"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Since returning from vacation a month ago, I have a suitcase sitting on the floor at the foot of our bed that hasn't been put away yet. There's only a pair of jeans inside, which I don't care to wear because it's been so hot. It would be easy to put the jeans in a drawer and store the suitcase back in my closet, but I never think about putting it away -- until I stub my toe on the suitcase in the middle of the night.
I don't know what it is about stubbing your toes that elicits such a unique sensation of pain. Maybe it's just me but there's a split second, that very moment my toes scream upon finding an object in the dark, where pain shoots through my foot and the thought bursting in my head is, "Lord Jesus, come quickly! Deliver me from this body of death!" It's like I've just stepped on a land mine and blew my toes off. The feeling lasts only a moment and then it's gone, but what pain when it happens!
The afflictions that we suffer through in this life are going to be like that. They're like stubbing your toe: painful in the moment they happen, but not all that big a deal in the overall scheme of things. It may seem horrible for the moment that you endure such trials and tribulations. But when viewed in light of eternity for all who believe in Christ Jesus, they are but light and momentary.
As Paul says elsewhere, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" if we endure to the end (Romans 8:18).
As we look at this passage here in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, I want to section this out into three points that you may know all the more the God who is "our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). First, we are being renewed; second, we are being prepared; and third, we are being promised -- the promise of deliverance in Christ.
We are Being Renewed
Paul says, "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (v.16). The "we" here is the Apostle Paul and his missionary brethren and the persecutions they have endured for the sake of the gospel. But Paul sets himself before the Corinthians as an example of suffering and perseverance.
Knowing the promise of the eternal kingdom of God in Christ Jesus, Paul says, "We do not lose heart." No matter what happens in this life, there's no reason to despair because Christ has conquered death. "He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us into His presence," Paul said (v.14). We endure suffering in this life for a moment, but we will dwell in His kingdom forever -- perfect, imperishable, incorruptible -- forever.
For the moment, we are imperfect, perishable, and corruptible. Your body is breaking down even where you sit reading this. You probably felt it when you got up this morning. You're falling apart. You're wasting away. You get sick. You get hurt. You get depressed. You feel anxious. You feel pain. Spiritually, emotionally, physically -- there is not an aspect of us that cannot be afflicted in some way. "Our outer self is wasting away." But, the Bible says, "Our inner self is being renewed day by day."
The Lord is using even these moments to sanctify you. "Sanctification" means to make holy. When you came to faith in Christ, you were immediately justified: forgiven your sins and made innocent before your Father in heaven. But you had not yet been fully sanctified. Moment by moment, you are being renewed from the old, sinful man or woman that you were, and you are being shaped into the image of Christ. As we resist temptation, and as we rejoice in God even in our most trying moments, as we put off this world and long all the more for heaven -- we are being made like Christ.
Romans 8:28-29 says, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers."
Colossians 3:10 says that in Christ, we "have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." By reading His word, the Bible, seeing in its pages the person of Christ, imitating Him, obeying Him, you are being made more and more to be like Him. That's what it means to be sanctified. So even though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
We are Being Prepared
Paul goes on to say, "For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (v.17). I want you to understand the full measure of what Paul is referring to when he talks about a "light, momentary affliction."
At the start of 2 Corinthians, we read, "For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
Understand that the struggles you endure in this life are to make you rely all the more on the God who raises the dead. Have you been through what Paul went through? Have you felt so burdened beyond your strength that you despaired of life itself? Have you felt as though you've received a sentence of death? And yet, in light of eternity, Paul refers to these trials a few chapters later as light and momentary afflictions!
I would like to further expound on what Paul refers to as light and momentary afflictions. Later in chapter 11, expounding on the trials of the ministry, Paul says:
"Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches."Have you been through anything remotely as trying as what Paul endured for your sake to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations? And these things, as well as whatever you may be going through, are to make you rely more on God who raises the dead!
Now, I don't mean to belittle whatever you might be struggling with. You may be going through a trial in this moment that feels like the world is weighted on your shoulders. I'm not trying to slap you on the back and say, "Oh, buck up! It's all in your head. Rub some dirt on it. You'll be fine." Rather, I'm trying to lift your head that you may look to the one who will deliver you. Look to the one who has promised He will never leave you, nor will He forsake you.
