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 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Pastor John recently spoke at the 2013 Legacy Conference from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. I found this excerpt from his manuscript particularly helpful:
Notice the contrast in verse 17 between momentary and eternal, and between light affliction and weight of glory. “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal (contrasting with momentary) weight (contrasting with light) of glory.”
So the truth Paul wants us to put in our heads day by day so that we will be renewed and not lose heart is this: Compared to endless ages of ages, these seventy or eighty years are as nothing. Compared to the weight and greatness and wonder of the glory we will see and we will be, this inglorious, shameful, painful affliction is light. His yoke is easy and his burden — even a lifetime of affliction — is light. And remember this is Paul talking, not John Piper. He had really suffered.
And then comes what is perhaps the most amazing “because” of all. We do not lose heart because every single moment of our affliction in the path of obedience — whether from sickness or slander — fallen nature or fallen people — all of it is meaningful. That is, all of it — unseen to our eyes —is producing something, preparing something, for us in eternity. Verse 17: “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
This glory, that God will show us and give us, is beyond imagination. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). And more than that. There are special glories in the age to come brought about by your particular afflictions. That’s what verse 17 says: Your affliction is preparing [producing] for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
That is what I mean by saying every moment of your affliction is meaningful. It has meaning. It is doing something. Causing something. Bringing about something glorious. You can’t see this. The world can’t see this. They think, and you are tempted to think, this suffering is meaningless. It’s not doing anything good. I can’t see any good coming out of this. That’s what you feel if you focus on the seen.
To which Paul responds, look to the things that are unseen. The promise of God. Nothing in your pain is meaningless. It is all preparing. Working something. Producing something — a weight of glory, a special glory for you. Just for you because of that pain.
John Piper at the 2013 Legacy Conference, Do Not Lose Heart, July 26, 2013