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May 19 - 2 Corinthians 5 - "Life in a Leaky Tent"
MPC 19th May 2013.
I know those of you who are keen campers find this hard to believe, but you're looking at a guy who thinks the best thing about going camping is getting home.
From what Don Buchanan was telling me about their trip in the last couple of weeks, I'm only more convinced.
Although I gather the water views were fantastic... right through the annex!
I mean, if the weather's good camping's okay for a while. But you wouldn't want to live there, if you know what I mean.
I remember the time we were bogged on the beach overnight at fraser island. We were the last car on the last ferry of the day; no one to help. And so there we were, stuck. Sitting in the car all night watching the water creep up, watching the sand pile up around our doors. Watching the dingos circling. The dingos were watching me; because they knew I was the soft one.
I didn't want to go camping. I just wanted to go somewhere with real walls and a real floor and a real bed.
Somewhere more substantial.
Now here in the opening verses of 2 Corinthians 5, Paul's talking about tents and houses. He's talking about where he is, and where he'd rather be. And his point's more or less the same.
He's talking about life and mortality.
And he says it's a bit like camping rough in a leaky tent. The thing he's looking forward to most, is going home. He's groaning with anticipation. He's camping in his tent in the middle of a storm, and he's looking forward to something far better.
Look how he puts it in verse 1.
Now we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not build by human hands. Meanwhile, we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we're clothed we will not be found naked.
Tents are okay for a week at the beach, but they're not meant to be permanent. Which Paul says, is exactly what our bodies are like. Especially when you compare them with what he calls the eternal house God's got ready for you in heaven.
Life here is passing away. Transient. Heaven's not.
And in the meantime we groan. And we long for it.
I don't know if you've got to that point in life yet. But if you have you'll know it, where things are falling to bits; where the camping holiday is leaving a bit to be desired.
Seems to me at that point we do one of two things.
Sometimes people go camping they'll take the fridge and they'll take the full sized colour telly, and they'll put down carpet in the tent, and they even take a little picket fence and set it up around the outside. We parked our little van beside someone like that at Brooms Head.
And there are people who'll decorate the tent of this life as much as they can. We want to make heaven on earth so we work hard for it, we make ourselves comfortable and we settle in; we think we can fix just about anything, and now in this week's scientific breakthrough if all else fails we can even clone ourselves; and if we can fix the economy as well, then it's all good.
And there's even a religious version of it that says we can fix anything. That says come and get it. Come and get healed, come and get rich. Have all the blessings in this life.
Which is option number 1. Fix up the tent and pretend it's all okay.
Or else option 2: we despair to the point of giving up. Which isn't Paul at all. It's a groaning, but a groaning with hope.
If you're doing things tough, take a look at the end of verse 4. Which turns the way we normally see things on its head. Paul's got a perspective that doesn't look ahead at the end of the road here and see everything swallowed up by death. He looks ahead and he sees our mortality swallowed up by life.
For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Which he says is what God made us for in the first place.
And what the spirit guarantees: the life to come.
And yet the problem is in Corinth that Paul's up against opponents who are more interested in the visible than the invisible. More interested in what can be seen now than the spirit who writes on our hearts as a foretaste of then.
If you glance forward at verse 12, Paul says "We're not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen, rather than what is unseen."
Here's Paul, groaning for heaven. Here's the other guys, later on he's going to call them super apostles. Keeping up appearances. Promising heaven now; a smooth ride, the right references and credentials, everybody loves them. And Paul says, get it right. Long for what is unseen. Instead of taking pride in the here and now. Value what's truly valuable. Even in the tough times. He said the same at the end of chapter 4 last week.
18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Value, lock your eyes on, aim for, look forward to the eternal.
Which is actually tough. And Paul knows it. And if in your honest moments you feel a lot further from God than you'd like to feel, put it down to homesickness. Paul says in verse 6, that's because while we're here in the body, we're away from the Lord. Just got to keep living by faith. Not by sight. Just got to keep trusting Jesus from a distance and looking forward.
