It is our privilege this morning, as always, to open the pages of the Word of God, and this morning to continue our study of 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, and we come to the last paragraph of this wonderful chapter, verses 16 to 18, and we’ll be looking at those, and finding, I trust, some tremendous help for our Christian lives. For all of us, life has rich joys. There is no question about that. God has filled the world with goodness, and we enjoy that.
In fact, the world even stops to pause at a time of thanksgiving to recognize that there is joy and goodness all around. We experience good and fulfilling relationships, good and fulfilling experiences, satisfying sights, and sounds, and smells, and tastes, adventure, exhilarating things, love, refreshment, peace. Life has its riches; it has its joys. But at the same time, they are certainly mitigated by the reality that life is filled with trouble.
Job said, “Man is born unto trouble.” Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” James wrote, “We fall into various trials.” None of us would question the fact that life can bring disappointment, discontent, pain, grief, loss, disasters of all kinds. It is filled with unexpected turns, unanticipated events, dread, sometimes debilitating and painful experiences. That’s life. And the longer you live it, and the wider your experience is, and the more people you connect with, the more potential there is for pain and difficulty.
Being able, basically, to cope with this is everybody’s goal. The world is filled with people trying to adjust to the pain, trying to deal with life without total collapse, break down, burn out, hopelessness, fear, apathy, or just giving up. And all of that really is a matter of learning how to endure. And that’s our key word this morning because the passage in front of us gives us the secrets to endurance; the secrets to endurance.
How can we endure the pain of life, the profound difficulty of life? The great disappointments, broken dreams, broken bodies, broken homes, broken lives, broken relationships? How can we handle all of that? How can we face life like the apostle Paul did, who said, back in verse 8 of this chapter, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;” How can we live like that?
How can we be so triumphant, to be always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, and yet to allow the life of Jesus to be manifest? To be constantly being delivered over to death, and yet seeing the life of Jesus manifested in His mortal flesh? How can we live in such a triumphant way as to be on the edge of death every moment, and yet at the height of life? To have the threat of our life being ended, and yet our life mattering? Of having the end of all of our influence, and yet an immense amount of influence, at the same time?
How can we be afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed? What a triumphant perspective Paul had on his suffering. As the psalmist said, in Psalm 37:24, “Though he falls, he shall not be hurled headlong.” He fell, but he was never devastated, never destroyed. How can we live like that? How can we obey the commandment of the Holy Spirit to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” as it says in 2 Timothy 2:1?
Or to endure suffering “as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” 2 Timothy 2:3? Or to “endure all afflictions,” 2 Timothy 4:5? How can we obey those commands to be enduring? How can be among the truly happy, the truly content with every circumstance, because, like James 5 says, they endure? How can we be among the truly blessed, of whom James says they endure trials and receive the crown of life?
How can we be like the noble, good Thessalonians, of whom Paul wrote, “therefore, we are ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure”? How can we be like those who find favor with God, of whom Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 2:19, that they “endure under sorrows when suffering”? How can we be like Moses? How can we be like a man who, though he faced tremendous difficulty in his life, endured, as one who sees the invisible God?
How can we be like Abraham, of whom it is written, “Having patiently waited, he obtained the promise”? How can we be like the saints, those saints who suffered so profoundly, and yet it says of them that they endured a “great conflict of sufferings”, Hebrews 10:32? How can we be like Jesus Christ, of whom it is written in Hebrews 12, “He endured the cross” – “He endured the cross, despising the shame,” because He could see what was ahead?
How can we be enduring people? How can we handle the trouble of life, the trials of life, the vicissitudes and struggles of life, the pain of life? It’s a crucial question. Trouble comes to all of us. The longer we live the more trouble we have, and not all of us endure it triumphantly; but all of us have resources to be able to, and those resources are unfolded to us in this great text that is before us. The apostle Paul here lets us in on his own spiritual secrets for enduring.
He is a graphic and clear example of endurance, and he suffered immense suffering, and yet lived in a triumphant manner. And sometimes we may think that our suffering is unique, and belongs only to us; the truth is it’s the same age-old suffering that everybody has gone through, is going through, and will go through, if Jesus tarries. Everybody can identify with it, and we can identify with Paul in his triumph, because he learned how to endure it.
His suffering by any human measure was severe; far beyond anything that we would experience, in terms of the cost of discipleship. And because his suffering was so severe, he becomes for us the best example, because if he can endure the most suffering, we can certainly endure the least. Those people who get depressed and burn out, become fearful and apathetic or indifferent, quit, whose despair reaches such a point that they’re debilitated, have to learn something from Paul.
