From the beginning of life, we begin dying. This is true of all living things. We don’t know if other creatures conceive of this reality. But humans do develop this knowledge, though we often suppress it. In some cultures, we fight actively against the reality of death. While children long to grow older, adults begin to idealize youth and to try to put off anything that appears to be a sign of aging.
Advertising and other messaging prey on our fears of mortality and our longing for youth. They promise we can look younger and, in some cases, actually “become younger.” But the signs of our “wasting away” are everywhere. And the signs grow as we age. When Paul speaks of the “outer body” deteriorating, he is not referring only to our physical shells. We see the deterioration in our faculties and sometimes even in our relationships.
Paul is a worthy teacher in this area because he has already endured what many of us unconsciously fear. His examples are often physical, but they point to all those other ways that we are deteriorating. Our sense of mortality grows, but those signs and that sense do not have to be accompanied by fear.
In fact, Paul gives us reason for great hope. In verse 16, he repeats the line from 4:1, “We do not lose heart.” If we have been dying from the beginning, we can also trust that something in us is living and renewing. For Paul, “our inner nature is being renewed.” We are not subject only to the laws of biological nature. We are spiritual beings who can grow in love, compassion, wisdom, service, and companionship. We are subject to spiritual laws that supersede fear and even death. Perhaps we are all born to die; but even more deeply, we are born to live loving lives that survive our physical deaths.
Gracious God, help us not to lose heart. Amen.
We sometimes struggle to believe in the power of a God we cannot see. The psalmist declares that God is greater than any earthly king and will preserve us in the face of our enemies. However, in the time of Samuel, the Israelites demanded a human king to lead them into battle. God was not enough for them. Paul admonishes the Corinthians not to repeat this mistake. We should not think that what we see is the ultimate reality. What we see is temporary; what cannot be seen is eternal. Perhaps Jesus is teaching a similar idea in this somewhat troubling passage in Mark. Jesus is not against family, but he is emphasizing that human families are temporary; spiritual family is eternal.
Read 1 Samuel 8:4-20. How are you influenced by the culture around you? What helps you try to align your priorities with God’s?
Read Psalm 138. When you “walk in the midst of trouble,” how do you remember God’s presence with you?
Read 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1. How do you find yourself being renewed today in spite of parts of your “outer nature” that may be “wasting away”?
Read Mark 3:20-35. Who is your spiritual family? Whom do you identify as your brothers, sisters, mother, and father?
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