“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”
2 Corinthians 4:17
It is far easier to endure trials when we value the future over the present.
A few years ago the popular Back to the Future movies dealt rather whimsically with the possibility of time travel, which always involved entering the future. The recurring theme was that with all the complications of tampering with the future, it was better to live in the present. Viewers could infer that, ultimately, it is not worth it to dwell a lot on the future.
That is just the opposite of the apostle Paul’s attitude about the future. He dealt with the profound certainties of what awaits all believers in the life to come. For Paul, the value of the future was another important reason he could endure life’s sufferings and trials. The temporal pain for him and us is inconsequential compared to what awaits us in Heaven (Rom. 8:18).
Trials are inevitable, and the pain associated with them can be very intense, but when compared to what we will enjoy in the future, they hardly matter. Paul saw them as light afflictions, or literally “weightless trifles.” He knew that their real significance is only in how they contribute to our eternal glory.
That contribution is anything but trivial. Rather, it produces “an eternal weight of glory.” Concerning this expression, it’s as if Paul envisioned an old–fashioned two–sided scale that was being tipped in favor of the future by the cumulative mass (“eternal weight of glory”) of his individual sufferings. Paul could endure the pain of present trials when he was certain that they contributed positively to his life in Heaven.
The amount of trials and suffering you and I endure now is also directly linked to our eternal rewards. Those rewards are not external bonuses such as fancier crowns, better robes, or bigger heavenly mansions. Instead they refer to our increased capacity to praise, serve, and glorify God. That fulfilled Paul’s greatest desire and enabled him to joyfully persevere in trials, and it should do the same for us.
Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God to give you a perspective that sees every trial as trivial in light of eternal rewards.
For Further Study: Read Romans 8:18–25. How far do the effects of sin and suffering extend? ✧ What does Paul say about hope in this passage?
4:17 After reading the terrible afflictions which the Apostle Paul endured, it may seem hard for us to understand how he could speak of them as light affliction. In one sense, they were not at all light. They were bitter and cruel.
But the explanation lies in the comparison which Paul makes. The afflictions viewed by themselves might be ever so heavy, but when compared with the eternal weight of glory that lies ahead, then they are light. Also the light affliction is but for a moment, whereas the glory is eternal. The lessons we learn through afflictions in this world will yield richest fruit for us in the world to come.
Moorehead observes: “A little joy enters into us while we are in the world; we shall enter into joy when there. A few drops here; a whole ocean there.”
There is a pyramid in this verse which, as F. E. Marsh has pointed out, does not tire the weary climber but brings unspeakable rest and comfort to his soul.
Weight of glory
Eternal weight of glory
Exceeding and eternal weight of glory
More exceeding and eternal weight of glory
Far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory
17. For our affliction, which is temporary and trifling, is working in us an eternal fullness of glory that exceeds all limits, 18. because we do not look at the things that are seen but at the things that are not seen. For the things that are seen are for the moment, but the things that are not seen are eternal.
“For our affliction, which is temporary and trifling.” Paul is not minimizing his hardships, as is evident from the many times he lists his sufferings (1 Cor. 4:11–13; 2 Cor. 1:8–10; 4:8–9; 6:4–10; 11:23–27; 12:10). Of all Christians, he had his share of afflictions for the sake of Christ and the gospel. However, he is not thinking of himself alone, because his statement is applicable to every believer throughout the centuries.
The term temporary does not relate to a brief duration. By looking at time from the perspective of eternity, Paul considers the duration of our earthly suffering but a fleeting moment (compare 1 Peter 1:6; 5:10).
Paul does not say “our light affliction” but “our affliction is … trifling.” He wants to emphasize that any hardship, whatever it may be, is a trifling thing. It seems incongruous that the apostle who endured being stoned by the Jews in Lystra (Acts 14:19) contends that this affliction was an insignificant experience. But let us not lose sight of the point Paul is making: he contrasts
the temporary and the eternal
the trifling and the weighty
affliction and glory.
- “[Our affliction] is working in us an eternal fullness of glory that exceeds all limits.” Every word in this sentence is significant. To begin, the verb is in the present tense to indicate continued action. We cannot say that affliction by itself merits glory, for then every believer would greatly desire and even seek hardship. Not believers but God allows affliction to enter their lives and through it God produces eternal glory for them. As Paul and Barnabas told the Christians in Asia Minor, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Next, the literal translation weight of glory is the reading in most versions. Some have variations, including “glory that far outweighs” (NIV), “load of glory” (Cassirer), and “solid glory” (Moffatt). Back of the Greek text lies a play on words in a Hebrew idiom, for the Hebrew noun kābād means both “weight” and “glory” (see Gen. 18:20; Job 6:3). However, if we translate a Hebrew idiom via the Greek into English, we fail to convey the meaning of the text. The Greek word baros denotes both weight and fullness; this second option, “fullness,” fits the context: “an everlasting fullness of glory.” The idiom itself signifies a great degree of glory (see NCV), which the Syriac Peshitta renders “great glory.” And for a last observation, the descriptive adjective great appears in the clause God’s glory is great (variations in Pss. 21:5; 138:5).
In verse 17, Paul displays Hebrew idioms. The first one, “weight of glory,” and the second, “exceeds all limits,” should be interpreted not literally but in accordance with the sense they convey. That is, the glory that is ours is so great that it is immeasurable.
Should the phrase exceeds all limits be connected with either “weight” or “eternal”? It can even be taken with the verb to work. This particular idiom ought not to be connected with only one word but rather should be interpreted as a qualifier of the entire sentence. It describes for us heavenly glory that is indescribable and beyond measure (see Rom. 8:18).
- “Because we do not look at the things that are seen but at the things that are not seen.” This sentence describes the cause for the preceding thought about affliction that is temporary and trifling. Paul says that when we focus our attention on things invisible, we minimize hardships and maximize eternal glory.
Paul realizes that Christians often endure painful experiences and ask God the perennial question: Why they are the ones who suffer? He observes that they are not concentrating on the earthly things that they daily see, but instead they are looking heavenward (Col. 3:1–2). They are paying attention to the things that are invisible. Paul differentiates not the material from the spiritual but the earthly from the heavenly and the temporal from the eternal things. Thus, he gives the readers some pastoral advice that also appears elsewhere (Rom. 8:24; Heb. 11:1, 3; Col. 1:16; 1 Peter 1:8).
- “For the things that are seen are for the moment, but the things that are not seen are eternal.” In relation to eternity time is but a moment. Similarly, earthly treasures are unstable, but heavenly possessions last forever. Therefore, the inner self that is daily being renewed does not lose heart but looks at life from God’s point of view. The invisible things are those that we appropriate by faith in God. We identify with the heroes of faith who saw these things “and welcomed them from a distance” (Heb. 11:13). And we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2).
Value the Future Over the Present
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.
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.
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1836). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 19, pp. 159–161). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2003). 2 Corinthians (pp. 154–156). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 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.