It would be a remarkable person, in my judgment, who could match their suffering with the suffering of Paul. And if Paul, who suffered the most, enjoyed the greatest triumphant, we who suffer the least certainly should be able to. I don’t know of anyone who could say they reached the level of Paul’s suffering - not in this age, not in this place. Let me remind you of what the man endured. In 1 Corinthians, chapter 4, and verse 9, he says, “We are men condemned to death; we have become a spectacle to the world.
“We are fools”, verse 10 says, “for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor.” So, he is a fool, weak, and without honor. “To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”
That was public opinion of Paul, inside the church, in some cases, as well as outside the church. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 1, and verse 8, he says, “We do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction...we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” He faced death constantly, as we have noted.
In chapter 6, I remind you again - 2 Corinthians, chapter 6 - he says he was sorrowful in verse 10 - he was poor, he had nothing. Back in verse 8, he says he was a victim of evil report. In verse 9, he was unknown, and dying, and punished; an amazing amount of suffering. Back in verse 5, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, sleeplessness, hunger. Back in verse 4, affliction, hardship and distress, and all of that leads us back to the phrase, “in much endurance.”
He endured it all. Chapter 7, verse 5, says, “our flesh had no rest, we were afflicted on every side, conflicts without, and fears within.” Chapter 11, verse 23 - very familiar to you - he speaks of his labors, imprisonments, beaten times without number - he can’t even remember the number - in danger of death. Five times he was lashed by the Jews - 39 times each of the five - three times beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, a night and a day in the sea.
And then the danger from rivers, and robbers, and countrymen, and Gentiles, in the city, in the wilderness, on the sea, among false brethren, labor, hardship, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, without food, cold, exposure. On top of that, the broken heart that he carried because of the church. He comes to the end of his life, writes to Timothy, and says, “Everybody in Asia has forsaken me” - the pain of unrequited love.
In the last chapter that he ever penned, the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy, he says, “At my first defense” - verse 16 – “no one supported me, all deserted me. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that the - all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth.” Only the Lord was there; everybody else left. He sums it up by saying, “I fought the good fight, I’ve finished the course, and I’ve kept the faith.”
All the way to the end, he endured; never walked off the track and quit the race; never went AWOL in the middle of the battle; never deviated from the faith; faithful to the very last breath. Through it all - loneliness, disappointment, physical pain, persecution, all of it, and it was relentless, it was every day, non-stop, and it was intense. Spent much time in jail, much time in stocks, in agonizing pain, much time bandaging up his wounds, and his cuts, and gouges, and gashes.
And all the pain of the inside as well as the outside. And you have to ask the question, how could he endure this? Our petty pain seems small compared to a life of this, and indeed it is, and yet he endured it all; can’t we? Well, I think we can if we understand what he understood. There’s a very deep awareness in the heart of Paul that made him able to endure everything; absolutely everything. And this becomes, then, for us a very practical section of Scripture.
It’s not hard to understand; it’s very direct, very straightforward, very simple, but very important, because it - it is the premise upon which you can live a triumphant life. You see, Paul, you remember, had caught a fresh look at the face of Jesus Christ. He writes about that earlier in this epistle. He had looked into the face of Jesus, and he had seen the glory of God shining. And when he had a real vision of God in the face of Jesus Christ, it gave him a whole new view of his own life, including a fresh look at his own sufferings for the sake of the gospel.
In response to that fresh view of his sufferings, he gives us, in these three verses, a real treasure from his inspired heart. And what you’re going to find in these three verses are three heavenly reasons for earthly endurance; three heavenly reasons for earthly endurance. Let’s read the text, starting in 2 Corinthians 4:16. “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.
“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” There you have three heavenly reasons for earthly endurance, one in each verse. Before we look at those reasons, let’s just comment on the endurance.
Verse 16 begins with these words: “Therefore we do not lose heart.” Now, that’s the same thing he said back in chapter 4, verse 1, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart.” He uses the exact same phrase. To lose heart means to become cowardly, or timid, or fainthearted, or weak, or hopeless, or fearful. To lose your boldness, your bravery, your courage; to become weary, and fainthearted, and quit; fold up your tent, bail out.
He says, “We don’t do that. We do not lose heart.” In view of - remember now - of the astounding, glorious realities of the new covenant, that were all the theme of chapter 3. In view of the glorious eternal life which is his, and which is yet to be unfolded in the presence of Jesus Christ and the presence of God in heaven. In view of the resurrection of all the redeemed. In view of the glorious truth of the gospel of the new covenant. In view of what has come to him through Christ, and to all others who believe.
