Something Better Lies Ahead

            The apostle Paul begins 2 Corinthians 4:16 by saying, “So we do not lose heart.”  Nobody here wants to lose heart.  Nobody came in this morning saying, “I sure hope we sing some songs and hear a sermon that will help to me lose heart.  I really want to be discouraged this morning by what Alan says.”  Not one of you.  

            But the truth is, there are some days that we do lose heart, we get discouraged, we want to give up.  Because, let’s be honest, life is hard.

            I am what you might call a “fair-weather exerciser.”  I prefer to get my exercise outdoors, but I prefer to get it within certain parameters.  I definitely don’t like to go walking when it’s over 80° and I won’t go when it’s below 40° and I really don’t like it between 40–50°.  I think 60-65° for walking is nice.  With low humidity.  And no wind.  Or rain.  Or hills.  Which means there are about two days a year when I’m happy going outside for exercise.  In case you’re wondering, this past week was not one of those times.

            Many of us live our lives the way I prefer to exercise.  We want life to always bring clear skies and fair weather with no obstructions and no difficulties.  So, let me ask you, how is 2024 working for you so far?  As I said, life is hard.  And some days life is really, really hard.  So how do we keep from losing heart?  How do we keep from wanting to just give up?

            Paul says, “So we do not lose heart.”   Some translations have, “Therefore we do not lose heart.”  Any time you see that word “therefore”, it tells you that something is true because of what was previously stated.  This happened, therefore this is true.  So, let’s go back and see what Paul said right before this.

            In verse 14, Paul said we know that the one who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us from the dead and one day we will all come together into his presence.  Therefore, we do not lose heart.”  Therefore, we will not give up.  As bad as things may seem right now, there is something better that lies ahead.

            And all of us live in hope that things will get better.  An athlete or a musician will put in months and months of hard practice in order to experience the joy of achieving their goal.  Something better lies ahead.  A pregnant mother will experience nine months of discomfort and pain in order to experience the joy of a new birth.  Something better lies ahead.  A family will drive for hours making each other miserable in the car all along the way in order to experience the joy of a vacation.  Something better lies ahead.  We do it all the time.  We are willing to suffer if we know that something better lies ahead.

            It’s the same thing for Christians.  We are willing to suffer because we know that there is something better that lies ahead for us.  But here’s where we struggle.  We’re looking forward to something we can’t see.  And so, there are times that it doesn’t seem very real to us.  What we’re experiencing in life right now, this is definitely real.  That arthritis is real.  That knee that’s giving us so much pain, that’s real.  Those migraine headaches, those are definitely real.  But heaven?  An eternity with God?  Some days that doesn’t feel as real.

            Many of you are familiar with the Stanford marshmallow experiment.  In this study, children were offered a choice between one small but immediate reward, or a greater reward if they were willing to wait for a period of time.  The researcher would sit the child in a room with a marshmallow in front of them for about 15 minutes and then returned.  If the child didn’t eat the marshmallow while he was gone, they would get a bigger reward.  So, they had a choice – you can take what you can get right now, or you can wait for something better later on.

            It’s the same choice that all of us face every single day – do we take what we can get right now, or do we wait for something better later on?  And I think for those children who gave in and ate the marshmallow without waiting, it came down to this – this marshmallow in front of me is real, I can see it, I can touch it, I can taste it.  The reward they promised me isn’t here.  I can’t see it, I can’t touch it.  So that reward isn’t as real to me as this marshmallow is.  Because what I can see is real, but what I can’t see doesn’t seem as real.

            And that’s the struggle we all face, isn’t it?  Everything we experience in this life is very real to us.  But heaven?  Eternal life?  Those are things that I can’t see and so they don’t feel as real.  And that’s what Paul is going to address in our text this morning.

            Verse 16, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NLT)

            One of my favorite comedians is Brian Regan.  There’s a joke that he makes about doctors. He says they can be very rude. They walk in and the first question they ask you is, “What SEEMS to be the problem?”  As though there really is nothing wrong, it just seems that way to you.  It’s a question minimizes your suffering.  And it sounds here like Paul is minimizing our suffering…  He says, “Our present troubles are small”.  Other translations say, “our light afflictions.”

            But when you’ve suffered the death of a loved one, that doesn’t feel like a “light affliction” at all.  When you’re fighting cancer or you have a heart attack, that doesn’t feel like a “light affliction.”  When you’ve just lost your job and you don’t know how you’re going to pay the light bill this month, that doesn’t feel like a “light affliction”.

            And, if we didn’t know any better, we might say that Paul had just had it easy all his life and he didn’t know what all the rest of us have to go through.  But we know from what Paul writes in chapter 11 that he had been through some stuff. 

