James 1:2-4 – My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (NKJV)
Let’s review our major points so far (emphasis mine in all following Bible verses):
- Life is tough simply because we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world. (Gen 3)
- We frequently suffer because of the consequence of our own sin. (Gal 6.7-9)
- The Bible contains ALL the answers we need concerning adversity. (Psalms 19; 2Tim 3.16-17; 2Pet 1.1-3)
- We are not in control of life. (Habukkuk 3.17-18)
- If you walk in the Spirit, God will cause adversity to work for your good. (Romans 8.28)
- Suffering turns head knowledge into heart knowledge. (Job 42:5)
- Adversity brings an opportunity to display the character of Christ so that others might be saved. ( 2Cor 4:8-11; 1 Pet 3:14-15)
- Prayer and singing are a Godly response to tough times. (Acts 16)
- Hardship should make us long for Heaven and to be with Jesus. (Rev. 7:16-17; 1Pet 1:3-5 )
- God uses adversity to transform us into the image of Christ (Heb 12.11;1Pet 1.6-8)
- Tough times pull us back on the right path when we have strayed away (Psa 119.67)
- We accept suffering for Jesus sake and His glory (Luke 6.22)
- Hardship allows us to better relate to and sympathize with others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
- We should always respond to adversity with thanksgiving (1 Peter 4:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
- Tough times give us an opportunity to see God’s faithfulness (Psalm 119:75-77; 1 Thessalonians 5:24)
- Suffering restores our obedience and fellowship (1Corinthians 11.30; 5.5)
- Adversity can preserve and increase our fellowship with God (2Corinthians 12.7; Hebrews 5.8)
A Far Greater Purpose is Served Through Our Suffering
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (NKJV)
These are incredible words of comfort for us when we face the tough times of life. Sometimes when we just pull a single passage from the Scriptures, a promise like this can seem more of a cliché than something that truly applies in everyday life. So let’s back up and take a quick look through Paul’s letter to determine what caused him to write these words.
Second Corinthians is a book that opens up giving three reasons why God permits his children to suffer. The first reason, which we have covered in a previous lesson, is that we suffer in order to be a comfort to others.
2 Corinthians 1:4 – who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (NKJV)
God allows us to face adversity so that we might experience His faithful comfort and then in turn, be able to extend consolation to others. In this sense we submit to God’s will for our lives in that we will bring glory to Him by providing comfort to those around us who are suffering. God is glorified through our suffering, which alone is more than enough reason to consider suffering a blessing (or should be!).
The second reason Paul gives for God permitting suffering is so that we might have confidence in God, or as we phrased it in a previous lesson, that we might see the faithfulness of God.
2 Corinthians 1:10 – who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, (NKJV)
God will never fail to deliver us from our suffering in His timing and to His glory, demonstrating His complete faithfulness to us. He will never allow us to suffer anything that He does not provide the grace and strength to endure… and endure in such a way that glorifies God.
Thirdly, we find that the Lord permits suffering so that we might learn to claim His promises.
2 Corinthians 1:20 – For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. (NKJV)
That is an incredible verse! God’s promises are all true (Yes!) and we can agree with them (Amen!). They will display the glory of God as they are fulfilled through us!
Having laid down the groundwork of why God permits us to suffer, Paul moves on in chapter 2 to explain why plans had changed concerning his visit to Corinth. Paul then expresses his love and concern for the spiritual needs of the Corinthian church.
In chapter 3 Paul contrasts the law of Moses compared to the Gospel of grace. Apparently, there were those in Corinth who were accusing Paul of not being a true apostle, declaring that he did not possess the necessary credentials. Paul uses this accusation as an opportunity to show the difference between Law and Grace.
As well as accusing Paul of not being a true apostle, it seems there were some who were accusing him of preaching for personal benefit. As we get to chapter 4 we find Paul refuting that accusation. In verse one Paul begins by identifying his efforts as “ministry”, not personal ambition. That is the reason the Apostle did not lose heart when he endured severe suffering and persecution for his preaching. If Paul was preaching for personal gain, most certainly he would choose a more comfortable “ambition”.
Paul goes on to say that he had never handled God’s word deceitfully but preached the word plainly and unveiled. In verse seven he declares himself simply an “earthen vessel” that carried a great treasure, which he was delivering on God’s behalf and to His glory. To further prove that he was not using the Gospel for personal gain, Paul proclaimed the inevitable suffering and personal hardship that comes with preaching Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:8-10 – We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. (NKJV)
In verse 10 Paul says that in suffering, we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” and that we who live, verse 11, are always “delivered to death” for Jesus sake (suffering is guaranteed!) so that the life of Christ will be manifested through our mortal bodies.
All of this lays the foundation for today’s verses (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Starting in verse 16 Paul says “therefore” which means “everything that I’m about to say is the reason for what I just finished saying”.
Therefore, because of what suffering accomplishes in your life,
do not give up or become discouraged.
Paul says don’t give up because Christ is manifested through your suffering. Manifested means shown, displayed, revealed. It means that the real person of Jesus Christ can be seen in us by how we respond to, learn and benefit from, adversity. Paul goes on with further encouragement by reminding us that any suffering we endure in this life is but “a light and momentary affliction” compared to what we will receive and experience in eternity.
Learn to have an eternal perspective about suffering.
The suffering we endure now, verse 17, will only last for a short time and is working for us a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory“. Paul tells us to focus on the things that are “not seen” (the eternal benefits) rather than becoming discouraged by focusing on temporary physical circumstances. At the end of verse 18 Paul reveals one of the greatest truths that a Christian can learn:
The things which we can see (this life) are temporary.
The things we cannot see (spiritual life) are eternal.
When you feel burdened by the temporary, focus on the eternal.
If we would genuinely get a hold of that truth then we would be far less prone to become discouraged (or enamored!) with the things of this life. We would not long for or hold onto the “good things” of this world, nor would we be overly concerned or burdened with the bad things. In summary…
The “tough times” which you are facing today are temporary and inconsequential compared to what God is preparing for you in eternity. Learn to filter your feelings and responses through this great truth and the glory of God will overflow from your life. You will be an example of God’s truth and faithfulness to everyone around you. Only then will the “tough times” become the blessing that God intends.
Lord God, Help us to see suffering from an eternal perspective. Thank you for the eternal blessings that you are preparing for us. May our response to suffering bring glory to Your Son, In His name, Amen.
Contemplation: Have you ever meditated about, or pondered the brevity of this life compared to eternity? Compare the “length” of your suffering with the fact that Jesus knew from eternity past what He would come to endure for us on this earth. Do you truly believe that suffering is “worth it” if Christ receives glory through it? What would your PUBLIC answer be if you were asked: ‘which is more important, your comfort, or God’s glory displayed through your suffering?’ What would your SECRET answer be?
Application: I’m the first to admit that all this is MUCH easier said than done, but it is a fact that nothing we suffer now, and no length of time that we may suffer compares to the Lord’s suffering for us, nor be worthy to be compared with the eternal reward God is preparing for us. Easy to think about… hard to live.
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?