Tuesday, August 15, 2017

SWALLOWED BY LIFE


Christians do not look forward to death. We look forward to life. Death is plan "B" for the Christian, not plan "A." Plan "A" is to be alive when Christ returns so we can be transformed directly into our resurrection bodies without the stripping that we experience in death. Death strips the body from the soul leaving us naked until the coming of Christ when we receive our resurrection bodies. Paul writes, while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life (2 Cor. 5:4).

We are groaning in these earthly bodies as people who are weighed down (βαρούμενοι) by a depressing thought (R&R, Linguistic Key, p.466). We know that death is coming for all of us unless Jesus comes back first. What we will experience in death is the cause of our mental burden. The next clause begins with a causal connection (ἐφ᾿ ᾡ) explaining the reason for the depressing weight we carry in life (Turner, Grammar, 3:272). We want to be clothed (ἐπενδύσασθαι) with a new body not stripped (ἐκδύσασθαι) of the old body and left naked until the resurrection (2 Cor. 5:3). We don't want to die and live in a bodiless state. God never designed the soul to be separate from the body as Greek philosophy, and later Gnosticism promoted. God created the soul and body as one whole being in perfect unity. Sin brought the curse of death which is the separation of the soul from the body.

We want to be clothed so that the mortal will be swallowed up by the life. Mortal (θνητὸν) means that which is subject to death (BAGD, p.362). Our bodies, not our souls, are subject to physical death. Paul uses the euphemism of a "tent" (σκήνει) to describe our bodies because a tent is a temporary form of housing. Our bodies will be swallowed up by life at the resurrection. The verb translated "swallowed up" (καταποθῇ) is a picturesque term. The compound verb comes from the preposition κατά meaning "down" and the verb πίνω meaning "to drink." The compound verb means to "drink down" or "swallow" (BAGD, p.416).

The word was also used of waves of water overwhelming someone. The Septuagint uses the word to describe how God drowned the Egyptians in the Red Sea (Exodus 15:4). Life drinks down that which is subject to death. Our mortal bodies are absorbed into life when Christ comes back (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.170). The same verb is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:54 when he writes that "death is drowned (swallowed up) in victory."

Our mortal bodies are swallowed by the life. The preposition (ὑπὸ) with a genitive object and a passive verb as in this case denotes the agent that does the swallowing, not the instrument by which we are swallowed (Blass/Debrunner, Grammar, p.122). The swallower of death is the life (τῆς ζωῆς). Normally the definite article is not used with abstract nouns like "life" (Blass/Debrunner, p.134) so the question is why is the article used in this case? The definite article is used with nouns designating persons (Blass/Debrunner, p.133) so "the life" is a substitute for a person, not an abstract noun. Jesus is "the life" (John 14:6) so Jesus, as the life, swallows up our mortal bodies when He returns for us (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.170, fn35).

We want to be alive when Christ comes back so we can be drowned by life in Him. When Christ comes back, He immerses us in the tsunami of His life. Jesus, who is life itself, swallows us, who are subject to death, alive, so we never taste the curse of death.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

WILL WE HAVE BODIES IN HEAVEN?


Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. We know two important truths about death and the afterlife. 1) To be absent from our bodies is to be present with our Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). 2) We receive our new bodies at the resurrection when Christ returns (1 Cor. 15:50-54). What happens to us in the interim, between death and the resurrection? We go to heaven, but will we have bodies in heaven?

Paul gives us a clue in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4. When the tent that is our body is folded up in death, we know we have an eternal home to clothe our souls, yet Paul expresses a longing to be clothed at death. Why? So as not to be seen as naked. Paul writes in verse three, "of course if (εἴ γε καὶ, see Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.169, fn32) having clothed ourselves (ἐνδυσάμενοι), we will not be discovered (εὐρεθησόμεθα) naked (γυμνοὶ)." Textual note: the reading "having put on" (ἐνδυσάμενοι) is better attested than the reading "having put off" (ἐκδυσάμενοι) even though it might seem tautological (Metzger, Textual Commentary, p.579-580).

