What do you value most?: a nice house, a successful career, a happy marriage and home life, good food and drink, great experiences? These things are all good, but they are not the best – we will see in this chapter Paul’s statement on what matters most.
In the last chapter we saw how we have a responsibility, in a straightforward way, to bring God’s light to this darkened world – people may be blindfolded by the god of this age, but he that is in us is greater than he that is in the world. We may be poor, unimpressive cheap containers, but we contain and bring God’s wonderful light to this world. The world will not thank us for this! We may even forfeit our lives, but what are these mortal bodies in any case? – they’re on the way out and new bodies await! Because of this we need have no fear. Paul says, “do not lose heart”.
In chapter 5 Paul gives us some additional direction as to how we are to view our lives and what we ought to value most.
1. From Tents to Houses
If you are young you may believe that you will never grow old and you may sometimes look at older people and think that you will never be like them: but one day you will! If you are old you may be much more aware of the limitations of the human body! Paul contrasts the current bodies we inhabit with the ones we look forward to receiving. He describes our current bodies as tents and the future bodies we will receive as an ‘eternal house’. If you’ve ever had a holiday ‘under canvas’ even if it was more of the ‘glamping’ variety you will be well aware of what it is to ‘get back to civilisation’. We once had a two week holiday in Normandy in a tent, we had a small gas cooker, a refrigerator, table chairs etc – so reasonably civilized, but we also had mice (lots of them) rain (lots of it) and all the inconvenience of a ‘toilet block!’ Once was enough! To get back home to the comforts of a real house was a welcome relief. Our present circumstances have all of the inconvenience of tent-living. Our bodies are mortal and in spite of the amazing intricacy of God’s wonderful design we are prone to aches, pains and more serious, sometimes deadly illnesses. As believers we have a future and it’s not about unnaturally extending the life of our present bodies with botox, cosmetic surgery and complicated fitness programmes. Our future is in an entirely new body, a body that will have eternal qualities. Paul says that in our current circumstances we groan – I think he means that both figuratively and literally. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to spend time in a hospital ward you will have doubtless heard groaning – but one day the groaning will cease and we will be ‘clothed with our heavenly dwelling’. This heavenly clothing will make our present circumstances fell like no clothes at all! Our mortal bodies will be swallowed up with life, says Paul.
Imagine if you could sell this: perfect, eternally living bodies – it’s valuable beyond imagination! How can we be sure we will get this? We receive this guaranteed future by believing on the Lord Jesus. Once we do, the new body is guaranteed. God has given his Holy Spirit to us as a deposit that guarantees what is to come. It almost seems too good to be true, but it’s not!
Is it right to be confident about getting this new body? Yes – simply because we already have the down payment. It’s not presumptuous or assuming too much to be confident, we already have the deposit. There are no strings attached! A deposit is a guarantee without qualification. The deal is already done!
If we are present in our current bodies we are not with the Lord, but our preference is to be away from these mortal bodies and present with the Lord. This is quite a thought. If you don’t find yourself readily agreeing with Paul I suspect that you have either become deluded and a bit too comfortable in your mortal body or maybe you have not in any way considered the remarkable future that you have as a Christian. In view of this remarkable thing how ought it to change the way we live? One might think that we should become reckless with our lives and try to exit our mortal bodies as soon as possible, but that’s not at all what Paul suggests; we ought to please the Lord in whatever body we inhabit.
The bible always places responsibility upon us: always. What we do in these bodies counts. One day we will be judged according to what we have done in these bodies. Will we use them for good things or bad or indifferent? A judgement day is coming. Let’s look forward to the day when we will be with the Lord and will inhabit new bodies, but let’s not neglect to do good with the current bodies we have. We will receive a reward for this: we have responsibility.
2. Good News
The thought of judgement brings on a feeling of fear. What should we be doing to pass the test of the judgement? Here’s what Paul says: Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. (in verse 11). You may remember that the god of this age has veiled the minds of unbelievers, this gives us a job to do – to persuade men of the truth of the good news. There’s no doubt that God acts in the lives of men and women to convict of sin, righteousness and coming judgement, but we have a role to play too. The devil is a liar and we need to persuade people of the truth. This is not a passive act, it’s highly active and calls for work. It seems quite clear that we have a role to play in persuasion and we thus have a part in the rescue of people to God.