Whether you are dealing with sickness or illness in your body; or a betrayal at the hand of someone close to you; or you are watching someone fall further and further into darkness and sin and it seems like they're never turn back. Maybe you're just struggling through the mundane, the daily grind, when one day looks just like the next and it's difficult to see any purpose or meaning or end to any of this.
Whatever your struggle, lift your head. Look upon Christ. Place your trust in Him who raises the dead. Everything that you go through in this life is preparing you for glory with Him. So honor God in all that you do. With thanksgiving, know that you work first for the Lord and not for men. Be grateful that He has given you life and redeemed that life. He will transform your lowly body to be like His glorious body by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:21).
God has supplied your every need through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Your hope is not in the things that are seen. Hope that is seen is not hope (Romans 8:24). Rather, your hope is in Jesus, the author and the perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross. Rejoice, for these are but light, momentary afflictions, preparing us for glory that is beyond comparison.
We are Being Promised
Finally, Paul says, "We look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient," that is, they are lasting only a short while, "but the things that are unseen are eternal." This is further assurance that our current struggles are but light and momentary. They are transient, just like everything else in this world.
Nothing in this world can bring us any lasting happiness. Happiness is cheap and fleeting. It's here for only a moment and can be taken from us in an instant. All it takes is one comment, and no matter how determined you were to be happy today, that emotion has been replaced with rage or hurt or sorrow.
Likewise, the things in this world are also fleeting. You know the new technology you just bought isn't going to last. Next year, they're going to replace it with an updated version, and then the model that once brought you happiness will be the object of your disgust until you can get the upgrade! The stuff of this world is perishing, and so are the feelings this stuff makes us feel.
We can certainly have pleasure in this life. There's nothing wrong with getting excited when your team wins, feeling a sense of pride over a job well done, or experiencing the joy of a good meal with friends and family. But even these enjoyments won't last.
Yet if we have placed our hope and our faith in the eternal God, these wonderful pleasures, which roll up into praise to God, are but a taste of the greater pleasures we will have in the eternal kingdom of God! Christ is ultimately going to win and destroy His enemies. To those who have served to the end, they will hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Then we will all sit down at the wedding feast of the Lamb, promised at the end of Revelation!
We don't place our hope in the moments of this life. We place our hope in the eternity of the next life. But with eternity in mind, the pleasurable moments of this life become glimpses into the next.
Now, that's only for the believer. For the unbeliever, these pleasures are not a glimpse into the life that is to come. Rather, the afflictions of this world are the glimpse for the unbeliever. Whatever suffering you go through in this life does not even compare to the eternal suffering you will be thrown into if you do not believe in Jesus and you have not repented of your sins. Even a Nazi concentration camp would seem like heaven by comparison.
Jesus said that hell is a place "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48). The worm that eats the rotting flesh never stops, and the fire that consumes never goes out. I plead with you not to spend another moment in rebellion against God. Turn from your sin and follow Jesus Christ. It is only those who believed on His name in this life that will know these present afflictions as but light and momentary.
At the end of all things, we are told, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:3-4).
I cannot promise you that the trial you are going through will turn out the way you want it to. The situation that you are in may not have the result you desire. Perhaps it will get worse. That's the way of the world. All things have been subjected to futility because of man's sinful rebellion against God. Not only is this world rotting, it will be judged by fire when Christ returns in His glory to judge the living and the dead.
While I cannot promise your struggle will have the fairy tale ending you'd like, what I can promise you is that it won't destroy you. Our promise is not this world -- our promise is the next one. Like the saints of old, we look not to an earthly kingdom, but to a heavenly one, prepared for us in Christ Jesus. God will bring you into that kingdom to be with Him forever, as He has promised.
So do not lose heart, believer. If you have placed your faith in Christ, your sins are forgiven. Though your outer self is wasting away, your inner self is being renewed into the image of its Creator. We will see Him as He is for we will be made to be like Him. These light, momentary afflictions are preparing you for an eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison. Look not to the things of this world. Look to Christ.