2 Corinthians 5:7 – For we walk by faith, not by sight.
This impactful verse has morphed into a sound-bite of our Christian culture through the pervasive screen-saver and bumper-sticker mentality of this current generation. Bad teachers and charlatans alike have used this verse out of context to justify any number of invisible principles, promising future rewards which currently cannot be seen with the eyes. Promoters of the health and wealth gospel convey how God intends for all believers to be wealthy, even if they are currently in poverty. “Walk in the faith of your future wealth, not by the poverty of what you currently can see, and you will have it,” they falsely claim.
However, maintaining the actual context of this verse (2 Cor 3:5- 5:15), the apostle Paul conveyed this sentiment amidst a lengthy treatise on the believer’s ability and mindset in overcoming adversity and real-life persecution for their faith, not a depressed financial condition. This was an appropriate and necessary statement of encouragement based on the situations and conditions that the believers, especially the apostles, faced every day. In their ministry of growing the congregations and teaching the early believers in their new-found faith in Messiah, they were being persecuted, and by persecuted I mean they were hunted and pursued, most times in fear for their very lives.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 – We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.
The treasure they carried was the message of “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory” (4:6) conveyed through “the glory of the Messiah, who is the representation of God,” (4:4). Paul says, “we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us,” (4:7).
Just as the Messiah represented God, the apostles were representing to the congregations the truth of God’s glory and kingdom through his provision of the Messiah Yeshua. Even though their bodies were being debased and abused, Paul conveys that this was only a “momentary light affliction [which] is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory,” (4:17). “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that Jesus’s life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh,” (4:11).
This is hardly the stuff of mere economic hardship.
Continuing his discourse, Paul begins an analogy of life in the present world contrasted with life in eternity which cannot be presently seen.
2 Corinthians 4:18, 5:1 – So we do not focus on what is seen [i.e., all of the bodily abuse and persecution they were enduring], but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if our earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens, not made with hands.
This “earthly tent” is the outward form of the present physical body. This is not necessarily an invention of the apostle Paul, it was a description of the physical body that was prevalent in contemporaneous writings of the time.
Wisdom 9:13-17 For who can learn the counsel of God? Or who can discern what the Lord wills? For the reasoning of mortals is worthless, and our designs are likely to fail; for a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthy tent burdens the anxious mind. We can hardly guess at what is on earth, and what is at hand we find with labor; but who has traced out what is in the heavens? Who has learned your counsel, unless you have given wisdom and sent your holy Spirit from on high?
These writings were included in the Septuagint Greek version of the Hebrew Bible in the apostle Paul’s day, and indicate that this idea of the physical body being likened to a tent was not unknown among Jewish thinkers of those times. Ironically, the passage also laments not being able to understand the wisdom and counsel of God unless God sent his holy Spirit, the very thing that Paul is making the case for regarding Messiah Yeshua in the Corinthian passage.
2 Corinthians 5:4-5 – Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.
The direction of Paul’s argument is building toward the distinction between the earthly visible body, this outward physical body, and the eternal, invisible life of the spirit.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 – So we are always confident and know that while we are at home [that is, as in a familiar country] in the body we are away from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight [i.e., outward, visible form]. In fact, we are confident, and we would prefer to be away from the body and at home [that is, as in a familiar country] with the Lord.
To walk by faith and not by sight is to not become overwhelmed with the condition and situation of the outward form of the natural body, that which can be seen. The pinnacle of Paul’s discussion lies in walking by faith (that which is unseen but very real) in distinction with becoming distressed through the seen and known condition of the outward form of the body through all of its current persecutions and abuses.
This is the true hope that believers in Messiah share! Our faith can overcome all situations and obstacles that can be seen, because they are only temporary (4:18). Our faith reaches beyond these temporary things into eternity, even beyond the “tent” of this outward form that we currently have.
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