March 26, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 (NRSV)
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
2 Corinthians talks about groaning as something human beings experience in this life. We groan with pain. We groan over sadness and injustice. But we also groan with longing. We groan as we hope for the day when God makes all things new, including us. In that time, we won’t be consumed by death. Rather, we will be swallowed up by life.
This devotion is part of the series: Treasure in Clay Jars.
As we continue in the devotional series I’ve called Treasure in Clay Jars, we move from the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians to the fifth chapter. In the first four verses of this new chapter, we find a fascinating use of language, with a combination of tents, buildings, groaning, longing, and being swallowed up.
In chapter 5 Paul continues what he had been writing about in chapter 4. He contrasts our mortal existence with our heavenly one, now using the metaphors of tents and buildings. Our body is like an “earthly tent” in that it is temporary (2 Corinthians 5:1). While in this tent, “we groan under our burden” (5:4). Such groaning reflects our experience of suffering and mortality. But that’s not all. Our groaning is also an expression of deep longing. As Paul says, “For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (5:2). In Romans we find a similar association of groaning with longing for the future: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).
Notice that Paul does not envision his future as an escape from embodiment. The Greek world in which Paul preached thought of the body as an impediment that needed to be cast off so our immortal spirit could be unencumbered. Paul, faithful to his biblical background, rejects this view of salvation, speaking instead of “being clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2) or experiencing “the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). In the future, we will exchange our “tent” for a “building from God” that is “eternal” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
When we experience hard times and suffering, our groaning and longing increase. We groan in pain, to be sure. We also groan with expectation as we look forward to the future when God remakes and renews us . . . and all things. We ache to live in a world set free from pain and sorrow. We long for the time when God “makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire” (Psalm 46:9).
When that time comes, our mortal bodies won’t be destroyed. They won’t be consumed by death. Rather, they will be “swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4). What an astounding image! We would tend to think of being eaten by something as less than ideal. But, when God renews and remakes us, we will be swallowed up by something life-giving. This line from 2 Corinthians 5:4 is reminiscent of something Paul had written previously to the Corinthian believers: “When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
So, in 1 Corinthians 15, death is swallowed up by victory. In 2 Corinthians, our mortality is swallowed up by life. To put it more prosaically, when we die, we will not be less alive and less human than we are now. We won’t be wispy spirits inhabiting some ethereal realm. Rather, we will be more alive and more human than we are today.
I didn’t always believe that last sentence. I used to think of Heaven as a less real version of life on earth. Folks at church would talk about singing in the heavenly choir for all eternity, which wasn’t a reality for which I was longing. Today, thanks to my deeper knowledge of Scripture, and thanks to C.S. Lewis’s book The Great Divorce, I believe that in the age to come I will be more alive and more human. But I confess that my imagination for what this will be like is sorely limited. I have so much more to learn in this life, to be sure, and in the age to come.
Our passage from 2 Corinthians reassures us that groaning in this life is to be expected. We groan because of pain and injustice. We groan as we long for God to make all things new, including us. As we read in Romans 8, we “groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? Be if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).
Can you relate to the metaphor of groaning? Can you think of a time when you were groaning because of the pain of this life? Can you think of a time when you were groaning because you were longing for something?
When you think of life in the age to come, better known as Heaven, what comes to mind for you? What thoughts? Images? Feelings? Hopes?
Set aside some minutes to reflect on 2 Corinthians 5:1-4. See what the Holy Spirit wants to say to you through this text.
Gracious God, thank you for the promise of exchanging our “tent” for a “heavenly building.” Thank you for the assurance that in the age to come we will be more fully alive in you.
In this life, we groan both in pain and anticipation. We groan as we suffer or share in the sufferings of others. We groan with longing for the world to be made new.
As I live each day in my earthly “tent,” may you dwell within me through your Spirit. May your life fill me now even as I waited to be swallowed up by the life of your future. Amen.
Banner image by Cindy Chen on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God’s Presence in the Midst of Disaster (Psalm 46).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.