Corinth was a fascinating city it had been totally destroyed in 146 BC and was rebuilt in 44 BC by Julius Caesar. This rebuilt city was repopulated with old soldiers, slaves and ex-slaves and became a city of contrasts; there were the very wealthy and the poverty stricken. One third of the population of the city were slaves who had nothing, yet for the very rich, many of whom were ex-slaves made good, “wealth and ostentatious display became a hallmark of Corinth”
In Corinth the gospel was under threat because the church in had too much of Corinth in it. In society they prized power, charisma, personality, and speaking skills and the church adopted the values of society. It led to misunderstandings about where and when they live – they thought they had already arrived, that the blessings of the kingdom come were to be theirs now! And so as they look at Paul who is hard pressed, beaten, persecuted and arrested they questioned his ministry – can he really be an apostle if he’s suffering, where is the power in his life? And crucially it means that when they experience difficulty, persecution, and hardship they will be rocked to their foundations.
Paul confronts this head spending ch1-7 defending his gospel ministry and seeking to correct their misunderstandings. As we come to ch5 Paul has been explaining how the believers hope is not realised now. Now we experience suffering (4:7-18)our physical bodies are decaying and wasting away, but our hope is not in now, it’s not in our physical well being or freedom from persecution or infirmity, it is(4:16-18) in our future. Suffering and wasting away now prepare us for glory when Christ returns and we receive our eternal glory, and the implications are massive because it affects what we value. Believers value inward renewal not outward appearance(16), believers value the future over the present(17), and believers value the unseen over what is seen(18).
Our future is eternal and glorious even if now we experience suffering, ageing and hardship. Paul’s teaching in chapter 5 builds on this. In (1-5)Paul reminds them of what they know, before in (6-10)applying that to their attitude and living.
1. What we knowHow does the world think of death? How does that show itself in society? How do believers think counter culturally?
George Bernard Shaw wrote: ‘Death is the ultimate statistic: one in one dies.’ Yet the world buries that, it denies that reality in the way it lives, it seeks to disprove it in the never ending groping of science to prolong life. Death is the great enemy! And we want to say yes death is the great enemy, it’s the ultimate consequence of sin. But Paul reminds believrs death is not the unconquerable end of hope for the believer.
(1)Paul begins “For we know” because he is reminding them of what they have already been taught. Turn to 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 – read it. Paul here reminds them of what he has already taught them – death is not the unconquerable enemy, death is the conquered enemy. He reminds them that our hope is not in this life but in life beyond death, in fact it is in resurrection life because Christ’s people are resurrection people. Our hope is eternal glory which outweighs all the struggles and sufferings of this present life.
As he reminds them of what they know about hope, glory, death and resurrection Paul uses different metaphors.
a. Earthly tent v Eternal house(1)Paul begins with a compare and contrast metaphor of an earthly tent, our bodies and an eternal house, our resurrection bodies.
The body is like a tent in that it is temporary and will one day be taken down – in other words we will die. But believers do not despair because **what do we have? A building from God and it’s more secure, more substantial, permanent, heavenly and eternal, it won’t be subject to wear and tear, it won’t suffer or be taken down.
It’s a brilliant image isn’t it? If I offered you the choice; live in a tent or a house which would you choose? House, why? Security, safety, permanence, comfort and so on.
Death may claim our tent – our temporary residence but it will not claim us. In fact our hope is not in the world it will only be realised after death. Death does not signify the end of hope for believers but a doorway to hope.
b. New clothes(2-4)
**Paul uses a second image, what is it? Clothing. Knowing what we know – that this body is temporary and God has prepared for us a resurrection body that will be glorious and eternal we “groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling”. In anticipation we long to put on our resurrection bodies because the bodies we have now aren’t perfect, in them we experience suffering and are subject to the decay of living in a sin sick world. We want to put on our resurrection bodies not so we can live in them here and now but because they will mean that we are enjoying eternal glory with God.
