In II Corinthians 5, verses 6-9, we read: "Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him."
Many Christian denominations use this text to try to prove that as soon as you die your soul goes out of your body to be present with the Lord. We realize that this belief is not true. From many other passages of Scripture we learn that the soul and body of a man sleep in the grave until the resurrection. Here being absent from the body is a figure of speech that the Apostle Paul used to show that some day, when the resurrection takes place, we shall discard this mortal body for a new body.
I Corinthians 15:51-53: "Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." If being absent from the body meant that one's spirit (not referring to the breath of life) or soul left the body, we would have a severe problem trying to understand I Corinthians 5:1-5.
Here, the Apostle Paul was admonishing the brethren for allowing fornication to be among their members. We read: "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." We know that the Apostle Paul did not mean that his spirit had left his body to be present with the brethren when judgment would be given to the sinning brother.
That would have been an occultic belief called astral projection whereby some people believe that they can leave their bodies and travel to other places. Paul, again, was using a figure of speech to demonstrate that his decision concerning the sinning brother was the same as the Corinthians' should be in judging the man.
In Colossians chapter 2, verse 5, we are given the same type of figure of speech by Paul. This verse reads: "For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ."
Again, the Apostle Paul did not mean that his spirit had left his body to be beholding the Colossian brethren's order. He was simply stating that he knew of their good order and their faith in Christ and was rejoicing with the Church over these circumstances. We must be careful to not let a passage of Scripture which seems difficult to understand rule our thinking. We must never let the tradition of men over rule the teachings of the Bible. As Colossians 2:8 warns us: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
May we always let all the passages of Scripture on a subject bring us to a balanced understanding of God's Word. God bless you as you study His Word.