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Don't Lose Heart

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God (2 Corinthians 5:1 ESV).

The world is scarred by increasingly ominous conflicts. We watch the news and wonder, “What in the world is going to happen next?” It’s easy to lose heart

 

Then there is the huge moral shift that has taken place in our culture from a basis in God and his word to a basis in us and our desires. It’s easy to lose heart

 

We see a growing drift in many churches toward becoming more about us than about God, more about gathering a crowd than about honoring the Lord. It’s easy to lose heart.

 

Then there are the more personal burdens that so many of us carry. Some are enduring long struggles over health – the endless round of treatments and the draining effects of wondering, “Is this ever going to get better?” Some are enduing great difficulties with loved ones – life at home has been soured. You don’t rest. It’s hard to find peace.

 

Some of you would say, “My life is not what I want it to be. This isn’t what I signed up for! I never thought I would find myself here!” It’s easy to lose heart.

 

Don’t lose heart!

If you have your Bible open, you will see that our title is taken directly from 2 Corinthians 4:16, where Paul says, “So we do not lose heart.”

 

If you are like me, you might read these words and say, “Really? Well, tell me how! How am I supposed to live in a world like this and not lose heart? How can I face the pressures that are all around me and not be overwhelmed with discouragement?”

 

The verses that follow are the answer to these questions. The answer to how we can live in this world and not lose heart is headlined in verses 16-18, but the answer is delivered in full in 2 Corinthians 5.

 

The headline is delivered in three contrasts:

 

  1. In verse 16, Paul speaks about the outer self and the inner self, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

 

  1. In verse 17, Paul talks about our present affliction and our eternal glory, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

 

  1. In verse 18, Paul contrasts what is seen, which is passing, with what is unseen, lasts forever, “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

 

So that’s the headline: Don’t lose heart! We are dealing with the outer self: All the pressures and stressors that are part of life in this body. We endure this present affliction.  That covers all the circumstances of your life that bring pressure to bear on you.

 

We also face the raw discouragement of what is seen: The world so often in conflict, the church so often in compromise. Put all of that together and it’s not surprising that so many get discouraged. But Paul says, “We do not lose heart!”

 

How? Why? Our inner self is being renewed. There is an eternal weight of glory that will far outweigh all of this. We endure by fixing our eyes on what is unseen.

 

A good headline always makes you want to read more. So, what are these unseen things that we are to fix our eyes on? What is this glory and how does it help us in what we face this week? How exactly can our inner life be renewed day by day?

 

All of these questions are answered in 2 Corinthians 5, and that is why we are going to camp out here for the next seven weeks. 2 Corinthians 5 is the extended answer to 2 Corinthians 4:16. It tells us, in a nutshell, how not to lose heart.

 

I have two headings today, and they will frame the first part of our answer as to why we do not lose heart from 2 Corinthians 5:1-5.

 

A Healthy Dose of Realism about the Christian Life on Earth

 

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God (2 Corinthians 5:1).

 

Earlier this year we thought about the soul. This series begins with the body. God gave you life through a union of your soul and your body. God knit you together, the Bible says, in your mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13).

 

Here, God speaks about the body as a kind of house for the soul. The body is our earthly home. It is the house your soul lives in.

 

We live in a tent

The tent that is our earthly home (v1).

 

Paul does not say that your body is like a fort, or a castle, or a battleship. He says it is like a tent with canvas, ropes, and pegs. It is a fragile structure, adequate housing for the time being, but never intended to be your final home.

 

Think about this tent that is your body: It is made of tough canvas, and it has strong ropes. It can endure some heavy weather. But it’s only canvas. The ropes can fray, and they have a breaking point.

 

Your nerves are like ropes that can fray. There are limits to what your body can take. The delicate chemical balance in your brain is like a canvas that can very easily tear. Your central nervous system can carry a certain load, but the ropes have a breaking point.

 

Once you see this, it will not surprise you that sometimes the children of godly parents struggle with conditions and disorders that are hard to bear and harder to diagnose. Their bodies are only tents.

 

And once you see this, it will not surprise you to discover that a missionary is on anti-depressants, or that a respected Christian leader has to step back from ministry because of the strain that has come on his family.

 

I am calling this a healthy dose of realism about the Christian’s life on earth. Some of us have gotten into difficulties because we have imagined that since we’re Christians, we must be like forts or battleships. But Paul says, “No, your body is like a tent.”

