Tents were the earliest form of shelter for the early Israelites. Noah, Abraham and even Moses all lived a nomadic existence and depended on tents to protect them from the harsh weather. Later on, tents became obsolete as Israelites started moving into cities and into houses made of stone. No one desired to live back in tents once they started acquiring lands and building their permanent residences.
Although the Israelites did dabble in the annual festival of the booths, where they would try to experience the difficult times their ancestors had to live through by staying in tents. Even today people take trips to their neighbouring forests and try to experience camp life by living in tents but in the end, they all come back to their homes and enjoy the benefits of modern living.
As a travelling missionary who was also a part-time tentmaker, Paul knew both the benefits and disadvantages of living in temporary houses made of leather. While it was portable and could be carried along with them during their journey, it was no replacement for a proper shelter, as tents are easily penetrable by the elements. There was also hard work involved in maintaining and repairing the torn tents.
Paul uses his experience with his source of livelihood to describe our conditions during this lifetime. He compared the earthly life and its riches that we so desperately seek, to a tent that would be destroyed in the coming days. However, he is baffled when he sees the people still desiring this earthly tent, not realising that they have a whole building awaiting them in their eternal dwelling. We groan and long for the things of this world but have no desire for the heavenly comfort that can only come from God. Whatever we gain while on this earth is temporary and will fade away but what we build with God will last forever.
A Guarantee of Things to Come
Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.2 Corinthians 5:5 (NIV)
In a gold pawn shop, people exchange their valuables for a quick loan during difficult times. The gold or silver that they deposit in exchange for the loan is the guarantee that they will return the money with interest or lose their deposit. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem for the Spirit from above who would be their companion and guide their ways.
On that day of Pentecost, when they all experienced the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, they received confirmation of everything Jesus had taught them. Similarly, the Spirit has been given to us freely as Jesus has already paid the wages of sin on that cross. We have the Spirit of Jesus within us and there is no better guarantee that anyone can give that will secure our future.
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NIV)
In a sense, Paul is saying that he would rather die and leave his earthly tent if he is called to be with God forever. However, his death would come only according to the plan of God as he had been given the task of preaching the True Word in the towns that he visited. However, for many people, the thought of leaving this world is too much to bear. People don’t want to leave this world but want to be with God. People who live with this paradoxical thought have not experienced what Jesus has to offer. But Paul was ready to be called up anytime by God and that is how he lived his life. He did not worry about what mortals would do to his body but always pressed on towards the targets set for him by God.
There were some who criticised Paul and his teachings and labelled him as someone who was not in touch with the reality of life. They called him a madman and perhaps used his testimony of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus as proof that he was not in his senses. Paul answers them back that even his state of madness is for the glory of God.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.2 Corinthians 5:16 (NIV)
Everyone has misunderstood Christ at one point or another in their life. Some were introduced to Him during their childhood and thought of Him as only a heavenly being, who will punish us if we do wrong and reward us if we do right. Some who were introduced to Him during their young adulthood would think of Christ as a philosopher who had interesting ideas but did not know how to live by the rules of this world. There are others who know Christ only through the traditions that their families make them take part in each year.
Everyone has at some point thought of Christ in a worldly sense. Even Paul did the same when he thought Jesus was just a prophet who was misleading people into following Him. Until and unless we have not been touched by Christ and experienced the new life that He has graciously offered to us, we will continue to regard Him in a worldly sense.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
There was an episode of a popular sitcom where the protagonist is unable to let go of their old tennis racket even after buying a brand new, much more expensive one. Why does someone hold on to their old tennis racket after getting a brand new one? Maybe they are nostalgic as the racket holds sentimental value. Maybe they are not entirely done with it and hope they can still use it occasionally. Or perhaps they are superstitious and think that they cannot win a match without their lucky racket. If they truly knew how to play tennis the racket would not matter to them.
Similarly, people who have received a brand new life sometimes still desire their old life. Maybe they have memories of their old life that make them nostalgic. Maybe they are not entirely done with their old life and want to revisit that lifestyle. Or maybe they are superstitious and feel that leaving their old life completely will have disastrous consequences. Whatever maybe someone’s reason for desiring their old tents, or old rackets or even old lives is that they have not truly experienced what the new one can offer.
We keep holding on to our past life and its mistakes when God has given us a brand new one. People who turn back after receiving a new life from God, have not truly experienced the new life from God. By using their own emotions, satan tempts them into desiring the path back to their old life. Only when we experience the fullness of the life that Jesus is offering to us, will we understand the depths of His love for us.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation2 Corinthians 5:18 (NIV)
We often spend time reconciling with our fellow beings when our task is to reconcile this world to God. We have been sent into this world to help its inhabitants connect with their maker but we have made it convenient for us and have connected people with ourselves. Our relationships are not built on Christ but on commonalities that we share. Our fellowships and home groups are not helping us connect with God but connecting us with each other. The ministry of true reconciliation is aligning our thoughts with Christ rather than that of this world. Only then will be united with our Father as we start our new life with Him.
Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.2 Corinthians 5:20-21 (NIV)
- 5:5 How is the Spirit, a deposit of guarantee of the things to come?
- 5:8 Is Paul saying that it’s better to be alive than dead?
- 5:16 How do we regard Christ in a worldly sense?
- 5:17 Why should we let go of the old and grab on to the new?
- 5:18 What is the ministry of reconciliation?