What does Paul mean by expressing his desire not to be found naked? There are three popular options. 1) Paul is talking about his desire not to experience the suffering and shame of our current mortal lives any longer (Bible Knowledge Commentary). 2) Paul is talking about his desire for a temporary intermediate body that God gives to us until the resurrection (Woychuck, BSac, Vol. 108, April-June, 1950). 3) Paul is talking about his fervent wish not to be found in a bodiless state after death until the coming of Christ (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, pp.169-173).

The third interpretation is best. Paul is expressing a concern he feels about what happens after death and his desire to be clothed rather than unclothed after he dies (2 Cor. 5:4). The future tense "will be found naked" (εὐρεθησόμεθα) is a future fear, not a present reality. The experience of "nakedness" follows death. Why express his concern at all if he knows already he will be clothed immediately with his new body when he dies? Furthermore, the intermediate body is nowhere else taught in Scripture and seems foreign to New Testament theology (Hughes, p.173).

Paul wants to be alive until Christ returns so he can skip the disembodied intermediate state between death and the resurrection (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.106). Paul does not fear death, and neither should we, but he does not want death either. He is like the martyrs under the throne of heaven crying "How long, O Lord" (Rev. 6:9-10). These disembodied souls were waiting in heaven for the coming of Christ to judge the world.

I draw four conclusions from Paul's longing not to be discovered naked after death.

1) God created humans to be complete as soul and body together. Our souls were never designed to live bodiless like the Platonic (and later Gnostic) idea that our souls have been imprisoned by our bodies and long to be freed from bodily existence. We are less than fully human without a body, so our bodies are vital to the fullness of eternal life (Hughes, p.170).

2) We live as disembodied souls in heaven between death now and the resurrection to come. Yet, somehow, in a way we find hard to grasp, our souls will still be recognizable to others during this interim period.

3) It is far, far better to remain alive until the coming of Christ and so enter immediately into the fullness of resurrected life. Our "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) is to see Jesus at His appearing and never experience death at all.

4) We know for certain that to die is gain (Phil 1:21) - even in our disembodied state. We prefer to be separated from our bodies because we are, then, at home with our Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).

Even so, Lord, come quickly!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

GROANING FROM LONGING

There is a groaning that rises from a deep longing for something anticipated with great excitement like a child impatiently awaits Christmas morning or a groom longs for his wedding day. Paul writes, For even in this (house) we groan, longing to be dressed with our home from heaven (2 Cor. 5:2).

The verb translated "we groan" (στενάζομεν, see 5:4) is a present indicative indicating that the groaning is an ongoing, continuous groaning in present time. We sigh in this life because of our circumstances (R&R, Key, p.466), but do our sighs reflect a negative or positive outlook? Paul says that we groan in anticipation of something better not merely distress over our bad circumstances. Our groaning reflects a positive outlook for the future and is generated by the Holy Spirit at work in our lives according to Romans 8:23 where Paul uses the same word (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.104). Groaning is the first fruits of the Spirit as we await the redemption of our body. Sighing for heaven is the sign of the Spirit in our hearts.

We groan because we long to be dressed in our home from heaven. The verb translated "longing" (ἐπιποθοῦντες) is a present participle indicating that we are continually longing to be clothed. We long for our heavenly clothing like newborn babies long for pure milk (1 Peter 2:2). Paul tells us that we will all be changed - transformed - at the resurrection as the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on immortality (1 Cor. 15:51-53). The believer's longing is to put on the imperishable body that will last forever.

Paul uses the metaphor of a house (οἰκητήριον), but he changes the word from οἰκία to οἰκητήριον. The latter word implies a home more than a house (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.168, fn 29). A house (οἰκία) does not require an inhabitant to be a house. A home (οἰκητήριον) implies the presence of an inhabitant (οἱκητήρ). Paul's mixed metaphor enriches our understanding. We long for the day when we will be dressed in a home from heaven. We will inhabit our heavenly bodies as our eternal homes.

The verb translated "to be clothed or dressed" (ἐπενδύσασθαι) is a compound word combining the preposition ἐπί with the verb ἐνδύω. The meaning of the compound verb is to put on outer clothes over other clothes like an overcoat is put on over regular clothing.  Our heavenly body is put on over our earthly body in a way that absorbs and transforms our earthly body (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.168 fn31). Since we get our glorified bodies to wear at the resurrection when Christ returns and not when we die, we long to be alive until the return of Christ and experience the glorious transformation without death (1 Cor. 15:51-53). We do not fear death but long to avoid the disembodied state Paul calls "nakedness" in the next verse (2 Cor. 5:3). Death brings nakedness until God dresses us with our new bodies at the resurrection. It is far better to be alive when Christ returns because God puts on our new bodies like an overcoat covering and transforming our current bodies.