 

We groan in the tent

While we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened (v4).

 

Some of you are enthusiastic campers – forget the fancy hotel, forget renting an RV, your idea of a good time is to put up your tent, build your fire, and make s’mores! Paul was a tentmaker, which is why I suppose God brought this image to mind.

 

There is a great deal of joy in camping. But none of you are doing it all year round! If you did, you would soon be groaning because the difficulties of life in the body are part of the Christian life, and becoming more godly does not change this.

 

Some of you know what it is to groan because of a particular frailty of the body. Others groan because of the circumstances of your life, and all that has happened to you. But then you say, “If I prayed more, it would not be like this! If I had more faith, I would not be in this position.”

 

I don’t think many people have prayed more, believed more, or been more godly than the apostle Paul. So if he groaned in his tent, then none of us should be surprised when we find ourselves groaning in ours!

 

There will be seasons in all of our lives when we groan because of our bodies. All Christians groan under some frailty that arises from the body. We carry that burden.

As if this was not humbling enough, there’s another dose of this healthy medicine.

 

The tent will be torn down

We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed (v1).

 

Think how easy it is to take down a tent. To take down a house you need a bulldozer, but to take down a tent all you need to do is loosen a few ropes, pull a few pegs, and there it is collapsed in a heap, lying on the ground.

 

Pulling down the tent is obviously a description of death. The tent, which is your body, will be taken down. One day, God himself will slacken the ropes, pull out the pegs, and the house God has given you will be destroyed. Thomas Boston says, “You have no security in your house. You know not how soon you may be forced out of doors.” [1]

 

Notice Paul says, “If the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed.” I think he says “if” because there was always another possibility in his mind – that the Lord Jesus might return in glory while he was still alive.

 

Christ may come before your tent is taken down. But that does not keep Paul from facing the reality that has been the experience of every Christian believer for 2,000 years. At some point, the tent gets taken down.

 

A healthy dose of realism

I want to pause here and ask: How are you enjoying this inspiring and uplifting message? We desperately need a healthy dose of realism about the Christian’s life on earth.

 

If you start out in the Christian life thinking that it is going to be heaven on earth you will not follow Jesus Christ for long. You will go round in circles wondering, “Why am I suffering? Why is there so much evil in the world? Why is my life so hard?”

 

You will be like the rocky ground that receives the good seed, but the soil is shallow, and when trouble comes, the shoots that have grown are scorched and they wither and die. Why does this happen? Because there’s no depth.

 

Listen to how Jesus describes the Christian life: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). That doesn’t sound to me like the promise of a wonderful life on earth.

 

He is not saying, “Follow me and I will give you all that you ever wanted.” It is really hard to be a Christian if you get following Jesus confused with the American dream.

People who do that live in perpetual disappointment. They are always losing heart.

 

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that following Jesus will be like life in a palace. The life of a Christian in this world is like life in a tent, a fragile structure in which there is a lot of groaning, and one day it will be taken down. If you believe it, this healthy dose of biblical realism will do much over the years to help you not to lose heart.

 

A Marvelous Gift of Revelation about the Christian Life in Heaven

We know that 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 (2 Corinthians 5:1)

 

A Christian is a person who owns two homes. The home you are living in now is a temporary one – canvas, ropes, and pegs. But you have another home that is more enduring, more substantial. The date for your moving to your new home has not yet been given, but it is already known to God.

 

What exactly is this new home? Nobody I have read deals with this question better than Charles Hodge, the great teacher of an earlier century from Princeton, in his commentary on 2 Corinthians. [2]

 

Hodge asks, “What is the building into which the soul enters when the present body taken down?” He lists three possibilities:

 

  1. Heaven itself.
  2. The resurrection body.
  3. Some kind of temporary body, an intermediate body, so that we are not “found naked” between death and the resurrection when Christ returns in glory.

 

Hodge quickly dismisses option number 3: An interim, temporary body is nowhere taught in Scripture, and besides Paul says that the new house is eternal, so it could hardly be interim or temporary.

 

With regards to number 2, Hodge points out that a resurrection body is the gift of God to all believers when Christ returns in glory. Christian who die still have to wait for that gift even though they are already in the presence of the Lord.

 

The only person who has the resurrection body right now is Jesus Christ. Your Christian loved one who died is with Christ, but he or she does not have the resurrection body. Their body was laid to rest, or it was cremated, or perhaps it was lost and never found.

