2 Corinthians 5:1
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands…
My text begins with the word "For." Paul's mind was argumentative. If able to defy the present and rejoice in the future, he had a solid reason for so doing. I like an enthusiast who yet in his fervour does not lose his balance. Let the heart be like a fiery, high-mettled steed, curbed and managed by discretion. Consider —
I. THE CATASTROPHE WHICH PAUL SAW TO BE VERY POSSIBLE. "If our earthly house," etc. He did not fear that he himself would be dissolved. He does not say, "If I were to be destroyed." The "we" is all unharmed and unmoved. Many people are in a great fright about the future; but Paul regards the worst thing that could happen to him as nothing worse than the pulling down of a tent.
1. The apostle perceived that the body he lived in was frail in itself. Most likely he had a tent or two to repair lying near which suggested the language of the text. A tent is but a frail structure, and Paul felt that no great force would be required to overthrow it; it was like the tent which the Midianite saw in his dream, which only needed to be struck by a barley cake, and, lo! it lay along. A house of solid masonry needs a crowbar and a pick to start its stones.
2. Paul had many signs about him that his body would be dissolved. His many labours were telling upon him, and so were the cold, hunger, nakedness, and sickness he endured, and, besides, his tent might come down any day through the violence of his persecutors. Once he most touchingly spoke of himself as "such an one as Paul the Aged," and aged men cannot get away from the consciousness that their body is failing. Certain crumbling portions warn the old man that the house is dilapidated; the thatch which has grown thin or blanched tells its tale.
3. Paul knew that so many others whom he had known and loved had already died, and he gathered from this that he would himself die. Our crowded cemeteries supply ten thousand arguments why each of us must expect to die in due time. Now this was all that Paul expected on the sad side, and truly it is not much. Certain Swiss peasants were feeding their flocks when they heard a rumbling up in the lofty Alps, and knew what it meant. In a brief space their fears were realised, for a tremendous mass of snow came rushing from above. What did it destroy? Only their old, crazy chalets. Every man was safe; the event was rather to them a matter which caused a Te Deum to be sung in the village church below than a subject for mourning. So the avalanche of death will fall, but it will only dissolve your earthly house. To-day we are like birds in the egg; death breaks the shell. Does the fledgling lament the dissolution of the shell?
II. THE PROVISION OF WHICH THE APOSTLE MOST SURELY KNEW. He knew that if his tent-dwelling was overthrown he would not be without a home. He did not expect to be in purgatory for the next thousand years, and then to leap from purgatory to Paradise. He had not even the thought of lying unconscious till the resurrection. He says not "we shall have" but "we have."
1. What did the apostle mean?
(1) That the moment his soul left its body it would at once enter into that house of which Jesus spoke in John 14:2. Do you want to know about that house? Bead the Book of the Revelation and learn of its gates of pearl, etc. If after that you desire to know more take the advice given by John Bunyan, who bade his friend live a godly life, and go to heaven, and see for himself.
(2) That in the fulness of time he would again be clothed upon with a body. At this present in this body we groan being burdened. We are "waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body."
2. How Paul could say he knew this. This enlightened century has produced an order of wise men who glory in their ignorance. How odd that a man should be proud of being an ignoramus, and yet that is the Latin for the Greek "Agnostic." How different is our apostle! He says, "we know." Whence came this confidence?
(1) Paul knew that he had a Father, for he felt the spirit of sonship; he knew also that his Father had a house, and he was certain that if he lost the tent in which he lived he would be welcomed into his Father's house above. How do our children know that they can come home to us? Did they learn that at school? No, but by their children's instinct, just as chickens run under the mother-hen without needing to be trained.
(2) He knew that he had an elder brother, and that this brother had gone before to see to the lodging of the younger brethren (John 14:2).
(3) He thought of the Holy Ghost, who condescends to dwell in these mortal bodies, and, therefore, when we leave our earthly house He will leave it too, and as He has been our guest, in His turn He will be our host.
(4) He knew that when he died there was a Paradise prepared, for he had been there already (chap. 2 Corinthians 12.). Remember that this is the place to which the. Lord Jesus admitted the dying thief, "To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise."(5) He knew that when this earthly tabernacle is dissolved there would be a new body for him, because Christ had risen from the dead. If Jesus be alive and in a place of rest He will never leave His own without house or home. There is such an attachment between Christ and the believer; yea, more, such a vital, indissoluble marriage union that separation is impossible.
III. THE VALUE OF THIS KNOWLEDGE TO US. Secularists twit us with taking men's minds away from the practical present that they may dream over a fancied future. We answer that the best help to live for the present is to live in prospect of the eternal future. Paul's confident belief —
1. Kept him from fainting.
2. Made his present trials seem very light, for he felt like a man who sojourns for a night at a poor inn, but puts up with it gladly because he hopes to be home on the morrow.
3. Transformed death from a demon into an angel; it was but the removal of a tottering tent that he might enter into a permanent palace.
4. Made him always calm and brave. Why should he be afraid of a man that could not do him harm? Even if his persecutor killed him he would do him a service.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.