We sigh with longing for that day. I watched my dad in his last year of life groaning with a deep desire to be clothed with his heavenly home. He suffered physically, but he sighed not so much because of his physical suffering but because of his desire for heaven. His groaning rose from his longing. Earth holds little value when the longings of our heart transfuse our horizon with the glorious hues of heaven.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

COLLAPSING OUR TENTS FOR OUR UPWARD CLIMB

I used to enjoy back packing in the mountains. We often slept in our tents. The next morning I would fold up the tent and tie it to the backpack. The rule of tent camping is to leave no trace behind as we move on to new heights. Death is like collapsing a tent. Paul writes For we know that, if our earthly house, the tent, is taken down, we have a building from God which is eternal (2 Corinthians 5:1).

The conditional clause (ἐὰν) is a third class condition called a "more probable future condition" (Dana & Mantey, Grammar, p.290). Death is a relatively uncertain future event since Christ could return before we die, but death is certainly more probable than not! Death always involves the loss of our earthly (ἐπίγειος) house (οἰκία). Paul uses the noun οἰκία instead of οἶκος which may imply an intentional distinction. The noun οἶκος was used to refer to the totality of a deceased person's possessions while the noun οἰκία referred to simply the person's residence (TDNT, 5:131). Our physical body is the residence of our soul.

My body is a house which is a tent. The noun for a tent (σκήνους) is a genitive of apposition to the noun for a house (οἰκία). The genitive of apposition is a second noun that describes the material that makes up the first noun, so the tent is the fabric that composes the house (MHT, Grammar, 3:214).

Paul, like a tent maker, knew tents. Tents were used as the cover of a wagon or a shelter on the deck of a ship along with homes used by nomadic people. They were always transitory structures in comparison to houses and even secular writers compared life in this world to a tent "passing by; one comes, sees and departs" as Democritus wrote (NIDNTT, 3:811). A Jewish reader may well have thought about The Feast of Tabernacles or Booths where families constructed tents made of branches to remember life in the wilderness before entering the promised land (R&R, Key, p.466).

Campers "strike" their tents every morning. The verb translated "torn down" (καλυθῇ) is a passive verb referring to the dismantling of a tent by someone other than the tenter so God "strikes" our tents in His time. It is a compound verb made up of κατά, meaning downward, and λύω, meaning to loosen. The sense of the verb is to take down the tent (TDNTT, 4:338). The body where our souls reside is taken down, folded up or dismantled so we can move on to a new life because our physical bodies are temporary and impermanent.

Death means collapsing the tents of our bodies for our upward climb in Christ. Our focus in death is to look forward to life not backward at life. We look ahead not behind like a backpacker eager for his next glorious mountain peak experience.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

THE SLOUGH OF DESPOND AND THE SUCCESS SYNDROME

How do we measure success in ministry? If we compare our ministries to other ministries, we will evaluate our success by "nickels and noses." Buildings and budgets, attendance and programs become tangible markers for ministry success. A comparison of these visible markers of ministry breeds either pride or despair depending on our success or lack of success. Discouragement drags us down as we look at what we see instead of what we can't see. Paul tells us that we avoid discouragement as long as we are not looking at the things which are seen, but (we are looking at) the things which are not seen because the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).

The expression "while we are not looking at" (μὴ σκοπούντων ἡμῶν) is a genitive absolute explaining why our "light affliction" (v.17) does not cause us to lose heart (v.16). The use of the negative μὴ instead of οὐ indicates that the verb carries a conditional force (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.92). We do not become discouraged in ministry provided that, or if, we are not looking at the things which are seen. Our eyes are fixed on the things which are not seen giving us the perspective necessary to avoid discouragement.