In view of all of that, he could never lose heart. He could never despair. He could never quit. He could never become cowardly. There’s no weariness in him. There’s no faintheartedness in him. As long as he has the reality of the immense privilege of knowing Christ in new covenant truth, as long as he has the great opportunity of preaching the new covenant gospel, and experiencing personally the greatness of a fellowship with Jesus Christ, and the glory of God shining in his face, and the hope of eternity, he cannot lose heart.
No matter how he is assaulted, no matter how he is beleaguered, no matter how he is besieged, by Satan’s forces, and by even rebellious Christians, no amount of trouble can make him quit. No amount of trouble can cause him to neglect his calling, his privilege, his duty. He has no intention of ever losing heart. And as history would tell us in the pages of Scripture, he never did. He learned not to lose heart. He learned not to quit. He is a great model, the most glorious model on the human level of a man who endured. And here are his spiritual secrets to endurance; mark them well.
Number one: you will endure when you value spiritual strength over physical. You will endure when you value spiritual strength over physical. Verse 16: “Therefore we do not lose heart” - and here, we want to translate but though perhaps as even if, or even when, or even by the word since. “We do not lose heart since our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” You see, the first reason that Paul was able to endure anything that came to him in the physical realm was because he was more concerned about what was happening in the spiritual realm.
This phrase but though, or even if, or since, introduces a condition assumed to be true. That’s how the Greek construction works here, a condition assumed to be true; that’s why we use the word since. “Since it is true, since it is a fact,” he says, “that our outer man is decaying,” we have to deal with that. It’s true. Now, what does he mean by our outer man? He just means our body. He uses the word body back in verse 10: “we carry about in our body the dying.” In verse 11, he uses the term mortal flesh; he says our mortal flesh is experiencing death.
Back in verse 7, he talks about the body as an earthen vessel or a clay pot. Now, he has the same thing in mind with this term, the outer man. It is that perishable part of us. It is our physical characteristics, our body, and all of its internal parts, and the function of our brain; and he says that part of us is decaying. It is in the current and continual process of dying. It’s decaying, present tense; he’s very aware of that. And there he initially, we could say, is just talking about the normal process of aging.
We’re all experiencing it, aren’t we; to one degree of joy or another, we are experiencing it. And we understand it, and it is reality, and it is undeniable reality, and it goes on every moment of every day. It’s not a necessarily happy thought, but it is reality. One of the most marvelous and magnificent descriptions of this decaying of the outer man is given in the twelfth chapter of Ecclesiastes, and I would just encourage you to turn to Ecclesiastes 12 - Ecclesiastes is slipped right in there between Proverbs and Song of Solomon, a part of the wisdom literature.
And in Ecclesiastes 12, we have a wonderful picture, really, of death, of aging that leads to death. Verse 1 of chapter 12 says, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you’ll say, ‘I have no delight in them’” - in other words, turn to God when you’re young, before you get old, and life gets hard. He describes what it’s like when you get old, starting in verse 3.
“In the day when the watchmen of the house tremble” - that’s the arms and the hands, those things that are used to protect you; they begin to shake when you get old. “And the mighty men stoop” - and the literature is just beautifully analogical and illustrative. “The mighty men stoop” - that’s the legs, the legs begin to weaken and bend; the mighty men because they carry the greatest muscles in the body. “The grinding ones stand idle” - obviously the teeth - “because they are few.” Some of you are laughing through your dentures.
And verse 3 also says, “those who look through windows grow dim” - the eyes; the eyes see through the pane that covers them – P-A-N-E - the window pane. “And the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low, and one will arise at the sound of the bird” - in other words, you close yourself in, you shut the door, and you sleep so lightly that even the sound of a bird awakens you. Sleeplessness is a part of aging, and a very light sleep, indeed, it is.
“All the daughters of song will sing softly” - what is that? Your hearing. You don’t hear things anymore; everything sounds soft and muted. “Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place” - yeah, you don’t want to fall, because things break more easily - “and there are terrors on the road” - what does that mean? That when you’re walking along the path, you look for the potholes and the rocks that, when you were a child or a young person, you just bounded across; and now you’re worried, because if you step on one of those, something will break or you’ll fall, and you move slowly; you’re - you’re fearful about that.
And then “the almond tree blossoms” - you know what happens when an almond tree blossoms? It turns white, talking about the hair - “and the grasshopper” - who is known for catapulting jumps, tremendous distances based upon his size and weight – “drags himself along” - you don’t walk like you used to, and you don’t jump at all - “and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street” - that’s your funeral, folks. Verse 6 says, “The silver cord is broken” - that’s the spinal cord - “the golden bowl” - that’s the brain - “is crushed.
