Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians


May 27, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians



               Lesson II.B.5.c: Contemplation of new life. (5:1-10)


2nd Corinthians 5:1-10 (NKJV)

1 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,

3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.

4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.

5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.

7 For we walk by faith, not by sight.

8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.






As a Christian evangelist in the first century, Paul was insulted, ridiculed and taunted. For the cause of the Gospel he faced angry mobs, irate local officials, and conceited philosophers. He spent many anxious nights in prayer and long hours working to support himself and studying the Scriptures. He received no applause, no reward, and no appreciation.



Why did he do this? Paul answered this question for the Corinthians. He measured all his troubles in the light of eternity. Paul knew that he would experience infinite happiness and unending joy in the next life. This confident hope was Paul’s motivation to never stop preaching the truth to all who would listen.



Few chapter breaks are more unfortunate than this one, since what follows in this lesson (5:1-10) details the thought in 4:16-18. Failure to appreciate this fact unduly complicates these already difficult verses by removing their contextual restraints.





1 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.


The apostle knew the Corinthians were wondering how he could endure so many hardships and difficulties (4:8-10{15), so in this passage he outlined his hope: the resurrection of his body to heavenly glory.



The Corinthians, like many today, had difficulty understanding the resurrection and its place in the Christian worldview. Greeks did not believe in a bodily resurrection. That was made clear when the Greek philosophers in Athens mocked Paul when he spoke of a bodily resurrection. “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, "We will hear you again on this matter” (Acts 17:32). Most Greeks thought that only the soul would survive death. They thought of the soul—the essence of a person—as imprisoned in a physical body, a body that was intrinsically evil. Upon death the soul would be released from its imprisonment. According to the Greeks, only the soul would enter an eternal state. Because of the strong Greek influence in the church, some believers in Corinth had begun teaching that there was no bodily resurrection from the dead (1 Co. 15:12, 35{25). Thus, Paul had thoroughly explained the doctrine of the resurrection to them (1 Co. 15:12-57). Paul underscored its significance and made it clear that denying the resurrection of believers was tantamount to denying the resurrection of Jesus Himself and, thus, the Christian faith (1 Co. 15:12-34). Paul did not mince words: “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Co 15:17). Paul would not risk his life for a futile and meaningless message (1 Co. 15:30{26).



What Paul is saying here is very important. He says, “For we know [not we hope or we expect or even that we believe] that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not built with hands, eternal in the heavens.” This is a positive “know.” He knows because of the fact the Spirit of God has made it real to him.



This “building from God” is not the believer’s heavenly home, promised in John 14:1-6. It is his glorified body. Paul was a tentmaker (Acts 18:1-3) and here he used a tent as a picture of our earthly bodies. A tent is a weak temporary structure without much beauty; but the glorified body which we shall receive, will be eternal, beautiful, and never show signs of weakness or decay (Phil. 3:20-21{18).Paul saw the human body as an earthen vessel (2 Co. 4:7{15) and a temporary tent; but he knew that believers would one day receive a wonderful glorified body, suited to the glorious environment in heaven.



The Greek word for tabernacle is skene, which means “tent.” That is the same word that was used for the wilderness tabernacle of the Old Testament in the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament into Greek. The Old Testament tabernacle, the Mosaic tabernacle, was a skene, a tent. It was a flimsy sort of thing. Paul had referred to his mortal “body” (4:10-11{2) as “wasting away” (4:16{3). Now he compared his body to a worn-out earthly (on the earth) tent soon to be destroyed. Paul is saying that this “earthly house,” our body, is temporary, like that wilderness tabernacle; but when it is “destroyed” (by death), we have a new “eternal house” (new body) in “heaven,” which “God” has provided for us.



When a believer dies, the body goes to the grave, but the spirit goes to be with Christ. That is what Paul meant when he told the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:21, 23). When Jesus Christ returns for His own, He will raise the dead bodies in glory, and body and spirit will be joined together for a glorious eternity in heaven (1 Co. 15:25-58; I Thess. 4:15-18{25).



We need to realize that there is an outward man and an inward man. Paul talked about that in the preceding chapter. The outward man perishes, but the inward man is renewed day by day. A great many people misunderstand that. The body is put in the grave, but the individual, the real person, has gone to be with Christ—if that individual is a believer. The outward man is a physical material being that you can see and touch. The inward man is spiritual, the part of man created in the image of God. You see, God is not a physical material being. “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24).



