Tag Archives: II Corinthians 5

Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (II Corinthians 5:20 – “Home Soil”)

“Home Soil”

II Corinthians 5:20, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”

This morning, we truly are living in interesting times. Looking at the expanse of human history, the most changes to lifestyle and culture have happened in the last 100 or so years. During that time, the advent of electricity usage, weapon development, transportation breakthroughs, etc. have shaped culture to be vastly different than it was for centuries and millennia prior. However, all of these breakthroughs and innovations – with their associated pros and cons – have also shaped and affected the kingdom of God too. Can anyone really want to go back to meeting without electricity or AC? Those innovations do not change or modify our worship, but they are a great natural benefit and comfort while we worship. Getting to meeting is easier now due to transportation development, and visiting different church bodies in different states is far easier now than it was for our forebears. Still, these comforts do come with some implied costs that can dampen the spiritual growth and development of a disciple of Christ.

In our study verse, Paul is honing in on a very pivotal doctrinal point from Verse 14 through our verse. Scripture teaches without equivocation that Christ has reconciled His people fully and completely to God. (Verses 18-19) By His grace and mercy, nothing needs to be done, added to, or changed for us to stand before God holy and without blame for all eternity. Christ accomplished that in spotless perfection. However, Scripture equally teaches a responsibility that God’s people have to honour and obey God from a pure heart fervently. The motivation for this behavior is rooted and grounded in love and thanksgiving for what God has already done for us rather than trying to get something out of him like mercenaries would. The duty of the minister in preaching and teaching these truths is to encourage God’s people in our walk and duty based on what has already been done for us. This is the exact message that Paul is laying out in this passage.

Therefore, the idea of being reconciled to God cannot be part and parcel to the steps necessary to get to heaven. That would lower the sacrifice and work of Christ that Paul has just laid down. Being reconciled to God is for the benefit of the believer in having peace in his mind, heart, and spirit: justification by faith. (Romans 5:1) This reconciliation is how the believer can latch into the concept, “As bad as I’ve been, God can still love me for His Son’s sake!” This peace and unity for the believer’s heart will greatly benefit further service as it brings great liberty. The word that Paul uses here to describe himself is rather interesting as well. The actual Greek word used is a form of the same word that is translated in other places as “elder.” Yet, the translators used our English word “ambassador” to convey the connotation of the work of a “presbyter” in the realm of representation. Ambassadors in a natural sense represent their home country in foreign lands. Ministers should convey the same principle of representing our homeland through their message to other citizens in this land wherein we dwell.

Considering the natural circumstance of an ambassador and the general location of a minister’s message (the church), I have made the point many times that the church is like an embassy. Just like natural embassies, the church is considered part of heaven’s land. The soil that embassies reside upon is considered soil of their homeland just as if it was within the natural borders of the country. The laws of the country apply to it, and the church functions similarly. Heaven’s rules apply, and the land is in this world but not of this world. With such a blessed condition, one might wonder why such a circumstance is not seized upon any more than it is. If I could experience an aspect of heaven before I actually leave this world, why would I not? There will be vast multitudes that enter heaven that never enter the church, and many that will enter heaven had opportunity to enter the church but did not.

Recently, I have come to realize through multitudes of conversations that many ministers across this land are greatly discouraged by lack of attendance at church services and a lack of energy by many that do come. Trying to attach one particular denominator to this widespread situation is likely futile. However, many commonalities exist and one seems to shine brighter than the rest. In my natural experience, I have had opportunity to visit several foreign countries. During none of those visits did I visit the American embassy, nor am I aware of who my “ambassador” was while there. Why did I not visit these locations? Simply put, it never crossed my mind as I was seeing other things and experiencing the various things that those countries provided. Whether in recreation or otherwise, my time was filled with the sights and sounds of that country. There was no compulsion to hear news from home or visit with fellow countrymen.

Life today is relatively easy. We may complain about different things that befall us, but most of us – if we are honest – have natural circumstances that are very good. We have ample food, clothing, and shelter (the necessities of life), and multitudes of creature comforts besides. For that natural situation, there is no compulsion in a great many to hear news from “home” or visit with fellow countrymen. Life is full of the sights and sounds of this land with creature comforts a plenty. Some may not even be aware of the embassy’s location or the name of the local church’s “ambassador.” Thinking about the correlation between my natural experience and the parallel to the church, none of the nations I visited had the level of freedom and liberty as America does. However, the lack of liberty and freedom in those countries was not something that I “felt” while I was there. Had I felt the repression and tightening of things, doubtless I would have wanted to see a friendly face that could help me.

