You may have heard the expression “He was so heavenly minded that he was of no earthly use”. Well I would like to begin by saying that that expression is not really true. To be of earthly use you need to be heavenly minded. There is actually no such thing as a person who is so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use.
Of course what is meant by the expression is that a person can walk around with his or her head in the clouds meditating on heaven and ignoring this world and its inhabitants. But a person who has a true understanding of heaven, a person who is heavenly minded in a biblical way, will in fact be of much earthly use. And the converse is true: If we lack a biblical understanding of heaven we are likely to be highly ineffective in this world.
Throughout history it has been the people who have been heavenly minded in a biblical way, who have had the greatest effect on earthly society. Someone like William Wilberforce for instance, who campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade, had his mind fixed on heaven. Someone like Calvin or Luther or any number of Puritans who brought reformation to the church, had a very clear view of heaven and had their hope set there. They benefited this world by reforming the church and by proclaiming the Christian message.
The apostle Paul also, was a man who was heavenly minded. He was heavenly minded and of much earthly use. Turn with me then to 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 as we continue our series on 2 Corinthians.
Paul in these verses encourages us to fix our eyes on heaven, and then to get on with serving in this world. He tells us first of all, that if we believe in resurrection we will speak of Christ here and now. And second, he tells us that if we believe in eternity we will not lose heart as we live this life.
IF WE BELIEVE IN RESURRECTION WE WILL SPEAK OF CHRIST
So my first heading then: If we believe in resurrection we will speak of Christ. In other words if you are a Christian, if you believe that you are going to be raised with Christ, if you have a biblical view of heaven, then you will share your faith with others. You will speak the good news to other people.
And by doing so, you will be of earthly use because you will bring about spiritual transformation in the lives of this world’s inhabitants. You will be of earthly use, because your Christian values and your understanding of heaven will allow you to influence society. Your understanding of God’s ideal world will motivate you to bring about social and spiritual change here and now.
Look with me at what Paul writes in verse 13. He says
“ It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” (2 Cor 4:13-14)
Paul is saying that he speaks because he believes. He declares the Christian message to the world because he believes in the resurrection. He knows with certainty that God raised Jesus from the dead. The tomb was empty. The disciples saw the risen Jesus.
And Paul knows that God will also raise him from the dead. Physical death is not the end. There is life beyond this life. Just as Jesus has been raised, Paul will also be raised, and will be presented in God’s presence.
Paul is just like the psalmist in Psalm 116 that we read together earlier. The psalmist was experiencing difficulty, trouble and sorrow but he lifted up his eyes and fixed them on the Lord. He remembered the Lord’s goodness. The psalmist had faith in God. He believed that God would answer his cry and therefore he spoke. Which is the quote that Paul picks up in verse 13 “I believed; therefore I have spoken”.
Paul is saying that he believes in the resurrection and therefore he speaks. He is looking forward to the day when he will be presented in God’s presence. It is like someone who is brought in and presented before royalty. If you or I were granted an audience with the Queen, we would dress up in our best clothes, we would be brought into the royal throne room, and someone would announce us. They would say “Your Majesty, let me present to you, Sir Andrew Giffen”! It would be an honour to be presented.
Well Paul is looking forward to that honour. He is looking forward to the day that he and the Corinthians, and you and I as Christians are presented before God’s throne. On that day we will be shining with the glory of Christ, we will have resurrection bodies like Jesus, we will have been completely transformed, and it will be glorious to stand before God.
Paul knows it. He believes it. It is a certainty based on the promises of God and the historical resurrection of Jesus that has already occurred. But Paul doesn’t walk around with his head in the clouds. He doesn’t sit around all day dreaming of heaven and ignoring the needs around him. Rather his faith leads him to action.
Have a look at verse 15. Paul says
“ All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:15).
Paul is saying that he believes the Christian message. He believes that Jesus was raised from the dead, that the problem of sin has been dealt with, that death has been defeated, and that God’s grace is available to all through Christ Jesus. Paul has good news, he believes it and he speaks of it, and the result is that the grace of God is reaching more and more people.
People are becoming Christians. They are hearing the message because Paul and Timothy are speaking it to them. They are accepting the message and their lives are being transformed. They are experiencing the joy of sins forgiven, the peace of restoration to right relationship with God, the hope of heaven, and fullness of life. The Corinthians and many other people are benefiting from Paul’s ministry. And the result is a great swelling of thanksgiving from the mouths of the new Christians. God’s name is glorified.
Paul has made a huge earthly difference. First and foremost the difference is spiritual, but as the new Christians grow their behaviour and values are transformed and eventually society and the Roman Empire are affected. Paul is being of great earthly use to people, and the reason why is because he is heavenly minded.