I am seventy-two years old and my health is poor; I have many issues to deal with. I am so looking forward to my inward man moving to a new address. I don’t feel at home here anymore. Like the song says, “I must be traveling on.” But there is one aspect of my life that I really enjoy. I enjoy studying God’s Word and writing Bible commentaries—but I eagerly desire to be taught from the lips of Jesus and those great saints of God who experienced firsthand the teaching and works of God and Jesus Christ.



It is wonderful to know that each passing year brings me closer to being with Him. I am going to see Him someday; I am going to see the face of the Lord Jesus, the one who loved me and gave himself for me. I am thrilled by that prospect. To be very frank with you, I don’t have as much conflict with the world, the flesh, and the Devil as I used to have. I think they have given up on me. This old house is getting old.



Dear reader, I have an eternal house in the heavens. This body will be sown a natural body, but it will be raised a spiritual body. He is going to give us a new body that is suitable for heaven. Although these spiritual bodies will somehow be associated with our old physical bodies (Rom. 8:23{22), they will be of an entirely different nature. They will be imperishable, glorious, and eternal (1 Co. 15:42-44{23). They will be perfect bodies for our new eternal existence with Jesus Christ.



2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,


I am groaning in this body. Why? Well, let’s see; there is heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, disk disease, depression, and high blood pressure, just to name the most serious problems. Those are my personal issues; but in Romans 8:23{22, Paul states that all of creation groans under the decay that resulted from sin, and these verses (1-10) indicate that believers also join in that moaning. Such groaning is evidently not thought of as a mere human whim, but as a Spirit-guided desire (v. 5). Paul’s groaning reflected his desire to be free from the afflictions and imperfections of this life, and his feeling that so far he has not received the full range of salvation (Rom. 8:23{22).



When Paul spoke of wanting to be clothed with a heavenly habitation (dwelling), he is referring to his longing to receive a resurrected body. This image depicts the glorious truth that the earthly bodies of Christians will be transformed into eternal, heavenly bodies.



Paul was fixing his eyes “not on what is seen but on what is unseen” (4:18{4). These verses (2-4) express the same sentiment. Paul’s present life was “wasting away” (4:16{3) and he faced “death” (4:11-12{5). Paul was waiting for the day when God would give him a new body, a spiritual body, in which he will still be able, even in the heavenly places to serve and to adore God. That is how Paul felt. He saw eternity not as a release into permanent inaction, but as the entry into a body in which service to God could be complete.



Paul was hoping that he would be alive and on earth at the return of Christ, so that he might not have to go through the experience of death. Paul used a similar picture in 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, and he used the idea of “groaning” in Romans (8:22-26{26).



3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.


This verse explains why Paul wants to receive the spiritual body as soon as possible. He does not want to die and continue for a time in a bodiless intermediate state that he describes as “naked”; if the end comes before he dies, he will escape that imperfect intermediate existence.



This is interesting. One of these days Jesus is going to call his own out of this world. We will be caught up to meet our Lord in the air, and we are going to stand before Him. What will it be like for us? We will be clothed in His righteousness. “We will not be found naked.”



Not everyone will be clothed in His righteousness when they are raised from the dead. Christ “. . . was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification”—(Rom. 4:25)—that is, our righteousness. But some folk have not accepted His righteousness. They have rejected Christ. Therefore, there is a resurrection of the just and of the unjust. Paul mentions this in Acts 24:15, “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.” Jesus said the same thing in John 5:29. “And come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” Dear reader, you are going to stand in his presence someday. Will you be clothed in the righteousness of Christ? Are you accepted in the Beloved?



This is a good time to point out that the Bible does not teach only one judgment day, but many judgments. There are eight judgments which have already passed or are still in the future.

  1. There is the judgment which Jesus Christ bore on the cross. It is because Jesus bore this judgment for us that He could say, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
  2. There is self-judgment. We are told in 1 Corinthians 11:31, “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.”
  3. Also there is the chastisement of God for the believer. The Lord takes us to His woodshed. “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6).
  4. The works of the believer are to be judged, as we will see later in this chapter.
  5. The nation Israel is to be judged.
  6. The Gentile nations are to be judged.
  7. Fallen angels are to be judged.
  8. Finally, there is the judgment of the Great White Throne. All of the lost ones are brought there. They will appear naked. They will not be clothed in His righteousness. They will be judged according to their works, which is the way they wanted it to be.



