Reading the Acts of the Apostles, you can get the feeling that Peter and Paul and the others were almost superheroes. They just didn’t seem to be daunted by death! How did they do it? How can we face the reality of death with truly Christian courage?
Thankfully Paul explains the source of his courage in 2 Corinthians. Twice in chapter 4 he says “we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1,16), and then twice in chapter 5 “we are… of good courage” (2 Corinthians 5:6,8), and sandwiched between these is his explanation of the source of such courage facing death: and the source is what “we know” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).
So often in the Christian life, the route out of our anxiety is to move from focusing on what we’re feeling, and thinking, to what we know.
In 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 Paul gives us 10 things we know about death (as genuine Christians) that we need to focus on so that we can have courage facing death.
The first three are all about your body:
I. Your body is just your earthly home
Paul calls it “our earthly home” in 2 Corinthians 5:1, and this epitomises the Bible’s anthropology outlined in Genesis 2:7;3:19 and Ecclesiastes 12:7. We are not simply atoms, and molecules, and the combination of chemicals that Scientific Materialism would want us to think we are. You are more than your body. Even using the phrase “my body” shows that you understand a certain separation between “you” and your body!
II. Your body is just a tent
When Paul speaks of “the tent that is our earthly home” in 2 Corinthians 5:1, he’s giving us a metaphor that shows our body as something temporary, fragile and relatively cheap. The contrast in this passage is with a more solid building that would be understood to be comparatively permanent, durable, and costly. The body we have is here today and gone tomorrow, it is so easily destroyed. We shouldn’t put too much store in it, if indeed we’re going to inherit something much better.
III. If your body is destroyed, you have another home ahead (as a true Christian)
In 2 Corinthians 5:1 Paul’s is absolutely certain that “we have a building… a house” ahead as believers even though we die. A modern illustration could be to say that here, we are just renting our bodies, but we must surrender them to our Landlord, who’s given us notice to quit. (This Landlord however does actually promise Christians that upon eviction from our bodies, He will give us a permanent home of our own, which will never be taken from us!
These next three are all about your NEXT body:
IV. Your next body is God’s gift to you
Obviously, this body was also given to you by God, but this body is corrupted by the fall, and is like a house in which many things are broken, and gradually (or rapidly) it’s all breaking down! The next body however is “a building from God” (2 Corinthians 5:1) and is effectively God’s final response to the awful impact of the fall upon us. He’s not going to leave his original design for physical bodies defeated by the fall. More than that, he won’t simply restore the human body to its former (pre-fall) glory, which is the next point:
V. Your next body doesn’t belong to this creation
Paul said it’s going to be “not made with human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1) which the Bible most helpfully explains as meaning “not of this creation” (Hebrews 9:11). There is another world coming! Jesus referred to it as “the regeneration” (sometimes translated as “the new world” (Matthew 19:28) and he was talking about a physical world in the age to come.
VI. Your next body is eternal and heavenly
Maybe you think you have a heavenly body now, but you don’t —at least not in the Biblical sense—and for most of us, not in any sense! The reality for true Christians however is that the next body will be truly heavenly and eternal. Paul says here it will be “eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1) but in 1 Corinthians 15 he draws a series of contrasts between the body as it is now (what is sown) and the resurrection body (what is raised). These contrasts show us exactly how different the body to come will be. The body we have now is “perishable” —decomposing nicely—but it will be raised “imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:42). It is “natural” now, but will be a “spiritual” body then (1 Corinthians 15:44).
What this all means would be a complete mystery, if it wasn’t for the fact that we’ve been given an example in the resurrection body of Jesus, and we’re told in several places that we are going to be made “like him” (1 Corinthians 15:47,49; Romans 8:29; Philippians 3:20).
So for now, we’re struggling with “weakness” and experiencing the reality of life that’s considered “dishonour” (1 Corinthians 15:43), but the body to come, by contrast will be characterised by “power” and “glory”.
Meanwhile however, we groan, and the next three here all have to do with groaning:
VII. While you are in this body you groan
This is godly groaning, since Paul includes himself when he says “For in this tent we groan” (2 Corinthians 5:2), and although Christians are instructed to rejoice “always” — there really is no need for us to walk around with a fake grin. We follow one who was the “man of sorrows”, and Paul himself experienced and expressed the pain of grief and confusion and being hard-pressed (see 2 Corinthians 4). Peter spoke of the reality Although James told believers to “Count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2), Peter did speak about believers rejoicing, despite having been “grieved” by such trials (1 Peter 1:6-7). So let’s just lay that one to rest! Groaning can be godly, and in this tent, “we groan”. (See also Romans 8:18-25)
VIII. Godly groaning is longing to put on the next body.
Godly groaning is not moaning about how bad things are (that would be sinful and get us into trouble spiritually). Godly groaning is “longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2) —understanding that what is to come is going to be so much better. It’s something like longing for the new car you’ve ordered, which won’t have all the problems that your current car. You can do that without grumbling and complaining about your current ride!
IX. Godly groaning is not longing to be free from physicality, but free from sin-cursed mortality.
The description given us is not that we want simply to be rid of our body and float free, as disembodied spirits. That was a terrible mistake in Greek philosophy that worked its way into the early church and caused chaos, with a denigration of everything material as if physicality was inherently evil. Paul wasn’t expecting to be found “naked” — i.e. without a body (2 Corinthians 5:3), and he wasn’t longing to be “unclothed” but “further clothed” (2 Corinthians 5:4). Things are improving in recent years, but historically this kind of error that views the physical as inherently evil, has caused many problems in the church. It helps to realise that God doesn’t view things that way. What’s ahead is so glorious that it’s pictured as the moment when “what is mortal” is “swallowed up by life”.
X. God is the one doing all this.
Paul viewed the Corinthians as already “prepared” for their next body (2 Corinthians 5:5). Note the tense! This is accomplished already! Nothing stands between them and their next body, except death. There’s no more preparation to be done. So many people would expect to have to perform some great task, or do some good works, or even pay some great price (e.g. purgatory) in order to be “prepared” to inherit this glorious resurrection body, but salvation is by GRACE (Ephesians 2:8-9). The truth is, you are never more prepared for your resurrection body than the moment you are saved, and the guarantee of this future inheritance has already been given to every believer (2 Corinthians 5:5)
Some questions for discussion:
- When a genuine Christian is suffering from anxiety or distress connected with death, what does it look like, in practice, to work backwards from how we feel (through what we think) to what we KNOW?
- How is helping someone back to what they know different from how Job’s friends wen’t wrong in trying to comfort him? (What did they do wrong and how can we help people who are truly suffering, without being like Job’s friends?)
- How would you help someone who’s not a Christian but they’re suffering with anxiety / distress connected with death?
- What would you say to help someone who says, “I know all this, but it doesn’t make me feel any better!” (Clue: study Philippians 4:6-8, and don’t miss v.8).
- When a trial is very severe, and someone is going through wave after wave of grief or pain in their experience day by day, how can directing them to think about what they know (as above) still be helpful? (It can seem like it’s dismissive of the reality of their pain/grief, but if done rightly it can still be helpful. Discuss how to do this rightly, so that it’s not dismissive of their struggle!)