There are many other people who have believed the Christian message and spoken of Christ. They have believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus and placed their hope in certain future resurrection. One example that comes to mind is a man called George Muller.
When George Muller became a Christian, his life was totally transformed. He turned from theft, gambling and alcohol to live a life of service for Christ. He established a number of orphanages in Bristol and set up schools to teach the orphans and other poor children. He started a Bible institute and spent the later years of his life preaching throughout the world. He believed and trusted in the death and resurrection of Jesus and he spoke and acted to bring about transformation in lives.
But what about you and me then? Are you and I heavenly minded and of earthly use? Are you a Christian? Are you trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection? Have you experienced this good news that is transforming lives? If not, please do so, please accept the message.
If you are a Christian, then you are trusting in Jesus. You believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. And you and I know that after we die, at the end of time, when Jesus comes back, God will raise our physical bodies from the dead. Our bodies will be transformed. We will be given resurrected bodies. We will be made into the image of Jesus. We will perfectly reflect God’s glory and we will be presented before God’s presence without fault and with great joy.
You and I believe in the resurrection. That is what we declare when we say the creed together. But do you believe it enough to make a difference to your earthly life? Are you heavenly minded enough to be of earthly use? Is the reality of final resurrection and of God’s coming judgement before your eyes when you are speaking to your work colleagues or family members? Are you wanting others to experience the joy of being in right relationship with God? Are you wanting your friends and family to gratefully understand what God has done for them, and for them to glorify God’s name now and at the resurrection?
I am sure you are. We have a message of such good news. We have a message of sins forgiven, of joy in all its fullness, of the hope of eternity spent with God. It is often hard for us to overcome our reluctance to do evangelism. I don’t find it easy. I would often rather keep my mouth shut. I suspect though that the apostle Paul didn’t find it all that easy either. He faced persecution and trouble and opposition. He probably found it hard to open his mouth the next time. But the secret to his success he says is that he fixed his eyes on heaven. He believed in the resurrection and therefore spoke.
Maybe when you next have an opportunity to speak to your colleague, or your friend or family member, maybe you should allow your mind to focus again on heaven. Remind yourself of what is really important. Remind yourself of what you believe. And then at an appropriate moment and with appropriate frequency communicate the good news to him or her.
I had a friend who asked me once why if I believed in Hell I didn’t make more effort to warn people – why was I not more concerned he wanted to know. What a challenge that was.
Paul is saying that if you believe in resurrection you will speak of Christ. If you are not speaking of Christ you probably don’t believe in resurrection.
IF WE BELIEVE IN ETERNITY WE WILL NOT LOSE HEART
My second heading is: If we believe in eternity we will not lose heart. In other words if you believe in what is eternal and unseen, if you have a biblical view of heaven, you will not lose heart and give up in despair, rather you will be of earthly use. You will persevere in this life and serve God in it, if you truly believe that one day you are going to receive an eternal glory.
Look with me at what Paul says in verses 16 and 17. He writes,
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor 4:16-17)
Paul is saying that it is because he believes in eternity that he does not lose heart. He has his eyes fixed on an eternal glory.
There are many reasons why Paul might have lost heart. This is a genuine cry. He feels the burden of wasting away. He knows what it is for his body to be decaying. He knows what it is to suffer physically, to be ill, to ache, to lack strength. He could have given up because of his physical situation.
And Paul could also have lost heart and abandoned his ministry because of the false teachers that kept working to undo the good he was doing. There were many who opposed him. He was rejected and stoned by the Jews. He seemed to get nothing but trouble from the Corinthians. Even though he loved them and cared for them, the Corinthians repeatedly rejected Paul and his teaching.
So Paul had many reasons to become discouraged. But he says that instead of focusing on the problems he focuses on the eternal glory that he is going to receive. In comparison to the weight of glory, Paul’s current troubles are light and momentary.
It is as if Paul has a set of scales before him. The sort of scales that have two trays and balance against each other. If Paul puts all his troubles on one side, and on the other side places eternal life and glory; then the eternal glory that he knows he will receive, far outweighs them all. The tray sinks right off the scale. Paul’s troubles are real and significant, but it is as if they are light in comparison to the weighty substance of Paul’s future participation in the eternal glory of God.
Paul’s physical body is wasting away, but he knows that inwardly he is being renewed day by day. He knows that God is at work in us by his Holy Spirit preparing the person within us for the age to come. God is conferring some of his glory onto Paul, and onto you and me as Christians, through Christ and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul is looking forward to heaven and eternity spent with God, so he tells us in verse 18, (look with me at what he says), “ ... we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Paul doesn’t fix his eyes on this temporary visible world with its troubles and wasting away. Rather he fixes his eyes on what is unseen – on heaven and eternal glory.
