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
2 Corinthians 4:16 begins with an assertion: “So we do not lose heart.”
- It is the theme of the passage.
- It is the theme of the chapter.
2 Corinthians 4:1 says, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.”He ends the chapter where he begins: “We do not lose heart.” “Lose heart” means to be exhausted, spiritless, or weary.
- It is a farmer who becomes so exhausted he quits his work.
- It is a soldier who becomes so discouraged he retreats from the battle.
To lose heart is to grow fainthearted to the point of giving up. Luke 18:1 says, “They ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Paul testifies with spiritual resolve: “So we do not lose heart.” Would-be leaders in the church at Corinth challenged Paul’s ministerial credentials. They claimed he was weak and experienced more suffering than success. Paul agreed with his enemies.
- His weakness was the platform for God’s strength.
- His suffering was the platform for God’s glory.
The proof is that Paul did not lose heart. 2 Corinthians 11:22-28 recounts Paul’s sufferings for Christ: “with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 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, dangers 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 many 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.”
A fraction of these sufferings would cause the average person to give up. Paul’s indomitable spirit was not personal fortitude. Spiritual realities and resources undergirded his faith that are available to all who trust Christ. You may not face the variety, intensity, or severity of Paul’s sufferings. We all face quitting points. Faith does not prevent this temptation. We will be tempted to lose heart.
- You cannot control your reality.
- You can control your response.
During a flight from Portland, Maine, to Boston, pilot Henry Dempsey heard a noise at the rear of his small aircraft. As he went to investigate, the plane hit an air pocket, and Dempsey was tossed against the tail section. The rear door had not been properly latched. As it flew open, Dempsey was sucked from the jet. When the co-pilot made an emergency landing, they found Dempsey holding the outer ladder of the aircraft. Somehow, he caught the ladder, held on for ten minutes as the plane flew 200 mph at 4,000 feet, and survived the landing. It took several minutes to pry his fingers from the ladder.
Turbulence in life will place you in precarious situations where you have two choices: Give up or hold on. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 gives three reasons to hold on no matter what.
The Process of Inward Renewal
Verse 16 describes a contradictory process taking place within us.
The outer self is wasting away. Verse 16 says: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” “Outer self” is one of several ways Paul describes physical life in this chapter.
- Verse 7 calls it “jars of clay.”
- Verse 10 calls it “the body.”
- Verse 11 calls it “our mortal flesh.”
Verse 16 calls it the “outer self.” – life in physical bodies. Wasting away may refer to Paul’s labors for Christ and battles for the gospel. It primarily refers to the present, constant, and inevitable process of physical deterioration every person experiences. Genesis 3:19 says, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
This is the fate of every descendent of Adam and Eve – not just the old, sick, or dying. Young people are filled with life, health, strength, vitality, and hope. But Ecclesiastes 12:1 warns: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.”
“Apoptosis” describes how 50-70 billion cells die in the average adult daily. Diet and exercise will not halt our steady march to the grave. Those who claim they are getting better, not older, comfort themselves with a lie. The fact that the outer self is wasting away rebukes our cosmetic culture. We nip and tuck to give the allusion of youth, beauty, and vitality. We are still wasting away.
Isaiah 40:6-8 says, “A voice says, ‘Cry!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
The inner self is being renewed. Verse 16 says, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”Paul was becoming old, tired, and weak. This process was intensified and accelerated by his sufferings for Christ. Yet a paradox was at work. As the outer self wasted away, the inner self was renewed day by day.
- Physically, Paul was facing death.
- Spiritually, Paul was enjoying life.
A moral transformation took place underneath the skin. Paul was being renewed. New life was growing as his mortal life was dying. This process was repeated day by day.
Colossians 3:10 says, “Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” You may not feel it. But the inner self is being renewed day by day. In the ultimate sense, Christians live Lamentations 3:22-23: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Michelangelo said, “The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.”
Without Christ, the outer self is wasting away, and the inner self is wasting away. Ecclesiastes 1:2 says, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities. All is vanity.”Everything changes when you trust the crucified but risen Savior. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
When Adam and Eve sinned, they died.
- Immediately, they died spiritually.
- Progressively, they died morally.
- Ultimately, they died physically.
This is the crisis of inherited sin. 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Faith in the Second Adam changes everything! Immediately, you are born again. Progressively, you are growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Ultimately, you will live forever in glory.
Our Preparation for Future Glory
Verse 17 states: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” This verse teaches four facts about affliction.
Affliction is real. Affliction is “pressure.” It is not stress. It is life-threatening, faith-stretching, soul-crushing pressure. Christians face affliction.
- We face affliction in spite of our devotion to Christ.
- We face affliction because of our devotion to Christ.
John 16:33 says, “In the world you will have tribulation.” Acts 14:22 says “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Affliction is light. Verse 17 describes affliction as “light.” This seems to be a contradiction. How can affliction be light? The Greek term is used in Matthew 11:30: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The Lord gives burdens. But his burden is light. My father said his father never put two strong or weak mules together. He yoked a strong and weak mule together. The strength of one compensated for the other. The Lord’s burden is light because he carries the heavy part. If the burden of trusting and obeying Jesus seems too heavy, it is because you are trying to carry it on your own. No burden is too heavy if you lean on Jesus.
Affliction is momentary. Affliction is momentary. This is no guarantee your troubles will be brief. Some burdens you will carry for years, decades, a lifetime. Psalm 90:10 says, “The years of our lives are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” In Christ, we have the assurance that trouble won’t last always.
A father makes his daughter spend the afternoon practicing the piano. She would rather be anywhere else. The father makes her continue to practice, knowing that struggle today will produce music tomorrow. Psalms 30:5 says, “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
Affliction is productive. Paul says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Paul is not saying suffering produces salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Affliction is not the way to heaven. Christ is the way. But there is a heavenly reward to be wonor lost. 2 John 8 says: “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.”
Present affliction is spiritual preparation for future glory. If only you knew what God was preparing for you through the troubles, you would not worry, complain, or give up. Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the present sufferings of this present time are not comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”
Our Perspective on Eternal Realities
Verse 18 says: “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” Look is not a casual glance. Alan Redpath wrote: “It is the word you would use if you were to pick up a telescope and try to bring something far away into view and into focus. It is a word that suggests an intense examination, a constant scrutiny, a steady gaze.” The statement carries a conditional force. To endure, focus on invisible and eternal realities.
Focus on invisible realities. Verse 18 says: “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” The distinction here is not between mature Christians and carnal Christians. It is between Christians and non-Christians. Unbelievers look to the things that are seen. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says: “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” You will lose heart if you only look at what you can see. Strength to endure comes to those who look to unseen things. 1 Peter 1:8-9 says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
In 1937, Walk Disney released the first full-length animated movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney artists drew over one million pictures. Each picture flashed on the screen for one-twenty-fourth of a second. At regular speed, the movie-goer had no clue about the work that went into it. Our lives are like that movie. The Lord has put infinite thought, skill, and attention into every detail of our lives. As life runs at regular speed, we cannot see it. But trust God is at work.
Focus on eternal realities. This passage is littered with paradoxical statements.
- The outer self wastes away as the inner self is renewed.
- Our momentary affliction produces an eternal weight of glory.
- We look at things that are unseen, not the things that are seen.
Verse 18 ends with one more paradox: “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Everything we see is transient. It relates to time. It is only temporary. Matthew 19:26 asks, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
In the economy of scripture, the greatest value is attributed to that which lasts the longest. Matthew 6:19-20 says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” We do not look to the things that are seen because the things that are seen are transient. But the things that are unseen are eternal.
1 John 2:15-17 says: “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 desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”