September 22, 2011

Friday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 32, 2 Sam. 15:30-16:4, 2 Cor. 5:1-10
Evening - Ps. 22, Mt. 4:1-11

Commentary
2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Today's reading continues the thought begun in 4:16, which says that our outward man, meaning, our physical body, is perishing. But, even as that happens, our inward man, our spirit, is being renewed day by day. Our spirits are becoming stronger and our faith in Christ is growing. Our desire for Godliness is increasing, and we are experiencing progress in holiness of life and fellowship with God. Therefore, we look not at the outward things seen by the physical eye. We concentrate on the inward person and the renewing work God is doing in us. Nor do we allow ourselves to become fixated on the world with its troubles and treasures. They are passing trifles. We look to that world which is more real than this one. We look to that world which is permanent, in which the treasures of this world are as poverty, and the trials of this life are as light affliction by comparison.

Our physical bodies, and with them all the passing things of earth, are being destroyed. The image used in 5:1 is that of a house and tent. It is as though Paul first calls the physical body a house, a temporary structure subject to decay and rot which will collapse one day. Then he says our bodies are not even as solid as a house. They are mere tents. They are mere folds of cloth flapping in the wind and in need of constant care and repair, and which, in spite of our very best efforts, will one day rot away exposing their contents and leaving us naked (5:3). But the end of our tent (tabernacle) is not the end of us. We will be clothed in a new house of mansions that will not decay (sickness), will never fall into destruction (death) and will always abide in the presence of God Himself (everlasting life). It is in this eternal house that we long to dwell (5:2) and for which we groan while suffering the burdens of our present tabernacle (5:4).

It is for this purpose that God is working in us now. He is preparing us for the day when we will lay down this tent, and step into a new and wondrous house. He has given us the Spirit as the earnest, or, pledge, or down payment, of His promise. This means that, what the Holy Spirit is doing in us now, will be completed on the day we enter into our new home. And what is the Spirit doing in us now? He is recreating us. He is repairing our inclination towards sin. He is remaking us so that we are becoming more and more inclined toward Him and His will. He is enabling us to love Him more, and desire the things He promises. This is why Paul says later in this chapter that "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (5:17).

The destruction of our earthly tent (death) frees our souls to enter the direct presence of the Lord. While we are in our physical bodies we experience a distance from God. Even in our best and most spiritual moments we have a sense that God dwells beyond us in a dimension we cannot enter. We see Him, but with the eyes of faith, not with physical eyes. We are aware of His presence, and yet, also aware that we do not know His presence fully, that there is a sense in which He is here, yet not here at the same time. But in Heaven this sense will be a thing of the past. There we will see Him and dwell in His full presence. It is only as we become absent from our bodies that we enter fully into the presence of God (5:8).

Therefore we labour to be accepted of Him (5:9-10). This verse does not mean we make ourselves acceptable to God by our own efforts. It means we do the will of God while we live in this world. We seek Him, and attempt to live quiet and holy lives. For we will all stand before Christ one day to be judged for our works.

It is notable that this passage continues to talk about the nature of the ministry, yet is written to the laity of the Church. It is obvious that Paul is teaching the Corinthians, and us, about the nature and work of the ministry to enable them to discern between those who have preached heresy and led the Church astray, and faithful ministers who preach the Gospel and lead the Church into the faith and practice of the Bible. Ministers reading this passage should take heed to its teachings and warnings. But the passage has a much more direct application to the laity than just distinguishing true ministers from false ministers. For you also dwell in an earthly tent that is decaying and will one day perish. In what house will you dwell on that day? You too walk by faith, and you too will stand before God to give an account for your lives in this world. You also, therefore, must look to the things unseen by the physical eye, and conduct yourself as though you are preparing to go to them some day soon.