Whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
(2 Corinthians 5:9 ESV).
Paul sets out the theme of not losing heart both at the beginning and at the end of chapter 4 in 2 Corinthians: “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (v1), and then in verse 16, “So we do not lose heart.”
He says the same thing positively in chapter 5: “We are always of good courage (v6), and he repeats this, “Yes we are of good courage” (v8). How we can be people of good courage who do not lose heart is the theme of this great chapter. We need the encouragement that this portion of Scripture brings to us.
It’s easy to lose heart for many reasons, and one of them is the difficulty of life in this body. The body you live in is like a tent. The tent is a fragile structure, and while we are grateful for its shelter, it gives us plenty of trouble. The canvas sags, the ropes fray, the pegs bend.
The tent, which is your body, is adequate housing for the time being, but it was never intended to be your final home. The difficulties of life in the body can really get you down. Put together all the sicknesses, all the stresses, and all the temptations that arise directly from your life in the body, and it is easy to lose heart.
So, God draws back the curtain and gives us a glimpse of what he has prepared for his people: “If the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (v1).
A Christian is a person with two homes, and when your soul is separated from the tent at death, you will move into the building – an instantaneous move!
God has prepared you for this (v5). He sent his Son into the world to prepare the place for you. He sent his Spirit into your heart to prepare you for the place. God has prepared you for something better, so do not lose heart.
Someone might reasonably say, “Ok, so God has something better prepared for me in the future. Someday I am going to move out of the tent and into the building. What exactly is the point or purpose of my life here in this world?”
“Here I am in this tent – the canvas is sagging, the ropes are fraying, the pegs are bending, and the rain is coming in! Am I simply ‘doing time’ in the tent? I hear what you say about the joys of the life to come, but what then is the point of this life that I have now?”
You have probably heard it said that a person can be “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” Paul had to rebuke some Christian believers who thought a great deal about heaven and the return of Christ, but they had given up on this life.
These believers felt there was no point in going to work and no value in earning a living, so they ‘dropped out’ and lived off the kindness of other people. You can read about this in 2 Thessalonians 3. What you will find is that God places the highest importance on this life, with all the difficulties of life in this world, and he calls us to do the same.
Some of you have said, “I look at my life in the light of eternity and I wonder: What is the point of what I am doing? I am making money. I am making widgets. But what does that matter in the big scheme of things?”
The aim of the message today is to encourage you with a renewed sense of purpose for your life in this world, even at its most frustrating, and especially when it is most frustrating. God has great purpose for you in this world.
The life of a Christian is in two parts, and both of them are described as being ‘at home.’
We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord (v6).
We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (v8).
Right now I am at home in the body. This is a description of life in this world. My life now is ‘in Christ’ and it is ‘by faith.’ That’s why he says, “We walk by faith, not be sight” (v7).
As long as I am in the body, where I am living life ‘in Christ’ and ‘by faith,’ I will experience many pressures, struggles, and frustrations because this body is only a tent. It sags, wears out, and eventually will be taken down.
When that happens, I will be ‘at home with the Lord.’ I will move from living ‘in Christ’ and ‘by faith’ to living ‘with Christ’ and ‘by sight!’
These are the two parts of a Christian’s one life (life in the body and life with the Lord), and they are very unequal. To be with the Lord is better by far! It is incomparably better and unimaginably longer! The Christian has one life in two very unequal parts.
My life has been in two parts, and I have been ‘at home’ in two places. Part 1 was in the United Kingdom; it lasted for 38 years. Part 2 is in the United States; It has lasted so far for 18 years and is continuing.
But I have one life lived out in these two very different places. There is continuity of memory and experience. I know that I was there then, and I know that I am here now.
The same is true of your life as a Christian. You have one life. Your life begins here where you are at home in the body, and it will continue when you are at home with the Lord. You will know yourself to be there as much as you know yourself to be here.
The Christian has one life, in two parts, and each part has an opportunity and a challenge.
It’s easy to see the challenge that we have now. You are living in the tent. You walk by faith, not by sight. And it’s easy to understand the opportunity that we will have then. You will be with Christ. You will see the King in his beauty. Faith will be turned to sight.
That’s what we looked at last time in verses 1-5: The challenge of our life now (in the body) and the opportunity of our life then (in the presence of Christ). We need to be reminded of this, especially when we are dying.
Today I want us to look at the other side of the picture – the challenge of our life then (in the presence of the Lord), and the opportunity of our life now (in the body). And we need to be reminded of this this, especially while we are living.
You may say, “What challenge could there ever be when we are at home with the Lord?”
We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Paul is writing to Christian believers, those who are going to be at home with the Lord, and he says to us: “We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” Here are three things that a Christian needs to know about the judgment seat of Christ:
There is… now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
Everyone who believes in [Christ] will not be put to shame. (Romans 10:11)
Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
If you are in Christ, you stand before the Lord as his redeemed child. The Christian will never know or experience the wrath of God. Christ entered hell on the cross for you so that you should never know what that is like.
Your home in heaven was not built with human hands and it cannot be dismantled by the failure of human hands. A person in Christ cannot lose his or her salvation at the judgment seat of Christ.