4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.


Verse 4 restates verses 2 and 3, but in a clearer form. “For (“Because”) we do not want to be unclothed” by losing our physical body at death; “but” our longing is rather “to be clothed upon,” to put on the spiritual body as a new garment without first stripping off the old garment, “so that the mortal” physical body “is swallowed up” and instantly replaced “by the” perfect eternal “life” with God that those with the spiritual body will enjoy.



If you feel like groaning, you just groan, dear reader. It’s scriptural. We are burdened. Yes, we are. That is why we groan in these bodies. It is not that we are worried about being unclothed; we know that we will be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Someday, when our heavenly dwelling is received, all our groaning and being burdened will give place to laughter and exultation (Luke 6:21{6). The eternal and permanent—life itself—will swallow up the temporary and the decaying—the mortal. The fact that Paul piled image upon image and repeated himself indicates his concern that the Corinthians understand the bodily resurrection.



Being “clothed” or “covered” with eternal bodies indicates that when Christians die, they will not lose their personalities or even their recognizable characteristics. As Jesus’ own resurrection body shows, believers will have bodies that to some degree correspond with their own physical bodies. Their bodies will be redeemed (Rom. 8:24{10). Through Christ’s saving work, their resurrected bodies will be better than they can imagine.



Few details are given about the believer’s resurrected body, but the Bible does say it will be perfect, without sickness, disease or pain (Phil. 3:21{18; Rev. 21:4{27). Knowing this should affect the way Christians live on earth. Although believers will be transformed on the last day, they will retain the character that they have developed here on earth. The Corinthians had foolishly begun to live as if death would change everything: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die! (1 Co. 15:32). But Paul was trying to impress on them that what they did in this life did matter. In light of the certainty of the bodily resurrection, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to stop “sinning,” and that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Co. 15:33-34). Paul’s exhortation applies today. Develop your character in this life, for every one of your actions here on earth has eternal consequences.



Paul had compared the earthly body to a seed that had been planted in the ground. The small seed has to “die” in order to grow up into a living, beautiful plant. In the same way, the earthly body has to be sown in weakness, decay, and even die before it yields the glorious resurrected body (1 Co. 15:42-44{23).



The glorified body is called “a building from God, a house not made with hands” in 2 Corinthians 5:1, and “our habitation which is from heaven” in 2 Corinthians 5:2. This is in contrast with our mortal bodies which came from the dust of the earth. “And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (1 Co. 15:49). It is important to note that Paul was not groaning because he was in a human body, but because he longed to see Jesus Christ and receive a glorified body. He was groaning for glory! If He is our Savior, He is our only hope.



It seems clear from this verse that being in this tent (2 Peter 1:13{7) and unclothed describe mortality while being clothed and possessing a heavenly dwelling depict immortality, without specifying any intervening stages.



5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.


He has given us the Holy Spirit down here in these weak bodies with all our feebleness, and all our frailty. We have the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that there is still more to come. Christ has purchased us, and we have the Holy Spirit within us to be our teacher, guide, helper, comforter—He means so very much to the believer. One of these days we will move out of this old house and we will meet the Lord in the air. How wonderfully this opens up a new vista for us, and how encouraging it is to realize that in the life of each Christian, God has begun the transforming process that will one day culminate in possessing a heavenly body and perfect Christlikeness.



For all his yearning for the life to come, Paul does not despise this life. The reason is that here and now we possess the Holy Spirit of God, and the Holy Spirit is the first installment of the life to come. In his letter to the Corinthians, he said, “Who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Co. 1:22). It is Paul’s conviction that already the Christians can enjoy the foretaste of the life everlasting. It is the privilege of the Christian to be a citizen of two worlds; and the result is, not that he despises the world, but that he finds it clad with a sheen of glory which is the reflection of the greater glory to come.



Paul’s yearning for his heavenly body was not a desperate hope. God had determined long ago that believers in His Son would inherit eternal glory. This picks up the idea expressed in 4:17{28 that the Lord God had planned not only to justify believers through His Son’s sacrificial death, but He also planned to glorify them with heavenly bodies—“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).



6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.