He knows that he is created for eternity. He knows that the new heaven and earth is the place where human beings will fit perfectly – we will be perfectly at home. Paul is not thinking of fluffy clouds and golden harps. Rather he knows that our eternal existence is going to have substance. Heaven and eternity are going to be worth it. In that new place, we will relate perfectly to God, to each other, and to creation. We will have fulfilling and good work to get on with. It will be enjoyable and useful.
Paul believes in eternity. So instead of getting distracted or preoccupied with the problems, instead of loosing heart, Paul fixes his eyes on eternal glory and is effective in serving God in the world. He is heavenly minded and of earthly use.
There are many other Christians who have overcome exceptional difficulty because of their belief in eternity. People who from a human perspective should have lost heart, have instead focussed their eyes on future glory and have gone on to serve God in this world, with the result that many other people were encouraged.
Someone like Joni Eareckson Tada who was paralysed from the neck down in a swimming accident, should have given up on life and lost heart. But instead she focused on eternity and the healed body that awaits her in the new creation. In God’s strength she has gone on to minister to and encourage many other people, particularly those who are disabled.
Another example is a man called Dietrich Bonhoffer. He resisted Hitler and worked to help Jews escape from Nazi Germany. He was imprisoned and finally executed in Buchenwald concentration camp. But while in the prison camp he encouraged other prisoners with the hope of the freedom of heaven that he was looking forward to.
So again what about you and me? Are we heavenly minded and of earthly use? Do you believe in eternity and are you therefore not loosing heart?
We are wasting away physically. It would be easy to get consumed with getting older and falling apart. For some people here this morning your physical frailty is real and is hard to deal with. Paul doesn’t deny for one moment that he is wasting away – that his body is decaying. And he doesn’t pretend at all that he likes it or that it is easy. But he does fix his eyes on eternity.
Have you done that? Even in the midst of your physical hardship do you ask God to give you the strength to live for him? Do you fix your eyes on your eternal glory and the final transformation of your body? Do you live with peace and joy here and now? Or do you spend most of the time being grumpy and crotchety with the people who care for you?
Perhaps this morning you need to makes some changes to the way you are viewing your physical situation. It is hard, but perhaps you need to learn with God’s help to live to serve him even in the midst of your hard situation – honouring God in the way you relate to the people who look after you for instance.
Another danger, for those of us who do have our health, is that we get so consumed with preventing our bodies falling apart, that we fail to serve God and be of earthly use to other people. Yes we are supposed to honour God with our bodies, being careful with what we eat and getting exercise. But do you spend so much time going to the gym, or applying creams, or getting a make over that you have very little time left for serving God?
Do you spend so much money trying to prevent your body falling apart that you significantly reduce the amount of money you could use to reduce world poverty and make a difference to the lives of other people? Maybe you need to go home today and reassess your priorities.
Maybe your problem this morning is more one of despair. You are facing insurmountable problems at work, or something awful has happened to a member of your family, or just lots of things in life seem to be going wrong and you want to give up. You want to hide your head in a hole. The Bible encourages you this morning to honour God by trusting him in the midst of what you are going through. And to honour him by learning to strengthen others who are in similar situations.
The same applies if you are discouraged in your ministry. Maybe the work in Guides or Scouts is a bit difficult. Maybe you are tired of having to work so hard in leading your small group. Perhaps you are involved in a ministry to homeless people or drug addicts and there is little visible change in people’s lives. Well the Bible encourages us this morning to not give up. Paul says, “Focus on eternity. Continue to serve. Continue to be of earthly use”.
If you are a Christian, then whatever the challenging circumstances you are facing, Paul encourages you to fix your eyes on heaven, on eternity, and to not lose heart. One day Jesus is going to return and his kingdom will be fully and finally established. God will create the new heaven and the new earth, and all evil, sickness, suffering, sin, sadness, death, decay, difficulty, and hardship will be removed.
God will reward those who have been faithful in trusting him, serving him and not giving up. He will give us an eternal glory that will far outweigh everything that we have or will go through on this earth. That is the vision that we are to keep before us.
In the meantime God is preparing the person within us for eternity. As Christians we are being renewed day by day. We are being transformed into holiness by God’s Spirit as we pass through the trials and difficulties of this world. So don’t give up. You are being renewed. You will receive an eternal glory. Therefore fix your eyes on what is unseen and get on with living for God.
If you believe in eternity you will not loose heart. If you are loosing heart you probably don’t believe in eternity.
Paul has given us two insights into his ministry in the passage we have looked at today. We have learnt two principles from him that we need to get on with putting into practice.
The first is that if we believe in resurrection we will speak of Christ. And the second is that if we believe in eternity we will not lose heart.
May God give each of us the bigger view of heaven that we so desperately need.