It's a long way from ideal. It's like camping in a tent. The next verse he says, I'd rather be home. I'd prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
And because of that, he says... well, what could he say at that point? Because of that he's going to end it all? Suicidal despair? Because of that he's going to live it up a bit with some wine women and song? Try some hedonism?
Not quite. He says, because of that, he's going to make it his goal to please the Lord whatever he does.
Verse 9. Take a look.
So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
He's so looking forward to going home that the thing he's going to do is throw all his energy into pleasing the Lord, which is what he'd be doing in heaven anyway. Let's start now!
Now if that's not your attitude... and I want you to examine yourself on that... if that's not what you're saying... that because you know life here's just temporary, and you're looking to something more permanent ahead, that because of that you've got your heart set on pleasing God, you need to focus on verse 10.
And I don't want you to miss it.
Most times you might notice I just put the verse number up on the screen thinking you'll take a moment to look at it in the bible in front of you. In this case though I'll put up the whole verse so it's unavoidable.
If you're not living your life to please God, you should be. Because verse 10 says this. In black and white.
For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.
Maybe you'd rather live in a world with no justice. a world where if you don't get caught, you win. A world where bullies and cricket cheats and liars prosper just as long as they don't get caught.
Paul says we don't live in that world. What you do counts. Everyone, each one, has to stand before the judgement seat of Christ and face up with what they've done in the body, whether good or bad.
And if you think you've got problems at the moment, let me say they're not your biggest problem. Apparently 85% of voters these days support euthanasia. If you're sick and tired of being sick and tired, end it.
Problem is, the end is not the end. Nobody stops in the euthanasia debate and says, wait a minute, what about judgement?
But you need to. Not just for the things you've done. Jesus says, it's about your heart. Even the things you've thought - the lustful eyes - the unforgiveness. The anger you thought only you knew about it. All the "off-the-record" gossip. It's all on the record. And you're accountable.
People say it's too negative to talk about God's judgement. But the words are there in black and white in front of you.
It's a fundamental fact. Judgement's coming. Everything assessed.
The question is, what are you going to do about it?
See, people might not like talking about it, but instead of making Paul keep his mouth shut, it's one of his main motivations to speak. Because in the light of judgement, in the light of fearing the Lord Jesus and the day we'll appear before his judgement seat, in the light of the fact that he knows he doesn't measure up... he knows he's got great news as well.
Which is what he says there in verse 11. And it's the heart of his ministry.
Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.
Now I wonder you know if this is the one big reason so little evangelism happens these days. So little persuading of people of the gospel. So little interaction over the big stuff.
Maybe you don't know what it is to fear the Lord and the day of his judgement, so you don't try to persuade anyone.
Paul knows what it means to fear God. Which means he knows his words count. Because for anyone uneasy about facing up to the judgement seat of Jesus, he's got great news.
And if you're not ready to face God's judgement yourself, you need to be listening here. Because Paul spells out his message, from square one. He maps out the key points of what he calls his ministry. That he's been talking about since chapter 2.
It's the message we sometimes call the gospel. And he's mapped out some of it already.
Point number 1. This life is short and it's not all there is. For Paul to make any sense at all, you've got to take that one on board. Do you get that?
Number 2. You're going to face judgement. And the reality is, all of us are guilty. You're maybe thinking you're going okay. You're maybe thinking you're better than most. It's not measured against most. And you need to get that.
But number 3, and here's the good news... there is a way, and Paul calls it being reconciled to God... there's a way to face that day of judgement absolutely confident knowing that... because of Jesus, that because of the cross, that because Jesus on himself has taken every inch, gram, ounce, of punishment... our sins don't have to be counted against us.
Verse 18, he says,
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting mens' sins against them.
So on the day when the good and the bad you've done in the body get held up and scrutinised... God says, well I know you've maybe blown it there; and that time on January 22nd. And again on the 23rd. And the 24th isn't so flash either. But I'm not going to count it. I'm not going to hold it against you.