We are at “home in the body,” which means that we are dwelling in “the earthly tent” (v. 1) with our bodies outwardly “wasting away” (4:16{3), and we are in a state of mortality away from the immediate presence of the Lord (1 Co. 13:12{8). I have complained about mine, but I do like it. I still have a foot long scar in the middle of my chest from bypass surgery. Running diagonally to that one there is another long scar across my abdomen from gallbladder surgery. My wrists have scars from carpel tunnel surgery and my knees are scarred from ligament repair and both hips have long scars where I have had hip replacement surgery. This makes my body unique and I could pick it out of a million others. Down through the years I have gotten used to this body of mine, and I feel at home in it. However, as long as I am at home in this body, I am absent from the Lord.



The people of God can be found in one of two places; either in heaven or on the earth. None of them is in the grave, in hell, or in any “intermediate place,” between earth and heaven. Believers on earth are “at home in the body (v.6),” while believers who have died are “absent from the body (v. 8).” Believers on earth are “absent from the Lord (v. 8),” while believers in heaven are “present with the Lord (v. 8).” Because he had this kind of confidence, Paul was not afraid of suffering and trials, or even of dangers. This is not to suggest that he tempted the Lord by taking unnecessary risks, but it does mean that he was willing to “lose his life” for the sake of Christ and the ministry of the Gospel.



What sustained Paul was the realization that this was a temporary and transitory state (2 Co. 4:18{9). He focused not on present but on future conditions, not on the seen but unseen. This explains why Paul can be so courageous as he faces the prospect of death. He is under a great limitation as long as he lives in the physical body: he is away from the Lord. Without a doubt, he has been privileged to see “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (4:6), and in a real and vital way Christ lives in him, even in this life (Gal. 2:20{29). Death does not cause Paul to fear, because it is through death that he will enter into a new and better relationship with Christ. He can face death with courage, for if it comes he will be at home with the Lord (v. 8).



7 For we walk by faith, not by sight.


How could Paul be so sure that when we leave this body we will be present with the Lord? Paul says that we walk by faith. We take God at His Word. I would rather take His Word that anyone else’s word. This confidence in the realities that are unseen allows believers to persevere in this faith, regardless of persecution, opposition, or temptation (Heb. 11:6{30; 1 Pe. 1:8-9{31). Faith is taking God at His Word. We are living in these bodies, and we are absent from the Lord.



This is how Paul lived—he lived “by faith” in Jesus Christ, not by faith in those visible things around him. He focused not on present but on future conditions, not on the seen, but on the unseen. He lived in the light of the ultimate rather than immediate realities (Rom. 8:24-25{10); and he was obedient to God’s commands despite the hardships that obedience produces (2 Co. 11:23-29{11). This was Paul’s life. If the choice were his, he would have seized the opportunity to depart this pilgrimage life and take up residence (be at home) with the Lord (Phil. 1:22-23{12). But the constraints of his commission caused him to press on (Phil. 1:24{13; Eph. 3:1-13).



While we are living here in the world, we do not clearly see the Lord and the heavenly world in which He rules; we cannot see the situation into which He will bring us. So we must live by faith that trusts God. In this we do not see God as we shall later, and this for Paul is a real limitation.




8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.


Verse 7 should be considered a parenthesis, therefore verse 8 completes the sentence which began with verse 6.



A better translation would be, “at home with the Lord.” This verse contrasts being at home in the body or being at home with the Lord. Remember that the soul does not die. The soul never dies; it goes to be with Christ. It is the body that is put to sleep. It is the body that must be changed. Remember that there will be a generation that does not experience death, but their bodies will still need to be changed. “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed . . . For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Co. 15:51, 53). It is the body that goes to sleep and it is the body that is raised. Resurrection does not refer to the soul or the spirit. The English word resurrection is the Greek word anastasis, which means “a standing up.” It is the body which will stand up. Knowing these things, we walk by faith.



Since Paul wrote about the bodily resurrection occurring when Jesus returns (1 Co. 15:51-54{24) and also of believers being with Jesus immediately after they die, several theories have been proposed to explain this transitional state of the believer. In recent years, all of the theories about the disembodied state have been severely criticized. Many commentators have pointed out that these are based more on philosophical ideas about a person’s soul than on Scripture. Some of the confusion is due to the fact that there is very little scriptural explanation.



