it means nothing.
Paul is dispelling a myth that was taking root in the church at Corinth and is still told to us today. What is sown in the physical body will matter in the life to come. The life to come is going to swallow up what is mortal, as Paul says in verse 4. The life to come is going to be more real and more permanent than what we see around us. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood before the hangman’s noose, just before his mortal body was to be swallowed up by life he said, “This is the end for me. The beginning of life.” As death stood him straight in the face he knew that this verse was true. The best is yet to come.
4. You are preparing your life for that which is to come (v. 5). The hanging question that needs to be answered now is, what do I do. Do we believe these truths and then go into a holding pattern and wait to die? Of course the answer to that is no.
What Jesus purchased through his death and resurrection was not only eternal life when we die. He purchased for us the promise of his Holy Spirit to work in our hearts to do his will while we live in these temporal bodies. God gave us a down payment on the promises that are to come with the signature of the Holy Spirit. In the first chapter of II Corinthians Paul writes “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee (v. 21, 22).”
The Holy Spirit is given to help us in our weakness, give us confidence in our doubt, strengthen us in our uncertainty and intercede for us when we don’t know how to pray. The rest of II Corinthians 5 unfolds what we are to do with the first five verses. We are given the application and I really hope you will read the rest of it.
We can take courage because of the truth that we have an eternal home (v 6). Let’s make it our aim to please God (v. 9). Let’s persuade others of these truths (v. 11). We are to be ambassadors for Christ to reconcile others to God (v. 20). All these things we are to do are fueled by having an eternal mindset. The best is yet to come and let’s invite others to join us.
CS Lewis closed his sermon, The Weight of Glory, by saying this:
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit- immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
We are meant to do something with this information and that is tell others about the weight of glory that can be theirs through Jesus Christ. However, I know that to have this truth penetrate into our hearts, it could take more than a thirty minute sermon. These truths are not meant to be thought about only on Sunday mornings but to be poured over and soaked in. They are meant to be savored like a delicious slab of steak.
Application. So my challenge for you is to spend some time reading one or all of these three things. Read II Corinthians 4 and 5 and ponder the depths and the power of those promises and ask God to give you an eternal mindset in your daily life. Read the first chapter of CS Lewis’s book The Weight of Glory. Lewis can be a hard author to read because his stuff is so deep. I have to read many of his sentences three, four or five times to understand what he is saying. It is worth taking the time to grasp it though. Lastly, read Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven. His book is a thick one but is much easier to read through than Lewis. That book may leave your jaw open wider more so than any other summer blockbuster movie you could see this summer.
In summary: This mortal life we live is temporary but God builds permanently. The life we now live is one of groaning and longing for being with Jesus and that eternal life is more real and physical than the one we live now. God is preparing us for that life to come through the work of his Holy Spirit, by being ambassadors for him to reconcile others to God.
The best is yet to come.