MINISTRY TO SENIORS, A LIFE AND DEATH MATTER
Part 4 of 5
Win Arn reports, “Frequently, as I work in the area of older-adult ministry, someone will ask me about my ‘philosophy of aging.’ I Usually answer that I don’t really have one. Instead, what I have is a philosophy of living” (Win Arn and Charles Arn, Catch the Age Wave [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993], p. 40). The basis for him in his service to older ones in the church is assisting them in finding the answer to three fundamental questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? (40-46).
Accordingly, one might well conclude that ministry to senior believers is a life and death matter. Thankfully, the Christian worker with older people has a definitive answer to all three questions. He learns what he can from disciplines of study such as psychology and sociology. However, he is too wise to tinker with theories of man in answering the great questions of life. As he or she turns to Scripture, for one thing, he finds Paul addressing those matters in his second letter to the Corinthians (4:16-5:10). The apostle responds by counseling that one fix his gaze on the right things in life, live by the Truth as he contemplates the reality of death, and arrange his activities in this world with the singular purpose of pleasing the Lord. The previous article in this series focused on meeting the spiritual needs of senior believers as to overcoming sin to the end of their days. This part of the series centers more on meeting their emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs as they face the prospects of death.
Fixing One’s Gaze on the Right Things in Life
As most human beings, of course, Paul faced many hardships in life. Yet, for him especially, the difficulties he encountered in his ministry wore his physical strength away. He knew well his outward man was decaying. At the same time, though, he kept the truth before him that his inward man was renewed day by day. The process of destruction and renewal are going on at the same time, He wrote, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (4:16). Such a truth is encouraging for older believers.
Further, for Paul his labor in life struggles produced desirable fruit. He declared, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (4:17). It almost seems strange to hear him describe the hardships he faced in the ministry as “light and momentary troubles.” Moments earlier in his letter he had detailed some of his problems. He wrote, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus . . . (4:8, 9). Yet, even as he lists them he balanced the naming of every conflict with an expression of a positive result coming out of it.
The apostle follows with the sharing of his secret which made his wholesome outlook on life possible. For him the unseen and eternal are more important than the seen and temporal. He said, “So 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” (4:18). Some translate his use of the Greek word skopeo as “look at,” yet Paul sought to make clear that he examines carefully, fixes his gaze upon, holds as his goal in life eternal rather than temporal things. Drawing from his example, then, senior believers of today might well ask, “What do I fix my gaze upon in life?” Setting one’s eyes on things permanent rather than temporary goes a long way in helping one spend his days on earth well, even when they continue for many years.
Living by the Truth in Life while Contemplating the Realities of Death
Paul lived with the settled conclusion that for him to depart from this body and to be with the Lord would be more blessed than to stay because the present body is temporary while the resurrected body is eternal. His view of life and death in this passage contains priceless truth for all believers, but especially for senior believers.
In the first place he declared he knew what comes at the end of life for the Christian (5:1). His Greek word oidamen, to know, depicts insight provided by intuition or revelation. Thus he could say, “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands (5:1). He had every assurance that when he ceases to live in a "tent," temporary dwelling place of his body, he will move into a permanent, eternal “house,” a “building from God,” a home, not made with hands. Paul knew how temporary tents were since he made them with his own hands. At death, man’s physical body is taken down and folded up like a tent.
Then, life in the world to come will be no imaginary existence in the fog where one drifts in and our of consciousness. It will be no less real than life now. Jesus indicated its reality after His resurrection. He demonstrated that He was as real as before (Luke 24:36-43). He declared, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (39). As if that were not proof enough, He enquired if they had anything to eat. Luke writes, “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence” (42). That should have made clear to all that He was no ghostly person, but a real one.
With this view of life and death as the driving force for him on earth the apostle explains that he actually groans while he waits for the change. He declared, “Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked” (2, 3). He recognized that while still on earth his salvation was not yet complete. He still awaited the redemption of the body. He explained the same thing to the Romans saying that we believers, “. . . who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). Fleshly appetites will no longer pull in an opposite direction from the soul. The spirit-flesh conflict will cease.
However, let none accuse Paul of expressing a “death wish” in keeping with the theories of Freudian psychology. The apostle counters such a charge with, “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (4). He does not seek death, to be “unclothed,” whether by ordinary means, accidental means, or suicide; rather, he seeks to be clothed (endued) with a more proper covering. The resurrection body alone can provide a proper covering for the soul's nakedness. For the person of modesty, nothing could bring greater distress than appearing naked in public. Then, the sting of death has been removed for the Christian, but he finds no pleasure in the prospects of dying. He has no morbid fear of death, but it is still repulsive to his flesh.
Paul declares that God has actually guaranteed such a future for the believer. He has even given a tangible preview of it. The apostle explains, “Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (5). The realities of the new birth and the baptism in the Spirit demonstrate the certainty of the wonders to follow; they serve as a down-payment. Then, how important it is that these two events be genuine in the believer’s life!
Arranging One’s Activities in this World with the Singular Purpose of Pleasing the Lord
Then, these are the truths which give Paul courage to face up to the hardships of life and in the ministry. He wrote further, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (6). That is what keeps one who lives the life of faith going. He orders everything in his life by faith's realities The apostle said, “We live by faith, not by sight” (7).
Thus he wants to please the Lord, whether in this world or the world to come. As he explains, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it” (9). His aim was to please God. The false teachers of Paul’s day wanted to please people and thereby gain a following. Paul’s desire was to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. All of this was so real to him that he declared, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (8). The author expresses the same view in the fact that the Apostles’ words appear on the grave marker for himself and his wife. She already lies there, resting in that very reality.
Further, the prospect of having to give an account to God for his conduct in life and in the ministry also kept the apostle on the right track. He wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (10). The basic Greek word for “judgment seat” of Christ is bema. It speaks of a high platform of a set of steps. The Romans not only believed crime must be punished, but they also held the penalty must be administered publicly. Accordingly, the judge sat openly at the top of the stairs to a governmental building to hear cases which came before him; thus this is the bema, steps judgment. Many Bible scholars conclude that this event will occur at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Then as now leaders presents awards at banquets. It is there that Jesus will declare to many, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt. 25:21). Those who appear at the bema judgment will have no need to appear at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). Such knowledge of the believer’s destiny is worth more that all the gold in Ft. Knox!
Arn, Win and Charles Arn. Catch the Age Wave. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993.