There are four main views of the “intermediate state:”

  1. Soul sleep—This view is held by Seventh-Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They believe that the soul rests in unconsciousness or oblivion until the resurrection. They base this view on verses where death is referred to as “sleep” (See Acts 7:6; 13:36; 1 Co. 15:6; I Thess. 4:13-15, and even Jesus words in John 11:11). Some have modified this view to say that believers are “with Christ,” but not in a conscious state. However, Scripture teaches the believer’s immediate presence with the Lord at death in Jesus’ words in Luke 23:43 to the thief on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” and in His final prayer, “Father, I entrust My Spirit into Your hands!” Stephen, the first Christian martyr said this right before he died, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
  2. Purgatory—This is the Roman Catholic view that at death those who have died in their sins and rejected Christ go to Hades for eternal punishment; those who have died in a perfect state of grace go directly to heaven. Those who are not spiritually perfect go to purgatory for a refining process and purification of sin. This view has developed largely from church theologians and church councils rather than the Bible itself, although 1 Co. 3:15 has been used by Catholics to justify this view: “If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
  3. Immediate resurrection—This view states that at death there is an immediate separation from the earthly body and an immediate reclothing or reconstituting of the resurrection body. Proponents teach that in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul believed in the resurrection of the body at the Second Coming and fully believed that believers would see it in their lifetime. After Paul’s brush with death and the reality that he might die before He returns, Paul explained what would be the case for those who died in the interval. Romans 8:19 and Colossians 3:4 are used to argue that believers are already resurrected but will be “revealed” or glorified at the Second coming.
  4. Incomplete resurrection—This view is the most commonly accepted view of Paul’s words in the New Testament. There is a conscious, personal existence for the believer after death. At death, a believer goes into a place and condition of blessedness. The time interval between a believer’s death and the full resurrection of the body will be imperceptible to the Christian. No anxiety or discomfort will mar this condition. Most do not believe this will be a bodiless existence because of Paul’s teaching that he abhorred nakedness (5:3-4). However, it is true that the body will not be in its complete and final form because Paul points to a future resurrection as a specific event (Phil. 3:20-21{18; 1 Thess. 4:16-17{32), as does Jesus (John 5:25-29{33). At death we will assume a different expression or condition of the bodily self; then at the Second Coming this will be exchanged or reconstituted as the resurrection body.


In the final analysis, Christians can only affirm exactly what the Bible says:

1)      When a believer dies, he or she will be with Jesus (Phil. 1:23{12). Believers will not float in a limbo state. Instead, they will have a personal encounter with the Savior.

2)     When Jesus returns in all his glory, all believers will be given heavenly bodies that will be perfect and will last forever (1 Co. 15:51-54{24; I Thess. 4:16-18{32). A believer’s life in eternity will involve some type of bodily existence. We have the example of our Lord’s resurrected body as He appeared on earth.

3)     The Spirit imparted to believers in this life not only guarantees that they will be resurrected to eternal glory but also begins that transformation within believer’s souls (4:16{3; v. 5).



Although this verse, along with others, has provoked much speculation, Paul’s point is abundantly clear: A believer’s destination—his or her eternal home with Jesus—should inspire confidence and courage in the face of Life’s difficulties. Although Christians may moan under the strain of life’s difficulties, their problems should never push them to despair. Like a woman in labor, believers endure the pain and suffering joyfully because they know it is temporary and will lead to something much better: a perfect and eternal home.



9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.


The idea here is that we are to make an effort to please Him in everything we do. Paul has expressed his desire to remain alive until the Lord returns; and he has stated that he is willing to die before He returns, since death would bring the great privilege of more open fellowship with the Lord (vs. 6-8). Yet these things he must leave in the hands of God. But he can and must make it his aim to be well-pleasing to the Lord; the assurance of God’s grace and help never leads Paul to relax his own active effort to be faithful and obedient: “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Co. 9:27).



We are accepted in the Beloved. Paul makes this clear in Ephesians, “having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:5-6). Being accepted in Christ is my standing before God. God sees me in Christ, and He is made unto me all that I need: wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Co. 1:30{1). He is my perfection. God sees me in Christ, and I am complete in Him. You cannot add anything to completeness. When a person has 100 percent, that person has all of it. We who are believers have Christ, and we are accepted in the Beloved. Accepted in Christ is the standing that all believers have before God.



