The Opportunities Hardships Provide (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Written by Paul J. Bucknell on June, 19, 2019

The Opportunities Hardships Provide (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Turning Trials into Triumphs

“Therefore we do not lose heart.…” I wish we all have learned from the Lord how to live this truth out in our lives! Instead, we have so many troubled people—including Christians—filling the churches around the world. The statistics in America highlight the high number of people—not excluding Christians— facing discouragement, despair, discouragement, worry, anxiety, etc., who have not learned this pivotal lesson of not losing heart.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 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. (2 Cor 4:16-18)

No Room for Despair

A fundamental lesson for believers is to learn that we need not despair but always be filled with hope. Even in the extreme cases of addressing the death of loved ones, the apostle says, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thes 4:13).

The reasons Paul did “not lose heart” is because he knew certain truths about God and His wonderful work—truths which are also true with us as believers. Each of us can and should also master this lesson of “no despair.” No one needs to lose heart. Yes, each of us at specific points will be tested, tried, and perhaps even tempted to give up our hope to live (like Paul 2 Cor 6:9), but we need not lose heart.

Losing heart is similar to losing hope. We no longer possess the spirit to persist, endure and do our best. “Lose heart” describes a perspective of the world where one no longer sees a way forward that works. If we look around and live by sight, we can understand how such conclusions are made and accepted, but those that live by faith live in light of eternal truths and need not despair.

In Light of Eternal Truth

There are several steps to resist the loss of hope despite what trials one faces. The first is to admit to our weaknesses.

Acknowledge Our Weakness

I don’t think we realize the importance of admitting to our weaknesses, but this is exactly where Paul began: “but though our outer man is decaying” (2 Cor 4:16). The outer man no doubt refers to our physical bodies, though perhaps it includes other things such as those elements that are linked to our bodies like our minds and emotions. The secularists only consider the existence of our physical bodies and experiences, denying the spiritual world, but this aversion to spiritual matters was not true back then. In any case, we can fully understand what he means. One sister just fell and broke her shoulder. Others face seasonable allergies. Still others, including me, are aging, and our strength, alertness, and memory, year by year deteriorate. Paul used the word decaying, which represents a decline and worsening of what otherwise was an excellent working system.

By recognizing our weaknesses, though Paul does not elaborate on this point, we can find the strength that we need. Before something can be fixed, we need to study what is wrong, perhaps a broken part. This is the reason doctors take X-rays. I remember looking at my foot’s X-ray depicting the crack in my foot. Helpful advice necessarily mentions one’s weaknesses.

This is true spiritually too because we need faith to come into God’s presence. Satan seeks to make us doubt God’s good intention or His control of the world’s affairs so that our prayers—the real change agent—are ineffective. On the other hand, when we trust God, by fixing our minds on God’s promises, it allows the Spirit to strengthen our faith and enable our souls to entrust our souls to our faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19).

By glancing—not staring—at our weaknesses, we can acknowledge them and seek out our Lord’s strength. When we hide our weaknesses, we tend to unwisely support our complaints with doubts and excuses. When this doubt is put aside, however, and we admit our weakness before the throne in faith, then we can sincerely ask Him for help. Our peace with God (Romans 5:1) brings us to the place of extraordinary faith which in turn leads to awesome fortitude.

3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Our Strength

Without understanding how we get our hope and strength, we will be confused at Paul’s statement, “yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (1 Cor 4:16). Paul reveals the operation of this renewal process in the previous verses of Romans 5:3-5. Paul was well-acquainted with his tribulations—a term which includes every affliction common to the human race. Paul has somehow come to exult “in our tribulations” (Romans 5:3). He continues to express how this works in verses 4-5.

When troubling times come, the great, all-encompassing love of God is poured out through the Holy Spirit. This awesome love provides comfort and strength in our souls so that we persevere in our faith, seeing all sorts of fine fruit. Paul, like us, did not seek for such trials, but when they come, we, like him, also discover a shower of extra grace from God.

Paul refers to this renewal process when he mentions the inner man. While the ability of our bodies can run, defend, or otherwise help our distressful situations, God brings in other resources to outfit our souls—which he refers to here with the term “inner man.”

Paul did not seek such trials, but when they come, we, like him, also discover a shower of extra grace from God.

But Paul doesn’t speak about improved circumstances here. There were no improved circumstances that helped his inner spirit. It was while Paul was in a Philippian jailhouse that he instructed us to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). The joy does not come from good or easy circumstances but from the Lord Himself even though he was unjustly placed in jail.

The Necessity of Proper Theology

Paul speaks about a renewed inner man but does not speak of improved circumstances. Most ‘Prosperity Preachers’ only speak of the joy and confidence that come from an improvement of one’s situation but this is contrary to biblical teaching here and elsewhere. Let’s look carefully at His words.

