“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV
In this passage, Paul referred to his light and momentary afflictions, or troubles. If you know anything about Paul’s life, you might wonder how he could say that. His afflictions seem to be anything but light and momentary. This article will look at Paul’s afflictions and try and understand how he could call them light and momentary.
Everyone experiences affliction in their life to one extent or another. Afflictions are simply troubles. Challenging circumstances, unpleasant situations, difficult people in your life, physical or emotional abuse, and many more. Troubles are a fact of life that we all experience. Sometimes we endure them. And other times, we can take action to resolve them.
But I do not believe that Paul was referring here to the general afflictions of life. I believe he was referring more specifically to the afflictions, or persecution, that believers face because of their testimony for Christ. In John 15:18-21 Jesus told his disciples that they would be hated by the world because they were followers of Jesus. And, in 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul says that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
As believers, if we are faithful to Christ’s call in our lives, we will face trouble in the world. Not just the troubles that everyone else faces. But troubles that come to us specifically because of our stand for Christ. We should not be surprised when we experience trouble because of our faith. Instead, we should be surprised if we do not.
Later in this letter to the Corinthian church, Paul detailed some of the light and momentary afflictions that he had experienced. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, Paul recounts his imprisonments, beatings, stoning, shipwrecks, dangers, hard labor, sleeplessness, hunger, and exposure. Paul’s life as an apostle was anything but easy. It is hard to imagine persevering through all of that.
And yet, Paul was not discouraged. He was not contemplating retirement or another line of work. In fact, in this passage, he was boasting about his affliction. Either Paul had some serious mental issues, or he knew something that many others had not discovered. And the passage at the top of this article would point us to the latter as being true.
Fixing Our Eyes on the Eternal
So, what was Paul’s trick? How was he able to make light of the challenges and physical abuse he faced? I believe it is a matter of perspective. For a person born and raised in Florida, any elevated piece of land might be called a mountain. But a person living on the West Coast of the U.S. will have a different perspective. With peaks of 10-14,000 feet visible from much of the west coast, Florida’s 345-foot high point seems pretty insignificant.
So, for Paul, the troubles he faced were insignificant. Because he had a vision of something much better that he was moving toward. Paul describes two realities. One is the world that is seen around us. The other is the unseen world of the spirit.
Paul described the seen world as temporary. It will not last. All that it contains, including its struggles, will someday go away. But the unseen world is eternal. It will never come to an end.
Putting Our Troubles on the Scale
Paul visualized a balance scale. In the pan on one side were the challenges he had faced in sharing the gospel. And in the other pan was the glory that he knew awaited him. Glory that would come, at least in part, as a result of the challenges he had faced. And now, on the balance, he weighs them. And the glory that is to come so outweighed his current troubles that he was able to make light of his current situation. They were not even worth comparing.
It bears repeating. Paul’s ability to make light of his light and momentary afflictions was because his focus was not on what was happening to him. Instead, it was on that eternal unseen future. A future that was being enhanced by his current afflictions. So, you might imagine Paul saying, “Bring it on.”
How to Respond to Affliction
I believe that there is much to be gained by taking Paul’s message to heart. First, it will help us in our day-to-day walk with Christ to remain faithful. If our focus is more on the eternal rather than the present, but temporary, then we can more easily endure whatever may come our way. And not just endure, but rejoice, knowing that God will use it for our good.
And, more importantly, Paul pointed out that our suffering for Christ in this life produces far greater glory in eternity. ‘No pain no gain’ is a common expression among those in physical training. But how much more appropriate is it for those who are exercising godliness (1 Tim. 4:8). The ‘light and momentary troubles’ that we face in this world produce glory in the life to come. Keep your eyes fixed on the goal that lies before us. Don’t allow the distractions of this world, or the troubles that come from serving Christ, to take your eyes off of that goal.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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This article was first published on Christianity.com on May 29, 2020