2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 Common English Bible (CEB)

13 We have the same faithful spirit as what is written in scripture: I had faith, and so I spoke.[a] We also have faith, and so we also speak. 14 We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you. 15 All these things are for your benefit. As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory.

16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

We know that if the tent that we live in on earth is torn down, we have a building from God. It’s a house that isn’t handmade, which is eternal and located in heaven.

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

Down, But Not Out – Torn Tents

If you have ever spent any time in a tent, you know that living in a tent is not as comfortable and secure as a house.  You may have found out that it is extra hot or cold depending on the weather, and that a storm can totally wreck a tent, and the ground is really hard if you are trying to sleep.  Tents may be great for a weekend adventure, but much beyond that and the tent loses its attraction.  It’s easy to figure out that a tent is only temporary.

And in today’s scripture it is this image of a torn tent that Paul uses to describe our earthly bodies.  Before we dig into this idea, I want to remind you that in this book, in 2 Corinthians, Paul is writing to defend his teaching and preaching.  You may remember from last week, that if you read the whole book of 2 Corinthians, you can learn that there are some people that Paul sarcastically calls “super apostles” who have been claiming that they have had some special experiences with God, and that their preaching and teaching is somehow more holy and more legitimate than Paul’s.  And you may remember that it is in 2 Corinthians that we really see Paul talk about the suffering that he went through.  Last week we looked at 1 Corinthians 11 where he had written about all the crazy things he had suffered for the sake of Christ.  Do you remember any of the things that Paul had gone through on his journeys across the world?  (shipwreck, imprisonment, beatings with a rod and 40 lashes minus one, hunger, cold, thirst, stoning, danger from robbers, his people, and Jews).  So in 2 Corinthians we see Paul really being very honest about the hardships he has gone through; and he is also very honest about his weaknesses.  And the main point of this letter is to show that it is in our weaknesses that the power of God can be seen – it is in our weakness that the greatness of God stands out like a sore thumb.  We may be knocked down, but we are not knocked out, because God is with us, and God can use our weakness for his glory.

And Paul continues with this idea in today’s scripture.  He says:

We know that if the tent that we live in on earth is torn down, we    have a building from God. It’s a house that isn’t handmade, which is eternal and located in heaven.

Now you may have noticed last week that Paul loves to use metaphors.  And we know he’s not really talking about a tent.  Instead, Paul is comparing our bodies with torn tents.  He’s saying our bodies are temporary shelters on this earth.  I think we would all agree with that.  When we reach a certain age our bodies start to rebel on us, don’t they?  Our bodies get weaker, we start to ache and hurt, we get wrinkles and gray hair, we can’t move around as well, and our systems malfunction.  And not only are our bodies like torn tents because of the normal aging process, but at all ages we are susceptible to disease and injury.  And our bodies will eventually give up.

And relatively speaking, we are alive on this earth for a really short period of time.  Just to get that in perspective, I want you to turn to a person near you and share the names of your grandparents if you can.  And then would you share the names of your great-grandparents if you can.  And then it gets even harder, would you share the names of your great great grandparents.  Now some of you are geneology scholars, but most of us have trouble naming these ancestors of ours.  My point is that our time on this earth is limited, and we seem to live like we will be here forever and be remembered forever.  We forget that we really are in a temporary living condition here on this earth – and so Paul describes our earthly life and our earthly body as a tent that is torn down.

And although there are so many beautiful words and profound ideas in this scripture, for me Paul has two main messages.  The first one is that when the tents that are our bodies are torn down, that is not the end of our story.  Paul is confident in the power of Christ – he is confident in the story of Jesus’s resurrection.  And he is most certain that all who believe will also be resurrected – they will soon have resurrection bodies and a house that is eternal in heaven.  Paul is certain that we are only passing time on this earth until we get to our ultimate eternal destination.  Paul says:

We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you.          (verse 14).

Paul’s faith in Jesus is so strong that he is certain that just as Christ was resurrected, he and the other believers will be resurrected, too.  Paul sees his trials on earth as nothing compared to the promise of eternal life.  in God’s glory.  Let me remind you of how Paul says it:

16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

Now I need to say that 2 Corinthians is a letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth- his audience was mainly folks who believed in Jesus.  He is writing to first century Christians and encouraging them in their faith.  And so I encourage you all today with Paul’s words – whether you are a believer or not, know that it is through faith in Christ that we can experience life everlasting after our torn tents fall apart.  When our bodies fail, God “the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence.”  It is through faith in Christ that we are saved.  So I urge you to come to Christ this day!  Like Jesus said to his first followers, just come and see what it’s all about.  I urge you to come to Christ for the first time or in a deeper way.  It is simply a matter of saying – yes, I do believe!  Or, Jesus draw me nearer!

The second big idea I want you to take away from this scripture is that because our time on this earth is short, we need to make the most of it.  There is no time to waste.  Now the first century Christians in Corinth were convinced that Jesus would return during their lifetimes and that they needed to be prepared for this to happen at any moment.  And there are people today who argue the end is near.  Regardless of when Christ returns, the end of our lives could come at any time, so we too have a high incentive to come to Christ—to profess our faith — to say “I believe.”  But then we also have a high incentive to live totally focused on our mission for God because we don’t have a lot of time and there is a lot at stake.

As followers of Christ we are called to live not for ourselves but for the sake of others.  There is nothing about salvation that is simply for us.  Instead we are in this together.  (Wesley Study Bible, 1465). Our mission on this earth is to love God and to love people.  And one way that we are specifically called to accomplish this is to go and tell others about the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul says it this way starting with verse 13.