Have you ever noticed that people can draw nigh to God and the church when times get tough? It really should be no surprise as the difference of liberty and freedom between heaven’s glory and this world becomes apparent. Though it might not be manifest through daily activities, tough times remind us of just how special our citizenship of heaven really is. The truth makes us free, and there is great liberty in the Spirit of God. Yet, fallen creatures as we are many times have to be reminded of this to re-focus and align priorities again. The greatest commonality to this great spiritual dearth that grips so many of God’s people goes back to a statement I heard often in my youth, “It’s hard to comfort people who are too comfortable to be comforted.”

The message that Paul preached is the only thing that can bring long lasting reconciliation to the child of God. The ever-changing circumstances of this old world will never yield lasting peace. Any faith and hope in the shifting sands of life’s experiences will bring nothing but a life filled with disappointments. Life changes. Hope in changing things is easily dashed on the rocks of sorrow. Hope in the eternal, unchanging God does not disappoint as it endures no matter the circumstances. (Romans 5:5) The message of Christ’s work endures no matter what happens here below. The great comfort of the gospel to me is that the Lord is reconciled to us no matter what. Nothing can change that. Knowing the fallible man that I am, I rest in knowing His greatness supersedes my weakness.

When next we meet together with fellow pilgrims and strangers in this world, may we consider that we are standing on heaven’s borderland. It is the home soil of that country to which we are going. When we hear the message come forth in power, may we receive it as though God Himself was speaking it. As a minister, that phrase from our study verse (as though God did beseech you by us) is one of the most awesome and humbling to me in the work that I have been called into. When I read the word of God, it is as though God said it personally to me, and when a gospel message is declared, it should be received as though God spoke it. Awesome! Truly awesome! Friends, as a lifelong churchgoer, I freely confess that there are times that I do not frame this experience as I should. I am meeting heaven’s citizens on heaven’s soil to hear a message from home as though the King Himself gave it. As the closing line of an old hymn lovingly states, “My soul shall pray for Zion still, while life or breath remains; There my best friends my kindred dwell, there God my Saviour reigns!”

In Hope,
Bro Philip

Morning Thoughts (II Corinthians 5:7)

II Corinthians 5:7, "(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)

This morning, the "image is everything" motto is alive and well.  People seem – more than ever – drawn to aesthetically pleasing things.  Whether the pursuit is the looks of youth, wealth of the world, or the praise of men, society today desires above all else to have those things that are perceived by natural sight.  Young people today look for the best looking person to date/marry.  Young adults look for the highest-paying avenues to amass personal wealth and fortune.  While having a spouse that is naturally good-looking or a well paying job are not sins, those characteristics upon our lives should not be what motivates us.  Rather, the Bible repeatedly tells us to look upon things of an inward, hidden nature.  Therefore, having a job that adequately provides the needs of our families while also being a situation and environment that is conducive to our spiritual walk should be the factor when selecting employment.  Having a God-fearing spouse should be the motivating and driving factor in our decision to marry.  In all things in life, we should seek to avoid the "image is everything" motto.

Recently, I personally encountered two situations that made me ponder the verse above.  One was listening to talk radio, while the other was a personal conversation with a work colleague.  Both circumstances made me realize just how great a blessing the true knowledge of the gospel is for our daily walk and warfare here below.  The talk radio comments that I heard dealt with encouraging people to visit the land of Israel in the middle east, while the personal conversation dealt with the subject of death.  Two very different subjects, yet our study verse gets to the heart of the answer for both situations that I encountered.

The radio DJs were emphasizing how important a trip to Israel would be.  Both of them had gone, and both of them encouraged "every Christian listener" to their program to call this number, sign up, and travel there.  Now, at the outset, I will say that if someone wants to go there, I certainly have no problem with that.  I have always enjoyed travel and delight in the memories I have of seeing far off places and other countries.  However, some of the promotions that they gave for this trip included statements like "church life and reading your Bible will only give you the black and white picture of the Christ.  This trip will enrich your faith by painting everything in color for you.  To be there, you will then see faith in a way that you never could unless you go."  To be perfectly honest, these types of statements give me the willies.  Compound that with the fact that the strip of land known as Israel is commonly referred to as the "Holy Land" makes me shiver all the more.