            He said, “[I’ve] been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again.  Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times I was shipwrecked.  Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea.  I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers.  I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles.  I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas.  And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-26, NLT)

            A lot of times whenever we’re talking with people, we like to “one up” them.  “Oh, you think you were in pain when you broke your leg?  Let me tell you what I went through.”  “Oh, you think your family is hard to get along with?  Let me tell you about my family.”  But I don’t think there’s anybody can “one up” the apostle Paul.  He had been through some stuff.  And that’s what he was talking about when he said “our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.”

            How in the world could he possibly say that?  It’s on the basis of comparison.  Compared to what lies ahead, our present troubles are small.  Compared to what lies ahead, our present troubles won’t last very long.  Because our present troubles “produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!”

            In other words, the afflictions of this life are temporary and even though, in the moment, they may seem unbearable, when you compare them with the glory to come, they are nothing more than momentary, light afflictions. 

            And Paul reminds us that these afflictions are actually part of what’s producing that glory.  The troubles that we’re going through right now are producing that reward that we will experience later on.  To go back to the examples that I gave earlier, the pain experienced by athletes and musicians is actually what produces the glory that lies ahead.  It is the pain that a pregnant mother experiences that produces the glory that lies ahead.  And it is our pain and affliction that produces the glory that lies ahead for us.

            And so, because of this, Paul says, “We don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”  

            Which brings us back to the question of reality.  Which do you think ultimately is more real —those things which we can see today (but are only temporary) or those things that we cannot see except with our eyes of faith (which are things that last forever).  And obviously the answer is ― the things that will last forever are the things that are real.  Paul says that it’s absolutely essential that we look at life with eyes of faith, and one day we will see that it is the stuff of eternity that is ultimately real.  The rest is just temporary, at best.

            Now I would suggest to you that most people instinctively know this.  Most people don’t live like they believe it, but I think they know it.  And I think that becomes obvious at funerals.  Whenever you go to a funeral and you’re talking with people who have lost a loved one, in those moments there’s something instinctively within them — even though it may not be how they live their lives — there is something within them that says: “The stuff in this life that we’re living right now doesn’t really matter.”

            At funerals, you don’t hear people talk about their cars, their boats, their houses, their bank accounts —those things never come up.  The things that do come up are things that have to do with life after death, things that last, things that suddenly seem to matter because, in that moment, there’s a sense that, “It just became very evident to me that all of this is temporary and I need to focus my attention on what it is that lasts forever.”  And Paul’s point would be, “If you realize that at a funeral, then shouldn’t that be how we live every day?”

            “Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.”  The NIV says, “Outwardly we are wasting away.”  Which is a depressing way to look at things, but we know deep down it’s true.  All of us, we’re getting older.  And as you get older, you get weaker.  Your body peaks in your 20’s.  Mid-twenties to early 30s, you’re at your peak.  Think of pro athletes.  I didn’t see any 70-year-old men on either one of the Super Bowl teams last Sunday.

            When you’re young, your reaction time is at its peak. Your ability to recover is at its peak. But you soon discover pretty quickly after that that the outward man is perishing.  Like everything else in this material world, our body is temporary.

            Now we come to chapter 5.  I’m sure most of you know that the books of the Bible were not divided into chapters when they were written.  Much later, someone came along and divided the Bible into chapters to make it easier for us to study and to find passages.  Most of the time, those chapter divisions are very helpful, but sometimes they are not, and it makes me wonder, “Why in the world did they break this passage up like that?”

            Well, this is one of those spots that I think they really messed up because the end of chapter 4 flows right into the beginning of chapter 5 and all of this needs to be read together.

            Verse 1, “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.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)

            The fact that the “things we see now will soon be gone” is evident when we look at our human bodies.  But we also know as Christians that there is something lies ahead for us that cannot yet be seen.  And the reason we know that is because we know that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and therefore we know that God will also raise our bodies from the dead.  In regard to this world, our body is temporary, but there is an eternal part of us that will live on for all eternity.

            The metaphor that Paul uses to help us to understand this point is a tent versus a house.  Throughout the Bible, a tent represents something that is temporary, something that is transient.  In Hebrews 11:9, we read “By faith [Abraham] went to live in the land of promise…living in tents with Isaac and Jacob.”  Those great men of faith never had a permanent home, they were constantly on the move — because they weren’t yet settled permanently in the land of Canaan.