13 We have the same faithful spirit as what is written in scripture: I had faith, and so I spoke.[a] We also have faith, and so we also speak. 14 We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you. 15 All these things are for your benefit. As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory.

Our faith is to be used for the benefit of other people.  If we have faith, we are supposed to speak – right.  Paul makes that point twice – when we have faith, we speak.  We are supposed to tell others!  Now I know that many times it is uncomfortable to speak to others about our faith.  But I believe it must be natural and not forced, and I believe we are only called to speak as the Holy Spirit directs us to.  And sometimes, God’s Spirit won’t leave us a lone about it.  Have you ever experienced this movement of the Holy Spirit where someone or something gets on your mind and you can’t shake the nagging feeling to say something or do something?

God wants us to speak and act toward our unchurched friends and coworkers and neighbors in a way that reveals the light of God!  And we don’t even have to do it of our own power or with our own words because scripture tells us that the Spirit will give us words and power to do that.

I’m reading a book about the Holy Spirit in mission, and the author of the book tells two stories I want to share with you.  One story is about when he was a brand new youth pastor in the 70s.  He had just read the book The Cross and the Switchblade by Dave Wilkerson — if you haven’t read it I really recommend it.  It is about Wilkerson’s outreach to drug addicts and gang members in Harlem in the 50s – it’s an amazing story of sharing the light of Christ with people who needed to experience God’s love.  And it was after reading The Cross and the Switchblade that the youth pastor noticed a group of rowdy kids hanging out in a neighborhood park causing problems.  He wrote that the Spirit gave him the strong feeling that he needed to stop and talk to the kids.  But he was very introverted and inexperienced.  He had only recently come to faith.  And he resisted for a long time.  But the Spirit kept nagging him to do it.  And so here’s what happened:

“Finally, I could no longer withstand the pressure the Holy Spirit was applying to my conscience.  One day as I drove by the park I spied a good number of the kids up to no good.  For heaven’s sake, I remember thinking to myself, if David Wilkerson could take the gospel to Harlem, I can take it into this little neighborhood park.  So, on an impulse, I quickly swerved my 1971 Mach 1 Mustang to the side of the road, literally skidded to a stop on the sand shoulder.  In a flash, I flung open the car door and jumped out, heading across the street toward where the park rats were standing, wide-eyed and open-mouthed (them, not me).  My church required me to wear a suit and tie.  So the sight of a guy in a suit, bringing his car to an abrupt stop, emerging quickly and striding toward them in a determined, forthright manner, caused the gaggle to assume that I was some version of “the man.” As a result, they began to scatter in all directions!  But I called out to them, assuring them that I was not there to hurt or roust them in any way.  Remarkably, all of them returned and stood in front of me, about a dozen and a half rowdy teens.

After taking a moment to collect myself, I opened my mouth and began my impromptu ministry presentation, simply saying, “Hey, I could be wrong, but I have this strong feeling that God wants me to tell you guys a story.”  I then proceeded to share the gospel with them in the form of a parable.  A pretty lame parable as I recall.  And yet the Holy Spirit was obviously involved in all this.

He says the Holy Spirit took over for three reasons: First, he had done what he felt compelled to do, second the kids had come back to listen, and third he was able to articulate the gospel which was heard.  He writes that at the conclusion of his story, every single one of those park rats knelt in the grass, raised their hands toward heaven as a sign of surrender to God and followed along with a prayer of faith.  He said, “It really did happen just like that.  My youth group grew about 30 percent as a result of my visit to the park that day.  It all started with a prompting from the Spirit to speak and act in Christ’s name.”  (The Holy Spirit in Mission by Gary Tyra).

Not only are we called to speak to unchurched people, but we are called to speak to build up the faith of other believers. The second story the writer told is about a woman named Dorothy.

The author was pastor of a church and they were having a Christmas service.  They were gathered around the piano singing Christmas songs, and the pastor got a really strong Holy Spirit urging to go over to Dorothy and put his arm around her and whisper, “Dorothy, the Lord wants me to tell you that this is not my arm you’re feeling around you right now; it’s his arm. And he loves you very much.”  Well, he wrote that Dorothy began to weep profusely when he did this.  After the service Dorothy admitted that the evening before she had been feeling lonely and sad.  Her roommates had gone on dates to Christmas parties and she didn’t have a boyfriend in her life.  And so she prayed to God in her sadness.  She said: “Lord, I know it’s wrong to feel this way.  I know that I have you in my life and should be content with that.  But, Lord sometimes I just get so lonely.  If I could physically feel your arms around me, if I could audibly hear your voice telling me you love me, then maybe, I could be patient until I meet the person you have for me.”

 

The very next day while worshiping Jesus with her eyes closed and her hands raised, Dorothy suddenly felt an arm wrap around her shoulders and heard a voice whisper in her ear, “Dorothy, the Lord wants me to tell you that this is not my arm you’re feeling around you right now; it’s his arm. And he loves you very much.”

When we have faith, we are called to speak and act for God to build up others!

You see God wants to use us for his purposes.  God even wants to use our weaknesses – even if we feel like fragile clay pots or even if our bodies are breaking down like tents that are torn!  God will renew us inwardly day by day – when we turn to God, our inward and spiritual nature grows stronger and stronger, even when our physical bodies are breaking down!  And we are called to use this growing faith to speak!  We speak on behalf of God —- we speak good news into a world that is overwhelmed with bad news!  What a humbling and profound mission we have for our short time on this earth.

So, today – there are two things to absorb.

Most importantly — believe in Christ!

Your salvation depends on it.

But don’t stop there, because we are short-timers on this earth.  And God wants to use us, flaws and all.  We are called to keep focused on the mission that God put us here to accomplish – to speak.