Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

 

May 27, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

                                                                                

               Lesson II.B.5.b: Confidence in Ministry. (4:16-18)

 

2nd Corinthians 4:16-18 (NKJV)

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.

17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,

18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

 

 

Introduction

This passage contrasts the outward with the inward. Most people automatically read into this passage a distinction between the material physical body with the inner soul. This idea, however, is more of a Western idea. It is clear from the context that Paul was contrasting the temporary with the eternal. He is not merely talking about how the physical body was beginning to waste away. Instead he was speaking about how all the things of this life—his wealth, his influence, his power—were deteriorating. These were temporary in the first place. So this should be expected.

This passage highlights what is permanent, something on which believers can plant their feet and know what is solid. It will always be there, no matter what changes. It is the gospel message that is preparing all believers for eternity with their loving Creator.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.

This is a wonderful verse, but I say this so often that you may think that I love every verse. Well, I admit it; I love every verse!

As we grow older our body seems to die out a little bit at a time. Some mornings I seem to hurt everywhere, thanks to Mr. Arthritis. However, we grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. I recently said to my wife, “I wish I was thirty-five again and knew what I know now.” This old body that I have is dying. I can tell it is, since it hurts all over. I’m ready to trade it in for a new model. It is beginning to waste away, but the inward man is renewed day by day. I feel closer to the Lord today than at any other time in my life. When I was young I had a lot of enthusiasm but I didn’t know very much. I used to stumble a lot and I often failed in my service to the Lord. I was a real ignoramus then. Now I know a little more. I have grown a little down through the years. The poet wrote, “Let me grow lovely growing old.” From the physical point of view life may be a slow but inevitable slipping down the slope that leads to death. But from the spiritual point of view life is a climbing up the hill that leads to the presence of God. No man needs to fear the years, for they bring him nearer, not to death, but to God.

Troubles were besieging him. Opponents were attacking him; but Paul and his colleagues would not lose heart because they knew the Great Power behind their message (2 Co. 3:16-18{2]). And in the midst of it all, Paul saw his inner soul—the part of himself that was destined for eternal life—as “being renewed day by day” (Isa. 40:31{3]; Col. 3:10{4]). The hardships of Paul’s ministry were real; indeed, on occasion Paul can truthfully speak of them as heavy and almost overwhelming (1:8{17]; 11:23-29{18]), and were having their effect. Paul, however, did not gripe or complain about how much he was giving up in order to preach the gospel. Instead, he knew that every trouble, hardship, and difficulty endured for Christ’s sake were making him spiritually new. This occurred day by day, trouble by trouble. Paul saw every difficulty as an opportunity to mature in faith.

As Christians, we must live one day at a time. No person, regardless of how wealthy or gifted, can live two days at a time. God provides for us “day by day” as we pray to Him (Luke 11:3{11]). He gives us the strength we need according to our daily requirements (Deut. 33:25{12]). We must not make the mistake of trying to “store up grace” for future emergencies, because God gives us the grace that we need when we need it (Heb. 4:16{13]). When we learn to live a day at a time, confident of God’s care, it takes a great deal of pressure off of our lives.

Yard by yard, life is hard!

Inch by inch, life’s a cinch!

It is easy to lose heart and quit. We have all faced problems in our relationships or on our jobs that have caused us to want to think about laying down the tools and walking away. Instead of giving up when persecution wore him down, Paul allowed the Holy Spirit to strengthen him within (Eph. 3:16{5]). Don’t let fatigue, pain, or criticism force you off the job. Renew your commitment to serving God. Don’t forsake your eternal reward because of the intensity of today’s pain. Your very weakness allows the resurrection power of Christ to strengthen you moment by moment. When you live by faith in Christ, you get the right perspective on life.

Paul never spent much time looking back at the past, but instead spent most of his time looking ahead. Paul had faced suffering and death as he preached the Good News. But he knew that one day his trials would be over and that he would attain God’s rest and rewards. As we face great troubles, it’s easy to focus on the pain rather than our ultimate goal. Just as athletes concentrate on the finish line and ignore the discomfort, we too must focus on the reward for our faith and the joy that lasts forever. No matter what happens to us in this life, we have the assurance of eternal life, when all suffering will end and all sorrow will flee away (Isa. 35:10{1]).