“The pitcher by the well” - which is the heart - “is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed” - the veins and arteries - “and the dust returns to the earth.” That’s old age. We could go into more detail, but suffice it to say you get the picture. Not a happy picture, frankly, and some of you are living illustrations of it, and aren’t we all, to one degree or another? Paul was getting old; he knew that. Go back to our text. He says “the outer man is decaying; I’m aware of that.” And also, we’ve got to go beyond this.
His outer man was decaying not just because he was getting older - he wasn’t really that old - not that old at all, in fact. He would be maybe near where I am in life, young, and full of enthusiasm, and not where Clayton is yet. Paul - Paul realized that he was getting old, and yet he wasn’t that old, he was still a relatively young man. But he was decaying. But there was more to it than this. There was another element in this decaying of Paul. It wasn’t just the natural process. It was the element that he lived the kind of life that sped up the aging process.
I suppose he felt it would be better to wear out than to rust out, and he was really wearing himself out. Like Henry Martin, the great missionary to India, who said, “Now let me burn out for God.” Or David Brainard, who gave his life to the missionaries to such an extensive degree, so passionately, that he was dead before his thirtieth birthday. The apostle Paul - who lived perhaps to be sixty years of age - the apostle Paul was, nonetheless, a man who was prematurely old, because he had worn himself out in the ministry.
Here was a devout man - the most devout Christian maybe who ever lived, the most faithful servant, the most virtuous Christ-honoring man - he never expected to have permanent youth. He never expected to have permanent health. He knew that the physical part is decaying and dying. Life was a process of decay; he knew that. It was for him, like anybody else. But there’s more than just that; it was also that he wore himself out, he gave himself away. And what better cause to do that, than the cause of Christ?
But there was even another aspect to his decaying: his enemies were killing him. It wasn’t just the homelessness, and sleeplessness, and beatings, and things like that, that he endured, and going without food, and being hungry and thirsty, that took a toll on his health. It was this relentless hostility and suffering that came about because of persecution. Yes, the beatings, and the whippings, and the lashings, and all of that; the wounds that had come against his body.
To say nothing of the crushing of his own inner soul, the wearing out emotionally, because of this assault that never ended, and because of the Christians who treated him so unkindly. He was a broken man at an early age. He was old before his time. He was crumbling on the outside. The enemies had left their marks on him, believe me. Any time he took his tunic off, they would be all over his body to see. And death loomed every single day.
His heart must have raced at a rate that’s unnatural and abnormal. It only has so many beats that it can give, and they were being used up fairly fast, in his case. He faced life’s troubles in a massive measure. But through it all - the normal aging process, and the fact that he spent himself so willingly for the cause of Christ, and the fact that he suffered so much at the hands of his persecutors - all of that added up to the fact that his outer man is decayed. “Yet,” he said, “our inner man is being renewed day by day.”
You see, he knew what was going on on the inside was really what mattered. In direct correlation to the dying of the outer man was the growth and maturing of the inner man. And that’s what mattered to him, and that’s what made - makes him a man of endurance. He knew that God was at work on the inside, and that God was making all things work together for what? For good, Romans 8:28. The inner man, what is that? That’s the heart, that’s the soul, that’s the real self; that’s the eternal part of us that lives forever, that’s our real being.
It is that part of us that is effected by regenerating grace. It is that highest part of our immaterial being, capable of being the temple of the Holy Spirit, capable of being the dwelling place of Jesus Christ. It is that part of us that is made into a new creation. It is what Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3 calls the new self. It is the new creation, created after Christ Jesus. It is the life of God within us. It is the spirit, of Romans 7, that desires the law of God and loves it. It is that inner man.
And Paul is saying, though trouble, and suffering, pound and destroy the outer man, the redeemed, regenerated, inner being is constantly renewed. That’s a present continuous work also. At the same time the outer man is decaying, the inner man is being renewed, over and over, renewed, and renewed, and renewed, and renewed. As Paul says it in Ephesians 3:16, the inner man is being strengthened by the Holy Spirit; the inner man is being strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
And as that inner man is being strengthened, it says in Ephesians 3, Christ will settle down and be at home in you, and you will be filled with the love of Christ which passes knowledge. And then you will be filled with all the fullness of God, and then you will be able to do exceeding, abundantly above all you can ask or think, according to the power that is at work in you. Paul said, “I’m more concerned about that. I’m not concerned about what happens to me physically; I am concerned about what happens to me spiritually.”