The two verbs for "looking" are significantly different. The verb translated as long as we are not looking at (σκοπέω) carries connotations that the more general verb for looking (βλέπω), used four times in this verse, does not have. The generic "looking" (βλέπω) refers to mere sight, that which we see with our eyes. The more specific "looking" (σκοπέω) means to examine critically, to inspect carefully, like a judge examines the facts. The noun form (σκοπός) refers to a scout or watcher on the wall of a city. It can mean a target or a goal (TDNT, 7:413-416). Paul uses the noun when he says, I press on toward the goal (σκοπός) for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).

We aim our gaze at the things which are not seen to avoid discouragement because the things which are seen are temporary (πρόσκαιρα). The word is better translated temporary, not temporal (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.159, fn 14). The things which are seen are time limited not merely time described. The visible things of this world including the visible markers for ministry success have a shelf life. The end date is stamped on all buildings and budgets. Measuring ministry by nickels and noses measures our success by that which ends instead of that which lasts forever.

What controls the focus of our lives? Where do we concentrate our sight? The church at Corinth to whom Paul was writing this letter was consumed with conflict which had discouraged him in the ministry (2 Cor. 2:12-13; 7:5-6). The false apostles who were leading the people astray were highly successful in matters that were visible. They boasted about their visible ministry success (Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth, p.390). Paul will address those boastings extensively later in his letter (2 Corinthians 10-13). Christians driven by the status and power visible in society will be consumed by disagreements about ministry. Conflict in church rises from an earthly focus. We need a whole new way of thinking about life if we are to avoid the success syndrome that leads to the slough of despond (2 Cor. 4:1, 16).

Aim determines attitude! Aiming at temporary and visible ministry success breeds discouragement. Aiming at eternal and invisible ministry goals keeps us encouraged in His service.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

THE RELATIVITY OF LIGHT AND HEAVY


Sometimes life is the pits. Pressure mounts. Circumstances compress our options to slim and none. We have two choices in the pits. We can compare our situation to our personal expectations and be discouraged. Or we can compare our circumstances to the end result of God's process and be encouraged. When we compare our plight to others in this life, our burden feels heavy. When we compare our circumstances to His eternal plan, our load is light. Light and heavy are relative to the standard we use to measure the weight. Paul wrote: For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17).

Paul sets up a parallelism here.

momentary, light affliction
vs.
eternal, weight of glory

Momentary (παραυτίκα) is the opposite of eternal (αἰώνιον). Light (ἐλαφρὸν) is the opposite of weight (βάρος). Affliction (θλίψεως) is the opposite of glory (δόξης). The word translated "momentary" means "on the spot" or "for the present" (BAGD, p.623). The trials we face are temporary - until life ends or the Lord returns (R&R, Key, p.465). The word translated "light" means easy to bear or insignificant. It can even mean frivolous or fickle! (BAGD, p.248). The word translated "affliction" means pressure generally brought on by outside circumstances (BAGD, p.362). Distress or tribulation presses us down from circumstances beyond our control.

The insignificant, frivolous pressures we find ourselves experiencing in life are producing for us an eternal and glorious result. The verb translated "producing" (κατεργάζεται) is in the present tense indicating that the action is ongoing action taking place in our lives right now. The verb means to achieve or accomplish something (BAGD, p.421). The pressures we face now are - right now - achieving something of inestimable value for us.

The value being accomplished is eternally weighty in glory. The expression "weight of glory" (βάρος δόξης) is likely a play on words from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew word for "glory" can mean either to be heavy or to be honored. Job uses the word to refer to his grief being heavier than the sands of the sea (Job 6:3), but he also says that his sons might achieve honor or glory that he does not know about (Job 14:21). The same word is used for both heavy and glory (Nicoll, Expositor's, 3:64). Since value was often determined by weight, there was a natural correspondence between weighty and glorious. Even in English, we speak of something as weighty in importance.

Our burdens are not light by themselves. Our burdens are light by comparison. The Greek text places "far beyond all comparison" (καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν εἰς ὑπερβολὴν)  between the two corresponding descriptions to emphasize the significance of the comparison. Paul has already used this same expression earlier in his letter to the Corinthians to stress that he was "burdened excessively" (καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν) beyond his strength so that he despaired of life (2 Cor. 1:8)! Burdens can certainly be excessive. We can feel overwhelmed by the pressures to the point that we become discouraged. Paul does not deny that reality. Paul says that by comparison, the burdens are light because they are producing in us something much greater. Here Paul uses a double expression of excessiveness which is difficult to translate literally. Literally, our pressures are transformative to the degree that they are beyond measure to and extraordinary extent. The glory produced is "out of all proportion" to the pressure experienced! R&R, Key, p.465).