To be well-pleasing to Him is a different thing. This has to do with our state and refers to the way we live our lives. Do we live for Christ? Are we ambitious to be accepted of Him? To be ambitious to be accepted of Christ certainly does not mean that we are to crawl over everybody and step on them in order to get to the top. I am afraid we have people in Christian work who are like that because they want to make a name for themselves.



There is an ambition that is selfish and worldly, but there is also holy ambition that honors the Lord. Paul’s great ambition was to be well-pleasing to Jesus Christ. The Judaizers ministered to please men and enlist them in their cause; but Paul ministered to please Jesus Christ alone. A man-pleasing ministry is a carnal compromising ministry; and God cannot bless it. Paul asked the Galatians to evaluate his ministry, whether it pleased man or God: “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).



The word which has been translated “well-pleasing” is used several other places in the New Testament, and each of these references help us understand what it is that pleases the Lord. It is well-pleasing to Him when we present our bodies to Him as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), and when we live so as to help others and avoid causing them to stumble (Rom. 14:18). God is well-pleased when his children separate themselves from the evil around them (Eph. 5:10), as well as when they bring their offerings to Him (Phil. 4:18). He is pleased with children who submit to their parents (Col. 3:20), as well as saints who permit Jesus Christ to work out His perfect will in their lives (Heb. 13:20-21).



Sometimes we think that our ambition should be to do something great for God. God says that He wants us to be His servants. That’s all. You and I need to come to the place where we can say, “Lord, just take me and make me and break me and do with me what You will.” God gave this word through Jeremiah: “And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them . . .” (Jer. 45:5). That’s putting it plain enough, isn’t it? Dear reader, are you trying to get great things for yourself? Oh, there are a lot of ambitious preachers and a lot of ambitious laymen and a lot of ambitious Christians—but with selfish ambition. Do you really want to be God’s servant? If you do, then you can accomplish something for which He will be able to reward you. To be honest with you, I’m beginning to become just a little worried about this. I want to make sure that I am His servant.



There is nothing wrong with Godly ambition. “And so I have made it my aim (ambition) to preach the gospel . . .” was Paul’s testimony in Romans 15:20; it was his godly ambition that compelled Him to take the message to where it had never been heard. Paul commanded the Thessalonian believers to “study [be ambitious] to be quiet” (1 Thess. 4:11). If believers, who are led by the Spirit, would put as much drive into Christian living and service as they do athletics or business, the Gospel would make a greater impact on the lost world. A new Christian once said, “I want to be as zealous for God as I was for the devil,” and his life was greatly used by God.



I am going to have to stand before Him someday and give an account of my service—and so are you. This should motivate us to serve Him acceptably.



10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.


When Paul wrote this, he may have been thinking simply of the tribunal of the Roman magistrate before whom he himself had stood, or he may be thinking of the Greek way of justice. All Greek citizens were liable to serve as judges, or, as we would say, as jurymen. When an Athenian sat in judgment on a case he was given two bronze disks. Each had a cylindrical axis. One axis was hollow and that disk stood for condemnation; one was solid and that one stood for acquittal. On the bema there stood two urns. One, of bronze, was called “the decisive urn,” for into it the judge dropped the disk that stood for his verdict. The other, of wood, was called “the inoperative urn,” for into it the judge dropped the disk which he desired to discard. So at the end the jury dropped into the bronze urn either the disk that stood for acquittal or the one that stood for condemnation. To the onlooker they looked exactly the same and no one could tell the verdict the judges gave. Then the disks were counted and the verdict given.



So, in each of the ancient Greek cities there was the judgment seat, literally, the bema. I read that in Corinth one has been preserved for tourists to take pictures of. This was the place where the judges of the city would meet the citizens and would judge them for certain things—there was, however, no question of life or death. At the judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:12{14), which will follow the rapture of the church, only believers will appear. It is not a judgment of the believer’s sins, which Christ totally atoned for on the cross. The judgment is to see whether you are going to receive a reward or not.



The judgment seat of Christ will be a place of revelation; for the word “appear” means “be revealed.” As we live and work here on earth, it is relatively easy for us to hide things and pretend; but the true character of our works will be exposed before the searching eyes of the Savior. He will reveal whether our works have been good or bad (“worthless”). The character of our service will be revealed (1 Co. 3:13{19) as well as the motives that impelled us (1 Co. 4:5{20).



