The apostle in these verses pursues the argument of the former chapter, concerning the grounds of their courage and patience under afflictions. And,
I. He mentions their expectation, and desire, and assurance, of eternal happiness after death, 2 Cor. 5:1-5. Observe particularly,
1. The believer’s expectation of eternal happiness after death, 2 Cor. 5:1. He does not only know, or is well assured by faith of the truth and reality of the thing itself—that there is another and a happy life after this present life is ended, but he has good hope through grace of his interest in that everlasting blessedness of the unseen world: “We know that we have a building of God, we have a firm and well-grounded expectation of the future felicity.” Let us take notice, (1.) What heaven is in the eye and hope of a believer. He looks upon it as a house, or habitation, a dwelling-place, a resting-place, a hiding-place, our Father’s house, where there are many mansions, and our everlasting home. It is a house in the heavens, in that high and holy place which as far excels all the palaces of this earth as the heavens are high above the earth. It is a building of God, whose builder and maker is God, and therefore is worthy of its author; the happiness of the future state is what God hath prepared for those that love him. It is eternal in the heavens, everlasting habitations, not like the earthly tabernacles, the poor cottages of clay in which our souls now dwell, which are mouldering and decaying, and whose foundations are in the dust. (2.) When it is expected this happiness shall be enjoyed—immediately after death, so soon as our house of this earthly tabernacle is dissolved. Note, [1.] That the body, this earthly house, is but a tabernacle, that must be dissolved shortly; the nails or pins will be drawn, and the cords be loosed, and then the body will return to dust as it was. [2.] When this comes to pass, then comes the house not made with hands. The spirit returns to God who gave it; and such as have walked with God here shall dwell with God for ever.
2. The believer’s earnest desire after this future blessedness, which is expressed by this word, stenazomen—we groan, which denotes, (1.) A groaning of sorrow under a heavy load; so believers groan under the burden of life: In this we groan earnestly, 2 Cor. 5:2. We that are in this tabernacle groan, being burdened, 2 Cor. 5:4. The body of flesh is a heavy burden, the calamities of life are a heavy load. But believers groan because burdened with a body of sin, and the many corruptions that are still remaining and raging in them. This makes them complain, O wretched man that I am! Rom. 7:24. (2.) There is a groaning of desire after the happiness of another life; and thus believers groan: Earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven (2 Cor. 5:2), to obtain a blessed immortality, that mortality might be swallowed up of life (2 Cor. 5:4), that being found clothed, we may not be naked (2 Cor. 5:3), that, if it were the will of God, we might not sleep, but be changed; for it is not desirable in itself to be unclothed. Death considered merely as a separation of soul and body is not to be desired, but rather dreaded; but, considered as a passage to glory, the believer is willing rather to die than live, to be absent from the body, that he may be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1), to leave this body that he may go to Christ, and to put off these rags of mortality that he may put on the robes of glory. Note, [1.] Death will strip us of the clothing of flesh, and all the comforts of life, as well as put an end to all our troubles here below. Naked we came into this world, and naked shall we go out of it. But, [2.] Gracious souls are not found naked in the other world; no, they are clothed with garments of praise, with robes of righteousness and glory. They shall be delivered out of all their troubles, and shall have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, Rev. 7:14.
3. The believer’s assurance of his interest in this future blessedness, on a double account:—(1.) From the experience of the grace of God, in preparing and making him meet for this blessedness. He that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God, 2 Cor. 5:5. Note, All who are designed for heaven hereafter are wrought or prepared for heaven while they are here; the stones of that spiritual building and temple above are squared and fashioned here below. And he that hath wrought us for this is God, because nothing less than a divine power can make a soul partaker of a divine nature; no hand less than the hand of God can work us for this thing. A great deal is to be done to prepare our souls for heaven, and that preparation of the heart is from the Lord. (2.) The earnest of the Spirit gave them this assurance: for an earnest is part of payment, and secures the full payment. The present graces and comforts of the Spirit are earnests of everlasting grace and comfort.
II. The apostle deduces an inference for the comfort of believers in their present state and condition in this world, 2 Cor. 5:6-8. Here observe, 1. What their present state or condition is: they are absent from the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6); they are pilgrims and strangers in this world; they do but sojourn here in their earthly home, or in this tabernacle; and though God is with us here, by his Spirit, and in his ordinances, yet we are not with him as we hope to be: we cannot see his face while we live: For we walk by faith, not by sight, 2 Cor. 5:7. We have not the vision and fruition of God, as of an object that is present with us, and as we hope for hereafter, when we shall see as we are seen. Note, Faith is for this world, and sight is reserved for the other world: and it is our duty, and will be our interest, to walk by faith, till we come to live by sight. 2. How comfortable and courageous we ought to be in all the troubles of life, and in the hour of death: Therefore we are, or ought to be, always confident (2 Cor. 5:6), and again (2 Cor. 5:8), We are confident, and willing rather to be absent from the body. True Christians, if they duly considered the prospect faith gives them of another world, and the good reasons of their hope of blessedness after death, would be comforted under the troubles of life, and supported in the hour of death: they should take courage, when they are encountering the last enemy, and be willing rather to die than live, when it is the will of God that they should put off this tabernacle. Note, As those who are born from above long to be there, so it is but being absent from the body, and we shall very soon be present with the Lord—but to die, and be with Christ—but to close our eyes to all things in this world, and we shall open them in a world of glory. Faith will be turned into sight.
III. He proceeds to deduce an inference to excite and quicken himself and others to duty, 2 Cor. 5:9-11. So it is that well-grounded hopes of heaven will be far from giving the least encouragement to sloth and sinful security; on the contrary, they should stir us up to use the greatest care and diligence in religion: Wherefore, or because we hope to be present with the Lord, we labour and take pains, 2 Cor. 5:9. Philotimoumetha—We are ambitious, and labour as industriously as the most ambitious men do to obtain what they aim at. Here observe, 1. What it was that the apostle was thus ambitious of—acceptance with God. We labour that, living and dying, whether present in the body or absent from the body, we may be accepted of him, the Lord (2 Cor. 5:9), that we may please him who hath chosen us, that our great Lord may say to us, Well done. This they coveted as the greatest favour and the highest honour: it was the summit of their ambition. 2. What further quickening motives they had to excite their diligence, from the consideration of the judgment to come, 2 Cor. 5:10, 11. There are many things relating to this great matter that should awe the best of men into the utmost care and diligence in religion; for example, the certainty of this judgment, for we must appear; the universality of it, for we must all appear; the great Judge before whose judgment-seat we must appear, the Lord Jesus Christ, who himself will appear in flaming fire; the recompence to be then received, for things done in the body, which will be very particular (unto every one), and very just, according to what we have done, whether good or bad. The apostle calls this awful judgment the terror of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:11), and, by the consideration thereof, was excited to persuade men to repent, and live a holy life, that, when Christ shall appear terribly, they may appear before him comfortably. And, concerning his fidelity and diligence, he comfortably appeals unto God, and the consciences of those he wrote to: We are made manifest unto God, and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.