March 26, 2017 – Glory Through Suffering

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

2 Corinthians 4:17

Suffering not only makes us stronger now—it makes us able to endure with patience, increases our faith, teaches us to trust God, and leads us to depend on Christ and His Word—but also affects how we will function later. That’s why Paul went on to say our focus isn’t on today but the future: “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” (v. 18).

The greater our endurance through suffering, the greater our eternal reward.[1]

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, (4:17)

Not only did Paul’s physical suffering make him spiritually strong, it also enriched his eternal reward. The apostle towered over his enemies and his troubles; rather than harming him, they actually secured for him a greater heavenly reward.

Like Paul, suffering and persecuted believers must view earth through heaven’s eyes. When weighed in the balance with believers’ eternal reward in heaven, earthly pain amounts to little. Paul expressed the proper perspective on suffering by describing it as momentary, light affliction. Though Paul’s affliction was constant and intense, he viewed it as momentary and light (easy to bear; insignificant) in view of eternity. He knew that his life was “just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14), after which “man goes to his eternal home” (Eccl. 12:5). To the Romans he wrote, “We suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:17–18). Peter also wrote of the relationship between suffering and eternal glory. After describing believers’ heavenly inheritance in 1 Peter 1:3–5 he wrote,

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (vv. 6–7)

The trials, troubles, and difficulties of life have a positive effect, because they are producing for us an eternal weight of glory. Weighed in the balance with the suffering of this life, that weight of glory tips the scales heavily in favor of eternal reward. There is a direct correlation between suffering in this life and glory (capacity to praise and glorify God) in the next. The greatest glory ever given was that given to Jesus for enduring the greatest suffering ever endured. Because “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross … God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:8–9). Jesus confirmed that principle in an incident recorded in Matthew 20:20–23:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”

In response to their selfish request for the places of prominence in the kingdom, Jesus pointed out that those places are for those who drink the cup of suffering—a reference to His death on the cross (Matt. 26:39). Thus the greater glory in the kingdom is reserved for those who suffer the most in this life. “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ,” wrote Peter, “keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:13).

In fact, the eternal weight of glory believers will experience is so much greater than the suffering of this life that Paul described it as beyond all comparison. The Greek text literally reads huperbolē (from which the English word hyperbole derives) eis huperbolē, forming a double expression for strongest emphasis. The phrase means, “out of all proportion.” The weight of glory awaiting believers exceeds all limits; it is beyond the possibility of overstatement or exaggeration. Paul also used the word huperbolē in 2 Corinthians 1:8 to describe the intensity of his sufferings. Though he suffered more in comparison to others on earth, he would be glorified beyond all proportion or comparison in heaven. (In Hebrew, the word “glory” comes from the same root as a word meaning “heavy,” perhaps influencing Paul’s choice of words here.)

It should be noted that the only suffering that produces the eternal weight of glory is suffering for the sake of Christ, or that honors Him. Whether suffering comes from believers’ faithful, loyal, committed testimony about Jesus Christ, or the patient enduring of life’s normal trials, such as disease, divorce, poverty, and loneliness, if endured with a humble, grateful, God-honoring attitude, it will add to the eternal weight of glory. On the other hand, suffering the consequences of sin does not contribute to our heavenly blessing and could remove some of the reward already gained (2 John 8). Peter wrote, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (1 Peter 2:20), and

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (1 Peter 4:14–16)

Through his present tears Paul never lost sight of the future glory that awaited him in heaven.[2]

17 Here Paul supplies another reason for not losing heart—the constant production of solid, lasting glory (lit., “an eternal weight of glory”; see Notes) out of all proportion to the slight, present affliction that causes physical weakness (v. 16); as the NIV renders it, this eternal glory “far outweighs” any “light and momentary troubles” that are being presently experienced (cf. Ro 8:18). Quite naturally, Paul seems to speak of glory as though it were a substantial entity that could be progressively added to. In a similar way in Colossians 1:5, Paul views Christian hope as an inheritance “stored up” in heaven. Doxa (“glory,” GK 1518) here is Pauline shorthand for all the blessings of the age to come, experienced proleptically in the present age. It is the God-ordained outcome of affliction suffered for Jesus’ sake (2 Co 4:11).

Again, as in vv. 12 and 16, the idea of proportion seems to be present. Since it is actually the “troubles” that produce or achieve the glory, the greater the affliction Paul suffered, the greater the glory produced for him.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 98). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2003). 2 Corinthians (pp. 154–156). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[3] Harris, M. J. (2008). 2 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 472). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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