1 & 2 Thessalonians
Beginning the Journey (for new Christians)
1, 2, and 3 John
1 & 2 Timothy
2 Peter, Jude
7 Last Words of Christ
Christ Powered Life (Rom 5-8)
David, Life of
Jesus and the Kingdom
Lamb of God
Names of God
Sermon on the Mount
Year of St. Paul
6. Walking by Faith, Not by Sight (2 Corinthians 5:1-16)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Paul begins by using the analogy that compares a tent, the most impermanent of structures, with a house, designed to last indefinitely.
The “earthly tent” Paul is talking about is, of course, our human body. If you’ve been tent-camping you know that when it comes time to “break camp” or “strike the tent,” the poles are taken down, the stakes are pulled, and the tent collapses, finally to be rolled into a relatively small bundle. The word Paul uses is “destroyed” (NIV, NRSV), “dissolved” (KJV). A tent is temporary and portable, never intended to be thought of as permanent. The tent in this analogy is our human body.
But what does our “eternal house in heaven” represent? Here you’ll find a number of interpretations, some of them pretty obscure:
- The Body of Christ, the Church,
- The New Jerusalem,
- The heavenly temple of the Lord’s presence,
- The mansion-like abode to which the Lord’s people go after death, and
- Our resurrection body.
Option 4 was adopted by a number of older Bible interpreters, including St. Thomas Aquinas. It imports into this passage Jesus’ analogy of death – a large house with individual rooms.
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:2-4)
The problem with the mansion interpretation is that it breaks Paul’s own analogy:
- Single Tent to House
- Temporary to Eternal
The mansion interpretation would require an analogy of single tent to many-roomed mansion, an idea which isn’t found anywhere in the context. It would also require oika, “house,” to be used two very different ways in the same sentence. Not very likely.
I believe that the best way to understand “eternal house in heaven” is as a resurrection body. I reach this conclusion for a number of reasons:
- Paul has already introduced resurrection a few verses previously at 4:14.
- Paul taught the Corinthians about resurrection bodies extensively in a previous letter, especially:
“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (1 Corinthians 15:53-54)
- The vocabulary of “groaning” (5:2) is found in conjunction with resurrection, “the redemption of our bodies” in Romans 8:18-24, written about the same time as 2 Corinthians.
- The vocabulary of “being clothed” (5:2, 4) is found in conjunction with resurrection bodies in the passage quoted above (1 Corinthians 15:53).
It seems likely that here Paul is comparing our impermanent physical bodies with our permanent resurrection bodies.
Now Paul continues as he contemplates our present state:
“2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 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.” (5:2-4)
Here Paul mixes his metaphors, adding to the idea of a heavenly dwelling the idea of being clothed.
The strong dualism of the Greeks saw death as an opportunity to be freed from the “evil” physical body so that the “good” spirit might be free at last. But Paul teaches that death is not the freeing of the spirit (resulting in being found naked, unclothed), but the putting on of another kind of clothing, a teaching similar to what he had taught this church about resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.
In our physical bodies we groan now and are burdened with physical aches and pains, as well as the other hardships of life, but death brings us into a whole new existence.
“Swallowed up” is katapinō, literally, “drink down, swallow,” here figuratively, with the idea of “to destroy completely … to cause the end of something, swallow up.” The mortal existence will be fully replaced by Life with a capital L.
Indeed, this resurrection body was God’s intention all along.
Sometimes we act as if this physical world is all there is. Oh, we believe in heaven, but don’t give it a lot of thought. But notice what this verse says.
“He who has prepared us for this very thing is God.” (5:5a, NRSV)
God has not only prepared us for life in this world, but also for life forever in heavenly places. And the Holy Spirit he has given us is our bridge to this heavenly world.
“... who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (5:5b)
Guarantee of what? This phrase “a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (NIV), “as a guarantee” (NRSV), “earnest” (KJV) is arrabōn, “payment of part of a purchase price in advance, first installment, deposit, down payment, pledge.” We saw this word already in 1:22. The Holy Spirit serves as a reminder that there is more to come. As you get to know the Holy Spirit, you begin to find out that nothing is impossible. You discover that he opens the door to a great adventure in God. (Sadly, many Christians have never got to know him.)
Is the Holy Spirit only a pledge? Of course not. He is God himself living within us. But he expands our field of view to see what lies beyond us in the heavenly world to come and he abides in us to remind us that more is coming.
Q1. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5) In what sense are our bodies
like tents? If we were to truly look forward to our “house not made with hands,”
how would it affect our daily lives here?
“6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (5:6-8)
The presence of the Holy Spirit in us increases our confidence, so that our fear of death is decreased and we are confident of life beyond this life, confident enough that we will live our lives accordingly.
Now Paul sets up a dichotomy between life in our bodies here on earth, and life in God’s immediate presence in heaven.
