Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 9, 2024

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 Commentary

This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson brings to mind two relatively famous quotes about the dangers of thinking too much about our “eternal house in heaven” (5:1) that is our resurrected bodies in the new creation. Oliver Wendell Holmes once reportedly said, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” Johnny Cash echoed Holmes’ critique of heavenly mindedness. “You’re shinin’ your light and shine it you should,” crooned Cash, “But you’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good.”

With the indispensable help of the Holy Spirit, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 offers preachers an opportunity to preach about our “building from God” (5:1). However, it also offers a chance to explore how the prospect of that building helps shape Gods’ dearly beloved people’s treatment of others and our earthly tents. This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson offers preachers a chance to explore with our hearers how heavenly mindedness, in fact, leaves plenty of room for doing “earthly good.”

In verse 18 the apostles call Jesus’ friends to “fix our eyes [skopounton]* not on what is seen [blepomena], but on what is unseen [me blepomena].” The New Living Translation of the Bible paraphrases them as writing here, “We don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.” Paul and Timothy, in other words, invite Jesus’ friends to concentrate not on what is now visible to us, but on what remains to us invisible.

Some painful things were visible in the lives of the apostles. Their misery’s weight demanded much of their attention. They experienced things like floggings, shipwrecks and trials. So their readers aren’t surprised to hear Paul and Timothy assert in verse 16, “Outwardly [ho exo] we are wasting away [diaptheretai].” They are literally rotting on the outside. The Greek verb even intimates that they’re being destroyed.

Preachers might spend some time inviting our hearers to consider some of the painful things we “see.” Some of us are experiencing physical decay or with mental illness. Hunger stalks many corners of society and world. Parts of our world seem to be in perpetual flames caused by oppression and warfare. Creation groans under, among other things, climate change.

Yet when Paul and Timothy summon Jesus’ friends not to “fix our eyes” on those things that we see, they aren’t inviting us to ignore the misery that’s so visible. The apostles invite us to, instead, concentrate on what we can’t yet see. After all, what we can’t yet see both gives God’s dearly beloved people hope for the future and helps shape our response to the misery that we see nearly everywhere.

It may be tempting to view the apostles’ assertion in verse 18 that “What is seen is temporary [proskaira], but what is unseen is eternal [aiona]” as advocating for a kind of Pollyanna approach to the world’s misery. That they’re just saying something like, “There, there my dears. Things are gonna be alright.” However, by saying, “What is seen is temporary,” the apostles are simply asserting that the misery and pain we see and experience won’t get the last word. Only what we don’t yet see will last forever.

In 2 Corinthians 5:1 Paul describes one of the things we now do see that is temporary. There he speaks of “the earthly [epigeios] tent [oikia] that we live in.” The apostle is comparing our bodies to some kind of dwelling place. Scholars generally agree that he’s speaking of a type of temporary tent.

The “abodes” that are our bodies are fragile. They “waste away” and experience “troubles” (4:16). Because our earthly bodies may, in fact, be “destroyed” [katalythe], they are only “temporary” (4:18). They can be, in The Message’s lyrical paraphrase, “taken down like tents and folded away.”

However, Paul goes on to write about one thing that we do not yet see but will last forever. In verse 1 he insists, “We have a building [oikodomen] from God, an eternal [aionion] house [oikian] in heaven [ouranois], not built by human hands [acheiropoieton].”

The apostle insist that the contrasts between our earthly and heavenly bodies are sharp. The building that is our earthly bodies is, in some ways, built by people. The building that is our heavenly bodies will be built by God. The building that is our earthly body is almost constantly on the move. The building that is our heavenly body will never have to move out of the new creation.

Nearly everyone can now see the building that is our earthly body. None of us can yet see the building that will be our heavenly bodies. The building that is our earthly bodies can be destroyed. The building that is our heavenly bodies will be indestructible.

After all, we know, as the apostles write in verse 14, “that the one who raised [egeiras] the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise [egerei] us with Jesus and present [parastesei] us with you in his presence.” Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, God will raise us from the dead and give us what Paul calls the “building from God” that will be our resurrection bodies.

But while these are such encouraging and hopeful words, they easily distract God’s adopted children from following Jesus in and with our earthly bodies. 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 are so lovely that they can tempt us to be so heavenly minded that we’re of only limited value to those with whom we share our earthly spaces.

So preachers will want to spend some time describing how this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s hope informs how we love God and, especially, our neighbors. Accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances at least suggest that while resurrected bodies will be different from earthly ones, they’ll also share some similarities. So preachers might reflect with our hearers on how this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson summons us to care for the earthly tents that we now see that are others and our own bodies.

But focusing on what is unseen (18) also suggests that our suffering that what we now “see” has an expiration date. Those things that cause so much grief and misery will not get the last word in any person or things life. So Jesus’ friends don’t just proclaim by what we do and say to our neighbors the hope of eternal life. We also treat them as those with whom our buildings from God may share all of eternity.

The Scriptures offer few concrete details on what we don’t yet see that will be eternal. The Bible largely uses metaphors that suggest relief of the misery that so many people now experience. The Scriptures suggest heaven will, for instance, be a bit like a banquet for hungry and thirsty people.

They imply that heaven will be a place where people who are blind can see, who are deaf can hear and who are disabled will be fully abled. The Scriptures suggest that in heaven Christ will completely unite people from every nation, tribe and language.

This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson summons God’s adopted sons and daughters to focus on those things that we don’t yet see so that the Spirit can shape our lives around those future realities. It encourages us to work to give people who are hungry and thirsty a foretaste of heaven by giving them food and drink. 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 encourages Christians to work to relieve the suffering of those whom disabilities currently haunt. This text encourages God’s dearly beloved people to work to bring together people whose differences easily drive us apart.

*I have here and elsewhere added in brackets the Greek words for the English words the NIV translation uses.


The congregation I serve shares our building with congregations whose members are largely Cameroonian- and Indonesian-American. We conduct most of our worship services separately and in French, Bahasa Indonesian and English respectively. There is generally minimal visible unity among even the various followers of Jesus Christ who share the same worship space.

But on Pentecost our three separate congregations came together to worship God. Our worship planner very carefully drew up a liturgy that contained songs, Scripture readings and other expressions of faith in our three respective languages. We even celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. Sometimes we took turns reading in one of the three languages. At other times we simultaneously spoke and sang in those languages (and more).

There were times during the service when we saw and heard chaos. But we knew that chaos is only temporary. In fact, our Pentecost, 2024 worship service offered us a glimpse of what we do not yet see, but trust will, by God’s amazing grace last forever. We caught sight of our eternal worship of God in our resurrected bodies that will be our buildings from God.


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