And only God can reach and renew the inner man; that is the realm of the Spirit’s operation. And when that happens, then Christ is at home; then love fills the life, then God fills the life, then power fills the life. That is why at the end of this letter - as we have noted several times, and I note it again in chapter 12, verse 10 - he says, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I’m weak, then I am strong.”
“When I am physically weak, I am spiritually strong. I am bearing in my body the dying of Christ, but in the same token, the life of Christ is being manifest.” Surely it is the same truth that was in the heart of the prophet Isaiah, when he wrote those familiar and marvelous words in chapter 40 of his prophecy, starting in verse 28: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.
“He gives strength to the weary. To him who lacks might, He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary.” And Isaiah is talking about in the spiritual dimension. God is present in all our troubles.
And as we engage in the issues of life, and the troubles of life, and as we are assaulted by the natural processes of life, and by the difficulties in carrying out our Christian walk, and as we are assaulted by persecution, and whatever else comes to debilitate us, we must take our eyes off that, and realize that in the mercy, and the goodness, and the grace of God, there is an ever-increasing work of the Spirit of God in the inner man that is making us stronger, and that’s what you have to focus on.
And your troubles, and your trials, and the pain of life, and the difficulty, are contributors to the inner strength. Why? Because they drive you to God. When Paul was being assaulted he went to God, and he found there spiritual strength. When he had nothing left in his own strength to minister, he leaned on the Spirit of God, and the infusion of divine energy made him a powerful person. That’s why it’s such a tragic thing to take older saints of God, older ministers of God, older godly Christians, and put them on the shelf because they are physically weak, when, in truth, they are perhaps spiritually stronger than the rest.
In 1 Peter, chapter 5, and verse 10, Peter puts it this way: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of grace...will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Paul, even though he says to the Philippians, “I have suffered, and I have suffered greatly,” he says this: “I have been hungry, and suffered need, but I can do all things through Him who” - what? – “strengthens me.” And when he came to the end of all of his resources, as I read to you earlier in 2 Timothy, and no one was there to help him, and he stood before the lion’s mouth, “the Lord strengthened me,” he said; “the Lord strengthened me.”
Beloved, let me put it to you as simply as I can. It is the trials in your physical life that lead you to spiritual strength. Suffering is directly connected to spiritual growth. You’ve seen it, so have I. You’ve seen it when someone is told that they have a terminal disease, and as you spend time with that individual, you are astounded at the spiritual strength they manifest. Because it forces them to take their eyes off the physical, and they are left with only the spiritual to be concerned about, and therein lies spiritual strength.
You will endure when you value the inner man over the outer, when you value spiritual strength over the physical. What does it matter? Of what consequence is it what happens to you physically? It is only significant because it produces inner strength. That’s how you live a life that is above your troubles, when you are more concerned about the spiritual than the physical. There’s a second secret of endurance, a second heavenly reality, in looking at earth’s trials.
Paul says this: “You will endure not only when you value the spiritual over the physical, but you will endure when you value the future over the present.” This is also important, essential; look at verse 17: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” Now, here is another feature of the heavenly look that gives endurance; endurance through all trials and persecution, and all pain and suffering. And here at this point, I have to just inject, Paul towers over his enemies.
He towers over his troubles, because they can’t touch him. In fact, rather than hurting him, they are helping him, because all of his troubles are making him spiritually strong, and now we learn, secondly, they are gaining for him a greater weight of eternal glory. In that, he is more than invincible. He has an ascending invincibility, and the more his persecutors persecute him, the greater the weight of glory becomes. They can’t touch him. He transcends them. He is way beyond them. He towers over them. He is impregnable.
In fact, they are contributing to his future glory. They are benefiting him eternally, forever and ever and ever, throughout all of eternity, he will enjoy the reward of his suffering at the hands of his persecutors. The present pain matters so little to him, in light of that great future reality. Perspective here is crucial; absolutely crucial. It is looking at earth through heaven’s eyes. He puts affliction, suffering, pain, persecution on one side of the scale, and as they used to do in weighing things, on the other side of the scale he puts future glory, reward; and the glory is heavier, right?
In fact, he says, “It is an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” The glory is much weightier. That’s what swings the scale for him. It reminds me of the words of Jesus, who said in Matthew 11:30, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is” - what? – “light.” The perspective here is really amazing. Look what he says, in verse 17, “For momentary, light affliction.” Stop there a moment. Momentary? It’s been going on all his life. Light? It doesn’t seem light to me; it seems heavier than anybody else I’ve ever seen.
