2 Corinthians 5
Dead or alive, it’s all about love
Upgraded bodies in heaven1 This physical body we call our home on earth is just a tent, a temporary place to live. One day the tent will come down, and we’ll die. But don’t worry. When that happens, God has a home waiting for us in the heavens. There’s nothing temporary about this new home. It’s eternal, not made by human hands.
2 We’re trapped inside these tents, and we groan about it. We want to move into our heavenly home. 3 I want you to know that once you step outside the tent, you’re not going to be standing there spirit-naked. You’re going to be stepping into a new house. 4 Here’s what I’m talking about. While we live in this tent of a body, we moan and groan over the struggles we face. We aren’t complaining because we have to suffer our way through life and we’d rather die. We don’t want to die. We want to live again, in a new body. We want to trade in this mortal life for eternal life.
We want an upgrade5 God himself prepared us for this upgrade. It’s going to happen. He guarantees it, and he gave us his Spirit to assure us that it’s true. 6 That’s why we’re always in great spirits, and bursting with confidence. We know that as long as we live in this body, we can’t be with the Lord.
7 We don’t live our life based on what we can see here. We live our life based on what we can’t see. We call that faith. 8 So we’re in good spirits. But I’ll tell you, we’d rather slip out of this body and go home to be with the Lord. 9 Yet, whether we’re here or there, our goal is the same. When God sees the kind of life we’re living, we want him to smile. 10 Someday, we’ll all find ourselves standing in front of Christ. He’ll judge us. He’ll give us what we deserve, for better or worse, based on how we lived our life.
Our job: spread the word11 We know the Lord deserves respect. That’s why we preach this message and try to convince others. God sees the real us. He knows what kind of people we are. We hope you do, too, when you let your conscience be your guide. 12 We’re not trying to write ourselves a letter of recommendation for you. But we are trying to give you some ammunition so you can kindly defend us by answering our critics. I’m talking about those who brag about physical stuff instead of the spiritual. They want to talk about what they can see with their eyeballs instead of what they experience in their heart.
13 If we’ve lost our minds, it’s because we’ve found God. If we’ve got our heads on straight, it’s so we can help you. 14 Love is what drives us—love as the Messiah lived it. He died for everyone. That means everyone died. 15 He died so people would stop living for themselves. He wanted them to start living for him—for the one who died for them and was raised from the dead.
Stop judging people by their looks16 So listen up. Stop evaluating people on the basis of what they look like— or, for that matter, in any other way the world evaluates people. We used to look at the Messiah that way. We sure don’t anymore. 17 If you’ve joined up with Christ, you’ve quit the old you. You’re now the new you. The old you is dead and gone. Look at that, the new you is here. 18 God did all of this. He made peace with us. He did it through the Messiah. Then he gave us the mission of helping others discover how they can find peace with God. 19 Through Christ, God was making peace between himself and the world. God dropped all charges against the people of this world. Instead, he has entrusted us with the job of delivering his message of peace and his hope for reconciliation.
20 Here’s what all of this means. We speak for Christ, as his ambassadors. Think of it this way. It’s as though God himself is using our words to plead with people. So on behalf of the Messiah, I beg you to make your peace with God. 21 Christ never sinned. But God turned him into sin as a sin offering. God did this to make peace between himself and us. Through Christ, we can now get right with God.
Often translated “was reconciled.”
In a Jewish sin offering, an animal was killed and burned on an altar. The animal died instead of the person who had sinned. Jewish law taught that sin was a capital offense. But it also taught that God allowed animals to take the place of the person who deserved to die. Part of the sacrificial ritual: “Lay your hand on the animal’s head, and the Lord will accept its death in your place to purify you, making you right with him” (Leviticus 1:3-4 New Living Translation).
It seems obvious enough that Paul is writing this letter to defend his leadership in the church he founded there in Corinth. But instead of focusing on the criticisms, he starts talking about the threats of death that follow him but that don’t diminish the bold message he preaches. He even talks a bit about what our heavenly bodies will be like. Why do you think he jumps to topics like these in the letter? Take your pick of the following, or offer your own theory:
- He’s playing the death card, trying to elicit sympathy.
- He’s writing about what is actually on his mind. He has been hounded by critics who wanted to see him dead. So he has been thinking a lot about the afterlife.
- He knows that the persecution he faces is persecution that Christians in Corinth will face, too. He’s telling them about how he deals with it, in the hopes that they will follow his lead.
There are atheist comedians who joke that if we Christians love Jesus so much and want to go to heaven, there are a lot of ways to get there quickly. They ask why we don’t just go ahead and leave this place. We could ask that question to Paul, as well. He said “We’re trapped inside these tents, and we groan about it. We want to move into our heavenly home” (5:2). How do you think Paul would answer if we said, “Okay, why don’t you pack up and move now?”?
Paul said his critics in Corinth “brag about physical stuff instead of the spiritual. They want to talk about what they can see with their eyeballs instead of what they experience in their heart” (5:12). What do you think Paul had in mind?
When Paul dives deep into abstract theology, he often gets poetic. He starts to do that in 5:11, continuing on through the chapter. What one-liner catches your attention best? Here are a few contenders.
- “They want to talk about what they can see with their eyeballs instead of what they experience in their heart” (5:12).
- “If we’ve lost our minds, it’s because we’ve found God” (5:13).
- “If you’ve joined up with Christ, you’ve quit the old you” (5:17).
- “You’re now the new you. The old you is dead and gone. Look at that, the new you is here” (5:17).
LIFE APPLICATION. When we talk to our relatives and friends about our hope for the afterlife, how do you think they would react if we pitched them some of the lines that Paul wrote to the people in Corinth? This one for example: “This physical body we call our home on earth is just a tent, a temporary place to live. One day the tent will come down, and we’ll die. But don’t worry. When that happens, God has a home waiting for us in the heavens. There’s nothing temporary about this new home. It’s eternal, not made by human hands” (5:1).
LIFE APPLICATION. When you read what Paul has to say about the upgrade (5:4-5) we will get—from a mortal body to an eternal body— how do you react to that? Pick your favorite response below, or add one of your own.
- It’ll be wonderful to be pain-free without needing medication.
- I’m not all that sure Paul knew what he was talking about. I wonder if he was repeating some of the teachings he had learned as a young Pharisee, in a Jewish movement that taught there was an afterlife.
- I don’t know what to think about this. It wouldn’t surprise me if God surprised us in the afterlife. He certainly surprised the Jews by sending the Messiah as a pacifist rabbi instead of as the militant and conquering king they expected.
- I’m counting on it.
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul said, “We speak for Christ, as his ambassadors….It’s as though God himself is using our words to plead with people” (5:20). Many Christians, perhaps most, say that the Bible is uniquely inspired by God. They would say, for example, that God was speaking directly through Paul. Do you think God ever speaks through us, just as directly and powerfully as he did through Paul? This is not a trick question. It’s a question giving you the freedom to think for yourself.