LESSON FOUR: 2 CORINTHIANS 4:16-5:10
ENCOURAGEMENT REGARDING HEAVEN
Recently I had the privilege of giving end-of-life care to my father-in-law and seeing him take his final breath as he transitioned into the presence of his Lord. The last song he and I sang together before his passing was “It Will Be Worth It All When We See Jesus.” It was a precious gift to our family to know that we will meet him again when we also see Jesus face to face. Many of us use today’s passage to give comfort at times like this.
The location of the chapter break is unfortunate because chapter 5 is actually a continuation of 4:16-18. As a result of the chapter break, we normally take 2 Corinthians 5:1-6 out of context and use it only to find comfort at the death of loved ones or to remove fear at our own approaching death. While that is a valid way to apply this passage, when taken in context there is something else we should learn. There are many fears which are our enemies, particularly in relation to sharing the Good News: I’m afraid I’ll make a cultural blunder and create offense; I’m afraid I won’t know the answers to their questions and they will reject the message; I’m afraid I’m not articulate, especially in my second language; I’m afraid I’ll be rejected or persecuted or sent home; I’m afraid (insert your fear here). For some, the greatest hindrance to ministry may be the very real fear of death.
Yes, the New Covenant is glorious, and the ministry of the New Covenant is worth any cost, but what if that cost includes death? Is it worth that?
DAY ONE: DESCRIPTION OF PHYSICAL DEATH FOR BELIEVERS
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 4:16-5:1
- Review 2 Corinthians 4:1 and 16-18.
- For Paul and all the apostles except John, being a messenger of the New Covenant ultimately meant martyrdom. In fact, Jesus told Peter that he would glorify God through his death (John 21:19). Down through the centuries that has been true for many others. Recently, we have seen Christian men shot or beheaded by terrorists. Some of you reading this today may possibly be numbered among the faithful who are called to give their lives for Christ. You, like they, cannot do this or even face that possibility by virtue of mental toughness or personal discipline. From 4:7, where does the power come from?
- When we are suffering, the weight of it is heavy and seems to last forever. But Paul compares the hardships and suffering on earth with the glory we shall share in the life to come in 4:17-18. What viewpoint does he express in Philippians 3:8-10?
B. LIFE AFTER DEATH
- Read 5:1
- So what happens if we do face the ultimate suffering – physical death? Is that the end? What does Paul say “we know”? Compare this with 4:14. The Corinthians “knew” because of Paul’s teaching. How do you and I know?
- Previously Paul contrasted what is happening to our bodies with what is happening to our spirits. (4:16) Now he is contrasting what happens to our mortal life with what happens after our physical death. Not surprisingly, Paul the tentmaker uses the metaphor of a tent. If you have done tent camping, you can also relate. What does his use of “tent” to describe our mortal body suggest? Does a tent normally provide temporary or permanent shelter? How sturdy is a tent? What can happen to a tent in a storm? How easy is it to take down a tent?
- What does his use of “building” or “house” to describe our body in heaven suggest? Who is the one who will give us this new, eternal “house” in heaven?
- It has been said that until we are ready to die we aren’t able to truly live. Your preparation for death includes making legal, financial and relational arrangements on behalf of your family. Critical however is the spiritual issue of your own relationship with God. Have you made preparations in each of these areas? Is your relationship with God settled? How does this relationship affect your attitude toward your own death?
- How does the understanding of life after death for the believer encourage you in relation to the potential deaths of family members overseas for which you may not be present?
- How does it give you courage to persevere in obedience if God calls you to difficult or even dangerous service?
DAY TWO: ENCOURAGEMENT REGARDING OUR BODIES
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 5:2-5
Paul does not answer all our questions about our heavenly body. We don’t know for sure whether we get our new body when Christ returns (suggested by 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), or as 2 Corinthians 5:3 suggests, immediately upon our death. We’ll look more at this question later. We also don’t know how the transformation into the new body occurs or what the new body will be like. That we will have a new body is certain!
A. OUR BODIES
The image of being clothed versus being naked was significant for the Corinthians. Many of them thought the body was inherently evil and therefore a disembodied soul was more spiritual and thus preferable. But Paul is not referring to our spiritual state as we stand before God. Instead, Paul is saying that our souls will not be disembodied. We are not redeemed from our bodies but rather our bodies are also redeemed.
- Read 5:2-4
- Paul is looking forward to this “heavenly house.” Underline the word “groan” in these verses. Why would he be groaning? (4:8-11; 5:4, 6-8)
- The word, “groan”, does not imply despair but describes a longing for the completion of our salvation that awaits us when Christ returns. Paul is also not groaning for death (he hoped he’d be alive when Christ returned so he wouldn’t have to go through death) but for the resurrection when he would get his new body. What does Romans 8:19-25 add which helps you understand this groaning?
- What are some of the things which cause you or your family members to groan?
- See if you can restate verses 2-4 in your own words.
