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 Cor 4:16-18
With the popularity of "health and wealth" prosperity preaching and teaching in these last days, I wanted to take a moment to note to all who are suffering for the name of Christ around the globe. Christians are the most persecuted group across the planet.
Many believers suffer for the name and cause of Christ. Some shunned, some beaten, some killed. What comfort can we speak to those facing these afflictions and troubles? We remind them of "an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."
We also note that, even as Paul faces death daily, he knows he has the hope of resurrection.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.
-2 Cor 4:7-14
Though Paul faced terrible persecution and death on a regular basis, he knows he has the power of resurrection life in himself. He who has the Son has life!
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life..." -John 5:24
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” - John 11:25-26
In our study on comforting the bereaved we saw that the only comfort scripture offers the believer (and it is tremendous!) is resurrection life. In the short term, it is hard to find joy in our troubles, but we must learn to see them as temporal. Paul faced terrible things and learned to think of them as only momentary discomforts which only enhanced his future resurrection life.
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
-2 Cor 11:22-29
This is what calls "light and momentary troubles" in the same epistle. I am amazed and ashamed at how often I murmur and complain about my own momentary troubles (which pale in light of Paul's). So many around the world are risking all for Christ.
Our passage in 2 Cor 4, leads us into Paul's summation in 2 Cor 5. The context there, again, being the hope of resurrection.
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
-2 Cor 5:1-8
Unfortunately, this tremendous passage has been misquoted and misrepresented more than any other in the modern church. And with that misquoting is lost the great promise of resurrection. These bodies are but a temporary tent. We have an eternal house, our resurrection bodies, which await us! To that end, we groan in these bodies of humiliation. We struggle with the old nature. We struggle with sin, fear, cold, pain, and death.
But when we finally lay down our heads in sleep (death), unless the Lord appears before then, we know we will rise again! And that sleep will seem as though only a moment even if centuries pass. We lay our heads down in sleep and rise is glorious in incorruption and immortality (1 Cor 15)!
The true faith putteth [setteth forth] the resurrection, which we be warned to look for every hour. The heathen philosophers, denying that, did put [set forth] that the souls did ever live. -William Tyndale (An Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue)
"And I marvel that Paul had not comforted the Thessalonians with that doctrine [1 Thess 4:13-15], if he had wist [known] it, that the souls of their dead had been in joy; as he did with the resurrection, that their dead should rise again. If the souls be in heaven, in as great glory as the angels, after your doctrine, shew me what cause should be of the resurrection)." (Ibid)That is, of what use is the resurrection if men are in glory at the moment of death? Such a teaching not only robs us of the glory of our resurrection, it robs what Christ won on our behalf. When we understand (as best we can in this flesh) the hope of resurrection life in heavenly places where Christ sits, we praise and worship Him for his conquering of death in His resurrection.
In much of Christendom today, the Lord's resurrection has been relegated to a one-day celebration, and its full meaning lost. In fact, His conquering of the curse of death and decay is everything! It is the great reversal of the curse of Adam on those who believe.
This is the ultimate comfort.