Affliction is the word thlipsis, pressure, affliction. He was under the pressure all the time, and yet he saw it as momentary - parautika is the word; it means a brief amount of time. You say, “Well, Paul, you had years of it. You’ve had years of it, you’re going through it now, you’ve got more of it to come before you die, and it’s every day. It’s all the time. It never goes away.” “Oh, but it’s just momentary in comparison with the future,” because as James said, “Life is a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes,” right?
This is - this is but a blip on the eternal and endless screen. Not only is it momentary, he says, but it’s light. That is an interesting word, elaphros. It means a weightless trifle, a nothing, fluff - it’s nothing. Now, you say, “Well it’s crushing your life.” Yeah, but it’s nothing; it’s nothing. From an earthly perspective, it was something; it was severe, relentless, and we might even say, from an earthly perspective, it was horrendous and overwhelming. But for Paul, who didn’t have an earthly perspective, it was a trivial annoyance; that’s all, nothing more.
Go to Romans, chapter 8, and you’ll hear him give the same perspective. In Romans 8:17, he says we suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified with Him, and then in verse 18, Romans 8:18 - this is a tremendous testimony to Paul - “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” There’s the point; it becomes trivial when compared with future glory. Certainly, persecution is inevitable, and it is real; but it really doesn’t matter in the light of eternity. It only contributes to eternal glory.
In fact, our eternal glory - which is our capacity to serve God, to serve Christ, to glorify, to praise Him in heaven - our eternal glory is measured out in relation to our willingness to suffer. That’s right. “All that will live godly,” 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “will suffer persecution.” In 1 Peter, chapter 1, says that, “Now for a little while, if necessary, you’ve been distressed by various trials, but look ahead to the time when you will be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
There is a relationship between suffering and glory, and that is exactly what Paul looked at. Now, look, pain is pain. I’m not a Christian Scientist. Christian Science people go around saying, “There’s no pain, there’s no pain, there’s no pain,” even when there is pain. We’re not doing some mind-over-matter gymnastics here. Pain is pain, and suffering is suffering, and a scar is a scar, and a rock is a rock, and a rod is a rod, and a whip is a whip, and defamation of character is defamation of character, and assassination of someone’s integrity is that.
Pain is real. Suffering is real. We admit it’s real, we don’t deny its reality. What Paul says we deny is that it matters. It is real, but it isn’t important. It is a trivial annoyance. On one hand, it is light and momentary, and then on the other hand, it is far more than that, because it is producing for us an eternal weight of glory. It is having a positive effect. Physical suffering, defamation, disappointment, all the things the man suffered, were producing something. It isn’t that they were meritorious, but they were productive.
“Our trouble,” he says, “has a causal effect on our future glory. It is producing, it is causing.” I mean, he’s saying there’s a direct correspondence. The more I suffer, the greater my eternal glory. That’s right. They are connected, and it is producing an eternal weight of glory. It means a mass of it, something heavy that tips the scale. The word is baros; it means heavy. The scale is tipped in favor of that which is in the future, rather than that which is in the present. “I’ll take the present pain,” he says.
Certainly, God is not overcome by evil, and neither are His people. Take the cross; there’s the greatest illustration of how suffering is related to glory. The greatest suffering that ever occurred in the universe occurred on the cross, is that not true? And the greatest glory that has ever been given was given in response to that suffering. In Philippians, chapter 2, it says, “Jesus endured the cross...Therefore God gave to Him a name which is above every name.” So, the highest glory was reserved for the One who suffered the most.
There’s always a correspondence between suffering and glory. When, in Matthew chapter 20, James and John came with their mother to Jesus, they asked a question. The mother said to Jesus, “I’m here to ask You a favor for my sons, James and John. Could they please sit on the right and the left hand in the Kingdom? Could they have the elevated positions in the Kingdom? Could you please put them in the chief places?” That is to say, “Could you honor them the most, give them the most glory, give them the most prominent position?”
To which Jesus replied, “Are they able to drink the cup which I drink?” What cup? Clearly, the cup that He drank was the cup that He was about to drink, to which He referred in the Garden of Gethsemane when He said to the Father, “Let this cup pass from Me.” What was it? It was the cup of wrath; it was the cup of suffering. Jesus was saying, “Oh, you want them to sit in the most prominent place? Then can they suffer the most severe suffering?” The greater the suffering, the greater the eternal glory.
Prominence is for those who suffer the most. That’s who it belongs to. And so, there is a direct correlation between suffering in this life and glory in the next, and that was the perspective that Paul had. In 1 Peter 4:13, “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice.” To the degree that you suffer, you will rejoice when you get to glory, because you’re going to see the reward of that suffering.