We Christians say we don’t fear death. That is only partly true. Because we know our eternal destiny, the result of our physical death does not hold terror for us. In 2 Timothy 4:6 Paul calls death a “departure” – as in taking down our tent and moving on. However the dying process is something which we normally don’t look forward to. Death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26) – it is Resurrection which is our friend. Paul seems to reflect this in 5:4. He has suffered a lot in his earthly body but does not look forward to death. Instead he looks forward to being in his resurrection body.
B. OUR GUARANTEE
- Read 5:5
- We were made for Life with a capital “L”! Although this present earthly life is temporary we rightfully find joy in it, and God has a purpose for us in this life. However what superior purpose does God have planned for our future life? (4:17; John 17:24; Revelation 21:3-4) Since this is true, should our primary efforts be focused on creating a lovely home here, maintaining a perfect body, or should they be focused on preparing for the home and life to come?
- How do we know this is true? Although the Holy Spirit has not yet done our final transformation, what do we have now? What should be happening in our lives now as a result of the indwelling Holy Spirit? (3:18) This is proof that God’s promises about our resurrection are true.
- A deposit or down payment implies that there is more to come. What do the following verses tell us about the Holy Spirit’s guarantee? (1:22; Romans 8:23; Ephesians 1:13-14)
Read 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 in conjunction with 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. How could you use these passages to encourage someone who is facing their own approaching death?
DAY THREE: QUESTIONS REGARDING OUR RESURRECTION BODIES
When a person steps out of time into eternity, what happens?
A. WHAT WILL OUR BODIES BE LIKE?
- What do we learn about this new body from 5:1?
- What does 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 add?
- Why do we need a new body? (1 Corinthians 15:50, 53-54)
- What will our new bodies be like? (1 Corinthians 15:48-49; Philippians 3:20-21)
- What was Christ’s resurrection body like? (Luke 24:15, 36-43; John 20:27; John 21:4-14)
B. WHEN WILL WE GET OUR RESURRECTION BODIES?
Scholars are divided on the question of when we receive our resurrection bodies. Here are some thoughts.
There is no question that as soon as our bodies die our spirits go immediately into the presence of the Lord. (5:6-8) It is our body that needs to be resurrected and transformed into its new glorified state. Some question the differences between Paul’s discussion of the resurrection of the dead in 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15, and 2 Corinthians 4-5. Rather than an evolving understanding, it is more likely that he was addressing different concerns in each letter. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul was encouraging the church that all who died “in Christ” would be raised at His return, regardless of when they had died. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explained the necessity for all bodies to be transformed, whether they were dead or still alive at Christ’s return, in order to be fit for His kingdom. In 2 Corinthians 4-5, Paul is encouraging believers that death will end the suffering experienced in our earthly bodies when we receive our new permanent bodies.
Philippians 1:23-24 and 3:20-21 seem to imply (in the same letter) different timing for the transformation of our bodies. A comparison of 5:1-4 with 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 suggests an intermediate state for our spirits between living in our “earthly tent” and receiving our “eternal house in heaven”. If Paul does believe there is an intermediate, “unclothed” state, he does not focus there but rather on the future fulfillment of our eternal state in resurrected bodies at Christ’s return.1
- In light of these Scriptures, when do you think we will receive our new resurrection bodies?
There is no question that we will receive new glorious resurrection bodies. Regardless of when we receive them, we know that the death of a Christian does not cause an interruption in fellowship with Christ for even a second.
DAY FOUR: COMPARISON OF EARTHLY AND HEAVENLY HOMES
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 5:6-8
Because Paul has a confident hope in the resurrection, it has enabled him to face hardships and to be bold in sharing the Good News regardless of its reception.
A. LOCATION OF LIFE
- Read 5:6-8
- What does Paul “know?” (5:6) This does not mean that Christ is not with him now! (John 14:16-17; Galatians 2:20)
- Paul states that we live by faith and not by sight. What does that mean?
- A superficial reading of verse 8 might suggest that Paul has a death wish. From Philippians 1:20-26, what is Paul’s actual attitude toward life and death?
B. GOAL FOR LIFE
- Read 5:9
- The knowledge that Paul will move from his earthly life into the presence of the Lord provides a holy fear and a motivation for his life. How does 5:9 express this?
- What are some ways we please God? Use these verses and the list below to think through this important question.2 Add other verses or points as you find them.
- Worship: John 4:24
- Disciple making: Matthew 28:19-20
- Obedience: James 1:22
- Care for others: Mark 9:37
- Godly character traits: Galatians 5:22-23
- Righteous life: 1 Peter 2:11-12
Whereas our physical bodies gradually (or sometimes quickly) waste away in this life, this is also a time when our spiritual lives are being transformed in preparation for our new life with the Lord. Whereas it is wise to care for our physical bodies, given that we will receive new resurrection bodies should we not be even more careful to nurture our spirits?