Because it's been held against Jesus already.
So what do you need to do about it? What's the action step if you've never done it already?
It's that word reconciled again. That's how Paul says he sums up his whole ministry: telling people that God has reached out his hand to us in friendship. God has made the move in our direction. God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ.
And all that's needed is for people to be reconciled with him.
It's the language of relationship isn't it? Reconciliation. Which takes two parties. Maybe you know that very painfully in a broken relationship you've been through. There's been pain, there's been separation, you're ready to reconcile.
Problem is, it takes two.
God's holding his hand out. He's that father in the story of the runaway son, he's scanning the horizon every day for just a glimpse of his son coming home. Forgiveness ready and waiting. Party ready to start.
Paul says in verse 20,
We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God.
Have you done that?
Paul says that's what he's busting himself to persuade people to do. Be reconciled to the God who's already reconciled himself with you at the cross. Be reconciled to the God who's waiting to meet you with mercy instead of condemnation. So that on the day of accounting your account's been reconciled already. But more than that, your relationship has.
Just in case you're missing it, pick it up again.
Paul's saying the same thing there in verse 14. And in verse 19. And in verse 21.
For Christ's love compels us, verse 14, "because we are convinced that one died for all and therefore all died."
Verse 19, "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ not counting mens sins against them."
Verse 21, "God made him who had no sin - to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God."
You know, the odd thing about this passage, and forgive me if you feel you've heard all that stuff before, but the odd thing about this passage is who Paul's aiming it at.
He's writing to a church.
He's writing to the Corinthians, who have heard it all before. From his own lips.
And yet he feels he's got to say it all over again. To them.
We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
There's more at the start of chapter 6.
As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. 2 For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.
We implore you. We beg you. We urge you. These are words aimed fair and square at the Corinthians who are part of the church. And yet have missed the very basics.
It's not about how impressive they are. Or how impressive their new-style apostles are; the ones who make Paul look ordinary.
If they think they're going to stand on the judgement day and be weighed up and found impressive for that stuff then they're crazy. My you're a fine public speaker. Come on in. My goodness you're clever.
You might have been part of the church forever. And you still might have missed this stuff. Like the Corinthians. It may be you've heard it so many times and you still need to hear it today.
Paul says, the impressiveness stuff, it's all dead and gone. That's tent stuff. Perishable. In fact you might have noticed back in verse 14, there's the flipside of his logic; that because Christ died for us, then we should count ourselves dead in all that stuff that's about "me me me".
And start looking at things through different eyes. And not a worldly point of view.
Read from verse 14, and see if you can pick up his thread. Because it's all about who you live for. And that's the Corinthian's problem. In the light of Christ's love; that he's taken your place as your stand in, that your sins won't be counted against you, do you really think you can go from that point and just live for yourself?
Here's what he says from verse 14,
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
You know, we've done a bit of thanking today. But it's not going to make the slightest bit of difference on judgement day how many times you've mowed the church lawns. Or how many scones you've baked for morning teas. Or how many kids you've taught in Kidzbiz. Or how many sermons you've preached. The question is, have you been reconciled to God?
But when you have... and there's no better day than today to say this... it's going to overflow in the way you're living for Jesus. Living to please him. Living to serve. Living to care.
Which we've already marked today as something that's really happening around MPC. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all of you who so generously and selflessly serve. Who so thoroughly give of yourselves. And you're doing it because you want to serve Jesus out of gratitude.
Friends, if you haven't ever got to the point of being reconciled to God, that's of first importance. And you might want to do something about that as we pray in just a moment.
But if you have, maybe you're someone who needs a reminder today that you need to show it by the way you stop living for yourself. And join Paul in doing what he's doing. Looking forward to the new creation. And in the meantime, serving God; living for the one who died for you and rose again.
Join Paul... as a messenger of reconciliation urging people. Persuading people. Inviting people. In exactly the same simple way God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ. So turn around and be reconciled to God. And as you do that, look for ways to humbly serve in a way that shows it's not about you. It's all about him.