Most of us are familiar with how 2 Cor 5:7 reads in the KJV, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” If you do a Google search on this verse, you will find explanations of what this means, such as, “the Bible challenges us to ‘walk by faith, not by sight,’” or you are to “walk by faith, not by sight,’” or you ought to “walk by faith, not by sight.’” You have probably heard the same kind of thing in sermons. Just to clarify, the word walk in this verse is, of course, used in the metaphorical sense of “live”; so the NIV, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” Thus, Paul’s words are taken to be an exhortation or command to “live by faith.” According to this view, we are challenged to rise above our normal Christian experience, and rather than operating from a worldly perspective (“living by sight”), we should conduct our lives and make our decisions based upon our faith and trust in the God and his Word. There is nothing wrong with this idea in and of itself. It is theologically accurate to say and to insist that the Christian must always seek to live by faith and trust in God and his promises, and not be motivated by only what he or she can see and hear in their present circumstances.
The problem is that this is not what the text says, nor what it means. Paul is not commanding the Corinthians to “live by faith”; he is making a statement: the Corinthians are living by faith.
Our text is also popular in the Word of Faith movement, which I won’t take time to describe at this point. Another popular TV preacher in that movement, Frederick Price, closes every sermon by citing 2 Cor 5:7.
But in all these instances, this text has been stripped of its context and a new meaning assigned to it. Paul is not saying that we “should live by faith” or that we “ought to live by faith.” No, he directly and unequivocally says that we, all believers, do, in fact, live by faith. But why does Paul make this statement?
(6) Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (7) For we live by faith, not by sight. (8) We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
Let us go back for a moment to the beginning of chapter 5 in order to get the broader context. Paul begins in v. 1 by explaining what happens to a believer who dies, “if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed.” Fortunately, Paul says, we can look forward to a resurrection body, “a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” But until then “we groan” (v. 2), knowing that our present bodies are subject to ailments, injury, and disability. And since we know that “as long as we are at home in the body we are away [in a spatial sense] from the Lord” (v. 6), we “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8). All believers here on earth are presently “away from the Lord” in the sense Paul means in v. 6.
But Paul’s reasoning in vv. 6 and 8 could leave the wrong impression. That’s why he interrupts v. 6 with 7 before he completes his thought in v. 8. The “for” that begins v. 7 is what the standard Greek dictionary (BDAG) calls a “marker of clarification.” One could easily take Paul’s statement in v. 6 to mean that since believers are presently “away from the Lord,” they enjoy no fellowship with him at all. But, of course, that is absolutely false, for, you see, Paul says (v. 7), “we presently live in the realm of faith ["by faith"], not in the realm of sight.” Paul is contrasting actually seeing the Lord (“at home with the Lord”) with our present experience of believing in the Lord without seeing him (“away from the Lord”). For now believers “live in the realm of faith,” trusting in the Lord whom they have not seen, but one day they will “live in the realm of sight.” This is same sort of contrast we see in John 20:29 and 1 Pet 1:8.
So although we are presently “away from the Lord,” this does not mean that we are cutoff from fellowship with the Lord. But for now we live “in the realm of faith,” which is no hindrance to communion with our Savior, though truly we look forward to the day when we will live “by sight.” Then, as the hymn writer puts it, our “faith shall be sight.”
We live in a hyper-sexualized and semi-pornographic culture. The problem dominates popular advertising, pervades our entertainment choices, and even weasels its way into our churches. The concept of modesty is no longer a legitimate standard for censure, but an object of censure. We’ve come to the point that modesty is sincerely regarded as a vice and not a virtue. To advocate for modesty is to advocate for legalism, intrusiveness, outdated traditions, and overbearing patriarchy: don’t tell me what to wear and don’t tell me what to do.
Stunning as it has been, though, the triumph of immodesty and hyper-sexuality is not itself the root problem. Instead, these problems are symptomatic of a more serious one: the problem of celebrity. The English word celebrity derives from the Latin word celebrer, “to frequent” and more remotely from the Latin celer, “to hasten.” The desire for celebrity is, at its heart, the desire of a person to be “frequented”—to turn heads and command the notice of others. To become a celebrity is simply to succeed in being noticed regularly.
The bestowal of esteem or “notice” is a ubiquitous practice among humans, and is intrinsically unobjectionable. What makes the bestowal of esteem good or bad is the basis upon which it is awarded. Traditionally, one earns the right to be noticed, heard, and otherwise esteemed through modest means (a carefully constructed, holistic montage of age, experience, education, wisdom, gravity, industry, skill, refined rhetoric, etc.). In our electronic age, however, it is possible to turn heads apart from any of these. One can be noticed without any sort of success at all. I can become an instant e-celebrity (or is it an iCelebrity?) almost by accident. The modest path to earning notice is no longer honored; indeed, those who take this route are fools. There is a shorter way.