What does that eternal glory mean? Does it mean we’re going to be bigger, or have a bigger mansion, or a bigger halo, or a shinier face? No. It means that we will have a greater capacity to praise God, and a greater capacity to serve God, and a greater capacity to glorify God. It has to do with the greatness and the enlarging of our capacity. I don’t think anybody there is going to miss anything. I don’t think anybody there is - is going to know anything that would cause them to feel inadequate, or second class.
I think everyone will be like Christ, everyone will be perfect, in the perfection of heaven. And yet there will be a variation in capacities for glorifying God, though each capacity in itself will fully satisfy the redeemed and glorified saint. But Paul is desirous of having the greatest capacity, because of his love for the Lord. So, he says, there is in the glory to come a weight, a reward far beyond all comparison. That is an interesting phrase – huperbolē eis huperbolē - hyperbole upon hyperbole.
You know what a hyperbole is? It’s an exaggeration. Exaggeration upon exaggeration, overstatement upon overstatement. What he’s saying is, there is a weight of glory that is beyond all beyond, that is beyond all limits, that exceeds all limits, and far beyond all comparison is a good translation. And by the way, it’s the very same term that is used back in chapter 1, verse 8, where he says, “We were burdened excessively beyond our strength.” So, he is saying, “We suffered beyond all comparison, and we will be glorified beyond all comparison.”
Paul’s saying, “Time is short, a little brief moment, and what you suffer here is a trivial thing, fluff. You’ve got to look at the end result; be willing to suffer, because it produces an eternal weight of glory.” Now, let me give you a footnote right here. The only suffering that produces this eternal weight of glory is that suffering which is for the sake of Christ or honors Christ. It doesn’t mean that every pain in life, when you get illnesses, or disease, or divorce, or disappointment, or poverty, or pain, or loneliness, that all of that produces an eternal weight of glory.
But that which comes to us as a result of our Christian life, our witness, our testimony, our faithfulness, our loyalty, our commitment to Christ; that’s what gains the eternal weight of glory. And I think as well, there will be reward added to that eternal weight of glory for those who suffer just the issues of life - disease, divorce, poverty, pain, loneliness, et cetera - but do it with a spirit of gratitude, and a spirit that wants to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of it. I think that, too, gains eternal reward.
But for all suffering in this world for the sake of Jesus Christ, and for all suffering that glorifies His name, there will be an eternal reward that is far more weighty than any light, momentary affliction we have here. You have to keep it in perspective. Paul says in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things above, and not on things on the earth.” Get your perspective where your perspective needs to be. Remember what he said to the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 2:9: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which has not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those that love Him.”
Look at the glory which is to come. Paul, you remember, felt that tremendous vision of that glory, and talked about it back in verses 14 and 15; the day Jesus would raise us up and present us with you. The day when we would give thanks abounding to the glory of God in His presence. That’s where he looked; to the future. Paul endured. He endured the worst, because he was more devoted to the spiritual than the physical, and to the future than the present.
And lastly, he tells us another secret to endurance: you will endure when you value eternal realities over temporal; when eternity and what is eternal is more important to you than time and what is temporal. Verse 18 - this is a very important statement: “while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Paul says, “We endure, we persevere joyously, contentedly, hopefully, patiently, in the midst of all our pain, and we endure because we value what is eternal over what is temporal.”
That first little phrase in verse 18, very crucial - “while we look” - that’s an excellent translation. “While we look” - listen now - the only way you can endure, the only way you can put the spiritual over the physical, and the future over the present, is while you look. That’s the key idea. This has a conditional force. As long as you look, as long as your gaze is fixed in the right place. Such endurance, such vision of the spiritual and the future, is not automatic. It demands a constant look, at what?
Not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. If you’re going to be able to focus on what is spiritual and not physical, what is future and not present, you’re going to have to look at what is invisible and not visible. He says, “We don’t look at the things which are seen, which,” he says, “are temporal.” That’s a word associated with the word time, that belong to time. What does he mean? Anything that belongs to time. What does that mean? Anything that begins and ends with time; anything. Anything that perishes.
And we know what’s going to perish - the whole universe, right? And with it everything that’s in it, and God will create a new heaven and a new earth. Anything that is not eternal; that’s what he means. You say, “Well, what’s eternal?” God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the souls of men. That’s the only issues to him. The one other group of beings that are eternal are angels; holy angels are fixed in their glory, and demons are fixed in their wickedness, forever. Paul’s concern is for God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the souls of men, that are eternal.
