2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Greetings and God’s peace everyone — welcome to Tuesday’s edition of EDiBS! Thanks for coming along with me today for Bible Study as we continue to move our way through the letter of 2 Corinthians. Today we’ll be marking the end of our look at chapter 4, so let’s turn there in our Bibles and take some time to be in prayer together as we start.
Lord Jesus, thank you once again for this time to come to you in your Word – and thank you for your promise to work through it to build us up, increase our knowledge, and conform us to your image. Continue, Lord, to transform us by the renewing of our minds, that we may continue to grow in you. In your precious name we pray, amen.
As we get started today, picking up from his remarks yesterday about his confidence as a minister of Christ, Paul continues to share with the Christians in Corinth about the hope he has in the eternal promises of God. Our focus: outwardly wasting away; inwardly being renewed!
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
One of my favorite memories from childhood is the time we would spend at the beach. Whether it was an all-day Saturday excursion or a trip after church on Sunday, we’d head out to Doheny State Beach or Corona Del Mar and enjoy the sun, the sand, and the waves. As a kid, the ocean was something I fully embraced...but it always took a little time to convince myself to enter the water. Why? Any coastal native will tell you the reason: when you first get in, it’s mind-numbingly, literally ankle-numbingly, cold! The shock is total. But if you can weather those first few moments, your body acclimates itself and then for the rest of the day the ocean is your friend. The joy of body surfing or boogie boarding outweighs the momentary affliction of cold water, and you quickly forget the pain you experienced when you first got in. Over time, I learned that it was better to take the plunge and get it over with as soon as we hit the sand rather than pussyfoot around the water for half the day and lose out on so much fun.
In today’s reading, Paul isn’t talking to us about a day at the beach, but he is talking to us in a sense about the cold shock that life can be with its sometimes literally mind-numbing pain. Life in this world, says Paul, is one where we are wasting away. Our bodies are subject to affliction. Our circumstances can be difficult. Our station in life can be a great challenge. Paul knows this because Paul is living it. Paul understands this because Paul is the poster child for what it means to suffer – and specifically, suffer for the gospel…suffer for the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ. To be sure, the gospel has permanently changed Paul, and yet we must also say that the gospel has brought upon Paul a life of trial and tribulation that most of us would not even wish upon our enemies. It’s in this context that Paul speaks in today’s passage, so for a few moments, let’s get into it and parse things out.
Verse 16: Verse 16 lays out the point of fact: outwardly, Paul is wasting away. There’s no question about it. In fact, as we said a couple of sessions ago, Paul’s sufferings are so evident that some of the folks in Corinth see them as proof that his ministry is not legitimate. This is a man going through it on every level. But look at what Paul says in the midst of it: though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day! How can that be?
There’s so much seeming paradox here. On the one hand, Paul began this chapter by declaring, “Since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.” But on the other hand, he’s gone on in the succeeding verses to describe all the death-like sufferings he has to endure in this ministry. It’s almost as if Paul is anticipating the question: “How can you not lose heart?” To answer that, let’s recount how he has packaged all of this. Paul has just explained that his death-like trials have made for more effective, life-giving ministry for the Corinthian Christians. Knowing that fact is huge for him. Another reason why Paul does not lose heart is because though all his suffering takes a toll on the outward man, in his inward man he is being renewed and blessed.
Verse 17: Verse 17 explains this for us in more detail, and once more, we need to realize the substance of what the apostle is actually saying here. Speaking of his and his ministry companions’ personal trials, Paul writes,“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Light and momentary? What kind of light and momentary is he talking about? I’m cheating a little bit by jumping forward in the text, but take a minute and listen to how Paul describes his trials later on in chapter 11:
23b I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
(2 Corinthians 11:23b-28)
Verse 18: Paul sums it up in verse 18 as he talks about the reality of an otherworldly world view: “So we fix our eyes,” he says, “Not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Translation: this world is not all that there is. There is a heavenly home awaiting all who trust in Christ. And though we live temporarily in this world, with bodies outwardly wasting away, experiencing troubles of many kinds, we fix our eyes on the ultimate reality of what we do not yet see, but one day will indeed see in all its glory.
As we wrap up for the day, you may be a person for whom life is especially difficult right now because of your own light and momentary afflictions. I describe them that way not to lessen them or to be insensitive to your plight, but only to encourage you to see and grab hold of the truth of this text. There is an eternal glory awaiting you that outweighs by far anything you are enduring right now, and God will be faithful to carry you through. Hang on. Cry out to your Savior. Place your trust in His mighty, omnipotent hand, and know beyond the shadow of a doubt that He who began His good work in you will carry it on to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Your life is a life in Christ. He will not fail you — ever.
God be your peace, everyone, and I’ll look forward to being with you again next time. Until then, have a great day, and do take care!