The Expository Files

Tent > Death > Building

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

The best approach to the study of Second Corinthians five is by way of the first four chapters of the epistle.

There is one phrase in Second Corinthians chapter one that may well set the tone for much of what Paul discusses in these early chapters. Consider this phrase: “…the sufferings of Christ abound in us,” (2 Cor. 1:5). Paul describes the suffering he and his companions endured as they lived and preached the gospel of Christ. He uses words like “tribulation, trouble, afflictions, burdened, sorrow, anguish” and “many tears.” These apostles of Christ endured the hardships He said they would experience (Jno. 15:18-25).

Paul’s purpose in these reports in Second Corinthians is not to create gloom. Scattered throughout his report of suffering there are intense statements affirming the comfort of faith. God “comforts us,” (1:4), “…for as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ,” (1:5). Paul acknowledges: our hope is steadfast (1:7); God is faithful (1:18); and we are fellow-workers for your joy (1:24). So the apostle objectively reports the suffering they endured as ambassadors of Christ, but not to promote despair; rather, to stress the endurance possible by faith.

As Paul describes their suffering, more than once he speaks of death! He said, “We had the sentence of death in ourselves,” (1:9), and he speaks with joy of deliverance “from so great a death,” (1:10). He uses the poetic expression, “the aroma of death leading to death,” (2:16). Then he says: “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.” So, as Paul describes the suffering they endured as ambassadors of Christ he frequently uses terminal terminology – the language of death! (If you speak “gospel language,” the language of death is always accompanied by the language of hope!)

How do you go through something that can best be described by the terminology of death? Their suffering was like dying daily. Paul said that in 2 Cor. 6:9 – “as dying.” And, in a more literal sense they faced death. In 1 Cor. 4:9, Paul said the apostles were men condemned to death. So the question for those men was: How do you go through something that can best be described as death?

The more direct question for us today is: How do we face death? Now we are ready to introduce 2 Cor. 5. {Read the text before continuing – 2 Cor. 5:1-10.}

Verse 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.” This is how Christians handle death; in fact, this is the only way to face it; knowing that when this earthly body is destroyed, there is another body: “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

Be careful not to overlook the details. Verse 1 is introduced by that simple phrase that is filled with meaning: “we know!” Guessing affords no power in facing death. The philosophical speculation of men supplies no strength. Paul writes of that which we can know here in 2 Cor. 5:1. This is the knowledge enjoyed by those who walk by faith, not by sight.

Now to the essence of the verse, two bodies are mentioned. One we have now; another we will have then. One is earthly, the other is “eternal in the heavens.” The present body is called a “tent,” while the future body is called a “building.” A tent is a temporary habitation of a traveler. A building is the permanent habitation of a resident. The tent is the body we now occupy; the building is the glorious body we are destined to occupy, so long as we walk by faith (see Phil. 3:20,21). For now, we are “tent-bound.”

I believe the “building from God” in this verse is the same thing Paul wrote about back in 1 Cor. 15 – the resurrection body; the body God will give us when we are raised; a body suited to inhabit heaven.

The body we live in now will not live forever; these bodies we have now will age and become weak; and these bodies will be buried. God will raise a body that is suited to life in heaven. Paul wrote about that back in 1 Cor. 15, and I think that resurrected body is the “building from God” here in 2 Cor. 5:1. It is an eternal building, “from God… not made with hands,” and it is what we anticipate – if we walk by faith.

This truth upholds us under suffering, even unto death. When we become conscious of our earthly tent moving toward death, decay and destruction, we do not lose heart because our eyes are fixed, not on what is seen, but what is unseen. {To grasp the full meaning of this, read the entire context: 2 Cor. 4:16 – 5:1}.

The impact of this is practical and every one of us can make it personal, because we will not live forever as we are now! These earthly bodies were not made for eternity. But because of the work of Christ for us, and our participation by active faith in those blessings, we can fix our hope on a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

In verse 2 Paul continues with this statement: “In this we groan…” I strongly suspect every reader of this article knows what it means to “groan.” It is a word expressing the emotion of pain. It is an utterance expressing pain (Webster). We know what it means to groan, and it may be – we fulfill that word in several ways not worthy of our calling. But I think Paul is talking about something here beyond the ordinary groaning we do.

This is a specific kind of groaning; defined in this verse. “Earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.” In the NIV: “Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling…” This is the groaning of wanting to occupy that other body – that eternal building from God, prepared for those who walk by faith!

