Sometimes I think about what it would be like to not be a Christian. Not because I want to go back, but it helps me think about how good being a Christian is. I can honestly say, there isn’t anything I can think of that would be appealing about choosing the world over Christ. I’m certainly not interested in living a life of sin again; enjoying Christ is just so much better. But do you know what is least appealing about life without Christ? There is no real sacrifice. It is not that people in the world do not make sacrifices, but Jesus asks us to make the ultimate sacrifice for the ultimate good, to the praise of the glory of God.
Jesus described two kinds of lives – and there aren’t three kinds! Either we are those who try to “save our lives” or we are those who “lose our lives for his sake” (Matt. 16:25). The least appealing life I can think of is one in which I try to save my life. My life is simply not worth saving. It is the sacrifice, yes even the afflictions, that make life in Christ so wonderful.
The Corinthians believed they could be Christians and yet still live like Corinthians, without sacrifice. That’s what the flesh does. When we are carnal, the flesh convinces us there is nothing higher than physical pleasure. It is striking that as Paul writes about the sacrifices he and others endured, he never speaks of hardships in a “woe is me” fashion. Instead, the hardships were an honor for Paul. Notice the following texts in 2 Corinthians:
“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (1:5)
We are captives in Christ’s victory parade spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2:14-16)
We are ministers of the new covenant so that everyone can see the glory of God with unveiled faces and be transformed into the same image. (3:1-18)
We are clay jars holding a treasure and willing to be broken to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (4:7)
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair – always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so the life of Jesus may be visible in our mortal flesh. (4:8-12)
Then two times Paul stated, “So we do not lose heart…” (4:1, 16) and two more times he stated, “We are always of good courage (5:6, 8).
Primary Reasons We Do Not Lose Heart (2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:10)
We Do Not Lose Heart: “We Believe, So We Also Speak” 4:13-15
These words are quoted from Psalm 116. The Psalmist was severely afflicted, but because of God’s greatness, he believed and therefore spoke. The psalmist had a spirit of faith as a natural outcome of knowing and seeing the beauty of God. Therefore he could not help but speak! Notice Paul’s method with the Corinthians. He does not try to convince them that Christians speak because they ought to, but just as with the psalmist, when they know God and experience the wonder of God, even afflictions cannot stop them from speaking.
Paul’s description of the outcome of “speaking” is such sweet motivation: “Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:15). Why do we speak even in the midst of affliction? We are so driven by God’s glory that we want grace to extend to more and more people, so that an increase of thanksgiving will create more glory to God. I doubt most of us considered our motivation for “speaking” to be increasing thanksgiving and glory to God. This is the first reason we do not lose heart.
We Do Not Lose Heart: the Contrast of the Eternal & the Transient, 4:16 – 5:1
Paul offers a number of contrasts. The outer self which is wasting away, is contrasted with the inner self which is renewed day by day. The present light momentary affliction is opposed to an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Instead of looking at the seen, we look at the unseen because the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. And the tent that is our earthly body cannot be compared to a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Notice especially that the wasting away of our outer self is not simply aging, but rather afflictions suffered as a Christian. There needs to be an appropriate response to this bodily wasting away. Most people find the bodily wasting as a reason to retire as soon as possible so they can fill their “bucket list.” For the Christian, the awareness of wasting away should push us to greater renewal every day, that is, looking deeply into the glory of God and being transformed from one degree of glory to another (3:18). We have such a short time to really know the one whom we are about to meet. We can’t afford to waste our time wasting away!
We Do Note Lose Heart: Our Eternal Home, 5:1-10
Much can be said about this text, but the primary message is that though we “groan” in our present tent, we “long” for our heavenly dwelling. It is not that we long to be “found naked” or be “unclothed” – that is, we are not longing for death. Instead, we are longing to be “further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” But what specifically are we longing for when we are clothed in our heavenly dwelling? Paul’s plain words are, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” It is shocking when I think of the many ways I have thought of heaven over my life and the many ways heaven has been preached. Strip away all the flowery language and there is only one thing that matters: we are at home with the Lord. There is no heaven without the Lord. There is no wedding feast without the bridegroom. There is no home if the Lord is not there. And until then, we are strangers and exiles. What do strangers and exiles do? They miss home and they miss the One who makes home, home. The most important emotion a Christian can have is to be able to say, “I miss Jesus; I can’t wait to be with him.”
Therefore, we are willing to be given over to death in Christ’s victory parade. As clay jars, we will be broken so the treasure can be seen. We will gladly die so others might live. We will not lose heart and we are always of good courage, because there is awaiting us a “building from God, eternal in the heavens,” where we will be “at home with the Lord.”