It is one of the great parenthetical state ments ever made. In the midst of a discussion of our desire to go home to God, Paul stops to say, For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). And to understand what he means, we can look for contrasts throughout the Bible.
Lot/Abraham: When the two relatives split up, Lot took what he could see, ignoring the cost to his soul (Gen. 13). There is an ominous foreshadowing when the text says Lot, moved his tent as far as Sodom (v. 12). Contrast that with the faith of Abraham, who left a pretty good life back in Ur because the Lord promised him something better. The Hebrew writer tells us, For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Heb. 11:10).
Jacob/Esau: Esau is clearly a man who walked by sight. Giving up his birthright for a bowl of stew makes Manhattan for beads look like a good trade, but all Esau could see was that he was hungry and his brother had food. The Hebrew writer calls Esau unholy (Heb. 12:16).
Jacob, while not a man of great character, came to understand God’s hand in all that he had been able to achieve and accumulate. He shows the faith he had acquired when he blesses his sons, because just as it had been for himself and Esau, it is not the firstborn who carries the promise passed from Abraham and Isaac. Instead, Jacob (through God) blesses Judah, and when he pronounces that the scepter shall not depart from Judah it is a prophecy about the Messiah (Gen. 49:8-12). Jacob had learned to walk by faith. His brother never did.
The 12 spies: When Moses sent the spies into the land of Canaan, they saw the great beauty and wealth of the land, but 10 spies saw something else. They feared trying to take the land because of the people, including giants (Num. 13).
The other two spies, Joshua and Caleb saw it differently. As the people began to accept the report of the ten, Joshua said, Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them (Num. 14:9).
Paul’s traveling companions: It is one of the great contrasts in scripture. Paul has many companions on his journeys, but at the end of his life, in prison most likely facing death by beheading, he sends for Timothy. What follows is the sad end of Demas: For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica (2 Tim. 4:9). Demas could see what the world had to offer, and did not have enough faith to look to the reward for God’s people.
After detailing two other companions who had gone to other places, Paul says, Luke alone is with me (v. 11). Despite his current troubles, the beloved physician is willing to stand with Paul in his hour of trial. Luke understood (by faith) that there was more than just what this world had to offer, and chose to walk by faith, while Demas walked by sight.
Now, for the hard part. While it’s interesting to look at the contrasts between Abraham/Lot, Jacob/Esau, the 12 spies and Demas/Luke, if we fail then to make application in our own lives, they are just stories.
To make application, let’s go back to the pas- sage we started with (2 Corinthians 5). Here are three things Paul tells us that an understanding of walking by faith, not by sight gives us.
1. Strength for the fight (v. 6 - though if you really want to get it, the thought begins in v. 16 of chapter 4). In all of the examples above, we are able to see God’s blessings on behalf of those who walked by faith. That should encourage us to do the same. We do not walk blindly. We walk by faith, serving a God whose blessings are very often visible, tangible things. That being the case, we trust that His promises of future blessings are secure.
2. A longing to be with Him (v. 8). Because of what God has shown us He can (will) do, we should desire even more to be with Him. That is the ultimate reward of our faith.
3. A desire to please Him (v. 9). The real application to learning to walk by faith is that we desire to serve Him. The Hebrew writer said it this way: And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
Because we walk by faith, not by sight, as did the examples of old, we are strengthened for our fight, we long to be with God, and we seek to please Him in all we do.