What’s Camping got to do with Eternity?
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
I wasn’t aware until recently that John Stott gave Bible Studies on 2 Corinthians in 1965 at the Anglican Church Missionary Society Summer Schools in several states in Australia. So, it’s with some trepidation that I share the framework and reasoning behind a recent sermon I preached on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10.
This is a passage with an inbuilt metaphor: our current bodies as an earthly tent, and our future bodies with Jesus in the new creation as ‘a building from God, an eternal house in heaven’ (2 Cor 5:1). Because this metaphor is so effective in helping to both understand the passage and apply the passage to our own context, it shaped the structure and theme of my sermon. The sermon was titled ‘What’s camping got to do with eternity?’ and had three sections as outlined below.
ARE YOU A CAMPER? (2 COR 5:1–5)
The contrast in 2 Corinthians 5:1, between our current bodies as an ‘earthly tent’ and our heavenly bodies as an ‘eternal house in heaven’ lends itself to this question. It’s a question which digs down into the heart of the passage. Yes, we are all campers, because we will all one day die. Our current bodies are temporary and fragile like tents, not permanent like a house. The metaphor could at first seem opaque, but the ‘for’ at the beginning of 5:1 links us to 2 Corinthians 4:16–18, which specifically raises the issue of the temporal nature of this current life, including our bodies. This link demonstrates the power of expository preaching, following the thread through consecutive passages of the Bible so that those passages inform one another and our preaching.
The camping metaphor also allowed me to explore this emotional issue of the transitory nature of this life in a way that was accessible, as well as intellectually and emotionally engaging for people. We can understand the differences between a tent and a house, and feel the impact of those differences more easily than we can conceptualise the differences between this life (which feels solid and permanent to us even though the evidence is otherwise) and our life in the new creation (which seems ephemeral to us right now). Effective application was one of John Stott’s gifts and legacies.
ARE YOU A CONFIDENT CAMPER? (2 COR 5:6–8)
The idea of being confident, in 2 Cor 5:6, flows from the understanding we gain from the metaphor of tents and buildings. Again, the ‘therefore’ of 2 Corinthians 5:6 reminds us of the importance of following the logic of a passage in our preaching. The logic is that because we know that we have a permanent body waiting for us when Jesus returns, we can be confident in the face of death. This confidence comes because we ‘live by faith, not by sight’ (2 Cor 5:7). The gift of the Spirit, given to us ‘as a deposit’ (5:5) also grounds this confidence. The idea of being a confident camper is wonderful for application. In any gathering, there will be those who are confident and happy campers, as well as those who are insecure and unhappy campers. This is, then, a powerful metaphor to help us bring home the beauty of the confidence we can have about our eternal future in Christ.
ARE YOU A PREPARED CAMPER? (2 COR 5:9–10)
Finally, 2 Cor 5:9–10 raises the question of whether we are prepared to appear before the judgment seat of Christ. The text makes clear that it’s what we do now, in this life, that will determine the outcome of that appearance (5:10). This again lends itself to application via the camping metaphor, as the success or otherwise of a camping trip is directly informed by the thoroughness of the preparation.
In conclusion, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 provides a textbook example of the power of expository preaching, as exemplified by John Stott. With its logical flow of thought, linking prepositions and powerful central metaphor (which aids application), it lends itself to this pattern of preaching.