            That same imagery is used of our bodies  — this body is my tent. This isn’t my permanent home; it’s just a temporary place for me to live.  Then Paul contrasts this earthly tent with a house that will not be made by human hands but will be made by the hands of God.  A house refers to something that is permanent.  So, Paul draws a contrast, and he says when this tent is disassembled or dismantled — that’s what this Greek word literally means — when this body is dismantled, I get to move into a house that is my eternal home.

            I enjoy going camping, but only for a few days.  I don’t want to live in a tent for a long period of time.  After a while, it’s time to leave the tent and get into something more permanent.   And that’s how Paul describes our physical body, as a tent.  Death is the transition.  Eternity and heaven is our permanent dwelling.

            So, we don’t lose heart. Our outward man is perishing, it’s wearing out.  But the inward man is being renewed day by day.   As we spend more and more time reflecting on spiritual matters.  As we draw closer and closer to God.  As our lives begin to look more and more like Jesus.  Our inward man is being renewed day by day.  

            Verse 2, “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.” (2 Corinthians 5:2-3, NLT).

            Some of you know exactly what Paul is talking about when he says, “We grow weary in our present bodies”, and we are anxious for that day when we get to replace this aching, worn-out body with our new heavenly body.  And there will be a new body for us.  Somewhere we came up with this idea that we’re going to be ghosts in the afterlife, but Paul says, no, no, no, that’s not the case at all.  And I can’t help but smile at what Paul says here, because basically what he’s saying is that when we get to heaven, our spirit isn’t going to be naked, it’s going to be clothed with a body, a new body.

            Now, as the apostle John points out, “[God] has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.” (I John 3:2, NLT)

            I don’t exactly what my new body is going to look like, but I know it’s going to be just like Jesus’ body, and that’s good enough for me.

            Verse 4, “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.” (2 Corinthians 5:4, NLT)

            Paul said, “We are so looking forward to what lies ahead.  And it’s not because we want to die and leave this world.  We don’t.  We like it here.  As much as this body causes me pain, I still love this body.  I’m not ready to give it up yet.  But I am looking forward with great anticipation to what lies ahead.”

            Verse 5, “God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 5:5, NLT)

            Of all the descriptions we have of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, this is my absolute favorite.  The Holy Spirit is our guarantee.  Other translations say he is a “pledge”, a “deposit”, a “down payment”.  If you’ve ever bought a house, this terminology is very familiar to you.  When you pick out the house you want and you tell the owner that you want to buy it, you are required to put down a deposit, some earnest money.  That’s how the owner knows you are serious about wanting to buy it. 

            So, Paul tells us that God is building us this house in heaven and he’s going to give it to us.  But how do we know that he is serious?  How do we know that God will do what he said he will do?  To show that he’s serious, he gives us a deposit, a down payment.  He takes his Holy Spirit and puts him in our lives.

            Or to set another metaphor, the Holy Spirit is our engagement ring.  Whenever a young couple get engaged, friends want to see the engagement ring the girl has usually been given.  She’s been given that ring from her fiancé to let her know at some point n time that they will be married — that ring is given as a guarantee that that will happen.

            The Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee to us, as Christians, that there is a day coming when we will be joined together with God in heaven, when all the things we don’t fully understand right now will suddenly become clear to us, and all of God’s promises will be given to us. God guarantees that by giving us his Holy Spirit to live within us and to guide us.  It may be that we will have many trials and afflictions along the way, but we can always look to God because he has guaranteed our wedding day will come!

            Verse 6, “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.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8, NLT)

            Again, some translations start this passage with the word “therefore”.  Remember, any time you see that word “therefore”, it tells you that something is true because of what was previously stated.  This happened, therefore this is true.  We know that there is something better that lies ahead, therefore we are confident.  We don’t get discouraged.  We know that something better lies ahead.  Not because we can see it, because we can’t.  We live by faith, not by sight.  But we know that it’s true, because of what God has already done for us.

            In verse 9, Paul comes to his grand conclusion — “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 5:9-10, NLT)

            Paul says, “Our job is not to make sure this body is comfortable in this life.  Our job is not to take the easy road with this body.  Our job is to use this body in every way to please God, to glorify God, to lift him up.  “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31)

            So, this morning I encourage you to not lose heart, to not get discouraged, to not reach the point where you’re ready to give up.  I understand that life is hard.  Sometimes, life is really, really hard.  But we know that God raised Jesus from the dead and because of that, we know that he will also raise us from the dead.  So, we know that something better lies ahead.  And, as difficult as things may be for you right now, compared to what lies ahead, it’s not going to last long.  And when this body is finished wasting away, it will be replaced by an eternal body that will have no pain.  So, until that day comes, let us all make every effort to use this body that we have right now to glorify the God who made us.

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