For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. (2 Corinthians 5:1-10, NLT)
Have you ever wondered why we have physical bodies? The late Dallas Willard posited that one of the reasons we have physical bodies is to serve as a limitation to our human will. We are capable of doing incredible good through our physical bodies. But as we have learned throughout human history, we are also capable of doing incredible evil through our physical bodies. Willard presents the human body as a sort of straight jacket that limits our will. The body governs the will by restricting our use of time and space. We can only be in one place at a time, for example. When our bodies are young, they are servants to our passions and strength. But as we mature, passion and strength gives way to wisdom and experience. We learn to work smarter and not harder because our bodies can’t sustain the pace they once did. Our bodies are depreciating assets.
Paul addresses the body in this section and expresses his confident hope that there will come a day in the future when we will cast aside the physical body and become clothed in a spiritual, glorified body. It will not be the same body we have on earth, but will be a body of a different type (1 Corinthians 15). Paul clearly had the resurrection of Jesus in mind as he wrote to the Corinthian believers, which serves as one point of his confident hope. The other point he cites in this passage is the presence of the Holy Spirit, which he claims is God’s pledge of promise that we will indeed experience this transformation (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit is referred to as God’s earnest payment, like the earnest money you give when you sign a contract to purchase a home. Paul is not necessarily longing for death, but his hope in the resurrection served to strengthen his resolve to live for the sake of the gospel.
He concludes the passage with some curious consequences of his hope. On one hand, he was encouraging his readers to have confident hope. But on the other hand, he wants them to be aware of what this hope involves.
First, living between the “now and not yet” means that we are not currently in the presence of Jesus in heaven. The body reminds us that we live in a different realm, like family members who live in on a different continent.
A second consequence is that we are required to live by faith each moment of our earthly lives. Our lives on earth prefer certainty over faith. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, its certainty. And our natural posture prefers certainty.
The third consequence is that in order to experience this transformation we must experience death. The unfortunate reality for the majority of us is that death will come through a long, difficult process. While we may wish to “just go to sleep and wake up in the arms of Jesus,” few of us actually will get to have that experience. In many ways, death is the last unexplored frontier.
Paul’s final consequence is that we will ultimately have to give an account for how we have lived on earth in our physical bodies. This judgment is not designed to determine whether or not we are worthy of heaven. That matter has been or will be settled prior to death. This is an accounting for how we have stewarded our lives and bodies for good and evil during life.
As I have studied this passage, I have come to the conclusion that I need to pay attention to the organic connection between my body, soul and spirit. One of the weaknesses of American Christianity is that we have separated our bodies from our souls, and have focused on matters of the heart while failing to listen to our bodies and what are bodies are trying to tell us. Our bodies are designed to provide signals to our brains as to when we are tired, hungry, cold, or even in danger, such as standing too close to a flame. One thing I appreciate about mindfulness and meditation is that it helps me remain aware of these important connections so that I’m working as a wholistic unit. I wish the same for you.
I hope you have a blessed Easter!