To recap, first, having an eternal perspective keeps the believer humble. Second, having an eternal perspective motivates us to live wisely in light of divine judgment.
3) Lastly, having an eternal perspective allows us to understand the goal of suffering.
There are different reasons why we suffer. We suffer because of bad decisions. We suffer because of idolatry. We suffer because of our personal sin. We suffer because of other people’s sin when we are oppressed or abused or mistreated and we are the victims of injustice. We suffer because of tragic circumstances beyond our control. Paul here is suffering for one reason and one reason only. He is suffering for the sake of the gospel and because of the gospel he suffers persecution and hatred at the hands of a world that is hostile to the gospel message.
Listen to how Paul suffered. 2 Cor 4:8-9. Paul is pressured. He is hard pressed. He is perplexed, cornered, confused. He is persecuted, hounded by those who want to silence him. He is struck down, depressed, knocked to the mat. But, amazingly, he doesn’t give up. The suffering does not keep Paul down. Instead, we see an amazing resilience.
2 Cor 4
8 We are pressured in every way BUT NOT crushed; we are perplexed BUT NOT in despair; 9 we are persecuted BUT NOT abandoned; we are struck down BUT NOT destroyed.
What allowed Paul experience all of this suffering–being pressured, perplexed, persecuted, struck down–and still be joyful in the Lord? Answer? He had an eternal perspective.
2 Cor 4
16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Paul does not have an idyllic view of life where everything is sunshine and rainbows. He is not writing letters to various churches from the comforts of his study. Or an ivory tower. He is writing from the trenches of gospel ministry where there is suffering. Christianity is not blind optimism. Christianity doesn’t say, troubles? What troubles? Instead, Christianity says, there are troubles in this life, yet. There is suffering, but not. Perplexed, but not. Persecuted? Of course. Christians do not live in a bubble. We are not immune to all the sufferings common to man. Struck down, almost overwhelmed, almost to the breaking point, but not destroyed.
Christianity is not the same thing as resignation. Some people think, what’s the use of crying over spilt milk, don’t be a cry baby, you got to move on. Resignation is better than throwing in the towel. But resignation is not the Christian position. The world says, things are hopeless so why bother thinking. Just eat, drink and be merry. Don’t think about the meaning of life. Drown out all the questions of life in a flood of entertainment. Don’t allow yourself to have too many moments of silence so that you can avoid having to think too deeply about life. So you never have to face yourself in the mirror. Things are inevitably going to happen. I have no control. It’s fate. Why bother thinking at all or having hope in anything. Just got to grit my teeth and bear it. Sadly, many live like this.
A Christian admits, there is suffering, life is hard, we have days when we want to give up, but not. Outwardly we are wasting away, BUT inwardly, we don’t waste away. Life is hard, nevertheless, we are renewed day by day. There is a note of defiance and victory in the Christian life.
A Christian doesn’t bury his head in the sand. He looks at a world and life is hard. There is great suffering. If you want to live for Christ, all the more, your life will be filled with suffering. A Christian looks at all the facts and he looks through them, he looks beyond them. He has an eternal perspective.
The best that the world can muster is resignation, things are the way they are and I can’t change them. It’s fate. Bad things happen beyond my control. I got to move on. Hopelessness can easily set in if you think too deeply so why think about things when I have no control over them and so I should just drown out all that is negative in life. Just work hard and hopefully good things happen and the good outweighs the bad. This is the best that the world can muster. There is a limit to optimism and human achievement and brute force, take-the-bull-by-the-horns effort.
A Christian begins where everyone else ends. A Christian speaks when everyone else is silent. Man’s outer limit, man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. Man has come to his end, his limitation and that’s an opening for God to take over. Where the world ends, heaven begins. Where man ends, God begins. Where the non-Christian ends, the Christian begins.
2 Cor 4
16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
A Christian defies the sufferings of this world. There is suffering, but he is not destroyed, even though I am nearly destroyed… nevertheless. Where everyone else reaches their end, the Christian is only just beginning. Is there this “even though” or “but not” or “nevertheless” in your life? A protest against hopelessness in the face of suffering. A Christian defies the world. Sees through, sees beyond it, rejoices in spite of it.
What enables the Christian to not be destroyed by suffering? Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
2 Cor 4
10 We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus’ life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you.