You will not be condemned; you will give an account – this is the clear teaching of Scripture: Everything is uncovered before “the eyes of him to who we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). “Each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). And Jesus tells us, “People will give account for every careless word they speak” (Mat. 12:36).
In the college where I studied and trained, the curriculum was made up of two elements. There were examinable courses that counted for the degree. And there were other courses that were mandatory for all students, but they were not examinable, and did not have any bearing on the degree.
Each time a new course began, there was always considerable interest as to whether or not it was examinable and whether or not it counted towards the degree. As you can imagine, the professors who had to teach non-examinable courses had a pretty rough time.
The first thing you noticed was that attendance at their classes was considerably lower. The second thing you noticed was that the level of attention being paid in these classes was considerably lower, and this was before email and Twitter!
Imagine John, who is a freshman at college. He hears about a new course starting up and it’s on Mondays at 7am. People are talking about it in the cafeteria: “What’s with this new course? Mondays at 7! Who needs it?”
“Oh,” says someone in the group, “You don’t have to worry. It’s one of those non-examinable courses. Just sign in enough to show you were there. That’s all you need to do. Then you can doze off to sleep the rest of the time.”
So that’s what John does. He goes to class the first week and starts taking notes, but it’s hard going, and something inside him says, “Why bother? It doesn’t count for the degree.” The next week John shows up late, and he only gets to hear half of the lectures. The following week he doesn’t show up at all because he forgot to set his alarm.
On the last day of class, the teacher has an announcement, “As you know, this course is not examinable, and does not count towards your degree. That does not mean, however, that it is unimportant.”
“At the end of class today, please submit all the notes that you have taken over the past 10 weeks. They will be placed in your file as evidence of your character and your commitment to learning. The college will include your notes as samples of the quality of your work along with your reference for the consideration of future employers.”
John looks through his notes:
He realizes that this shoddy work he has done for the past 10 weeks will be the first thing seen by a potential employer, so John rushes to the tutor, “This is not fair,” he says. “I was told quite clearly that this course does not count towards my degree. If I knew that it mattered I would have done my best work.”
“No, you’re right,” says the tutor, “it doesn’t count towards your degree. The mistake you made was to conclude that it doesn’t count for anything, and that was a terrible mistake!”
There are many Christians who have made the same mistake as John. They have learned that their entrance into heaven does not depend on their works – that is true. Salvation is the gift of God, by grace, through faith, in Christ. But it is a big mistake to assume that because your Christian life doesn’t count towards your salvation, it doesn’t count for anything!
Our Lord spoke very clearly about the rewards of faithful service. In Matthew 6, he spoke about the ministries of prayer, giving, and fasting. In each case he said, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mat. 6:4, 6, 18). Jesus said this.
In the parable of the talents, a man trusts his property to servants. To the servants who were faithful he says, “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much” (Mat. 25:21, 23). There is a direct correspondence between the faithfulness of the servants with what they have been given, and the trust given to them when their master returns.
Then think about these words of Jesus, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mat. 6:20).
People who have laid up treasure in heaven will receive it when they arrive there. They have made sacrifices on earth, and they receive rewards in heaven.
God speaks about this in a vivid picture of the judgment in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. Think of your life like building a house. Jesus Christ is the foundation. You can’t have any other. But as a Christian, you are building on this foundation.
Imagine the building site. Houses are going up all over the place, and the builders are using different materials. Some pieces of gold and silver are being placed in the décor. Some precious stones are being set into the walls. But there are some holes that are being covered with wood, and some holes that are being plugged with hay and stubble.
Then one day there is a fire. The wood, hay, and stubble all go up in smoke, but the gold, silver, and precious stones remain.
Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor. 3:13-15).
It may well be that Paul had these words in mind when he was moved by the Spirit to write 2 Corinthians 5: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (v10). The word that is translated ‘evil’ in the ESV, or ‘bad’ in the NIV can also be translated ‘worthless.’ Like the wood, hay, and stubble – it proved to be of no lasting value.
So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him (2 Corinthians 5:9).
The Christian has one life in two parts – with one purpose: You are going to bring joy to the heart of Christ in his presence forever. He will see the fruit of the suffering of his own soul and be satisfied. Jesus will rejoice in the accomplishing of all that he has done. He will not be asking, “Was it really worth it?”
We will glorify Christ forever in heaven, and our great purpose in life is to get started now. That’s why a proper view of our life in this world is so important. Right now you have opportunities to honor Christ and bring joy and pleasure to your Lord and Savior that are only possible during your life in this world.
There are opportunities to honor Christ now that you will never have again, so seize them! Use them! We make it our aim to please him! We will do that in heaven, but there are multiple ways of doing this that are only possible while we are here on earth.
We began by emphasizing the importance of this life. Something glorious comes from your honoring Christ while you endure the difficulties of life in the tent. Paul says, “It prepares for you an eternal weight of glory!” So, we make it our aim to please him.
Seize the opportunity to honor Christ in in the way you live now, especially when life is hard! When you do that you are laying gold, silver, and precious stones into the building of your life. That is something you can only do here.
Your life now, at its hardest, is laden with opportunity. And God tells you this so that you will not lose heart.
© Colin S. Smith
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