How to Endure Difficulties (pt. 5)

2 Corinthians 4:7-18

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 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.

I. The Humble Purpose for Our Difficulties (vv. 7-12)      
a. to display the power of God
b. to reveal the life of Jesus

II. The Glorious Motivation for Endurance (vv. 13-18)

a. belief in future resurrection

b. belief in future transformation

The second belief that motivated Paul was his belief in future transformation.  We see this in vv. 16-18 where it says, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 

Again we see Paul’s endurance on display.  Despite all the afflictions that Paul had faced he had not lost heart.  This is amazing since his “outer man” was literally wasting away.  In other words, from a physical standpoint Paul was decaying.  Because of all that he had been through he was no doubt old beyond his years, and his life was not getting any easier.  He bore the scars of beatings.  He was imprisoned, shipwrecked, and left for dead.  From a physical stand point Paul was spent.  However, Paul didn’t look at things from a physical standpoint.  Paul understood that even though his physical body was breaking down, from a spiritual standpoint he was being built up. 

From the standpoint of his physical mortality Paul was breaking down.  His body was getting older.  He was not able to do the things that he had once done.  However, from the standpoint of his spiritual life Paul was being renewed everyday.  He was growing in wisdom through his trials.  He was gaining victory over sin.  He was growing closer to the Lord as he spent his life in service to the gospel.

Paul was able to look beyond the physical struggles that he faced to see the spiritual benefit that he was receiving.  We have a hard time looking at life in this way.  When we are tired, or sick, or our bodies just are not reacting the way that we want we often become discouraged.  In these times of discouragement we must remind ourselves that even though our bodies are falling apart we can still continue to grow closer to the Lord. 

Furthermore, it was no coincidence that Paul was physically wasting away and spiritually renewed day by day.  The Scriptures make it clear that the two are directly related.  James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Romans 5:3-4 says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope….”  Thus, through our suffering God works in our life to make us more mature.  This is the process of progressive sanctification.  God works in our life through His Word, His Spirit, His Church, and our circumstances to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ.  Paul understood this process and he knew that God was using the difficulties in his life as a part of this transformation.  This is why he did not lose heart.   

In addition to the progressive transformation that was occurring in Paul’s life, Paul also understood that this progressive sanctification would eventually lead to his ultimate sanctification.  That is his glorification; when he would finally be completely transformed in the image of his Savior.  Paul makes this point in v. 17.  Literally this verse could be translated “this momentary lightness of affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  You can see the irony in this statement; the lightness is preparing for us weight.  The word translated here as “lightness” (ἐλαφρὸν) means to have little weight, to be easy, or to be insignificant.  On the other hand the word translated “weight” (βάρος) refers to something extremely heavy or oppressive.  To Paul the difficulties of life were lightweight compared to the final transformation that lies ahead of us.    

By saying this Paul is not trying to demean or diminish our struggles.  In fact, if anyone knew just how difficult life could be it was Paul.  However, he viewed these difficulties with an eternal perspective.  He was able to speak of all that he had been through as if it were no problem because of this perspective.  He had a vision for God’s glory and his future that overshadowed any trial that he had ever faced.  He knew that in the resurrection to come he would receive a new body, and he would be with God forever.  If it meant that he had to endure through a few light difficulties to experience this overwhelming glory, then so be it.

If we could just instill this same vision for the future in our brains then we, like Paul, would be able to “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  The difficulties that we face are only for a time.  They are momentary and fleeting.  These difficulties will, in the near future, lead to eternal benefits.  This is what motivated Paul to endure in his gospel ministry, and it must be our motivation as well if we want to endure in our gospel ministry.       



            Ultimately the Apostle Paul’s ministry had more of a lasting effect than anyone other than Christ himself.  This was because he endured through the difficulties and continued to faithfully proclaim the gospel message.  If we are going to be effective disciples of Christ then we too must endure through the difficulties of ministry.  This is a daunting task.  Maybe you’re a Sunday school teacher who just got a new boss at work and you are feeling the pressure to fudge on your preparation time to impress him.  Maybe after a long day of watching the kids the last thing that you want to do when your husband gets home is go to church and serve the body of Christ.  Or, maybe you are just too scared to face the repercussions of sharing the Gospel with unbelievers around you.  Whatever the difficulties may be, or whatever the ministry is we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from ministering the gospel.  If the apostle Paul viewed prison, torture, and death as light weight how much lighter are the difficulties that we face?  

When life gets difficult we must remain faithful to our gospel ministry.  This is not easy, but by God’s grace it is possible.  Through the life and pen of the apostle Paul God has revealed to us the keys to endurance.  If we are going to endure the difficulties of Gospel ministry then we must understand that God’s power is revealed through our weakness, and we must be motivated by our future.