The first sentence in 2 Corinthians 4:16 is, “So we do not lose heart.” It is important that we do not lose heart. This is what Paul is going to talk about. Notice in 5:6, “So we are always of good courage.” Look at 5:8, “Yes we are of good courage.” We must not give up and we must not despair. Remember that the fourth chapter opened with the same words. Since we have this ministry by the mercy of God we do not lose heart (4:1). Now the context of this hope for us to not lose heart is amazing. Paul has described that he is afflicted and struck down, yet he does not lose heart. He is persecuted and perplexed but he does not lose heart. They are always being given over to death, but they do not lose heart (4:11). What is the hope that we have so that we can remain strong? What is the hope given to us so that we will not lose heart even though we are clay jars carrying the treasure of the gospel? This is what the apostle Paul is going to give to us in this paragraph: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:20.
Our Inner Self Is Being Renewed (4:16-18)
Paul begins by noting that his outer self is wasting away. Paul is not speaking about growing old, which is certainly true. Our outer self is slowing decaying and wasting away. But this is really not the idea. Rather, in keeping with our context, the reason his outer self is wasting away is because they are being persecuted and afflicted in every way (4:8-9). They are being destroyed in the body. In fact, the word “decaying” (NASB) or “wasting away” (ESV, NRSV, NIV) is sometimes translated “destroyed” in other contexts (Luke 12:33; Revelation 8:9). The CSB actually reads, “the outer person is being destroyed.” They are carrying the death of Jesus in their bodies. Their bodies show the sacrifices for Jesus that they have made.
But in doing so, the inner person is being renewed day by day. Now how can it be that the inner person is being renewed every day while our outer body is wasting away? Look at verse 17. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV)
The suffering prepares for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Paul recognizes that the suffering he endures for Jesus’ sake is accomplishing something for him. His suffering is renewing him. His suffering is strengthening his inner person. This is why we do not lose heart in suffering. To be renewed requires suffering. So often we stare at the present suffering and do not look at the eternal weight of glory that is at work in us as we suffer. When we see the eternal weight of glory then the sufferings we experience today will be considered light momentary afflictions. Paul is not saying that our troubles are small. Paul is saying that by comparison to the eternal weight of glory, our present troubles look small. The apostles Paul and Peter made similar points elsewhere.
And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:17–18 ESV)
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6–7 ESV)
So what does this mean? Paul explains in verse 18 that what we are doing is we are not looking to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. Doesn’t this seem impossible and contradictory? We are looking at the things that are unseen. Why do we look at these things? We look at the unseen because they are the eternal things but the things that can be seen are temporary and transient. So in suffering we fix our eyes on the unseen so that we do not lose heart. So we do not lose heart because we know that our suffering is renewing our inner self day by day and because we are looking to the unseen things.
Now, if the things that we are looking at are unseen, then we need a little help seeing these unseen things. Tell me, Paul, what to fix my spiritual eyes upon. What should I be looking at with spiritual discernment and not physical eyes? This is what Paul expresses in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10.
An Eternal Building (5:1-5)
The first thing we look at is the building we have from God if our physical body is destroyed. We do not lose heart and we are of good courage because we know we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. When the clay jar is broken and when the tent is destroyed, we know we have something. Underline the words in verse 1, “We know” and “we have.” We know that we have something permanent to replace this temporary physical body. We have a building not made with hands, meaning, that it is not of this creation (cf. Hebrews 9:11).
It is this eternal body from God that we desire (5:2). We groan for it. We long for it. Now we must stop and consider this declaration. Is this true for us or are we content staying here? Notice the picture Paul gives for Christians is that they have an intense longing for heaven. We groan for eternity. We are not satisfied with life here. We want life with God! We want to be with him! We want to shed this tent for the eternal building God has made for us to have. So we long for the unseen because we know that there is something more and Jesus proved it (5:3-4). We are longing for immortal bodies. We will not die and have nothing, that is, being found naked (5:3-4). We are not going to be unclothed but we are going to be furthered clothed! What is mortal is going to be swallowed up by life! Life is coming when our physical body is destroyed. The mortal will now inherit life. This is what we groan for and long for!
God has made us for this purpose (5:5). We were made to put off the mortal and enjoy eternal life. This is what we were made for! We must know why we are here and what we were made for. We were made for our eternal building. Not only this, we have the Holy Spirit functioning as our guarantee for these things. We have the restored blessings of God, a restored relationship with God, and a covenant of life that transforms us from one degree of glory to another (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 3:18). We have experienced the life-giving Spirit in this new covenant which proves that eternal life is coming when our physical bodies are destroyed. The unseen thing we look at so that we do not lose heart is the eternal building (indestructible life) that we know we have from God.
We Have Confidence (5:6-10)
There is a second thing Paul says that we know we have which is expressed in verse 6. This is the second unseen thing we look at to give us hope and good courage. We have confidence because we know what lies ahead of us. This gives us good courage even if we suffer to death. All that is happening in death is that we are getting rid of our temporary house and getting a far more glorious house. The hope of resurrection gives us courage. Remember that Paul had to write at length to these Corinthians about resurrection in the first letter. We are away from the Lord now. But we have hope because we walk by faith and not by sight (5:6-7). We see the unseen by walking by faith. We do not look at wealth, power, or possessions but to the eternal weight of glory.
Now listen to the wonderful words of verse 8. When we are away from this body we are home. Not only are we home, but we are home with the Lord. This is our second unseen thing: we know we go home to be with the Lord. Home is where you belong. When you die as a Christian, you finally go home. In going home you now are with God. How good would it be to be home with God right now! The end of our worries, our pain, and our fears. We want to go home! This is what Paul says in verse 8. We prefer to be home with the Lord. The word “rather” (ESV) or “prefer” (NASB) means to delight or take pleasure in. We delight to go home to be with the Lord.
If going home to be with the Lord is our desire and our preference, then consider how this will change your life. Consider that how you live your life will dramatically change. We now make it our aim to please the Lord (5:9). We have this goal because we love him more than anything else. To live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). To depart to be with Christ is far better (Philippians 1:23). So we must ask ourselves: What is our aim? The Christian does not live life for himself or for this world but looks to the unseen.
We do not lose heart because we have a purpose and a focus. We are not looking at this life. We are not looking at this body. We are not looking at this world. We are looking at things that are unseen, namely, going home to be with the Lord. That is what drives our decisions. We know we have a home with God. What we experience now in Christ is just a down payment, a small piece of what is to come. We groan for eternity to be with the Lord. We do not groan for this life. This life is temporary and is not our focus. Therefore we have one life goal: be pleasing to the Lord.
This goal’s importance is underlined for us in verse 10. We will appear before the judgment seat of Christ and receive what is due to us for what we have done while in this body. Friends, this is really going to happen. We are going to stand before our Lord in judgment. What we did in this life is going to be called into account. God is a just God. He allows evil and wickedness to continue now. But there is a day of reckoning that is coming. You do not want to get what you deserve. You do not want to receive what is due to you for how you have lived your life. But those who have put their faith in Jesus and it is seen in their lives because they walk by faith and not by sight, these have courage and do not lose heart. They know when the body is destroyed that they have an eternal building from God. They know they are going to go home to be with the Lord forever. Don’t you want that hope? Don’t you want to have that same confidence? You were made to be with God. Will you give your life to him today?