Posted 10 Jan 2013
I encountered this phrase in some on-linepreaching the other day, “we walk by faith & not by sight” & it seemed to be used to justify a message of sucess & prosperity for us modern Christians. I wondered if that was what the phrase originally meant. He’s my findings, observations & conclusions:
2 Corinthians 5:6-7 (AMP)
6 So then, we are always full of good and hopeful and confident courage; we know that while we are at home in the body, we are abroad from the home with the Lord [that is promised us]. 7 For we walk by faith [we regulate our lives and conduct ourselves by our conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, with trust and holy fervour; thus we walk] not by sight or appearance.
2 Corinthians 5:7 (ANIV)
7 We live by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:7 (NLT)
7 For we live by believing and not by seeing.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (MSG)
6 That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. 7 It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. 8 Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.
When I looked at a commentary to find out what was meant, it said this:
‘What sustained Paul was the realization that this was a temporary and transitory state (2 Cor. 4:18). He focused not on present but on future conditions, not on the seen but the unseen. To live this way is to live by faith, not by sight. It is to live in light of ultimate rather than immediate realities (cf. Rom. 8:24-25), to be obedient to God’s commands despite the hardships that obedience produces (e.g., 2 Cor. 11:23-29). Such was Paul’s life. If the choice were his, he would have seized the opportunity to depart this pilgrimage life and take up residence (be at home) with the Lord (Phil. 1:21-23). But the constraints of his commission caused him to press on (cf. Phil. 1:24; Eph. 3:1-13).’
(source: The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty.)
Can we legitimately quote this verse to say that we will have success & prosperity in our lives? I’m sure I’ve heard some Christians say that “We live by faith, not by sight” & go to use that as a justification for expecting success & prosperity to come to them. They say we can expect success & have prosperity when we live by faith & not by sight. But is that what this verse is actually saying?
And that question opens up the question of interpreting what we read in the Bible.
How can we be sure that we are reading a verse or chapter correctly… as it was originally meant to be read? The answer may be in the context. Taking a verse out of context & just reading it on it’s own can be misleading for us. So, in order to understand what Paul was actually saying in this verse, we need to read the previous & next few verses; to examine the whole chapter perhaps. Then, once we know the context, we can be more certain that we understand what Paul was actually writing about.
So, what was Paul writing about?
In the previous chapter Paul was writing about determination in fearlessly preaching the Gospel of Jesus the Christ & concludes that what we see on earth is only temporary, but unseen things are eternal. In chapter 5, Paul continues by writing a comparison between living on earth in our mortal bodies, & living in heaven with eternal, imperishable bodies. He even says that one purpose of the Holy Spirit within us is to give us a little taste of what heaven will be like. Paul’s writing (chapter 5, verses 1-10) builds up towards the day of Judgement, concluding that we will receive a ‘reward’ depending on what we have done in our earthly bodies: who we have lived for.
So, can we legitimately appropriate verse 7 “We live by faith, not by sight”, to mean that we will have success & prosperity whilst we live on earth? Is Paul writing about success & prosperity whilst we live on earth within these verses & chapter?
When I read it, Paul is writing a comparison between life on earth & life in heaven. In verse 6 Paul writes, ‘So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord.’ To me, that speaks of the tension that exists between living here on an imperfect, sinful earth in mortal bodies when compared to what it will be like when we are clothed in a new, eternal body in a perfect, sinless heaven. That sounds like spiritual tension to me!
Verse 8, says ‘Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.’ And verse 9 says that our goal (whether on earth or in heaven) is to please the Lord.
So, it seems to me that Paul isn’t writing a ‘prosperity on earth’ message in verse 7. Therefore, to use verse 7 in that way, to justify a “success & prosperity on earth” message seems a ‘stretch’ at the very least.
The danger of taking a verse out of context.
There is a ‘danger’ of taking one verse, out of context, & applying it to a different situation. If a verse when read in context means one thing, then it would be daft to try to use that verse out of context, to ‘twist’ it to say something that the author never meant when it was originally written. Interpretation is a rather subjective thing!
Then again, we believe that the Holy Bible is living & active, & that multiple meanings can be applied to the scriptures. Certainly God is quite capable of getting us to notice a verse & to ‘speak’ to us about it, in terms of a different situation, condition or meaning. In this way, the verse we read CAN have multiple meanings.
Can we interpret the Bible, based on the character of God, as revealed in the Bible?
Another ‘angle’ would be to ask what the Lord God is like, as a person, & what He might want from us, or to give to us. It seems to me that the Bible DOES INDEED promise lots of good things for us. I don’t think it is beyond the realms of reason to interpret the Bible in that God wants to bless us with success & prosperity. Although someone else will always point to Jesus Himself saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 (ANIV) ) There are other verses where Jesus, the prophets & the apostles spoke/wrote of trials, difficulties & hard times that we should expect as Christians.
I suppose I am trying to figure out here what we can legitimately expect in our Christian life. On the one hand we have the promises of God in the Bible & the “success & prosperity” preaching of modern Christians. On the other we have the Bible, Jesus, prophets & apostles talking about trials & facing hardships, difficulties, even death, as we live out our Christian lives.
Maybe that is why it is so important to get to know the character & nature of God, because in situations where your interpretation of what you read in the Bible can ‘take you’ to one place (positivity) or the other (negativity), in the end, your interpretation can be based on what you think about the character & nature of God: either He is your rescuer & is ultimately for you & will grant you success & prosperity, or He is for you, but situations & circumstances that are worldly, difficult & tough to overcome will inevitably come into your life.
Which will we encounter, success & prosperity, or trials & tribulations? I think we will probably encounter both!
I think the Bible ‘proves’ that God is for us. So that ought to give us confidence. But even though God is definitely FOR us, we also need to realise that this fact won’t stop bad things happening to us in this earthly life. And even some of those bad things are a result of us being in close fellowship with the Lord, i.e. persecution due to our Christianity.
I just want to know the truth. That’s what I’m interested in knowing. What is God saying to me, at the time I am reading a particular verse in the Bible?
I’m not trying to be clever when I talk about reading a verse in context. My motive is to get to know the truth.
I need to be wise enough to read any given verse in context, but I also need to have faith that God can use any given verse to mean what ever He wants it to mean, in all the times & situations of my life.
1) God is for us. He is our rescuer, advocate & helper in times of trouble. I think the Bible ‘proves’ that this is so.
2) God wants to prosper us & give us success.
3) We will be tried, tested, face difficulties & may even be persecuted due to our faith in Jesus the Christ.
4) We will face problems, hassles, ‘aggro’, & issues that make us flip! Bad things do happen to good people. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t for us 100%, or that the world is out of His control.
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