As extreme pressure and high heat produce expensive diamonds, the same elements are producing great glory for us. Buried under mountains of affliction, God is creating over time His glorious masterpieces forever.

Friday, May 19, 2017

THE RIPTIDE OF DESPAIR


Spiritual growth is slow. People change incrementally. Ministry can feel like an exercise in futility at times. We preach our hearts out on Sunday only to face the "same old, same old" church problem on Tuesday. We pour our energy into ministry, but the church moves by centimeters to accomplish Christ's great commission. Squabbles erupt. Spiritual apathy rules. After the spiritual high on Sunday, discouragement can settle over us like a wet blanket on Monday. The same battle with discouragement happens not only for pastors but for every follower of Christ when the blows of life and the weariness of serving take their toll on our emotions.

Paul understood how easily the undertow of frustration can lead into the riptide of despair when he wrote: Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though the outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). The word translated "lose heart" (ἐγκακοῦμεν) means to become tired or succumb to despair. It is a present indicative expressing a statement of fact that is an ongoing reality of life. Paul used the same word earlier in this section (2 Cor. 4:1) to warn us about the soul weariness of life. The word was used of women in childbirth reaching a point where they are ready to give up and fear even for life (BAGD, p.215). Despair destroys the will to live, but we are not succumbing to despair as long as we look to the Lord.

Why? The "but ... but" (ἀλλ᾿ ... ἀλλ᾿) that follows in the sentence expresses the process of fighting despair. The first "but" introduces the condition we face and the second "but" explains the confidence we have. The first "but" is followed by the words "if also" (εί καὶ) translated "although." The phrase expresses a condition assumed to be true (R&R, Key, p.465) and is concessive in force (Hanna, Grammatical Aid, p.320). The "but" that follows a "but if" (ἀλλ᾿ εί) means yet or certainly (Blass/Debrunner, Grammar, p.233). The first "but" explains the condition we feel and the second "but" introduces the solution already taking place in our lives. The despair will end one day. It will not last forever!

Our current condition is an "outer man" condition (ὁ ἔξω ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος). The outer man is a reference to our physiological bodies (BAGD, p.279) consumed by the interplay between our feelings and our tiredness. As our energy wears down our feelings rise up. Our outer man is constantly being destroyed (διαφθείρεται). The verb is a present tense indicating a continual process. It is passive indicating that other forces are at work to deplete the outer man. The word was used for the dying process of animals and for abortion (M&M, Vocabulary, p.157). It can refer to rusting away, spoiling or corrupting activity (BAGD, p.190). Our outer man is constantly decaying, rusting away and wearing down because of the forces at work on us in this world.

Yet the certainty is that our inner man (ὁ ἔσω ἡμῶν) is constantly being renewed (ἀνακαινοῦται). The phrase is used in Romans 7:22 to refer to our inner nature. It is a present tense indicative verb telling us that the process is happening even in our discouraging circumstances. Paul may have coined the word himself (M&M, Vocabulary, p.34) because it is a compound verb formed from the preposition ἀνά meaning "in the middle" (BAGD, p.49) and καινίζω meaning "to make new" (BAGD, p.394) or the cognate adjective καινός meaning new. The reality is that our inner nature is in the middle of constantly being made new. The passive voice tells us that our inner nature is being made new by an outside force, namely God. The renewal is day by day (ἡμέρα καὶ ἡμέρα), a Hebraism meaning "every day" (Blass/Debrunner, p.107). Our inner man has not yet arrived but is in process constantly.

How do we avoid being swept away by the riptide of despair that threatens to drown us with negativity? The undertow of discouragement is normal. We all experience it. The riptide of despair will drown us unless we stop swimming against the current and turn to the one who can rescue us from the riptide. The Lord is making us new in our inner man through the struggles of the outer man. God cares more about our inner man, and we must learn to look at what He is doing in our inner man to avoid the despair of the outer man. We are dying, but in our dying, we are being made new by His power.