Perhaps nowhere is the desire to be noticed more evident than in social media, where a single question infects us all: Will anyone notice? Every regular user of social media, no matter how virtuous, has asked this question at some point. This guiding question can be subdivided into sub-questions such as “How many friends do I have?” “How many ‘likes’ have I received?” and the gold standard, “How many comments (positive or negative, it really doesn’t matter) have I generated?” And it doesn’t take long to discover that the most reliable way to be noticed is by shocking others through immodesty.
We tend to associate immodesty with the quest for celebrity through the inordinate visual exploitation of that which should remain secret. And when all other means of celebrity fail, this particular form of immodesty remains the best way to generate celebrity (ref. Miley Cyrus). But immodesty is not limited to the exploitation of one’s visual qualities; it really encompasses in its scope every inordinate exploitation of self designed to accelerate personal celebrity. And it is a virus that infects us more deeply than any of us imagine.
So what are we to do?
The world sees the call to modesty as a call to counter-culturalism, to traditionalism, to introversion, or worse. And we must admit that sometimes modesty can take on these illicit forms. But at its heart, the call to modesty is nothing more than a call to humility—a call to take the attention that has unduly accrued to me and redirect it to that (and ultimately to That) which truly deserves our attention.
Webster deﬁnes corollary as “(1) a proposition inferred immediately from a proved proposition with little or no additional proof, (2a) something that naturally follows: result, and (2b) something that incidentally or naturally accompanies or parallels.” Thus to say that preservation is the corollary of inspiration means that preservation is a doctrine that can be “inferred immediately” from the “proved proposition” of inspiration; preservation “naturally follows” or “parallels” inspiration. To say that there is a correlation or parallel between inspiration and preservation does not reveal anything about the exact nature of that preservation. It is perfectly reasonable to assert a corollary between inspiration and preservation without asserting that preservation be in every way equal to inspiration—for example, that inerrant inspiration demands inerrant preservation. This is the fallacy of the KJV-only position, which takes the corollary to demand a kind of preservation that is perfect, or almost perfect, and uses that argument to restrict preservation to a speciﬁc translation (KJV).
A right understanding of the corollary suggests that there is no real purpose or value in inspiring a document that is not preserved. What, we might ask, would be the purpose of producing an authoritative record (inspiration) and letting it perish? Why, for instance, let Paul write an inspired letter to the Romans and then have it perish on the way to Rome? Of course, that did not happen, but could it have happened? If one denies a corollary between inspiration and preservation, Paul’s letter could have perished before it got to Rome.
The purpose of inspiration was to produce Scripture (graphē, 2 Timothy 3:16), a written record, a deposit of divine truth for the readers, not the writer. Without preservation the purpose of inspiration would be invalidated. Since it was clearly God’s intention that Paul’s inspired letter to the Romans be read by the Romans—it could not have perished—there must have been a divine work of preservation at work for at least a few weeks or months until the letter was received by the Romans. This suggests that there is some degree of correlation between inspiration and preservation. And the letter to the Romans was not meant just for the Romans. No, Scripture was intended for just the original recipients—“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Similarly, Paul warns the Corinthians using the example of Israel’s failure: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). If the Old Testament Scriptures (“these things”) were “written down,” that is, inspired for the purpose of instructing future believers (“warnings for us”), that purpose for the inspired writings demands their preservation.
The opening lines of the poem “Solitude” are well known:
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
Though written over one hundred years ago, the sentiment still applies today. People in our culture love to have fun. We love going to parties, games, and shows. The average American spends over $2,500 a year on entertainment—a number which does not include the large amount of free entertainment consumed on a regular basis. We love having a good time and love being around people having a good time.
Is our quest for a good time evil? Not necessarily. After all, “A joyful heart is good medicine.” (Prov 17:22). One of the reasons we pursue pleasure is the value that we receive from it. We can all remember times we’ve been refreshed through an evening filled with friends and laughter.
But I wonder if our culture’s pursuit of fun is actually an obsession for diversion. Do we seek out lightheartedness to hide the heavyheartedness of our world? Are we simply wanting to enjoy life, or are we actually trying to avoid it?
I began pondering this question again a couple of weeks ago while skimming through my Facebook feed. I imagine my feed is not terribly different from others—pictures of children, posts of recipes, updates on personal lives, random thoughts and questions, links to articles or videos, etc. But on this weekend, it was as if two different realities existed on my news feed. I started seeing posts about a church bus taking teens back from camp that crashed in Indianapolis less than a mile from its destination. People were requesting prayer, expressing sorrow, and sharing articles about the crash. As I took in this news, my heart sank. I was grieved for those who experienced the trauma of the accident, those in the other bus who had the horror of witnessing it, and the church family as a whole. I read the reports of this sobering tragedy with tear-blurred vision.