17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 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. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Faith in God’s Word confers Paul a key biblical mindset that allowed him to see his true circumstances. One cannot see the spiritual world, at least usually, but it doesn’t matter. Paul makes a comparison that is only possible through a deeper understanding of reality, including a picture of the spiritual world and the future.

For example, Paul could only speak about his trials as “momentary, light affliction” because he knew his suffering, though difficult, was quickly passing in light of eternity. The truth of the eternal age, adorned by its glory, makes all the events on earth, especially the difficult ones, as of minute consequence. The little discomfort (though it doesn’t feel that way when enduring it) is seen in the light of the great rewards of the future. The accompaniment of pain can produce an “eternal weight of glory far beyond comparison” if rightly lived out by faith. No pain, no gain—as the old adage goes.

And so, by faith, we see a greater set of truths enclose and swallow up the miseries and injustice experienced on earth. This biblical perspective demonstrates the dramatic way truth can positively affect our lives. By situating each element side by side, that which we experience on earth with the eternal, the suffering becomes incomparable or immeasurable. In other words, we need not be overly concerned with pain like childbirth for the following joy will eclipse the momentary pain experienced.

Something Greater Here

In conclusion, I want to identify the greater principle(s) from these verses. Paul first allows us to be genuinely broken and humbled by our circumstances. Our true identity doesn’t come from how people mistreat us but by how God will treat us in the future. Nor is our worth measured by what we have or don’t have here on earth for our circumstances are temporary. They are momentary when viewed by the greater picture of the eternal world. Besides, God will greatly reward us in the age to come for properly enduring the brief difficulties we suffered here on earth.

So we can use our sickness, loss of limb, fraying mind, and dire poverty to bring glory to God. They all become special opportunities to give praise to Him. Let me give an example. Maybe my arm starts troubling me as I get older. I do what I can to lessen its pain and to make it better, but it remains troubling. So for that indefinite time, God gives me the opportunity to especially praise Him by using my weakness as a prop to praise Him.

“Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

If I live in faith, recognizing His great reward (Heb 11:3), then I can bring glory to His name through the use of my arm. Though I admit my arm hurts, instead of complaining and living focused on its discomfort, I am cheerful and busy as possible serving others. When I see the Lord, my arm’s pain will become a relic from the distant past, but the Lord knows that I used it in pain and faith to comfort or otherwise help other brothers and sisters.

And so the seeming ignoble times become glorifying moments, a time to wrestle our hearts, trust, and minds into a victory of trust in our Lord issuing forth eternal blessings. (I don’t forget or minimize the present blessings of comfort and joy within these times of trials, but my focus is on the eternal here.)

In a blink of an eye, time will end, God will completely erase tears from your lives. God will give His people their new bodies and kindly reward them (which is also pure grace).

“God will wipe every tear from their eyes”

(Rev 7:17; 21:4).

We need to follow up this theological perspective by making life commitments to live by faith and so prepare to embrace any difficulties with the sword faith (Eph 6:17). Our lives become marked men and women of faith, consciously journeying with the others listed in Hebrews 11, taking each hard moment and translating it into a beautiful, God-glorifying picture that further ushers in God’s eternal kingdom and finds eternal remembrance in the rewards you obtain.

Conclusion

No believer’s situation, no matter how difficult or unpleasant, disables the believer from mastering these special opportunities to secure these eternal rewards. Difficult circumstances enable God’s people to gain these rewards at a quicker pace. No one but you can exclude yourself from these rewards. Jesus in John 15 speaks about bearing fruit. We don’t live for the fruit, but it remains an important part of the image of every healthy fruit tree. I know it is easy to get down over our circumstances and blame God for our problems, but the truth—heightened affliction increases our opportunities for eternal reward—lives on. Instead of being glum, we can, like the eagle flying low in the valley, feel the rush of warm air and rise up in faith trusting that, one day, all will be good.

The eternal unseen things — 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Study Questions on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 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. (2 Cor 4:16-18)

  1. Think of one or two people around you, maybe you, who have lost heart. What characteristics best describe them?
  2. Would you say, “lose heart” is the same as lost hope? Explain.
  3. What is our “outer man” (4:16)?
  4. Describe our “inner man.”
  5. How does one’s inner man become renewed?
  6. Why does our inner man need renewing?
  7. Why does Paul use the word “momentary” in verse 17?
  8. Was the “light affliction” light?
  9. Have you ever been hurt or received unjust treatment? How did you respond? How might your experience, if it was not by faith, differ if you responded in faith, considering it as an opportunity to gain reward?
  10. Give three personal examples to prove that you live for the eternal world which cannot be seen rather than this earthly world.

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