 

17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,

The apostle makes another contrast. Down here we seem to have a lot of trouble, and, doesn’t it seem to last a long time? It seems so hard at the time, but when we begin to measure it by the weight of glory that is coming someday, it is a light affliction compared to that weight of glory. Someone has said, “At eventide it shall be light.” “. . . we spend our years as a tale that is told” (Ps. 90:9). Our years pass as “. . . a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4). “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment (for a short while), is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Earth’s suffering will be forgotten in the glory of heaven.

Paul knew that nothing in this life lasts forever. Paul knew that the hardships he endured was a slight momentary affliction in comparison to how long he would enjoy God’s presence. He concluded, therefore, that the troubles of this world are an extremely light burden compared to the eternal weight of glory. Millions, billions, and trillions of years do not even compare to the length of infinite time.

We must not misunderstand this principle and think that a Christian can live anyway he pleases and expect everything to turn into glory in the end. Paul was writing about trials experienced in the will of God as he was doing the work of God. God can and does turn suffering into glory, but He cannot turn sin into glory. Sin must be judged, because there is no glory in sin. Of itself, suffering will not make us holier men and women. Unless we yield to the Lord, turn to His Word, and trust Him to work, our suffering could make us far worse Christians. In my own experience, I have seen some of God’s people grow critical and bitter, and go from bad to worse instead of “from glory to glory.” We need that “spirit of faith” that Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 4:13—“And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak.”

Our judgment of things depends upon the background against which we see them. Each of us has in the mind a background of ideas and beliefs in the light of which we make our judgments. If we have no belief in God or a future life, if we know nothing of Christ, if our view of the world is that it is merely a mechanical process without spiritual value or purpose, everything will be covered by this outlook. Trouble will be a disaster; pain will be a calamity; and sorrow a tragedy. But if we have the Christian view, the sufferings of earth will be no more than the chisel strokes of the sculptor, forgotten in the beauty of the statue which is being shaped from the marble. With this in mind, may I say to you that no background to a man’s thinking is complete which does not contain the story which the Bible tells? Without it our tradition of freedom is hanging in the air, and our moral standards have no solid foundation. When Paul looked at his life, he saw it always in light of one transforming experience—the meeting with the living Christ on the Damascus Road.

What does the apostle mean by the “eternal weight of glory” to which our light affliction is leading the believer? It cannot be clearly seen from the perspective of the living, because the Bible doesn’t fully develop the picture we have of heaven. The word “weight” suggests a balance scale with all the afflictions put in one side of the scale, and the glory, the blessings and privileges in the other; the latter will by far outweigh the trials (Rom. 8:18{10]). We are told in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” “The things which God has prepared” are waiting to be received by us like home awaits the traveler. The Book of Revelation shows us what strength this prospect gave the early Christians in face of a world that threatened to crush them. Even Jesus endured the cross in light of the joy set before Him. Against this background of the future glory, the trials of life and all the buffeting of circumstance appear in their true perspective. They are a slight momentary affliction.

 

 

18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things

which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Paul is saying, “We are not to fix our gaze on the things which are seen. These things that we see around us are all passing away. The things which are not seen are eternal.” Present day society is constantly changing. Change is expected, and people spend their lives trying to keep ahead of the changes in their workplace. Perhaps the best example we have today is the development of the computer—the technology is constantly evolving and something better is always on the horizon.

If we would only see the visible world the way the Lord wants us to see it, we would never be attracted by what it offers (1 John 2:15-17{14]). The great men and women of faith, mentioned in Hebrews 11, achieved what they did because they “saw the invisible” (Heb. 11:10, 13-14, 27{15]). Again, we must not press the truth to the extreme and think that “material” and “spiritual” oppose each other. When we use the material according to God’s will, He transforms it into the spiritual, and this becomes part of our treasure in heaven. We value the material because it can be used to promote the spiritual, and not for what it is in itself.

Someone may ask, “How can you look at things that are invisible? By faith, when you read the Word of God. We have never seen Christ or heaven, yet we know they are real because the word of God tells us so. Faith is “the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1{7]). Because Abraham looked for the heavenly city, he separated himself from Sodom; but Lot chose Sodom because he walked by sight and not by faith (Ge. 13; Heb. 11:10{16]).