But many of my Facebook friends had no connection or awareness of the story. They were posting their normal posts, which suddenly seemed largely inappropriate in light of the misfortune my mind was still struggling to process. I had to get off Facebook and begin praying.
The next day the same dissonance struck. I continued to have friends posting updates and prayers for those affected by the bus accident in between friends posting the normal updates. However, I also began seeing another string of posts. A young lady who graduated from my high school a few years ahead of me was coming to the end of her battle with cancer—she would go to be with Christ the next morning—and several were sharing their encouragement and prayers with the grieving family. I was reminded of the suffering this family had already endured. Within in the last 12 years, the lady’s mother had died of cancer and her youngest sister was killed in a hiking accident. My heart went out to her father and sister who remained to suffer this sorrow upon sorrow, along with her husband and extended family and friends.
Over the next few days I couldn’t stop thinking about these painful events and feeling that these kinds of things are not supposed to happen. A mother of five is not supposed to die on a trip back from camp with her son. A young youth pastor and his pregnant wife are not supposed to die while serving in the church. A 21-month-old boy is not supposed to have both his parents taken from him in an instant. An English teacher at a Christian high school is not supposed to have her life end at the age of 35. A father is not supposed to bury his wife and two of his daughters before he reaches retirement. And when you realize that these things did happen, your heart breaks.
Within a few days, though, my news feed was back to “normal,” and my thoughts largely moved to less tearful realities. After all, who can enjoy life with those heavy thoughts burdening your heart? We’d rather fill our days with swimming babies and dancing puppies than with suffering and tragedy. But I couldn’t shake the dissonance from that weekend.
Eventually I was struck by a more sobering truth—those kinds of events are not isolated. In the United States alone, an average of over 6,700 people die each day, with over 1,500 dying from cancer and over 300 dying from accidents. That doesn’t include those who suffer life-altering injuries and illnesses or those who have to endure various forms of abuse, hunger, heartache, and countless other trials. When you begin to think about all of the evil in the world, you want to find some form of entertainment to numb your senses. If we keep our minds occupied with lighter matters we won’t have the time to contemplate the harsher truths. From time to time we cannot avoid reality—it is thrust into our face through suffering in our own lives or the lives of those we love—but we have become skilled at finding ways to brush it aside or at least to dull the pain. Because when you consider all of the tragedy in the world, your heart is crushed.
Is this how life must be lived? Do we have to revel in frivolity in order to keep ourselves from wallowing in depression? Must we laugh in community to avoid weeping alone?
I don’t think the Bible encourages this sort of fun-filled life. Over and over we are called to a sober life (e.g., Rom 12:3; 1 Thess 5:6, 8; 1 Tim 3:2, 11; 2 Tim 4:5; Tit 2:2). As Christians we are not supposed to hide from the somber realities of life. We are not allowed to ignore the harsh truths of evil. Yet, we are also called to a life of joy (e.g., 2 Cor 13:11; Phil 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess 5:16). How is it possible to live this sober yet joyful life? How can we find joy while fully acknowledging the tragedy of the world?
One of the keys is biblical hope. When we look at this life only, we have no reason for anything but overwhelming sorrow. But biblical reality extends beyond this world. There is a day coming when all that is wrong will be made right—when justice will finally be done, when there will be no more sorrow or sickness. This fallen world will be redeemed (Rom 8:18-23). We have been assured of this glorious future through the suffering and victory of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:31-39).
As believers, we maintain a sober view of this world, because we can “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:13). We grieve, for this is so much in this world for which we must grieve, but we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). While we weep at the evil in this life, we also consider the time when Jesus will appear and make everything new. In light of that revelation, we “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet 1:8).
Theologically Driven features insight on Scripture, the church, and contemporary culture from faculty and staff at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. DBTS has faithfully prepared men for gospel ministry since its founding in 1976. As a ministry of the Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan, it provides graduate level training with a balance between strong academics and a heart for local church ministry.
Contributors to the blog include:
John Aloisi, Assistant Professor of Church History
Bill Combs, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament
Bruce Compton, Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition
Jared Compton, Assistant Professor of New Testament
Sam Dawson, Professor of Systematic Theology
Dave Doran, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology
Pearson Johnson, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology
Bob McCabe, Professor of Old Testament
Mark Snoeberger, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
To find out more, visit Theologically Driven.