In verse 6-9, Paul uses two compound words built around a single root: dēmos, “a country district, people of a country.”
- Endēmeō, “to be in a familiar place, to be at home.”
- Ekdēmeō, “leave one’s country, take a long journey,” here, “leave, get away from.”
“6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home (endēmeō) in the body we are away from (ekdēmeō) the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from (ekdēmeō) the body and at home (endēmeō) with the Lord.” (5:6-8)
You can’t be both places at once. For a believer, it’s either one or the other.
We see a similar teaching in Paul’s letter to the Philippians on whether or not he will be executed in prison:
“22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:22-24)
The reason we’re spending time on this is because our Seventh Day Adventist brothers and sisters have a doctrine known as “soul sleep.” Essentially, it teaches that when a believer dies, he isn’t immediately with Christ, but his soul sleeps or is unconscious until the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns. Then suddenly he awakes, unaware that any time has passed.
The confusion comes from a common euphemism of death as sleeping (for example, John 11:11-14) and a lack of understanding by some Old Testament authors of eternal life (Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5-6), a truth that was fully revealed in the New Testament. But Paul’s teaching here in 5:6-8 makes it pretty clear that “soul sleep” is an inadequate explanation. There is no intermediate “sleeping” state. We’re either in the body or with the Lord! As Jesus said to the dying thief on the cross:
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Dear friend, when you die, your spirit immediately goes to be with God. It is with him that you will enjoy the time between your death and the resurrection. Note carefully Paul’s teaching to the church in Thessalonica concerning Christ’s return and the resurrection:
“14b Through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; 17 then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, RSV)
We see a similar teaching in 1 Corinthians:
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
Revelation also gives us a glimpse of Christian martyrs in heaven prior to the resurrection:
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.... Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” (Revelation 6:9, 11)
An old Fanny Crosby hymn draws on the wording of our passage in 5:4 to express this.
When He comes in the clouds descending,
And they who loved Him here,
From their graves shall awake and praise Him
With joy and not with fear;
When the body and the soul are united,
And clothed no more to die,
What a shouting there will be when each other’s face we see,
Changed in the twinkling of an eye.
What this intermediate state is like – after death but before the resurrection – we aren’t told much, but we look forward to resurrection bodies when Christ returns. And we praise God that our fellowship with Jesus will continue uninterrupted!
Q2. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8) How do Paul’s words comfort you
when you consider your death? What do Christians believe happens when we die?
What will happen to us if we die before Christ returns? What will happen to us
when Christ returns?
“We live by faith, not by sight.” (NIV)
“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (NRSV)
Such a short verse, but it sums up the Christian life so powerfully. “Live” (NIV), “walk” (NRSV, KJV) is peripateō, “walk,” used figuratively, as “to conduct one’s life, comport oneself, behave, live as habit of conduct.”
The way we conduct ourselves is by spiritual sight, seeing things through the Spirit with an eternal perspective. A few verses previous, Paul had written something quite similar:
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (4:18)
A faith perspective marks all mature disciples. Consider these statements of faith:
“Jesus told [Thomas], ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (John 20:29)
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” (Hebrews 10:38, quoting Habakkuk 2:4)
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8)
We live out our lives here on earth tethered to heaven by the umbilical cord of the Holy Spirit, guided by the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, and expectant that God’s promises will surely come to pass.
Q3. (2 Corinthians 5:7) What does it mean to walk by
faith, not by sight? Why can’t nonbelievers understand this kind of living? What
aspects of your life are guided by your senses rather than by your faith? How
can you bring a faith perspective into these areas?
Since we are confident that our life is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3)... and since our citizenship is securely established in heaven (Philippians 3:20)...
“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” (5:9)
Pleasing God is now our aim, our ambition in life. Just like pleasing your mom or dad brought joy as a child, now we find joy in pleasing the Lord. Paul wrote:
“Live as children of light ... and find out what pleases the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8b, 10)
For the disciple, life isn’t about us anymore, but about him! We don’t serve him in order to get to heaven – that’s taken care of – we serve him because we love God. We are freed from worrying about saving ourselves so that we can enjoy a life of loving service pleasing God.
Having said that, however, we never lose sight of the fact that we are accountable to God. There will be a judgment.
“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.” (5:10)
The term “judgment seat” is bēma, “a dais or platform that required steps to ascend, tribunal.” A magistrate would address an assembly from a chair placed on the structure. Here, it refers to the “judicial bench.” We also see this term in Paul’s letter to the Roman church.
“You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’” (Romans 14:10-11, quoting Isaiah 45:23)
There, each person will “receive what is due” (NIV) or “receive recompense” (NRSV) from the Lord. There is a fearful passage in Revelation about the judgment:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it.... And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.... Each person was judged according to what he had done.... If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15)
Do we Christians have to appear before Christ’s judgment? Haven’t we already “passed from death to life” (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14). Paul anticipates Christ’s judgment – and vindication (1 Corinthians 4:4). According to Romans 14:10, we too will appear before judgment.
