Several years ago, the city of Louisville, KY sold a row of homes on a once high end, now run-down, part of town. These homes probably averaged 5,000-8,000 sq.ft. in size, and were once immaculate.
The houses sold for $1.00 each.
They were sold at this price with the promise that they would then be restored to their original luster by their new owners. Obviously, structural work was needed both internally and externally. Re-enforcements needed to be made; wood needed to be replaced; plumbing and electrical issues needed to be addressed. Certainly, the process was long and difficult.
Whether we realize it or not, our lives are comparable to these dilapidated houses. We are broken. We need to be changed, internally and externally. Christians have been “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20), too—the precious blood of Jesus. Yet, after the purchase has taken place there is MUCH work that needs to occur in our souls to conform us into the image of Christ—hard work, long-suffering work that is often very painful to us personally.
In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 the apostle Paul said the following:
16 …we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self (soul) is being renewed day by day. 17For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
If our souls were compared to a building, we would see scaffolding set up everywhere. In Christ, our souls are constantly under construction; they are constantly being improved, re-enforced, buttressed, strengthened.
The word for “being renewed” in the Greek means “to be changed into a new kind of life as opposed to the former corrupt state.” This renewing certainly comes simultaneously with the breakdown of our bodies.
The Bible teaches two realities about the human condition: Because of sin, our physical death is guaranteed. However, because of the Cross, eternal life in heaven is also guaranteed for the Christian.
Earlier in chapter four Paul talked about his own suffering and said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” If we are honest, even as Christians, when trouble of suffering comes into our lives our natural reaction is to be afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. We don’t see the other side of the coin. The suffering becomes our entire life, and we begin to get afraid about our futures, our families, and the pain we are in or may have to face down the road.
In this passage, Paul is trying to raise our eyes above the level of our circumstances to see our lives in light of eternity. That is why he says, this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.
For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
To some who know & have known great suffering, this description can sound like a slap in the face. It can even sound condescending. For someone who has known the ravages of cancer & disease, prolonged physical or emotional abuse, a mind-crushing depression, Paul’s words can come across as almost mean. Light & momentary? This suffering has been happening to me my whole life! You may say, “Depression has haunted me for the past 60 years,” or “I have lived in a loveless marriage for the past 45 years,” or “I have struggled with homosexual tendencies for as long as I can remember. I want to be different, but I can’t change!! This is not light & momentary!!!!”
Yet, we must remember that Paul is first talking about himself and his afflictions as the result of being faithful to Jesus. Can you imagine what Paul’s body must have looked like—what his back alone must have looked like. Can you imagine that Paul probably suffered from scalding infection, dysentery, utter weakness as the result of being w/o food & water? All of this occurred, not because of a natural disease but b/c he was being faithful to God. He obeyed God, walking in His ways, and still he found himself often being so confused about what he was supposed to do next or where God even was in his life & ministry. He says in 2 Corinthians 11:
I have… 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, from bandits, from my own countrymen, from Gentiles; in the city, in the country, at sea; and 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
Paul was not divorced from his counsel. He was wedded to it, and he says, “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.”
An eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison, or “surpassing to excessiveness.” What is seen may APPEAR to be a very big deal but when compared to what is unseen, what is under the surface, it is dwarfed.
The apostle John, in Revelation 21, says this:
9Then came one of the seven angels… spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
18The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. 19The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.
Can you imagine that—gold so pure that you can look through it as if you were looking through clear glass?? You know that is? It is an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison!!
We have nothing to compare to the glory & purity of what heaven will be or what we will be like in heaven. Even the prophet Isaiah, 700 years before Christ, said this:
11 “O you afflicted one, Tossed with tempest, and not comforted,
Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems,
And lay your foundations with sapphires.
12 I will make your pinnacles of rubies, Your gates of crystal,
And all your walls of precious stones.”
You take everything this world has to offer–all its riches, all its grandeur, all of its majesty, the most breathtaking scenery, the costliest jewels, the greatest gifts & abilities, all of the praise & adoration of humanity, a perfect marriage, a strong body, the most sumptuous food, the finest homes & automobiles, a fully functional/loving family, the most satisfying vacations, the highest of personal achievements—if you had ALL of these things to their fullest IN YOUR LIFE, they would not be worth comparing with the eternal weight of glory that all of your affliction, pain, distresses, & troubles are working within you to prepare you for… All of these things & 1,000 other blessings would not be equivalent to the weight of the dust on the scales in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that Christians are being prepared for.
The way to sing in the fire is to have your eyes lifted above your presence pain to also see the glory that is waiting to be revealed. Today, pray & ask God to help you see beyond your present trouble to see Him working in it.
This article was adapted from the sermon of the same title. You can listen to it here: http://emedialink.com/video/15226/How-to-Sing-in-the-Fire-2-Corinthians-416-18