2 Corinthians 4:17, 18 ESV
Jay Thomas, lead pastor at the Chapel Hill Bible Church, taught Resurrection Morning on this Scripture which may seem somewhat off topic, but was in fact directly on topic. In the above verse Paul has the temerity to describe the day-to-day struggles and suffering so many go through as “…light and momentary…” Where does this man get off saying such to those enduring cancer, horrific pain from injury, the loss of a deeply loved spouse, or any of a myriad such that occur every day on this sad planet called Earth? Is Paul mad to say such or just incredibly cruel and heartless?
As with any successful study of Scripture, context is vitally important and such is especially true here as well. Earlier in this same section of 2 Corinthians, Paul states:
“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
2 Corinthians 4:13-15 ESV
If ever there was an example of anyone who suffered throughout the history of Earth, it would be that of Jesus. He is described elsewhere as a man of sorrows acquainted with grief and using such language to describe God seems as mad as Paul’s statement above. But is it? Did Paul and other writers of Scripture have an understanding we often lack? Looking at Paul’s life as an apostle to Christ we see a man who did indeed suffer through beatings and persecution and even an attempted assassination via stoning; yet Paul describes this and all such suffering (earned or otherwise) as “…light and momentary…” Why?
Perspective can lift our eyes from the mud of daily life to the glory and wonder of what is coming; Paul leads up to his dramatic statement above by reminding us of the one truly innocent man who suffered far beyond any imagining and did so not out of duty, but from an overflowing of the love of God toward mankind throughout history, worthy or not. His sacrifice benefits us by extending an invitation to enter into God’s presence throughout eternity when we did nothing to deserve it, often quite the reverse!
“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 ESV
It is all too easy to “…lose heart…” when we or those we love suffer or are treated unfairly, but Paul challenges us here not to lose heart, but to look beyond today into eternity. He seems to be telling us to live for what is to come more than what we may be facing now, this perspective can dramatically affect how we react to any perceived slight or illness. Jay spoke of the difference between looking at an anthill in the plains of West Texas versus the majestic reach of Mount Everest in the Himalayan Mountains. As the writer of Hebrews stated;
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1,2 ESV
Jesus looked forward to what was to come and not only endured, but embraced the cross that He would open the way Home for us and when we focus on eternity, on the “…eternal weight of glory…” to come, we too can lift our eyes from the mud of today into the glory of forever. Years ago I heard a bit of verse that has stayed with me and it seems to fit what Paul is speaking to, so I’ll share it here:
“Two men looked through prison bars, One saw mud, one saw stars” (Oscar Wilde)