2 Corinthians 5:1-5
Comfort in Our Heavenly Home
Do you groan? I’m not talking about the groaning a mother utters when her teenager has neglected to do his homework or has talked back for the umpteenth time. I’m not talking about the groaning we all experience when we hit every red light to our destination. I’m not even talking about the groan we bellow when we see yet another news story that accentuates the evil of humanity. Even though those groanings are all connected (all of which are related to sin and suffering), I’m talking about the deep eschatological moaning for your resurrected body, that you might be clothed to behold the Weight of Glory, Jesus Christ. Do you groan for that? That is the kind of soul-body groan Paul calls us to in these verses. We ought to be thankful for this reminder, especially given our tendency to busy and worry ourselves with lesser things barely worthy of a whimper.
Paul begins the section by reminding the Corinthians of something they’ve already been taught and therefore know (5:1; cf. 1 Corinthians 15). We have an earthly tent, and that’s our body. Paul the tentmaker reminds us of the impermanence and fragility of our earthly lives, while at the same time alluding to the earthly tabernacle which was a type of the heavenly tabernacle, the presence of God (cf. Hebrews 8:1-6; 9:11-14; 11:8-10). When we read v. 2 in light of vv. 8-9, we see that Paul is contrasting our earthly home with its heavenly, more glorious counterpart in the presence of the Lord. This heavenly home is a resurrected home. Connecting the dots from 4:14, 18 and 5:2, 4, the Father’s resurrection of Jesus meets with our resurrection when Christ comes back, and the eternal, unseen things are made visible: our inner man is clothed with glorified soul-body immortality (cf. Romans 8:18-39).
In this body that wastes away (4:16), we groan. There’s another Pauline parallel in Romans 8. There he says that the whole creation has been groaning because it was unwillingly subjected to futility by the sin of one man, Adam (Rom. 8:18-23). And with the whole creation, the sons of God are groaning and anticipating our fully realized adoption, namely, the redemption of our bodies. What we await is not a disembodied state of bliss. We await the glorification of our very bodies! This truth is highlighted in our text when Paul says, “not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed” (v. 4). Further clothed! Literally, it’s “clothed on/over.” Unlike some Corinthians who dabbled with Gnosticism (which saw the body as evil, the soul as good, and the liberation of the soul from the body as the goal of life), we desire not to remain naked (bodiless). It is not our will to be unclothed. Being clothed over is much preferred to nakedness. True eternal bliss is NOT a bodiless experience. Even in that state of existence between our death and the return of Christ, we are incomplete. Sinless, but incomplete. We will only be made complete when the resurrected Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection, comes back to reap his harvest. Our lowly bodies will be transformed into glorious bodies like Christ’s (Phil. 3:21). As soon as we are further clothed, the mortal is swallowed up by life. Paul deliberately uses language to return the Corinthians to his words in an earlier letter: “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Cor. 15:53-54).
When Jesus spoke of his resurrection, he referred to his own body as the temple. In John 2:19, he said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” At the end of his earthly life, many who wanted him dead threw Jesus’ words back at him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands’” (Mark 14:58). Noteworthily, the key words in Mark 14:58 (“destroy,” “build,” and “not made with hands”) are all used by Paul here in 5:1. The connection is clear. Christ promised our resurrection, a new home, one made without hands but that will be realized at the Resurrection’s return. The one who does not live in temples made by hands (Acts 17:24) has made a building without hands, eternal in the heavens, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever and ever, amen. Therefore, this groaning is more than an anxious spirit desirous of a body; it’s that eschatological cry from the deepest recesses of our the bodies and souls in confident expectation of the ushering in of a new eternal age begun at the second coming of Christ, who is life (v. 4; John 14:6).
If there’s to be a present comfort of a future reality, a good courage always, a right-now fortification of the soul, we need assurance of this comfort. How do we know it? The answer in these verses is twofold. First, God is the builder (v. 1). What God builds let no man rend asunder. When God constructs a building made without hands to inhabit an eternal home, no one will be able to tear it down. God has prepared his people for this very thing (v. 5). And God be damned if he should fail (Gen. 15:17). Praise be to God that all his promises are amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Second, the Spirit is the evidence/guarantee. Paul has already used the Spirit as the guarantee of our being established in Christ (1:21-22). Now Paul uses the Spirit as the guarantee of our heavenly home. Can’t get any better guarantee than a person of the Trinity, if you ask God! If the Spirit is the best guarantee and proof, why not use him over and over to encourage weak-souled Christians? If God is for us, what or who can thwart his will and plan for us? Nothing and no one!
I was able to witness this assurance a little while ago when our church family had to temporarily say goodbye to one of the dearest and sweetest saints you’d ever meet this side of glory: Helen. Even up to her final moments of life on earth, she was encouraging. She was concerned about her family, about her church, and about her beloved husband of almost 46 years. Although she battled problems that beat up her body her whole life, she was of good courage. Although her body was wasting away, her inner man was being renewed day by day, as she walked with the Lord, her Treasure. There was not a twinkle of doubt or soulish discomfort when she was passing from one degree of glory to another. Why not? Because her God had prepared her for this very thing. Because her God gave her his Spirit as the guarantee that he has made her a heavenly, eternal dwelling. What a sweet and firm comfort!