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2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (A Sermon Excerpt)

September 22, 2006

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 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.



So let’s spend more time this morning meditating on verse 17 and the comparison between our light and momentary affliction and the eternal weight of glory.   There’s an awful lot of suffering in this world, and it’s hard to look at some of it and call it “light”.  I find it easier to call it momentary.  I’m able to do the math and compare time and eternity and affirm that afflictions are momentary, they last for just a very little while is the phrase from Hebrews 10.  But it seems to take a deeper faith to call our afflictions “light”.  Some of them feel pretty heavy.  But it’s really a matter of scale.  What scale are we using to measure the weight of our afflictions?  Are we comparing them one with another, or are we comparing them to the weight of glory?

Paul surely chose this phrase “weight of glory” because the Hebrew word for glory also means heavy.   Glory is substantial.  Everything else seems wispy and ephemeral compared to glory.  In comparison with glory, our afflictions are light.  

How can we get a sense of the weight of glory?  Well we should know something of it, for this glory in verse 17 is not the glory of God, but our glorification. And we are even now being inwardly renewed from one degree of glory to another. Our inward transformation day by day anticipates the great day when our lowly bodies will be transformed to be like his glorious body.

Sanctification is really stage one of glorification. That’s a statement of far-reaching implications and getting a hold of it clears up a lot of theological confusion.  For example, people are always tripping up over the distinctions between sanctification (our growth in Christlikeness) and justification (our righteous standing before God which never changes because it is based on the neverchanging righteousness of Christ credited to us)  We get confused sometimes and start behaving like our acceptance before God is based on how we’re doing in progressive sanctification.  We start thinking that our justification is somehow based on this ongoing inward transformation.  Do you see how this error might be better avoided if we started thinking of sanctification as stage one of  glorification, rather than stage two of justification?

Romans 8:30 says “those he predestined he also called, those he called, he also justified, and those he justified, he also…what?  glorified”  What happened to sanctification?  It didn’t make the list.  I’ve come to the conviction just this week that the church in the twentieth century became way too obsessed with sanctification.  It’s was a symptom of our individualism and our pragmatism.  We’ve become obsessed with how we’re doing instead of exulting in what God has done and rejoicing the hope of glory.  Those he justified he also glorified.  Look back to the cross and forward to heaven and sanctification will take care of itself.   I don’t mean that we don’t have to fight temptation and overcome sin, I mean that we fight them by looking back to the cross and forward to the hope of glory.   Sanctification comes from exulting in justification and looking forward to glorification.

Now let’s test that theology by seeing if it helps us to understand Paul’s application of it in 2 Corinthians 4:17 to our afflictions. He says our light and momentary afflictions are actually preparing for us, or the NAS says producing for us this eternal weight of glory.  How do our afflictions in this world produce our glory?  Is there some kind of extra compensation in heaven for those who have suffered more on earth?  That doesn’t sound quite right.  But if you understand sanctification as the first stage of glorification, it starts to make sense.  Glorification begins immediately upon conversion.  It’s inward effects in this world of producing Christlike holiness we call sanctification.  And we all understand that our afflictions are used by God to make us holy to make us more like Christ.  Now if we just see that as being progressively glorified, being transformed into the image of the Lord from one degree of glory to another, then we understand how our afflictions are producing for us an eternal weight of glory.  And as we see that work of the Spirit in our hearts, making us more like Christ, it creates in us a foretaste of the glory of heaven when we will be consummately transformed into the image of Christ in the twinkling of an eye.  And the more we get a taste of that, the more we feel the weight of glory, the more we’ll see our afflictions as light and momentary.

Now in verse 18 Paul makes another distinction, this time between what is seen and transient, and what is unseen and eternal.  When Paul speaks of the seen and the unseen, he’s not making a philosophical distinction between the material and the immaterial.  The unseen things for Paul are not unseen because they are immaterial.  They are unseen because they are not here yet.   Heaven will be a physical place.  It will be a new heaven and a new earth and you will walk on it in a resurrection body and you will see the real material face of Jesus with real physical glorified eyes.  Heaven is visible.  It’s just unseen to us now because it’s not here yet. 

Here’s a fun philosophical way of saying it that I read in the commentaries.  The distinction between seen and unseen is not metaphysical, but eschatological.  So fixing my eyes on what is unseen doesn’t mean contemplating abstractions.  It means thinking about substantial heavenly realities that are really coming but just aren’t here yet.

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  The unseen things are our future hope that we will one day see with our resurrected eyes.  And, as we sing, lord haste the day when the faith shall be sight.

So Paul regards thinking about heaven as enormously practical.  It enables us to see our afflictions as light and momentary.  It is the reason we do not lose heart.  

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2006 2:11 pm

    I really liked when you talked about this subject in a sermon way back when- it gave me another perspective for looking at earthly afflictions. Or rather- I like having more options (because I’m an ENFP), and this option is at the top of my list, because it makes far more sense than the other (dumber) options, I’ve run across.

  2. blondie permalink
    September 24, 2006 4:31 pm

    It is so important that I listen to truth when it comes to thoughts of heaven. I am so easily led astray in my mind when I think of it as eternal. Eternity is not something that I can easily wrap my brain around. It does not excite me, I do not understand how eternity can be. I love it that God is eternal, but that we will exist forever with him…it freaks me out. Now, that cannot be! I cannot hope in something that freaks me out. I think that I have trouble with it because of a childhood misunderstanding of heavenand my inability to voice that fear eternity.

    So now, I must read of heaven. I have to meditate on the physical truth of heaven. I must meditate on what I will see physically with my eyes someday, the risen resurrected Christ, the saints who have gone on before me, the streets that are gold, the joy on the faces of those who are in the presence of God, the multitude of people and races that will be there…To think about it being a place that goes on forever does not bring me hope or comfort. Which is wrong, so meditating on the truth of heaven is an important part of my time with God. I ask him often to change my mind about it.

    What an easy target I am for distractions. The truth that I see in the bible and hear from those that teach Gods word wisely is such a blessing to me.

  3. April 4, 2009 10:21 pm

    Very good stuff.

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