2 Corinthians 4:13–18
How many times have you started a plan to go vegan, gluten-free, or avoid carbs? How often have you promised yourself this would
be the last piece of dessert? Made the commitment to getting up and going for a run, heading to the gym, or setting up healthier meals? You’ve said on Mondays that this would be the week, only to be back doing your normal things by Wednesday. The cycle of wanting to be healthier, lose weight, train for that 5k, but falling back and failing is harsh. It’s discouraging. It leads to more starts and more stops. It’s easy to see why some people lose heart and quit.
Discouragements to life beyond healthy living are everywhere. There are plenty of reasons for us to be discouraged in our spiritual life as well. Think of the number of afflictions that torment us. The times we called out for help but didn’t seem to have anyone hearing us. The fact it seems we’re going up against things alone. Extreme troubles, overwhelming burdens, and problems that don’t seem to have solutions. These bring us down and cause us to lose heart, to be discouraged.
The Apostle Paul takes us to the very cure for discouragement. He gives us the attitude that fights against falling back. It’s out there. It’s in the second lesson where Paul tells us …
Do not lose heart
You’re closely connected to Christ’s resurrection
Your troubles are light and momentary
He had shed tears. He had stumbled through some difficulties. People around him had lied and taken advantage of him. He faced death in a bunch of different ways and felt overcome. While we might think that’s referring to us, it was actually the one who Paul was thinking of in his free quoting the writer of Psalm 116. “It is written, I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Paul could relate. His life too had been rough. Beatings, whippings, shipwrecks. Plenty of bad things happened to this missionary for God. The same way the psalm writer faced his afflictions, Paul faced his. He believed. He spoke of what he believed. He cried out to the one he believed in. The psalm writer said, “I called on the name of the Lord: O Lord, save me! The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. When I was in great need, he saved me.”
We can’t deny troubles and afflictions hit our lives. Car crashes cause damage to property. Surgeries to repair bodies that are breaking down. These cause us to lose heart. When the last treatment option to the disease is eliminated and now we’re facing the end of life we cry heavy tears. We get discouraged not knowing where to turn. We make trouble for ourselves by getting involved with questionable businesses. Or with telling lies in our relationships that only lead to more lies and hurt. We face death, accidents, trauma, and ruin. Each affliction is a threat. Threatening discouragement, threatening our connection to other people, or threatening our connection to Christ.
It’s not time for downplaying the afflictions you’re facing. They’re real. But they’re not unique. Note where Paul turned in the middle of his afflictions. You can call out to God and find grace, mercy, and relief. “With the 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 in his presence.” You believe in the life and resurrection of Christ your Savior. The grace of God gives you a connection to him. Not a connection like you might have with your hairstylist or barber, someone who knows things about you but isn’t blood relation. No, you have a connection with Christ on the deepest level. God worked faith in your heart through the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that works faith in all believers. Activating in you a close connection to Christ. So close that his death is your death. So close his resurrection is your resurrection. You’re intimately united with Jesus. Joined to him. So God’s promises to raise you are just as sure as the resurrection of Jesus. God raised Jesus, he’ll raise you. He’ll stand with you in heaven where you won’t have afflictions anymore. God’s grace gives you that promise, that reality. You’re closely connected to Christ’s resurrection.
Central to your bearing any affliction, trouble, or cross in your life is the help you find in the resurrection. Jesus was raised to life and that changed everything. It means your sins were paid for. It means your troubles and afflictions were carried by Jesus. You have a place to go when times are tough. Your eyes can fixate on that reality. Feel the comfort that one event provides. The resurrection of Christ is your promise of getting through difficult days. God will help you, be sure of it. Christ gives you the courage to face the day, whatever the day holds. His strength is your strength to bear up under the great afflictions you will have to face only in this life. Because one day you’ll be raised from the dead too. You’ll be with Christ. You’ll stand in heaven.
There are plenty of situations where what’s happening to us on the outside doesn’t match what we’re feeling on the inside. We might be breaking hips on the outside but inside our heart wants to dance. We might be bound to a walker or wheelchair, but inside we feel like we should be able to ditch those things. In Christians what’s happening outside absolutely doesn’t match what’s happening inside. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Outside we’re being attacked, suffering losses, experiencing troubles. Only outside. Inside we’re focused on Christ, our faith is growing, our desire to do more good in the world is too. We’re being renewed in Christ. Outside bad things happen, inside good spiritual growth is happening. It may not look like it outside, but that’s part of the balance for a Christian.
Paul goes on with the comparison balance picture. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” He’s not suggesting you weigh your troubles to prove they’re insignificant. Troubles often feel like the weight of the world. They’re a dreadful load to bear. Trouble in marriage can feel crushing to your spirit. Health troubles literally can feel like a weight on your chest. Troubled relationships crush out time for working on anything else. Imagine pressing all your trouble, frustrations, and sins down into one day, one second. Oh it hurts. It’s painful. The trouble is a weight that’s too much. But spread the troubles out over every second of your life. So only a little trouble is felt in each second. The trouble is spread thin, it’s weight is less. It’s light. Paul calls your troubles light, not because they’re not there, but because they’re easy, not at all difficult, not crushing you. In the hands of God. With Jesus, your troubles are as nothing. In the hands of the one who lifts mountains and creates planets, your troubles are nothing. Because of the one who allowed himself to be lifted by others onto a cross to pay for your sins and take away your troubles, the troubles, the suffering, they’re as nothing.
How many of you would evaluate the troublesome things that happen to you as momentary? Some troubles don’t look like they’ll stop. Some last a lifetime. They’re anything but momentary. But Paul says those, “momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory.” Don’t compare how bad your pain is today with what it was yesterday and lose heart. Compare your pain today with the pain-free existence Christ won for you in heaven. Time that won’t end without any of the pain. An eternity of joy spent in the presence of your eternal Savior. All the time in the world to spend catching up with relatives you’ve missed for so long, time to sing with the saints, time to smile as you think of the moments you still have laid out before you. Hardship precedes the glory of heaven. But only for a time.
It’s easy to think of life as a balance between good things and bad. Job offer comes with extra benefits and better pay that goes on the good side. Job gets cut right after putting down roots to own a home, that goes on the bad side. Some good and some bad. In the end we just hope to be able to look at the balance and find its slanted towards the good. God doesn’t want you looking at it that way. What if one day is like winning the lottery and the next is like a hurricane destroyed your house? You could get discouraged with God, discouraged with life, and lose heart. Instead set the balance up this way. Everything that happens to you is on one side, good and bad. On the other side is the promise of heaven. The eternal glory, the face to face time with Christ, the removal of sin and the drying of your tears. And it lasts forever. And it’s guaranteed. That’s a balance that will always lift you and encourage you.
Do not lose heart. “We fix our eyes not on what is seen …” That would be the sufferings, troubles, and difficulties. “… but on what
is unseen.” God’s promises in Christ, eternal life, heaven. “For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” God’s promises to you are waiting. Heaven is glorious. Keep your eyes on those unseen promises of God by being in God’s Word. See them by faith. Remember the work of Christ.