It will also be a place of reckoning as we give an account of our ministries (Rom. 14:10-12{21). If we have been faithful it will be a place of reward and recognition (1 Co. 3:10-15{34; 4:1-6{35). For those of us who have been faithful, it will be a time of rejoicing as we glorify the Lord by giving our rewards back to Him in worship and in praise.



Is the desire for reward a proper motive for service? The fact that God does promise rewards is proof that the motive is not a sinful one, even though it may not be the highest motive. Just as parents are happy when their children achieve recognition, so our Lord is pleased when His people are worthy of recognition and reward. The important thing is not the reward itself, but the joy of pleasing Christ and honoring Him.



When Paul says, “We must all appear,” remember that he is writing to believers. All we believers will be judged, so that we may receive the things done in the body. We will be judged on the way we have lived the Christian life, how we have lived in these bodies down here. When we go into His presence, we will be through with these old bodies. How did we live down here?



This perspective on a day of judgment and the prospect of eternity had a beneficial effect on Paul. It enabled him to persevere in the face of hardship (2 Co. 4:7-12{15). And it motivated him to be faithful in discharging his ministry (5:11{16; 1 Co. 4:2-4{17).



Paul faces this question when he writes to the Philippians. He says in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Then he talks of his desire to go and be with Christ but also of his desire to live longer so that he can minister to the Philippians. He wants to stay so that he can preach the Gospel of Christ a little longer.



At times Paul says that God will judge (Rom. 2:3); at other times, as here, Christ is the judge named. There is no conflict; God judges through Christ, as Romans 2:16 clearly states. Christ is the Lord of both the living and the dead (Rom. 14:9), and will judge both groups (Acts 10:42). That He will judge is repeatedly stated, not only in the Acts and epistles, but likewise in the Gospels (Matt. 16:27; 25:31-32). That God would judge all men through Christ Paul did not doubt (Rom. 2:6-8), but here he speaks only of the Christians; remembering that the judgment is surely coming at the end of the age, he and all other Christians must prepare to meet it.



This is the way I feel. I want to stay in this body and do as much for the Lord as I possibly can. Here is the primary motivation for believers: We are going to appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and we will answer to the Lord for our lives. We are going to give a report to Him. Let me make this very clear that this is not the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:11-15 where only the unsaved will stand. If you are a believer, your name is written in the Book of Life, and you have eternal life. However, you will stand before the bema, the judgment seat of Christ, to be judged for rewards. You and I will stand before him. This should motivate us to serve Him acceptably. Then when we come into His presence, He will be able to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”




Scripture reference and special notes


1} (1 Co. 1:30) But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—


2} (2 Co. 4:10-11) always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.


3} (2 Co. 4:16) Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.


4} (2 Co. 4:18) while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.


5} (2 Co. 4:11-12) For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.


6} (Luke 6:21) Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. 


7} (2 Pe. 1:13) Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you,


8} (1 Co. 13:12) For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.


9} (2 Co. 4:18) while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.


10} (Rom. 8:24-25) For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.


11} (2 Co. 11:23-29) Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?


12} (Phil. 1:22-23) But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.


13} (Phil. 1:24) Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.


14} (Rom. 12:12) So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.


15} (2 Co. 4:7-12) But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.


16} (2 Co. 5:11) Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.


17} (1 Co. 4:2-4) Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.


18} (Phil. 3:20-21) For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.


19} (1 Co. 3:13) each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is.


20} (1 Co. 4:5) Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God.


21} (Rom. 14:10-12) But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: "As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God." So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.


22} (Rom. 8:23) Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.


23} (1 Co. 15:42-44) So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.


24} (1 Co. 15:51-54) Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."


24} (1 Co. 15:12, 35) But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?"


24} (1 Co. 15:30) And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?


25} (I Thess. 4:15-18) According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage each other with these words.


26} (Rom. 8:22-26) We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.


27} (Rev. 21:4) He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."


28} (2 Co. 4:17) For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.


29} (Gal. 2:20). I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.


30} (Heb. 11:6) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.


31} (1 Pe. 1:8-9) Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.


32} (I Thess. 4:16-18) For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.


33} (John 5:25-29). I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.


34} (1 Co. 3:10-15) By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.

11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,

13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.

14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.


35} (2 Co. 4:1-6) Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.

2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.

6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.


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