All the objects, possessions, all the ideas, systems, standards, ambitions, achievements, that are part of the passing world order, it didn’t matter a bit to him. If he never had a fortune, if he never had a bank account, if he never had a house and estate, if he never started an organization or belonged to one, if he never had a respected career, a place of prominence, fame, celebrity, earthly accomplishment, it didn’t matter to him.
Frankly, to the world he was a colossal failure, and I’m sure somebody perhaps said - or many people may have said - “You know, he might have been something in his life, if he’d have turned another direction or stayed where he was. After all, he was highly educated in a Hellenist culture as well as Jewish culture; he was a Pharisee who knew the law inside out and backwards, extremely religious, prominent among the Pharisees because he was a persecutor of Christians.
“A highly educated man, a man with a good mind, a man who could have made a humanitarian contribution or a philanthropic contribution to culture and society, might have had a place in the world, a moment in the sun. He might have made a difference somewhere in somebody’s life, or might have been a point at which society made a turn somewhere; could have been a fulcrum on which some significant turning occurred. Poor guy. Colossal failure, wasted life, bounces from jail, to jail, to jail, to jail, hostility everywhere he goes.
“Leaves a trail of devastation all over the place, has everybody, religious and irreligious, mad at him. He's going to end up with his head on a block, getting his head chopped off. Sad. The man had some talent, could have achieved something.” Well, that would have been a worldly evaluation of the man; probably still is. Maybe he could have had a career, made some money, been famous, gained some prestige, had some possessions, entered into political power. It didn’t matter. He didn’t look at things that are seen; they didn’t interest him.
What interested him, what consumed him, what he lived for, was the things he couldn’t see. He was more concerned with the invisible world than the visible world. Boy, that is a – that is an essential reality in terms of being an enduring Christian, because what he couldn’t see was what was eternal: God. And he lived for God, and worshiping, and adoring, and glorifying, and honoring God. And his heart just poured out benedictions and doxologies toward God. You see them periodically through his letters, in times of passionate prayer toward God.
And he loved Christ, and his focus in life was to become like Jesus Christ. ”Be ye followers of me as I am of Christ.” And Christ was the goal of his life, and he pressed toward the goal of being like Christ. Christ was everything; for him, to live was Christ, and to die was gain. And then there was the Holy Spirit; he lived for the power of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, the manifestation of the Spirit in his life. And he lived for the souls of men. He was so zealous for the lost Jews that he could have wished himself accursed if they could be saved.
If, somehow, he could forfeit his salvation to gain theirs, he could almost wish to do that. And he had a passionate desire for the souls of Gentiles as well, and he put his life on the block, as you know, to reach the Gentiles with the gospel to which he had been called. He was concerned about the souls of believers and Christians, and day in and day out, day after day, night and day, he prayed for their sanctification. He lived in the invisible world. He was concerned with the invisible realm. He looked beyond the temporal to the eternal.
That’s how you endure. Like Moses, he endured by seeing Him who is invisible. He lived out what Jesus said. He laid up his treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt, and thieves don’t break through and steal. He laid it up in heaven. There’s only one way to do that, and that’s to send it up there in the form of souls. He used his money, as he says in Luke 16:9, to buy people for the kingdom; that is, to expedite the proclamation the truth, to pay for ministry.
There’s the secret of endurance. The secret is focusing on the inner man not the outer man, focusing on the spiritual and not the physical. The secret is to look to the future not the present, to take your eyes off present pain, and look at future glory. And the secret is to be consumed with what is invisible and not what is visible; to give your life to what will never perish, not what will perish. Place the unseen far above the seen, the future far above the present, and the spiritual far above the physical.
And when you do that, you will be able to say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Father, we thank You for this great truth. We thank You for this tremendous gift: three verses given to us to strengthen us, to show us the path of endurance. We thank You for the testimony of this marvelous man, and for his inspired words to us. Help us to endure by seeing Him who is invisible. Help us to see beyond the mundane.
Help us to tower over the suffering of this life. May we so live that the pain that comes, the trouble that comes, will only produce a greater weight of glory; will only produce spiritual strength, and a passion for the invisible and the eternal. Father, what a privilege to live in the light of eternity, in the prospect of heaven. Thank You for such saving grace and promise, and we wait for that day when we stand in Your presence, and become all that we long to be, and all the physical is gone.
In glorified form, we stand before You, and all the present is gone, and all the perishing is gone, and we enter into light and glory forever. Father, we await that day; may we live in the constant anticipation of it, loving the appearing of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
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