Paul pleaded for the Corinthians to take the high road with regard to their hurt toward him. He made a clear distinction between the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the body, “the tent,” that is temporary and will be destroyed, and the eternal building that is from God. By allowing themselves to remain hurt or hold a grudge, they are succumbing to the will of the body, and in that will, pain remains. By focusing on the will of God, hurt can become reconciliation, and sorrow can become joy.
Paul alludes to “the judgment seat of Christ,” in which we “may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.” Perhaps it is not God who punishes, but our own actions that put out into the world pain and sorrow that return to us as punishment. When we damage our relationships, the damage is pain for both parties. When we behave despicably, the natural consequences for our behaviors return to haunt us. What we do in this world matters – not for earning heaven or eternal life, for that has already been given by the risen Christ – it matters because we and those around us are harmed or helped by what we do.
The first commandment from the book of Exodus states, “You shall not make for yourself an idol… You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex 20:4-6). Often we read only the part where God punishes to the third and fourth generation, and we condemn God for God’s anger. But let’s look at this a different way. If I, as a parent, follow the ways of the world, rather than the ways of God, who suffers? I suffer, those around me suffer, and my children suffer. Let’s say I’m an abusive parent. That pattern of abuse does not end with me. It is carried on for several generations, as children learn to behave like their parents. God’s word is not a prescription for punishment; it is a description of the kind of suffering that carries through generations when the ways of the world are prevalent. On the other hand, God’s promise is that, for those who follow God’s ways, God blesses to the thousandth generation! That is a generous and loving God, who sees punishment carry on for 3 or 4 generations, but promises blessing to 1000 generations of those who love and worship God. What I do and how I behave in this world matters, not just to me, but to my children, and my children’s children.
2 Corinthians 4:16—5:10
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.