Contemplation of New Life. (5:1-10) - Page 3 of 6 (series: Lessons on 2 Cor.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

He has given us the Holy Spirit down here in these weak bodies with all our feebleness, and all our frailty. We have the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that there is still more to come. Christ has purchased us, and we have the Holy Spirit within us to be our teacher, guide, helper, comforter—He means so very much to the believer. One of these days we will move out of this old house and we will meet the Lord in the air. How wonderfully this opens up a new vista for us, and how encouraging it is to realize that in the life of each Christian, God has begun the transforming process that will one day culminate in possessing a heavenly body and perfect Christlikeness.

For all his yearning for the life to come, Paul does not despise this life. The reason is that here and now we possess the Holy Spirit of God, and the Holy Spirit is the first installment of the life to come. In his letter to the Corinthians, he said, “Who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Co. 1:22). It is Paul’s conviction that already the Christians can enjoy the foretaste of the life everlasting. It is the privilege of the Christian to be a citizen of two worlds; and the result is, not that he despises the world, but that he finds it clad with a sheen of glory which is the reflection of the greater glory to come.

Paul’s yearning for his heavenly body was not a desperate hope. God had determined long ago that believers in His Son would inherit eternal glory. This picks up the idea expressed in 4:17{28 that the Lord God had planned not only to justify believers through His Son’s sacrificial death, but He also planned to glorify them with heavenly bodies—“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).

6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.

We are at “home in the body,” which means that we are dwelling in “the earthly tent” (v. 1) with our bodies outwardly “wasting away” (4:16{3), and we are in a state of mortality away from the immediate presence of the Lord (1 Co. 13:12{8). I have complained about mine, but I do like it. I still have a foot long scar in the middle of my chest from bypass surgery. Running diagonally to that one there is another long scar across my abdomen from gallbladder surgery. My wrists have scars from carpel tunnel surgery and my knees are scarred from ligament repair and both hips have long scars where I have had hip replacement surgery. This makes my body unique and I could pick it out of a million others. Down through the years I have gotten used to this body of mine, and I feel at home in it. However, as long as I am at home in this body, I am absent from the Lord.

The people of God can be found in one of two places; either in heaven or on the earth. None of them is in the grave, in hell, or in any “intermediate place,” between earth and heaven. Believers on earth are “at home in the body (v.6),” while believers who have died are “absent from the body (v. 8).” Believers on earth are “absent from the Lord (v. 8),” while believers in heaven are “present with the Lord (v. 8).” Because he had this kind of confidence, Paul was not afraid of suffering and trials, or even of dangers. This is not to suggest that he tempted the Lord by taking unnecessary risks, but it does mean that he was willing to “lose his life” for the sake of Christ and the ministry of the Gospel.

What sustained Paul was the realization that this was a temporary and transitory state (2 Co. 4:18{9). He focused not on present but on future conditions, not on the seen but unseen. This explains why Paul can be so courageous as he faces the prospect of death. He is under a great limitation as long as he lives in the physical body: he is away from the Lord. Without a doubt, he has been privileged to see “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (4:6), and in a real and vital way Christ lives in him, even in this life (Gal. 2:20{29). Death does not cause Paul to fear, because it is through death that he will enter into a new and better relationship with Christ. He can face death with courage, for if it comes he will be at home with the Lord (v. 8).

7 For we walk by faith, not by sight.

How could Paul be so sure that when we leave this body we will be present with the Lord? Paul says that we walk by faith. We take God at His Word. I would rather take His Word that anyone else’s word. This confidence in the realities that are unseen allows believers to persevere in this faith, regardless of persecution, opposition, or temptation (Heb. 11:6{30; 1 Pe. 1:8-9{31). Faith is taking God at His Word. We are living in these bodies, and we are absent from the Lord.

This is how Paul lived—he lived “by faith” in Jesus Christ, not by faith in those visible things around him. He focused not on present but on future conditions, not on the seen, but on the unseen. He lived in the light of the ultimate rather than immediate realities (Rom. 8:24-25{10); and he was obedient to God’s commands despite the hardships that obedience produces (2 Co. 11:23-29{11). This was Paul’s life. If the choice were his, he would have seized the opportunity to depart this pilgrimage life and take up residence (be at home) with the Lord (Phil. 1:22-23{12). But the constraints of his commission caused him to press on (Phil. 1:24{13; Eph. 3:1-13).

While we are living here in the world, we do not clearly see the Lord and the heavenly world in which He rules; we cannot see the situation into which He will bring us. So we must live by faith that trusts God. In this we do not see God as we shall later, and this for Paul is a real limitation.

8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Verse 7 should be considered a parenthesis, therefore verse 8 completes the sentence which began with verse 6.

A better translation would be, “at home with the Lord.” This verse contrasts being at home in the body or being at home with the Lord. Remember that the soul does not die. The soul never dies; it goes to be with Christ. It is the body that is put to sleep. It is the body that must be changed. Remember that there will be a generation that does not experience death, but their bodies will still need to be changed. “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed . . . For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Co. 15:51, 53). It is the body that goes to sleep and it is the body that is raised. Resurrection does not refer to the soul or the spirit. The English word resurrection is the Greek word anastasis, which means “a standing up.” It is the body which will stand up. Knowing these things, we walk by faith.

Since Paul wrote about the bodily resurrection occurring when Jesus returns (1 Co. 15:51-54{24) and also of believers being with Jesus immediately after they die, several theories have been proposed to explain this transitional state of the believer. In recent years, all of the theories about the disembodied state have been severely criticized. Many commentators have pointed out that these are based more on philosophical ideas about a person’s soul than on Scripture. Some of the confusion is due to the fact that there is very little scriptural explanation.

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