2 Corinthians 4:13-5:8
Paul is continuing to give reasons why he doesn’t (and we shouldn’t) lose heart (4:16). The particular reason in this passage is the Christian hope; it is his deep conviction about the certainty of that hope, guaranteed for us by the resurrection of Jesus (4:14), which emboldens him to keep on speaking (4:13) – ie speaking of Christ and sharing the Gospel with unbelievers, so that God’s grace might reach more and more people (4:16).
This hope sustains him as he faces all kinds of troubles and hardships – some the specific consequence of his Gospel ministry (cf his list in 11:23-29), some simply the consequence of living in a fallen world marked by decay and death. His hope gives him a wholly new perspective on his hardships. Outwardly he is very conscious of his body’s frailty and gradual decay (4:16), but he is conscious of another truth that trumps it – inwardly he is “being renewed day by day”, meaning not his soul quite, but himself viewed not “by sight”, as it were, but “by faith”. He belongs to this world, and so in one sense he experiences inevitable decline, but he also belongs to the new creation, as yet unseen, and God is preparing him for that. When those twin realities are compared, we see our troubles in a truer perspective: they are “light and momentary” compared to the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (4:17). So Paul determines to focus on that as yet unseen reality (4:18), which for now he knows only by faith, for it is by far the more significant reality. His hope is what keeps him from losing heart, and encourages him to continue to serve Christ by making Him known.
Many of us struggle to fix our eyes on this hope, since we have so little grasp of what it is exactly we are looking forward to. 5:1-8 is a brilliant little passage outlining the essence of the Christian hope, which has two main components (i) having new bodies (5:1-4), and (ii) being with Christ (5:6-8).
For so many people this world is what is real and solid and substantial, and the world to come is all rather “fluffy” and insubstantial and fuzzy. But the reverse is true. Paul likens our present bodies to a tent, flimsy and temporary, whereas the body that await us is “an eternal house in heaven” (v.1). In our present bodies frequently we will have cause to “groan” as they decay, or as they become stressed and exhausted by our work for the Gospel. But whereas many in Paul’s day longed to be released from their bodies and their physical existence, Paul is careful to say that he is not so much looking forward to being rid of his tired and battered body, so much as to have his new body. If he dies before Christ returns, then there will be a period when we are bodiless – “naked” as he puts it – and he’s not longing for that, but rather to be clothed in his new body.
These verses draw another contrast between the life now and the life to come. And whereas in the previous verses, as well this earthly tent and the heavenly house there was another state – a bodiless existence, while we await the resurrection and new heavens and new earth on the day Christ returns – here there are only two alternatives. We are either “at home in the body” (and consequently “away from the Lord”), or “away from the body and at home with the Lord”. As soon as we leave this earthly tent we are ushered into the presence of the Jesus. He is with us now of course, but we don’t see Him (“we live by faith”, v.7) but then we will see Him face to face. Even if “naked”, I take it we are consciously in the presence of Christ (cf what Jesus said to the thief on the cross – “Today you will be with me in paradise”).
It is a great hope. And notice 5:5 – it is what we were made for. God made us so that we might one day live with Him in the new creation forever. As a caterpillar was made to be a butterfly, so our present existence is like that of the grub, and God’s purpose for us lies beyond this life. It is a hope we can be absolutely sure of, on the one hand because of Christ’s resurrection (4:14), and on the other because He has given us His Spirit “guaranteeing what is to come” (5:5). So we can be “confident” (5:6, 8) – not a word that would spring to many people’s mind when they think of death, but a word that Christians should be able to use. And what a witness such a hope is.
In each of these three verses a contrast is being drawn – one being the visible reality now, the other being the unseen reality, which at the moment we only know by faith.