The church I attend has been going through a series on Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church. Well, the second letter than we *have* in the Bible but that’s for another blog post. Anyways, it’s been good to go through the whole letter and get a feel for the flow of the book and context for its many verses that are plucked out for Christian encouragement, greeting cards and memorial services. One of the verses that’s been rolling around in my head lately is 2 Corinthians 5:1 which is one of the verses that gets used a lot at memorial and funeral services.
We know that if the tent that we live in on earth is torn down, we have a building from God. It’s a house that isn’t handmade, which is eternal and located in heaven.
2 Corinthians 5:1 (CEB)
As we went through this passage and the previous famous jars of clay passage, we spent a lot of time talking about how it’s actually through the weakness and cracks in our bodies that God’s glory shines through. In the whole book of 2 Corinthians, Paul is pretty much stating that there is nothing special about him and his body. It’s God’s glory shining through, even in weakness and that these “tents” of our bodies will break down and collapse. Ultimately we look forward to the new, resurrection bodies that will be redeemed by God.
The contrast between a tent and a house in the verse above got me thinking about the differences between the two. Tents are transient, mobile and temporary. A house is permanent, it takes time to build, and the knowledge of a builder to make solid and sound. Our bodies here on Earth are temporary and we all await our resurrected bodies built and redeemed by God, the master builder. I also started thinking about famous tents and houses in the Bible. The two major dwelling places of God came to mind. There was the Tabernacle that traveled with the Children of Israel as they wandered their way to the promised land. Then, once the nation of Israel was established, they built the great Temple which was considered the house of God. The Temple was thought to be God’s permanent dwelling place while the Tabernacle was temporary for the time of wandering and restlessness in the wilderness.
However, the Temple was not a permanent house. It was destroyed.
Not just once.
This great structure that was supposed to be the place where God lived was not as permanent as it seemed. Indeed, it too was torn down, like Paul’s image of a tent in 2 Corinthians.
Now, we Christians believe that we as the People of God make up the Temple of God and that God’s spirit has taken up residence in the hearts of his people as it once resided in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and the Temple. We gather together in our church buildings with a desire to worship and serve God in the communities gathered. We do great things and we are living as an example of the resurrected Christ, with God’s Holy Spirit breathed and moving among us.
But, in a way, the Church is still a tent. It is not the end game. There are still abundant cracks and it groans in pain until God’s eternal house comes to dwell with the people of the world. The structures we build now, the church buildings, the committees, the denominations, the communities are all transient, temporary tents which are not supposed to last.
What we build as the Church here on Earth is but a faint glimmer of the reality of God’s true house shining through the broken and torn tents we have erected. Even Jesus died before the resurrection happened. His mortal body was transient and groaning before his glorification in the resurrection body. He performed many great works and miracles here on Earth, but he always pointed to the greater reality that was yet to come. He always directed those who followed him to see the God who was greater and his eternal house that was larger than anything his people could build here on Earth.
We in the Church are not the end game of God and should not aspire to be. Or we may find ourselves with half built, broken towers and unable to communicate God’s desire for redemption to the world. This is a tough temptation for many churches who truly do great things for the Kingdom but expect what they have built to last forever. They think they are storing up treasures in heaven when in reality they have started putting more faith in the treasures they’ve stored up here on Earth. You don’t have to look far to find churches or church leaders who have gotten so involved with the structures they have built that they begin to put more faith and work in maintaining what they have assembled.
The moth and rust always come.
A thief will always break in and steal.
The tent will always rip and collapse after a time no matter how many patches are put in and how many poles get replaced.
Now the one who prepared us for this very thing is God, and God gave us the Spirit as a down payment for our home. So we are always confident, because we know that while we are living in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:5-6 (CEB)
I think Paul’s words ring true for not just our physical bodies, but also for the body of Christ revealed in the Church. The Church is a peek, a vision that comes and goes. What we are experiencing is just the “down payment” the assurance of what is to come. However, while we are still here on Earth we are away from the promised home of God. We, and our churches may need to grow, live and pass on as a mortal life until the true Temple and city of God comes from Heaven and God truly dwells with all people.
May we have the humility to live as the Church in this way.