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 Cor. 4.16-18
Our outer self is wasting away
In what way is our outer self, wasting away? Of course, this refers to physical decline. Once we pass thirty years old or so, we begin losing ability, physical and mental. This advances more quickly beyond sixty, where we feel our body wasting away.
But the outer self is a bigger matter. It is our whole outward life on earth. As we age we lose friends and family to death. We usually have less work and professional impact. The glories of life, popularity, power, influence, even perhaps wealth, fade with age.
Calvin notes, in his commentary, that this wasting away pertains to all of life.
Calvin.... “For the Apostle intended to comprehend, under this term, everything that relates to the present life. As he here sets before us two men, so you must place before your view two kinds of life ― the earthly and the heavenly. The outward man is the maintenance of the earthly life, which consists not merely in the flower of one’s age, (1 Corinthians 7:36,) and in good health, but also in riches, honors, friendships, and other resources. Hence, according as we suffer a diminution or loss of these blessings, which are requisite for keeping up the condition of the present life, is our outward man in that proportion corrupted. For as we are too much taken up with the present life, so long as everything goes on to our mind, the Lord, on that account, by taking away from us, by little and little, the things that we are engrossed with, calls us back to meditate on a better life. Thus, therefore, it is necessary, that the condition of the present life should decay, in order that the inward man may be in a flourishing state; because, in proportion as the earthly life declines, does the heavenly life advance, at least in believers.”
Our inner self being renewed day by day
How does the dissolution of our outer self strengthen our inner self? Not of necessity but of grace. Many will become embittered with age and loss of ability. But for the believer, as we turn ever more from self-reliance to God-reliance, we are changed, improved with age, but not by age, rather, we are improved by grace.
God’s grace is new to us every day and so we are renewed every day. With each trial and loss of our outer self, our faith grows stronger, our knowledge of the love of God increases, our love for others intensifies, our adherence to God’s Word solidifies, our inner self is renewed.
This is the most important self, for this world, and our lives in it, will eventually pass away, it is all transient. While the things of Christ, the things above, the unseen things of heaven, the Spirit, faith, love, hope, these are all eternal.
Our light momentary affliction
How can Paul dismiss his sufferings with such a wave of his hand? He knew the pains of this world.
“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, danger 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 sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).
How can we count the loss of so much that we hold dear as light momentary affliction? This is not to suggest that we feel less as we age. No, we feel even more. We see more. We know more. We sorrow more. We weep more easily over the sorrows of the world, the pain we see, as well as that we experience directly.
How can he say these are light momentary afflictions? Only because of this: when seen in light of heaven, all that we suffer here, all that we lose here, all that is taken away from us here, is as nearly nothing, a light momentary affliction.
Preparing for us eternal weight of glory
And our sufferings do not have a deleterious impact in our lives, although it may feel that way. Rather our affliction is preparing for us wonderful things. Interestingly it does not say our suffering is preparing us for glory, but preparing glory for us!
The loses here prepare for us this future. Not that our suffering merits reward, that comes by grace. But our loses here are restored there. Our sufferings and service here are rewarded there, by grace.
When we serve the Lord here, obeying him, we are rewarded in heaven, not because our works would ever merit the greatness of the reward, but our works, accepted by grace, are rewarded by grace based on the merit of Christ. “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23-24).
When we sacrifice to serve the Lord here, we receive even more in the life to come. There is recompense for all our loses here made for his sake. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
When we suffer persecutions, slanders, hate for obeying Christ in this world, Jesus tells us to rejoice. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). Your reward is great in heaven. Our affliction here is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory!
The eternal weight of glory
We count our afflictions here light only in comparison to the eternal weight of glory. What a phrase! What becomes clearer to us is the reality of heaven! Heaven--which holds Christ, which holds our loved ones, which holds our future hope--gains weight year by year, even in our reckoning.
What then is the value of heaven gained compared to all these momentary loses? The loses are light, the gains are of eternal weight. A measure that will last forever, a gain that will far, far outweigh the loses!
An heir to a throne loses his apartment. But then as king he receives a castle. It is easy to let go the apartment for a man whose castle awaits him. So, too, our loses here we release more readily with the glory that waits for us.
What glory? Christ, life with him, the saints, fellowship with them, a new body, a sinless heart and mind, meaningful perfect service for God and others, beauty, beauty beyond our senses, health, wisdom, virtue, endless joy with no tears or fears, and yes, wealth, a home in our Father’s mansion. “An eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
So, we do not lose heart!
How could we when we see that affliction here prepares for us an eternal weight of glory. Each loss is recompensed there, and more. Each blow here healed there. Each persecution here rewarded there.
And so we do not lose heart, even as our outer self is wasting away, for we see, as our inner self is renewed day by day, that this relatively light temporary affliction prepares for us glory, glory in heaven, a goodness and joy that is beyond all comparison. Kept waiting for us . . . as we wait, for just a little longer. So, we do not lose heart.