Believers are not afraid of death, though we may have a fear of how we die. Death is not the end we know that and we trust God. But neither do Christians have a death wish, it is not that we long to die and be done with this world. No, our longing is a positive one we long to experience all the joys and wonders of relationship with God fully realised in the new creation when the perishable is clothed with imperishable and when Christ’s victory is realised at his return – when our longing for God’s glory to be fully and universal known is fulfilled.
Believers long for our resurrection life when Christ has returned and everything is united under him.
c. Our Guarantee of life(5)But how can we be sure? (5)God has made us for this purpose through the gospel(5:17), he has made us for life eternal and we have the deposit – the Holy Spirit living in us.
Imagine I put down a deposit of £500 on a new car over the internet. **What does that deposit say to the dealer? I am coming to get that car, it will be mine and I have made a considerable investment in it so it is kept for me. It promises that I will pay for it in full and take possession of it.
So it is with the Holy Spirit, at the point of conversion the Holy Spirit indwells God’s people as a deposit of what will come. He is the downpayment – a partial experience of what our true glorified and realised relationship with God will be like so that we are certain of its reality. It’s a taster and a promissory sign that what God has begun he will complete, what he has promised he will make good. He works in us to renew and remake us day by day as a sure and certain sign that we are being renewed and fitted for a purpose – resurrection and being with God.
Our current life is not our hope, our current bodies are not all that we are. Our hope is in resurrection bodies fitted and glorified to spend eternity with the God of glory. And we know it is our certain future therefore death is a beaten enemy and we do not fear death because we know it has no hold on us.
The world views death as the ultimate tragedy, an end to all life, dreams, hope and potential, but for us it is just the beginning of realising our life, dreams, hopes and potential in Christ.
2 What hope produces(6-10)Paul is not revising theology so that they can get an A* in an exam on a Christian attitude to death, he is reminding them because it affects how we live. We see with the “Therefore”(6) some implications of this.
a. Confident in living life by faith – Believers don’t need to be wavering and fearful in the face of suffering, illness or even death itself, instead we can be confident because we know that this is not all there is. The Corinthians had an over realised view of life now – they thought all the blessings of Christ’s return were theirs now. So suffering, ageing, illness, persecution, and death rocked their confidence and caused them to question. But we can be confident in our hope because “as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” In this life we will experience outward decay, persecution, hardship, trouble, illness and death, it is normal Christian experience because our hope isn’t in this world but the next(4:7-12).
This understanding liberates us to live by faith, not by sight. We may look at our lives and see hardship, struggle and decay but we know that inwardly we are being renewed and fitted for an eternal glory that outweighs our momentary troubles. In the face of life’s strife and struggles we are confident – unshaken, anchored and secure – of our future so much so that we want to be with our Saviour.
So as we are persecuted we aren’t asking God what he is doing because his people should not experience persecution, but we know resurrection realities aren’t ours yet, but he is preparing us for them. As we feel the ageing and decay of our bodies we are not obsessed by it and rail against it but know what our future is. As we face death we know that it is a conquered and vanquished enemy, for us as believers we are simply falling asleep in Christ.
b. Assured and aware – Believers are assured of their future secure in Christ and it has an impact on how they live. They are to live with an awareness of Christ’s return and therefore live out their faith. Christ is coming again and we look forward to it but we do not sit on our hands as we wait for it.
The doctrine of the resurrection is to reassure us in suffering and produce in us lives that please him. It is not to produce a complacency that simply rests on having a ticket to the gig. (5:21)Believers are saved by faith Christ alone but that faith is expressed in love and obedience.
We are to live now aware of then, living to please the one who gave everything for us. How do we please him? (11)We persuade others, we live differently(6:3-13), we pursue holiness(7:1), we repent over our sins(7:10), we display our hope for all to see.
It does not produce saints so preoccupied with this world that they give no thought of the next, but neither does it produce saints so heavenly minded they are of no earthly use. Instead it produces a people captured by the prospect of their glory so wonderfully secured by God’s grace in Jesus that they live out their hope even in the face of suffering and liberated from the fear of death!