It may be this is easier to grasp through the years of experience. Or perhaps I should say, this becomes more meaningful to us, as we grow older. I tell you it is common for aged Christians to long for that eternal body they will occupy in heaven. And it may also be, the more you suffer, the deeper your appreciation of that which is eternal. (There is a legitimate, commendable mood that seeks death, see Phil. 1:23).

This was written by a suffering man. An inspired apostle – Yes. But do not rule out his experience of suffering – which is the background of the text. He said this, expressing his hope and the hope of all – who walk by faith: “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. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.”

“..indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 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.” (Vss. 3,4)

Verses 3 & 4 further explain this groaning. The thought was not to just get out of suffering; it was not just the emotion or longing of pure escape. The essence of this groaning was – “that mortality may be swallowed up by life.”

This desire is not just to get out of pain and get beyond death, but to live! The body we will have in eternity will be free of the diseases, pains and burdens of earthly existence. So free Paul said, “swallowed up by life.” This is about living in a body prepared by God (glorious, Phil. 3:20,21), in a place prepared by God (heaven), for those who walk by faith. As we struggle in “this tent,” we long for this eternally clothed existence (not naked, but eternally clothed, immortally clothed.)

Verse 5: “For He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” Paul had the Spirit’s assurance these things were so. I repeat: This is not mere guessing or speculation! The passage begins, “For we know…” How did Paul know? “By revelation,” (see Eph. 3:1-6). The Holy Spirit has revealed it; Paul wrote it and we can know it, and take our confidence in it. As we walk by faith, God is preparing us for better things.

What is the value of this? Confidence. “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord,” (verse 6). While we live on earth in these bodies, there is an absence from the Lord – in this sense: We do not yet enjoy His presence, in the eternal sense! We enjoy fellowship with Him now as we walk by faith. But while we live on earth in these temporary bodies there is an absence from the Lord in this specific sense: We do not yet enjoy His presence in the eternal sense. We are now “tent-bound.”

What must we do while “tent-bound?” Walk by faith, not by sight. Verse 7 expresses both obligation (obedience) and ground of confidence (trust). It is our ground of confidence – as we live by faith – that when these bodies are destroyed – “we have a building from God, eternal in the heavens.” That’s our ground of confidence. Those with this confidence walk (active mobility) by faith

What does that mean in practice? It means hearing, believing and doing as God directs. It means not living according to what you see in the temporal world. It means even in the face of death, maintaining your obedience of heart to Jehovah. As we walk by faith verse 8 says, “we are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from body and to be present with the Lord.”


“Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 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.” (Verses 9 & 10)

Look at verse 9 as the effect this teaching should have on us, and will have on each of us, if we are wise – making it our aim to please the Lord. If you want to face death the way Paul faced it, make it your aim to please the Lord. If you want hope to strengthen you and get you through the struggles on earth – make it your aim to please the Lord. As you please the Lord – though the body may deteriorate, your spirit will soar to great heights. You will be strong and courageous. And you will be ready . . .

“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.”

Observe, in 2 Cor. 4:16-5:10, movement in the text from hope to accountability. As we accept the promises of the gospel, by the activity of our faith (walking by faith, not sight), we personally embrace the necessary accountability to stand before “the judgment seat of Christ.”

I wonder – if there are people who read and study this, with the immediate reaction, “I would love to have that hope!” It may occur to you that you cannot have this courageous hope, because of what you have done.

You have not lived wisely;

You have committed every sin in the book;

You have not treated people right;

You have entertained evil thoughts;

You have not maintained good priorities;

You have ruined your life . . .

Because of your sin you may think all of this we have studied is not within your reach. The message of the gospel is – You can have this hope; you can depend upon this confidence every day, and have this hope every hour - - even to your last hour!

Regardless of what you have done you can receive these blessings and have this hope because of who Jesus Christ is, and what He did. Still in 2 Cor. 5 - - read verses 17-21.

This is about what God did for us: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This is the gospel – and by your response to the gospel – you have every element of hope we have studied; all of that confidence you can have. That’s the good news.

But something is required and that is, the activity of your faith, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” Faith is the result of hearing the Word of God. Faith becomes active in repentance, in confession and baptism. Faith remains active and grows, as we aim to be well pleasing to Him.

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” (2 Cor. 7:1).

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 11.2; February, 2004