But, praise God, our judgment will not be for salvation. That issue was settled when we put our faith in Christ, received the Holy Spirit, and our position became “in Christ.” Our judgment there will be for rewards that we will receive for faithful service (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
However, while our verdict has already been pronounced as “pardoned,” we have enough fear of God that we know what the verdict will be for our neighbors, family, and friends in the world who don’t know Christ.
“Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” (5:11a)
“Persuade” is peithō, “to cause to come to a particular point of view or course of action,” here, “persuade, appeal to.” If we truly love people, then we will be concerned about their eternal destiny. Thus, several things motivate our evangelism – which we’ll fill out further when we study 5:14.
- A conviction of the reality of final judgment and eternal punishment, that is, “the judgment seat of Christ” (5:10)
- A recognition of God’s love for us (5:14)
- An understanding that Christ died for sinners (5:14), and
- A love for sinners ourselves (5:14).
Q4. (2 Corinthians 5:10-11a) How does Paul’s mention of
the Judgment Seat of Christ fit the context here? How should our belief that we
Christians will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to be judged for our
works affect (1) our desire to please him? (2) Our motivation to persuade people
to receive Christ?
Now Paul appeals to the Corinthians to understand the simplicity of his motives so they can answer the distortions of his opponents in Corinth.
11b What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.” (5:11b-12)
Now Paul says something curious.
“If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.” (5:13)
The verb is existēmi, with the basic idea “to become separated from something.” The noun form is existasis, from which we get our words “ecstasy, ecstatic.”
The verse can be taken two ways:
- His opponents are saying that he is mad. They accused Jesus of this, too (Mark 3:21; John 10:20). Festus accused Paul of this, as well (Acts 26:24-25).
- His opponents are saying that Paul’s ministry isn’t truly spiritual because he doesn’t have ecstatic experiences.
The first makes more sense to me. But either way, he is deflecting criticism by pointing out his commitment to the Corinthians.
Now we see the reason that some people may call him crazy or obsessed. He says, “Christ’s love compels us.” The word translated “compels” (NIV), “urges us on” (NRSV), “constraineth” (KJV) is synechō, a word with a variety of meanings, here, “to provide impulse for some activity, urge on, impel.” Paul’s drive to save whoever he can is motivated by love. The Greek construction “love of Christ” (NRSV, KJV) is ambiguous. It can refer to “love for Christ” (objective genitive) or “Christ’s love,” the love he has for us (subjective genitive). My guess is that Paul intended to suggest both, though perhaps love for Christ predominates in his motivational system. After all, it is the first commandment.
Paul is convinced of one proposition:
“14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (5:13-15)
This conviction has several pieces:
- One died for all. Jesus died for the sins of all mankind (1 Timothy 2:6; Matthew 20:28; 1 John 2:2).
- All died. This is more difficult for us to grasp. But if you’ve studied Paul’s writings, you see this clearly. Bruce puts it this way: “One has died as representative of all his people, therefore all of them are deemed to have died in the person of their representative.” This involves the idea of “federal headship” which Paul develops in Romans 5:12-6:5. We have been buried with him through baptism (Romans 6:3-4).
- We shouldn’t live for ourselves any more. Why? Because we died to ourselves.
- We should live for Christ. He is our life now. We have been united with him in baptism and raised with him to newness of life (Romans 6:3-4), “our life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
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The classic statement of this conviction is found in Galatians:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Christ is your life. He is your present. He is your future. He is your hope of glory. He is the only meaning your life will ultimately have. Embrace him fully now!
Thank you, Lord, for the confidence that whether we wake or sleep we look forward to uninterrupted fellowship with you. Lessen our attachment to our physical bodies. Lessen our fear of death, so that we might live fully now in you! In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6)
“We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
“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 Corinthians 5: 10)
“For Christ’s love compels us....” (2 Corinthians 5:14)
 “Earthly” is epigeios, “pertaining to what is characteristic of the earth as opposed to heavenly, earthly” (BDAG 369, 1a).
 Literally, “house of our tabernacle” (KJV). Uses oikia, “house” and skēnos, “a temporary abode as opposed to a permanent structure, tent, lodging” (BDAG 929).
 “Building” is oikodomē, “a building as the result of a construction process, building, edifice” (BDAG 697, 2b).
 “Eternal” is aiōnios, “pertaining to a period of unending duration, without end”(BDAG 33, 3).
 “House” is oikia, “a structure used as a dwelling, house” (BDAG 695, 1b).
 “Heavens” is the plural of ouranos, “transcendent abode, heaven” (BDAG 739, 2d).
