“Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
May 24, 2020
On this Memorial Day weekend, our attention is drawn to a text that is both comforting and challenging. It was penned by Paul in a letter to the believers in Corinth, one of the busiest commercial and trade centers of the ancient world.
In this passage, Paul assumes the role of a pastor and a prophet. He wants to erase any doubts they have about life after death in the presence of a loving and watchful God. At the same time, he encourages them to make the most of their time on earth by being a person of noble character who lives and serves as Jesus did.
“Now we know if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)
Paul goes on to assure his readers that the same God who has given them life and supplied their needs here can be counted on to do the same on the other side. Never will they be alone or stripped of the provisions they need to be safe and at peace.
Knowing this, Paul strongly encourages the Christians in Corinth to be faithful to God. He wants them to take seriously their commitment to follow Jesus and to carry on his good work rooted in the ethic of love.
Why did Paul feel the need to write these words? Perhaps there were a couple of reasons.
Throughout this letter, Paul had been candid about how difficult life was for him. He wrote openly of his sufferings, hardships and afflictions.
Resistance was common to Paul, coming from both secular and religious leaders. In Corinth in particular, Paul was accused of being deceptive, manipulative, greedy and hypocritical. In other words, he was portrayed as an imposter.
As a result, Paul wanted his readers to know this harsh treatment did not cause him to lose heart or faith. In spite of these obstacles, he was determined to stay the course and to be as faithful as Jesus was when he met stiff resistance.
Paul also wanted the Christians in Corinth to know how confident he was that when his time on earth ended, he would be given a new body in a new home. In that place, he would be in the presence of a grateful God who would make all things not just new but also whole and well.
What do you think Paul wants us to take away from this passage? I pondered this for some time last week. I believe it to be this.
Life does not end at the grave.
What strikes me most about this passage is Paul’s confidence. “Now we know,” he begins.
What a strong affirmation. Paul speaks with as much certainty about life after death as any subject he addressed.
There was no doubt in his mind. Just as the grave did not hold Jesus, neither would it imprison him or anyone else God loves, including us.
To get his point across, Paul used the word tent to describe his earthly body. How appropriate.
Paul was a tent maker. He knew everything there was to know about tents, a necessity for many people in that culture.
What he knew most was the temporary nature of a tent. It was not a permanent structure meant to last forever.
The tent metaphor Paul employed in this passage suggested the temporary structure of the human body. Our bodies are not designed to live forever. Age will take its toll just as it does on a tent.
When this occurs, Paul said God will give us a new body in a new home. This tent, which served us well and fulfilled its purpose, will no longer be needed. It will be laid to rest as we move on to new and better things.
Paul made it abundantly clear in this passage and others that death was not a cause for distress. It was a time for trusting God much like an anxious child trusts a loving and responsible parent on an unfamiliar journey.
“What is mortal will be swallowed up by life,” Paul writes about death. “Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (5:4b-5)
Viewing the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of life after death was important to Paul. Why?
The Spirit of God, who lives in our hearts, does not die when our human bodies do. Instead, the Spirit, who guides us on our earthly journeys, will continue to function as our guide after we die. It is the Spirit who will usher us safely into the presence of God and oversee every detail of our transformation to this new environment.
This is why Paul boldly declared what is mortal will be swallowed up not by death but by life. There was no doubt in his mind this would occur.
I pray these hopeful words from Paul bring you comfort as you visit the graves of your loved ones this Memorial Day weekend. May Paul’s understanding of life and death give you a sense of peace as you give thanks for their lives and recall the many ways they contributed to your well-being.
Our text also reminds us the way we live before we die is important. This passage does not focus entirely upon life after death. It concludes with a clear indication of what is to occur once our time on earth has drawn to a close.
“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things he has done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (5:9-10)
According to Paul, we’ll be held accountable for the way we lived while in our human body. We’ll be called on to give an account of how we used what God gave us, especially as it relates to others.
Paul strongly believed the life of faith does not free the Christian from a life of obedience to God. The call to follow Christ is a call to live honorably and to serve others in his name.
Paul’s words challenge us to evaluate our lives and to examine the way we are living, don’t they? They compel us to compare our values, priorities, lifestyle, mindset, attitude, behavior and decisions to Christ’s.
Jesus is our role model and the standard by which we measure our spirituality. When we follow him closely, we please God.
Therefore, at all times and in all places, we are to reflect the heart and nature of Jesus. Under no circumstances are we to abandon or even suspend our divine mission to make the world better through word and deed.
Like Jesus, we must be passionate about confronting evil, righting wrong, lifting up the lowly, finding the forgotten, liberating the oppressed, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving, loving the unlovely, encouraging people to achieve their potential, forgiving people who make mistakes, giving people another chance and teaching people how to live peaceably with one another.
As a disciple and follower of Jesus, we must choose love over hate, kindness over cruelty, compassion over indifference, truth over deception, justice over injustice, inclusion over exclusion, generosity over greed, humility over arrogance, forgiveness over revenge, healing over hurting, discipline over irresponsibility, maturity over carelessness, sacrifice over self-indulgence and peace over violence.
In other words, we must embrace kingdom values over those drafted and promoted by the world. And when being faithful to Jesus puts us at odds with the culture’s prevailing values, we must choose Jesus.
To do any less by letting our guard down will be costly, now and later. I have to believe we’ll regret it when we stand before God to give an account of our decisions.
Will God forgive us and continue to love us unconditionally and eternally? Yes, of course God will.
How long will it take, though, to forgive ourselves for the missed opportunities to make the world better during our time on earth and the misplaced priorities that failed to reflect the true nature of Christ?
This leads me to the third lesson I believe Paul wants us to take away from this text. It is never too late to change.
Misplaced values and priorities can be rearranged. If we ask God in prayer to show us specific ways we can be more like Christ, God will show us. Like any loving and responsible parent, God is eager to forgive and to give us opportunities to make amends for past mistakes and to move in new directions.
So, my challenge to you today is to make the rest of your life the best of your life. Draw close to God. Rely upon God to help you become a better steward of your time, talents, resources, influence and opportunities.
Don’t become so attached to the things of this world and obsessed with acquiring them that you lose sight of the bigger picture. Refuse to put any object, possession, privilege or personal preference above your duty to be faithful to God and the One who called you to follow him.
I have to believe you will be happier when you stand before God if you make these adjustments. I am confident having a story to tell that describes the changes you made, by God’s grace, so you could be more like Jesus will work better for you on that day than making excuses for missed opportunities.
What do you think?