Sometimes our dining room table gets cluttered.
For one, it’s a big table. Every time I have to squeeze around the end chair, sliding my back against the wall, I remind myself that it’s not for the table we live in our house. It actually takes up so much space in our dining room that it’s become the easiest place to set stuff. Toys. Mail. Homework. Cups. More cups. The generous tabletop makes it simpler to just move things around rather than move them away, and after a while, it accumulates a swath of unrelated, inordinate objects into one centralized location, which is called clutter.
Which can be a lot like life.
We are constantly piling on one thing after another onto the tabletop of our lives. There are always more things we should be concerned about, and give attention to, and make room for — somehow. Before long, it’s a life full of clutter. It’s a whirlwind of good intentions, but bad directions — maybe a load of participation, but a litter of purpose. And it stays this way until God’s arm intervenes, mighty to sweep, and clears the table.
Which he does for us in 2 Corinthians 5:9.
The Reality Tension
In the course of defending his apostleship and the gospel he preaches, Paul assures the Corinthians that he is full of hope, that he doesn’t lose heart, that he is always of good courage (2 Corinthians 3:12; 4:1, 16; 5:6, 8). Why? Because the message he proclaims guarantees this courage. It possesses a surpassing glory beyond the veiled-faced ministry of Moses (2 Corinthians 3:11–13), and it reveals a surpassing power beyond anything for which we’re capable (2 Corinthians 4:7). And on top of all this, Paul knows that one day he is going to be raised from the dead (2 Corinthians 4:14). Everything of this world that surrounds him — the seen reality — is transient. Soon enough it’ll be gone. But simultaneous to this seen reality, there is the unseen, the eternal. This is the reality that will never end (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Paul stays on these realities into chapter five. There’s the tent of our earthly home, our bodies here; and there’s the eternality of our heavenly dwelling, our bodies there (2 Corinthians 5:1). We groan here (in our earthy bodies) to be there (in our glorious bodies). This is the wonderful tension the Spirit creates in us now, like in Romans 8:23. And it’s more reason for Paul to have courage. There’s more to this life, and in fact, it’s even better. “Away from the body and at home with the Lord” means a deeper experience of Jesus’s presence. Life here is a life of faith in hope of that day (2 Corinthians 5:6–8; Philippians 1:21; Romans 8:24–25).
See, the clutter of our lives makes us lose sight of this — that right now there is a deeper, more wonderful reality awaiting us. We know we should be more heavenly minded. We really do want to stop and smell the roses. We want to experience every “possible theophany” out there. But we’re so here, so now, so busy. There is a tension.
At the End of the Day
Paul seems to understand, or he might as well, because this is where God, through his apostle’s words, clears the table for us. 2 Corinthians 5:9:
So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
Paul is saying: Look, whether we’re there with Jesus, or whether we’re here living by faith, the overarching, clear-the-table goal is that we please him.
It’s really that simple. At the end of the day, what matters is whether we have pleased Jesus. When it’s all said and done, we’re going to stand before him (2 Corinthians 5:10). Not our family, not our neighbors, not our boss, not our kids, not our colleagues. We will stand before Jesus. We will see him face to face. And in that moment, the only thing that matters is what he thinks.
For His Good Pleasure
God has stepped in now. He has raked away the rubble. He has opened our eyes.
Our aim in life is to please Jesus. That is the ambition of our every day, our every decision. Does Jesus take delight in this? Which, to be sure, has no determining function in our righteous status as God’s children. By faith alone, in Christ alone, because of grace alone, we are brought into Christ, justified in him, saved from God’s wrath, made his children forever (Ephesians 2:5–8; Romans 3:23–24; John 1:12–13; Romans 5:9). Don’t mistake “please” to mean placate, or appease, or propitiate. That work has been taken care of. We’re talking about joy, about delight — about pleasure, which Wayne Grudem calls an “essential component of any genuine personal relationship” (For the Fame of God’s Name, 279).
Will it make him glad? Will it cheer his heart? Is it for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13)? That is the question before us, and the enduring mission in and under and beyond every detail of our lives. We make it our aim to please him.
The table is cleared, just like that.