 “Not built by human hands” (NIV), “not made with hands” (NRSV, KJV) is acheiropoiētos, “not made by (human) hand,” here and Colossians 2:11 (of circumcision) and Mark 14:58 (of a transcendent temple) (BDAG 159).
 Katalyō, “to cause the ruin of something, destroy, demolish, dismantle,” here, figuratively, “tear down, demolish” (BDAG 523, 2b).
 Barnett, p. 258, fn. 15.
 For this interpretation see Kruse, pp. 112-114; Barnett, pp. 256-260; Bruce, pp. 200-202; Barrett, pp. 149-157.
 “Groan” is stenazō, “to express oneself involuntarily in the face of an undesirable circumstance, sigh, groan” (BDAG 942, 1).
 “Longing” is epipotheō, “to have a strong desire for something, with implication of need, long for, desire” (BDAG 373).
 “Clothed” is ependyomai, “to put a garment on over an existing garment, put on (in addition)” (BDAG 363).
 “Dwelling” is oikētērion, “a place for living, dwelling, habitation” (BDAG 695).
 Endyō, middle voice, “to put any kind of thing on oneself, clothe oneself in, put on, wear something” (BDAG 333, 2a).
 “Naked” is gymnos, “naked,” here figuratively, “uncovered, bare” (BDAG 208, 1b).
 “Burdened” is bareō, “to press down as if with a weight, weigh down, burden,” here, “oppressed” (BDAG 166, b).
 “Unclothed” is ekdyō, “to remove clothing from the body, strip, take off” (BDAG 303, 1).
 “What is mortal” (NIV, NRSV), “mortality” (KJV) is thnētos, “mortal” in contrast to immortal. (BDAG 458), literally, “subject to death,” from thanō, “to die.”
 “Life” is zōē, “life, existence,” here, “transcendent life” (BDAG 433, 2bβ).
 Katapinō, BDAG 524, 3.
 “Made” (NIV), “prepared” (NRSV), “wrought” (KJV) is katergazomai, “to cause to be well prepared, prepare someone” (BDAG 532, 3).
 “Purpose” (NIV) is actually “thing.”
 Arrabōn, BDAG 134. Arrabōn also appears in Ephesians 1:14.
 “Confident” is tharreō, “to have certainty in a matter, be confident, be courageous” (BDAG 444). The word occurs here in verses 6 and 8, and 7:16; 10:1-2.
 Dēmos, Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1889).
 Endēmeō, BDAG 332.
 Ekdēmeō, BDAG 300, 1.
 “Prefer” (NIV), “rather be” (NRSV, KJV) is eudokeō, “wish rather, prefer” (BDAG 404, 1).
 “Depart” is analyō, originally, “loose, untie,” here, “depart, return.” (BDAG 67, 2).
 The doctrine is also known by Seventh Day Adventists as “conditional immortality” and is part of their belief on the “state of the dead.”
 “In the Twinkling of an Eye,” words: Fanny Crosby (1898), music: William J. Kirkpatrick.
 Peripateō, BDAG 803, 2aδ.
 “Sight” is eidos, “the act of looking/seeing, seeing, sight” (BDAG 280, 3).
 “Please” (NIV, NRSV), “be accepted” (KJV) is euarestos, “pleasing, acceptable,” in the Greco-Roman world commonly said of things and especially of persons noted for their civic-minded generosity and who endeavor to do things that are pleasing (BDAG 403).
 The phrase, “make it our goal/aim” (NIV, NRSV), “labor” (KJV) is philotimeomai, “have as one's ambition, consider it an honor, aspire, with focus on the idea of rendering service” (BDAG 1059).
 Bēma, BDAG 175.
 The word is komizō, “to come into possession of something or experience something, carry off, get (for oneself), receive,” frequently as recompense (BDAG 557, 3). Used in this sense in 1 Peter 5:4; Colossians 3:25; Ephesians 6:8.
 “Fear” (NIV, NRSV), “terror” (KJV) is phobos, “something terrible/awe-inspiring, a terror,” here, “we know what it is that causes fear of the Lord” (i.e., the judgment to come). (BDAG 1062, 1b).
 Peithō, BDAG 793, 1b.
 “Plain” (NIV), “well-known” (NRSV), “made manifest” (KJV) is phaneroō, “to cause to become known, disclose, show, make known” (BDAG 1048, 2bβ).
 “Are out of our mind” (NIV), “are beside ourselves” (KJV) is existēmi, in the sense, '”to become separated from something or lose something,” it means, of inability to reason normally “lose one's mind, be out of one's senses” (BDAG 350, 2a).
 Kruse, p. 121.
 Synechō, BDAG 970, 7.
 “Are convinced” (NIV, NRSV), “judge” (KJV) is the common verb krinō, “to make a judgment based on taking various factors into account, judge, think, consider, look upon.” (BDAG 568, 3).
 Bruce, p. 207.
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