The Spirit of God is what allows for inner renewal. The Spirit points us to Jesus. We remember what Jesus did–His death, His suffering, His sacrifice. We see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. We are resilient in the face of suffering. Suffering does not keep us down. The harmful and hurtful words of others do not destroy us. Their gossip and slander do not unravel us. By the Spirit’s help, we can forgive when everyone else would seek vengeance.
Furthermore, when others look at us, our lives don’t make sense. In this case, it was the Corinthians and the false apostles looking at Paul and his co-laborers. From the surface, there is death at work in Paul and his cohorts. Paul’s critics see how Paul is under pressure, they see how Paul is perplexed, they see how Paul is persecuted and struck down. They see death at work in Paul’s life. Yet, they must have been astonished because suffering did not spell the end for Paul. Life is springing up from the ruins. In fact, life is overflowing not only to the non-believers who are watching, but to the Corinthians, to other Christians.
2 Cor 4
12 So death works in us, but life in you.
Jesus’ resurrection life begins to shine through our suffering. Life flows over to others when people can see the Spirit’s transforming work in our hearts overcoming the expected toll of suffering. When suffering hits, at first, you start to faint and falter. But the Spirit renews you day by day. He points you to Jesus. In your outer person, in your physical frame, you are bearing in your body the dying of the Lord Jesus. Jesus, a man who was despised and rejected by men, he was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. By bearing in our bodies the death of Jesus, we have the great privilege of having fellowship with Christ in a special way that only can come through suffering. This is how the inner person is renewed day by day.
Inner renewal is one way to describe it, but Paul adds another expression to get at what is really happening deep in our hearts as we endure suffering.
2 Cor 4
16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.
Not only is there inner renewal and resilience and life flowing to others as they are challenged by our response to suffering, we see in v17, the ultimate goal of our suffering. The four words to contrast are momentary and light vs. eternal and weight.
Paul calls being pressured in every way, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, he calls these things momentary and light. This suffering is momentary and light. Why? Because he has an eternal perspective. In light of eternity, Paul gives us insight into what is happening in the spiritual realm as we struggle with suffering in the physical realm. In the spiritual realm, we are moving toward glory. When Jesus was raised from the dead, He was glorified. We finally see Jesus as He is. Shining as light. His soul and his glorified body are one. And Paul is hinting at the fact that we are moving toward the same destiny. Glory. What does this future glory look like? It is eternal and it is weighty.
I want to end with a quote from C.S. Lewis wrote about 2 Cor 4 and it’s reflected in the title, The Weight of Glory. Let me read an excerpt.
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
C.S. Lewis gives us an interesting way to think about 2 paths that we are on. Both are glorious–one is gloriously horrific and the other is gloriously good. We are immortal. Look at the person you are inside right now and extrapolate that for eternity. Hell will be filled with people who were selfish in this life and they will grow increasingly and nightmarishly selfish for all eternity. For the Christian, we are on the path to a gloriously good future. Right now, we are works in progress. We are not who God created us to be. We are created in the image of God, but the image has been shattered by sin. The non-Christian is a distorted image of God and that distortion will increase for all eternity.
What suffering accomplishes in the life of a believer is it moves us in the other direction. Suffering causes us to become more weightier as a person, to be a man or woman of substance. To be fully human. To be compassionate and humble and joyful and overflowing with thanksgiving. To be fully who God intended us to be. Suffering is one of the tools that God uses in this life to accomplish the remaking and reshaping of our lives into men and women who accurately reflect the image of God to those who look at us. It is a glorious future.
Don’t run from suffering. It’s hard. Who wants to suffer? But our suffering does not destroy us. It’s light, it’s a light wind that blows and does not shake a tree with deep roots. Its’ momentary because in light of eternity, our 70-80 year sojourn is like a mist, it’s here for a moment at dawn and gone by morning.
2 Cor 4
17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.
Our afflictions, which are momentary and light, have a goal. Our suffering produce in us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. Don’t be afraid to suffer. Invite suffering into your life for the sake of the gospel. Remember eternity. When we have raised our minds heavenwards, a thousand years begin to look to us like a moment. Remember the goal of suffering, how God will use suffering to achieve glory in us. Your afflictions are momentary. They are only for now, not for the age to come. Your afflictions are light. Compared to the pleasures of what is coming they are as nothing. These afflictions are producing in you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
Allow the Spirit to renew your inner person through suffering day by day. Allow life to flow to others as they see you responding to suffering with peace and trust in Jesus. Allow the resurrected life of Jesus shine as you carry around Jesus’ death. Don’t give up. Let the world taste your indomitable joy in suffering.