What really matters—what is eternal and permanent—cannot be seen, touched, or measured. Only with the eyes of faith can people look . . . at what cannot be seen. Only with eyes of faith can they begin to understand, with God’s help, the eternal significance of their actions. A believer’s help is not in this world. A Christian’s help is not in the power and wealth that can be accumulated on earth. Instead, a Christian’s hope is in Christ—someone who cannot be seen at the present moment (Rom. 8:24{6]; Heb. 11:1{7]). Nevertheless, Jesus Christ and His significance to every person’s life is real enough. That is why Paul encourage the Corinthians to live by faith and not by sight (5:7{8]). The Corinthians were to take their eyes off of this world—for what can be seen is temporary—and place them on the Almighty, the One who possessed all power. They were to invest in what was permanent and eternal and would withstand the unpredictable changes of life, in heavenly treasures that would never deteriorate (Luke 12:33{9]).

I think of the changes that have taken place right here in Laurens county, South Carolina since Sierra and I moved here in 2001. Many of the wonderful Christians I met have passed away. Churches that were thriving at the time have become mere shells of their former state, where only senior citizens worship. The city is different—some of the old buildings have been torn down and many others stand empty because the business has failed in this depressed economy—everything is different. The things which are seen are passing away. The things which are not seen, those are the things of eternal value, and they are beginning to loom larger and larger. “For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Evil is still unconquered. The condition of the world today would fill us with despair if we saw nothing else. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels . . . crowned with glory and honor. . .” (Heb. 2:9). Stephen looking at the world around him in the hour of his death, saw a ring of savage men tossing stones on his prostrate body. Had he seen nothing else his spirit might have failed him, but he looked up and saw, “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55), and courage and faith filled his soul. His persecutors had no power over his spirit. Their stones became like the hammer strokes which nailed Christ to the cross. His suffering was for Christ and with Christ, and his response to this situation was a prayer like Christ’s for the forgiveness of his enemies.

Paul’s final word, “the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal,” sums up the Christian outlook with regard to the events and circumstances of this material world. Sorrow and suffering may be depressing and painful, but they belong to a world that is passing away. The triumph of evil is only temporary. So also are the honors, the material successes, and the pleasures which men value. But the unseen things—the love God has for us, the triumph of Christ, the kingdom of God, the character which is the fruit of the Spirit—all these are eternal. They are not at the mercy of change or decay. They continue forever.

Our troubles should not diminish our faith, or disillusion us. We should realize that there is a purpose in our suffering. Problems and human limitations have several benefits:

  • They remind us of Christ’s suffering for us.

  • They keep us from pride.

  • They cause us to look beyond this brief life.

  • They prove our faith to others.

  • They give God the opportunity to demonstrate His power.

  • They bring an eternal reward.

Our ultimate hope when we are experiencing terrible illness, persecution, or pain is the realization that this life is not all there is—there is life after death! Knowing that we can live forever with God in a place without sin and suffering can help us live above the pain we experience in this life.

My friend, I am looking for that city whose builder and maker is God. I love Laurens, and I love South Carolina, but I can truthfully say that I am now looking for another city. Of course, the unsaved world thinks we are odd—perhaps even crazy—because we insist on the reality of the unseen world of spiritual blessing. Yet Christians are content to govern their lives by eternal values, not temporary gratification.

 

Scripture reference and special notes

 

{1] (Isa. 35:10) And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

{2] (2 Co. 3:16-18) Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

 

{3] (Isa. 40:31) But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

 

{4] (Col. 3:10) and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,

 

{5] (Eph. 3:16) that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,

 

{6] (Rom. 8:24) For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?

 

{7] (Heb. 11:1) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

 

{8] (2 Co. 5:7) For we walk by faith, not by sight.

 

{9] (Luke 12:33) Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.

 

{10] (Rom. 8:18) For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

 

{11](Luke 11:3) Give us day by day our daily bread.

 

{12] (Deut. 33:25) Your sandals shall be iron and bronze; As your days, so shall your strength be.

 

{13] (Heb. 4:16) Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

{14] (1 John 2:15-17) Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

 

{15] (Heb. 11:10, 13-14, 27) for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.

 

{16] (Heb. 11:10) for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

 

{17] (2 Co. 1:8) For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.

 

{18] (2 Co. 11:23-29) Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?

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