 

No Christian has the resurrection body at this time. Paul, does not have it, nor Peter, nor John. Christians who have died are in the presence of Jesus, but they do not have the resurrection body yet.

 

Now in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul is answering the question, “What happens when a Christian dies?” What happened to Stephen when he was martyred? What is the present experience of your believing loved one who has died? What happens the moment after a Christian closes his or her eyes in death? The answer to that question is not the resurrection body.

 

The answer to that question is spelled out in verse 8: “To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord!” So I am convinced, with Hodge and many others, that the home referred to here is heaven itself.

 

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms… I go and prepare a place for you” (John 14:2-3). Abraham, who lived in tents, was “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).

 

Paul says here, “We know that 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” (2 Cor. 5:1).

 

The Christian is a person with two houses. The first house for your soul is your body, which is like a tent. When this house is pulled down, you will move into your other house, which is in heaven. Heaven is the house into which your soul will enter when its present house is destroyed.

 

The contrast between the two houses could hardly be greater: The tent is a house to lodge in; the building is a home to live in. The tent is a fragile structure that will be destroyed; the building is an enduring structure that will be eternal. In the earthly tent there is groaning, but in the “house not made with hands” what is mortal is swallowed up by life! (2 Cor. 5:4).

 

Your soul is separated from your body

 

This is why death is referred to as an enemy, the last enemy. It is the undoing of our nature, the tearing apart of what God has joined together.

 

God gave you life by knitting your body and soul together. This interconnection is so complex, so profound, that we can hardly imagine life without the body.

 

Try to imagine shutting down all the functions of the body, one by one – you can no longer see, or hear, or speak, or eat, or walk, or move. Eventually, you would be conscious but unable to function. That’s why Paul says, “we long to put on our heavenly dwelling, that we may not be found naked” (2 Cor. 5:3).

 

He says the same thing in verse 4: We groan and are burdened, “not that we would be unclothed.” Nobody in their right mind wants their soul to be separated from their body.

 

If the only thing to say about death was this eviction of the soul from the body, it would be terrifying indeed. Who wants to be a shivering ghost, lost in space without a home? Nobody wants that. So thank God, that’s not what happens.

 

Your soul moves into its new home

 

Christian brother, sister, when God takes down your tent, your soul will not be lost in space without a resting place. The moment you leave the tent, your soul will be at home in the building. To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.

 

Karen and I have only moved once in all of our married lives. We moved from a home owned by the church we served in London to a home that we bought when we came here.

That’s a four thousand mile journey, and the move took some time.

 

But the moment you leave the tent, you will arrive in the building. It will be an instant move! Away from the body – at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). You will not be out there and homeless. Matthew Henry says,

 

Death considered merely as a separation of soul and body is not to be desired, but rather dreaded; but considered as a passage to glory, the believer is willing to die rather than to live, to be absent from the body, the he may be present with the Lord. [3]

 

Death, for the Christian, is an immediate translation into the presence of the Lord. You exchange the tent for the building, earth for heaven. You exchange the temporary for the eternal, the pain of groaning for the joy of glory.

 

How God has prepared you for this

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God (v5).

 

Christian brother, sister, God has prepared you for this translation from the tent to the building. Here’s how: He sent his Son into the world to prepare a place in heaven for you.

He sent his Spirit into your heart to prepare you for your place in heaven.

 

The One who has prepared us for this very thing is God, “who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” The Old Testament describes the tabernacle which was a tent. It tells us that the cloud of God’s presence came into the tent.

 

Now Paul says that your body is a tent, and the Holy Spirit of God comes down to dwell in this tent with you. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Christ lives in you. He is with you in the tent! God makes his home with you in the tent, until the day when you make your home with him in the house that is eternal in the heavens.

 

I call this a marvelous gift of revelation about the Christian’s life in heaven. God did not need to tell us anything about life beyond the tent. He could have said, “Trust me and wait and see.” But God did not do that.

 

God pulls back the curtain so that believers can say, “We know that 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.” And when you find yourself groaning in the tent, that knowledge will keep you from losing heart.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: www.unlockingthebible.org

[1] Thomas Boston, from the sermon: Rational Evidences for Heaven, Illustrated, Feb. 13, 1715.

[2] Charles Hodge, 2 Corinthians, (Crossway, 1995), p. 90-92.

 

[3] Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), p. 353.