DAY FIVE: IMPORTANCE OF OUR EARTHLY LIVES
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 5:9-10
Paul has encouraged us regarding the blessings to expect when we die, but now he gives us a sober warning. Today we tend to think that once we have become Christians, there is no more judgment for us. It is true that our eternal destiny is determined at the cross where Christ took our judgment for sin upon Himself. It is those who reject Christ who will stand before the “Great White Throne” judgment. But lest we become complacent, 5:10 tells us there is another judgment that all Christians will face.
- For what will Christians be judged? (5:10; Romans 14:12)
- Whereas it is by grace, not works, that we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), nevertheless Ephesians 2:10 says God has a purpose for us once we are saved. We must take to heart the commands Christ has given us. It matters that we obey Him. It matters that we live holy lives. It matters that our characters become conformed to His. It matters how we treat one another. We have not been saved to live a self-centered life. What does 5:15 say we have been saved for? (What does 1 Thessalonians 1:3 add?)
- What does it mean to live for Jesus?
- Heaven is not only a destination, it is a motivation. (4:17-18; Hebrews 11:13-16)
- What do the following verses add? (Romans 1:5; Galatians 5:6; Ephesians 5:1-2)
- What must not be part of our lives? (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21)
- What must be characteristic of us? (Matthew 28:19-20; Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 4:1-3)
- Whose judgment of us ultimately matters – our own, public opinion, or that of Christ?
- Will there be any excuses to hide behind – any “if only’s” or “but he wouldn’t let me’s” or…?
Our body is the place where we are tested. What we do in our bodies has moral and eternal consequences. I can’t be indifferent to the way I treat others, or to how carefully I submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or to how moral I am. It is the wise person who tests herself before God does at the judgment seat of Christ. (5:10; Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
God won’t ask us what we know but what we have done. We dare not become complacent. This is a particular warning to those in the church who feel comfortable because they “know” a lot of Scripture and doctrine.
- It has been said that “we are saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone.” How does James describe the difference between a professed faith and a genuine faith? (James 2:14-24) What does Matthew add? (Matthew 7:20-21)
- Judgment for those who did not choose to trust in Christ (John 3:18) occurs at “The Great White Throne Judgment” as described in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 and Revelation 20:11-15.
- What is God’s desire for all people? (Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9) He feels so passionately about this that what does John 3:16 says He did? Should not we who have received this gift of God also share it with whomever we can?
Garland says, “If we hope to be conformed to Christ’s glorious body in the next life, we must be conformed to his character in this life.”3 Barnett says it this way: “The teaching about the judgment seat before which all believers must come reminds us that we have been saved, not for a life of aimlessness or indifference, but to live as to the Lord. (5:15) This doctrine of the universality of the judgment of believers preserves the moral seriousness of God. … while they are righteous in Christ by faith alone, the faith that justifies is to be expressed by love and obedience (Gal 5:6; Rom 1:5), and by pleasing the Lord (v. 9).”4
Paul’s life goal was God’s commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant” and the reward he described in 2 Timothy 4:7-8.
What is your life goal?
As was said before, a person isn’t ready to really live until he or she is ready to die. Until one has a personal relationship with God through faith in Christ which secures one’s eternal destiny, death is an enemy.
But it is also true for a messenger of the New Covenant. When one understands the promise of the resurrection and the glories of eternal life after death, the fear of physical death that might hinder one’s service for our Lord loses its power. We are freed to be whole-hearted servants of our Lord. Am I? Are you?
Our bodies are part of who we are! Our relationships with each other include not only the sharing of thoughts and feelings, but also shared physical experiences such as walking, talking, working and playing together. When we think about the transition to heaven for ourselves and our loved ones, we anticipate the joy of recognizing them and of continuing those relationships in a perfected, holistic way. When Revelation 21 speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, it only makes sense that we would enjoy living with God and each other in perfect physical bodies. Paul gives us very real encouragement and hope as he gives a “teaser” regarding our life to come!
1. Even if there is a period of time where our spirits are “disembodied”, there is no Biblical evidence for a place of purgatory where those not ready for heaven are given a second chance, or where Christians receive a final cleansing or purging of sin to prepare for heaven. See Hebrews 9:27 and Luke 23:43.
2. Some more verses to consider when you have time: 1 Samuel 15:22; 1 Chronicles 16:28-30; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 50:14; 100; Proverbs 21:3; Hosea 6:6; Matthew 12:50; Mark 1:17; Mark 9:37; 12:30-31; John 13:34-35; 14:15; 15:16; Romans 14:13, 18; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:1-3; 6:10-18; Philippians 1:27-29; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 4:16; 2 Timothy 2:1-2; Philemon 1:6; Hebrews 4:16; 10:24-25; 11:6; 12:28; 13:15; 13:16; 1 Peter 2:11-12; 3:15; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 3:1-3; 3:23
3. Garland, David E., The New American Commentary, Volume 29, 2 Corinthians. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), p. 266.
4. Garland, p. 266-267.
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