This job of persuading men is quite a daunting responsibility – we need some motivation. What was the motivation of Paul to persuade men? It was God’s love. He said ‘God’s love compels us! God’s love for whom exactly? God’s love for men. Here’s what Paul says: 14For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. This is the sort of God we worship, a God of love. He came to this world to die for all, that’s you, me, our colleagues at work, our neighbours and every person we ever meet – even the insufferable ones and the despicable ones – all means just that; all. I sometimes marvel at the number of people who travel on my train each morning, 12 coaches full (sitting and standing) of humanity, maybe 1,000 people, and God loves them all – he died for them all without exception. This is genuinely good news and we’ve been entrusted with it, in fact we are accountable for what we do with this truth. The one who blinds the minds of unbelievers is quite capable of twisting the truth in the minds of believers too: his strategy is to keep people in darkness and one way he may do that is by convincing us that we don’t need to persuade men. Are our actions aligned with, and motivated by God’s love or the devil’s lies?
Having received new life through Jesus we have a new reason for living. Before we believed we lived for ourselves, now we should live for him who died for us and rose again. It’s so easy to live for ourselves – becoming inward looking and concerned for our own welfare and needs. When we lived in America our children attended a local school, the teachers in that school encouraged each child to say out loud ‘I’m the best kid’ (or words to that effect). I suspect that this was some sort of attempt to inculcate ‘self esteem’! This attitude leads to self-centred selfishness and individualism – sadly this attitude seems to have crossed the Atlantic. Churches and Christian teachers are not immune. What should be our motivation for living? Building up our self esteem? Having our ‘needs’ met? Paul says don’t live for yourselves, but for him who died for us and was raised again. I believe that if we learn to do this we will become effective persuaders of men.
3. Ambassadors of reconciliation
How much of our time do we spend watching TV, surfing the internet and immersing ourselves in the thinking of the world. This thinking seeps into our minds, usually without us even realising it. Paul is keen that we do not follow this path. He says that when we believe we are placed into Christ – and when we are in Christ we are fundamentally changed: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!” I remember once being buttonholed by a couple after a service in which I said that even as believers we have a sin nature within us and that if we don’t order our lives according to God’s Spirit we will do things that are not right. They quoted the ‘new creation’ verse back to me and said that the old had gone and that any sin in our lives was nothing to do with us! We know from other parts of the New Testament (and from personal and bitter experience) that there remains within us a sin nature that is capable of producing sinful acts. So what does Paul mean here? It seems that when we are in Christ our circumstances completely change – we are indeed new creations, our old circumstances of separation from God are transformed to union with Christ, we are reconciled to him. You will remember that when God made Adam and Eve he walked in the garden in the cool of the day – it seems that God walked with Adam and Eve. But when Adam and Eve were disobedient they no longer wanted to be with God – the hid from him. This is our natural condition; we don’t want to be with God we are estranged from him by the sin within us. But when we believe, our circumstances entirely change and we are reconciled to God.
Not only are we reconciled to God but we are given ‘the ministry of reconciliation’. To minister simply means to serve. God is reconciling the world to himself and we are part of his great plan and purpose. Paul says that God has committed to us the message of reconciliation. But who are we to do this! We are nothing! We are just ordinary people! We’re just the people God wants for this purpose: cheap containers that bring his light to the world! Our role is to be Christ’s ambassadors. An ambassador is a representative. When we lived in Switzerland we needed to renew the passports of our children. We couldn’t apply to the Swiss government, because we were foreigners, but the British government had a representative, an Ambassador in Bern. We could apply through the Ambassador to receive a new passport – even although we were in a country foreign to the UK.
We represent Christ on this earth; I wonder what sort of Ambassador for Christ are you? You may say, I’m too hopeless or I’m too damaged by sin, or I’m just not up to it. This may seem an almost humble thing to say, but in actual fact it’s quite a wrong thing to say – it’s denying God’s work in your life – you are a new creation. You are therefore an ambassador of Christ. So what sort of ambassador are you going to be? Paul was motivated, compelled even, by God’s love, what’s the driving force in your life?
One last thought; Paul implores the Corinthians to be reconciled to God. I’m slightly puzzled by this, because Paul has just said that we already are reconciled to God through Christ. I suspect that what he is getting at is that whilst we are in fact reconciled, we can in fact behave as if we are not. It’s entirely possible to be married and yet behave as though one is single. The reality is that we have been reconciled to God, that’s our status, but do we live as though this is true? To live as one reconciled to God means that we will be effective Ambassadors for him. As is usually the case – we bear responsibility for what we do, it’s up to you and it’s up to me.