If seeing the spots of ground that Christ walked on was tantamount to our faith and proper walk of discipleship in this old world, reason states that Christ would have commanded it somewhere would he not?  Yet, the story of Christ that the Bible declares shows a very different mindset.  He told a Samaritan woman that proper worship was not regulated to a spot of ground but rather a methodology of spirit and truth. (John 4:20-24) He inspired Paul to pen the words above that our walk of faith is not bound by sight.  Furthermore, the land that Christ walked – if it was ever holy – ceased to be holy when His feet left it for glory.  The only spots of dirt that I deem to call holy are the places where the Spirit of Almighty God overshadows His people while met together in the proper way.  Church life is the holy ground when the assembly meets.  It is holy because He is holy and sees fit to visit with us.

In the conversation I had with a co-worker, we talked about the common fear of death.  He talked of his feeling that a "celebration of life" would be more fitting for someone before they died rather than after.  Rather than stand around a casket and talk about how good a life had been led, he felt that those close to someone should gather round before the death and make them feel better by telling them that their life was not in vain for all the impact that they had had on those around them.  Again, at the outset, I have no problem with family gatherings and visiting with those on death's door to encourage them and cheer them up, but his whole thinking for the purpose of doing it was so that they would not fear death and die with more feeling of comfort. 

If having a celebration of life was what made death bearable, one would have no hope of bearing death should they have no family or friends at hand during their last mile.  Rather, death is made bearable when we consider that the very Person of Christ holds our hand through the whole journey.  Though we are constantly in death's shadow, yet He ever abides near and close to us.  He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  When that final moment comes for our eyes to close in death, His face is the first and immediate one that we see.  To get to the point of comfort in that trying and difficult hour, we must look to things that these old eyes cannot perceive.  While He is near unto us, we still need to feel after Him, and not those things that we see. (II Corinthians 4:17-18)

Taking these two fresh experiences and coupling them together, how do they relate to our verse above.  What is interesting about the verse above is that it is a parenthetical quote set in the midst of a longer sentence.  Therefore, the thought contained within the parenthesis is directly infused into the main point.  Paul's main point(s) have to deal with death and how we labour before eventually meeting that death.  The very thing my two circumstances relate to.  If someone constantly pursues the perishable things of life, what will happen to them during their final hour when all their natural things have dried away?  Paul has asserted at the end of the 4th chapter that the affliction will not seem light and but for a moment.  Rather, it will seem like an impenetrable mountain.  I told my colleague that my hope was not that my friends and loved ones would celebrate my life before I died (or even after it for that matter).  My hope was to be able to say what Paul did in his final hours/days. (II Timothy 4:6-8)

To have the confidence that we will meet our final chapter honorably, we should attempt to live our lives between now and then chasing and pursuing hard after godliness. (I Timothy 6:6) Do I need to literally see Jordan's River, or do I need to naturally experience the sights and sounds of Jerusalem?  Heavens no!  Do I need to perceive the sights and sounds of faith in God's house congregated with His saints?  Heavens yes!  This requirement lays upon us the task of standing in beliefs that the Bible declares.  Some have said that the doctrines of grace are only fit to die by.  Well, I am thankful that they are fit to die by, but I am equally thankful that they are more than suitable and sufficient to live by as well.

Paul tells us in the same sentence as our study verse that death should be thought of as preferable to us.  We should rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord.  However, we can be present with Him here in this old world.  Notice the contrast that Paul makes in verses 6 and 8.  Absence from the body equates completely with being present with the Lord.  There is no in between.  However, the converse is not true.  Paul did not say that presence with the body equated to absence from the Lord.  Were that true, we would never feel Him here in anything in our lives.  Rather, Paul employs the term "at home" in the body equates to absence from the Lord.  If we are at home with this old world (pursuing after those things that we can see in the world), we will find absence from the Lord and His comforting presence.  Walking by faith is so foreign from being at home with this old flesh.  The two are polar opposites to each other.

Friends, Paul lived his religion and died in the full assurance of what he had preached.  My hope is that I will be able to do the same.  I may never see – and really do not intend to – the land where Christ walked and talked while on the earth in flesh.  I have seen and hope to see many times over again the land where Christ's Spirit meets and greets the people of God engaged in worship.  I rather hope that I am never thrown a celebration of my life.  My preference for my funeral – should the Lord not return first – is for the ministry to simply talk about how good God was to me rather than any service I may have rendered to Him.  May our walk never seek to depend or trust those things that we see.  To do so, we should not fear coming death, and we should equally not fear the things of life between now and then.  Walking by faith centers upon One that is unseen to the natural sight but who is greater and more powerful than all things whether in life or in death.

In Hope,

Bro Philip