By David Faust
Twice in 2 Corinthians 4 the apostle Paul says, “We do not lose heart” (vv. 1, 16). That’s a lesson all of us need to learn. How can we avoid caving in to discouragement? How can we keep from losing heart when our burdens seem heavy and our problems are so complicated?
Paul insists, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v. 17).
It’s surprising that Paul speaks about “light and momentary troubles,” for his own hardships were heavy and unrelenting. Later in this same letter to the Corinthians, Paul details the adversity he endured. He was flogged, imprisoned, beaten with rods, and pelted with stones. One shipwreck would be enough for a lifetime, but Paul went through three of them. What could be more terrifying than nearly drowning? On one occasion he “spent a night and a day in the open sea” (11:25). Paul continues:
“I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11:26, 27).
Is Paul exaggerating? Is he indulging in self-pity? No. His suffering was a fact just as real as his faith. The book of Acts substantiates his testimony. At the time of Paul’s conversion, the Lord surprised Ananias with the news that the church’s archenemy, then known as Saul of Tarsus, was God’s “chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” Then the Lord added, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15, 16). Along with the privileges of being an apostle, suffering was part of the package.
If Paul’s difficulties were “light and momentary troubles,” what are you and I complaining about?
Yet by calling them “light and momentary troubles” Paul isn’t downplaying our problems as if they were no big deal. The Lord sympathizes when we deal with chronic pain that worsens by the day, a wayward son or daughter who shows no signs of turning around, a broken relationship that resists every attempt at healing, a mountain of financial debt that seems insurmountable, or a dead-end job that makes us feel underpaid and unappreciated.
Paul’s point isn’t that these problems are easy to handle or that they don’t matter. He’s trying to focus our minds on eternity. Our bodies are aging and dying—“outwardly we are wasting away.” Meanwhile God is renovating our souls—“inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). This inner renewal allows us to see past our daily problems and burdens to “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v. 17)—a glory that’s weighty but not burdensome.
Focus on this earth and its problems, and we lose heart. Focus on eternal glory, and we find hope in the midst of our hardships. “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” (v. 18).
1. It’s been said, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Is your attitude lifting you up or dragging you down?
2. How does the hope of “eternal glory” affect your daily life?
David Faust serves as chancellor of Cincinnati Christian University but is transitioning into a staff role at East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana. He will continue to write his weekly column for The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for May 11, 2014
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
2 Corinthians 4
1 Samuel 11—13
2 Corinthians 5
1 Samuel 14
2 Corinthians 6
1 Samuel 15, 16
2 Corinthians 7
1 Samuel 17, 18
2 Corinthians 8
1 Samuel 19, 20
2 Corinthians 9
1 Samuel 21—23