We do not lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

We do not lose heart

Well, 2020 is over and many of us are glad to see it come to an end hoping for better things in 2021. Here in Australia 2020 started with bushfires and floods and then COVID arrived and it seemed to take over our lives. Things never got as bad as they did (and still are) in other places around the world, where many lives have been lost, but even so COVID still brought hardship and grief into the lives of many in a way that we hadn’t experienced before.

For most of us it has been an extremely challenging year and we have come into a new year hoping for better things. However, my purpose today isn’t to review the year that is gone but to endeavour to prepare us for the year ahead. I would like us to think about is how it is possible for us as believers to be resilient in the face of the difficulties and hardships that eventually come our way in life. We want to look at how we might not lose heart no matter what we might have to face this year, and from year to year.

In chapter 4 of his second letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul wrote that he and his companions didn’t lose heart despite all the difficulties and hardships that they were experiencing as they went about preaching the gospel. The apostle Paul and his companions were extremely resilient in the face of hardship and today we want to understand what that looked like for them so that we might also not lose heart when we go through difficulties.

We are jars of clay

Now before you go and compare your troubles with the apostle Paul let me just make it clear that the Lord hadn’t wrapped up the apostle Paul in cotton wool tucking him away somewhere out of harm’s way. The apostle Paul had more than his fair share of trouble. The apostle Paul wrote in chapter 1 of this letter that he’d been under great pressure in the province of Asia (modern day Turkey) far beyond his ability to endure, so much so, that he and his companions had even despaired of life itself.

Paul knew hardship and suffering and in chapter 4 he described himself and his fellow workers who went about preaching the gospel as jars of clay with a treasure within them (4:7). The treasure was the gospel of Christ in whom the light of the glory of God is revealed. Jars of clay is a refence to the earthen vessels that were relatively cheap but fragile and easily damaged or broken. Paul likened himself and his companions to jars of clay because of their own vulnerability and fragility in the context of the suffering and hardship that they were experiencing.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

7 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; 9 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.

Paul knew suffering and hardship. He’d been banged about in life and his body was worse for wear and wearing out. You name it and it probably happened to Paul. He’d known hunger and thirst and been flogged and beaten, imprisoned, stoned and shipwrecked. If you want a catalogue of what he’d been through look up chapter 11 of this letter. But Paul had endured these things and kept on preaching the gospel and although death was at work in him and he was weak and frail and outwardly perishing. And he wrote that the power to keep going didn’t come from himself but from God. But how does God sustain the believer? How do we not lose heart despite what we might have to endure and go through? How was the apostle as resilient as he was?

We fix our eyes on the unseen

This is what we have been looking at today and we are going to focus just on the last three verses of chapter 4 where the I think we find a large part of the answer. In verse 16, having begun this chapter saying that “we do not lose heart” repeated it once more providing (what I believe to be) the reason in verse 18. It was because he and the others had fixed their eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen. Let me read out these verses for you.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 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.

I think the key to not losing heart is found in these last verses of this chapter. Firstly, although outwardly, we are all wasting away (death is at work in us), Paul wrote that inwardly we are being renewed day by day. The light of the Lord has shone into our hearts  through the gospel and the Lord is at work in us, strengthening us in our inner being (see Eph. 3:16), so that we might persevere. He is also at work transforming us into the image of his son getting us ready for the glory to come. But notice in verse 18 that it also doesn’t happen without us fixing our eyes, not what is seen, but the unseen.

The NIV has the word “so” introducing verse 18, but some translators prefer the words like “since we fix our eyes” or “as we fix our eyes” making verse 18 the reason why Paul considered his trouble as light and momentary. I think this is the better way to translate this verse.

Paul considers his troubles light and momentary because he had his eyes fixed not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. His focus was on the eternal things that are not visible right now rather than the temporary things that are all around us (and in our face so to speak). But what are these unseen things that he fixes his eyes upon? They are the things that he knows and believes but cannot see yet. They are things that he knows to be true and that he puts his confidence and faith in and then acts upon them. Several of these truths are scattered throughout chapters 4 and 5.

We believe in the resurrection

In verse 13 and 15 of chapter 4 Paul gives us the reason he continues to speak the gospel despite all the hardship that he and his fellow workers had to endure.  He said that the reason was because “we believe in the resurrection”.

2 Corinthians 4: 13-15

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. [1]

Paul wrote that he knows that he who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also one day raise us to be with Jesus and he will bring us into his presence. The resurrection for us makes all the difference in life for it emboldens us to live for Jesus here and now no matter what hardship that speaking and living this way might bring because we know that something better awaits us.

What we see now is all temporary. It is all going to pass away. It doesn’t last and you can’t hang on to it no matter how hard you try. It’s like trying to hold on to fine sand it will eventually slip through your fingers. You can’t hang on to your youth. We all grow old and tired. You can’t hang on to your strength and vitality. We peak around twenty-five to thirty and after that we struggle to maintain what strength we have. It’s a slow deterioration. You can’t hang on to your wealth or your stuff. It eventually all gets thrown out or we leave it all behind. It all eventually goes as do we. Our life is but a fleeting breath. As the psalmist wrote …

Psalm 39:4-5

“Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.

It is the fact that our lives are so short compared to the eternity that awaits us in Christ, that allows the apostle to say that our troubles in comparison are light and momentary. Of course, in the scheme of things Paul’s trouble were not something to be sneezed at. They weren’t trifling or insignificant. But Paul wrote that compared to the weight of eternal glory that our troubles are achieving for us (as we persevere in faith), the eternal glory far outweighs them. They are light in comparison to the glory to come.

We believe in the glory to come

The glory to come is the second thing that we know to be true and believe. We believe that we will share in the glory to come when Christ returns and the dead in Christ are raised to life. We don’t seek glory now. Our rewards and our glory aren’t found here, they come when Jesus comes and we invest in him now and we share in his glory later. Paul mentions this glory in passing verse 17.

2 Corinthians 4:17

17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.[2]

This eternal glory is the glory of Christ that he shares with his people. It the glory of being children of God in Christ through belonging to him who sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. What the apostle knew was that if we share in Christ sufferings, we will also share in his glory.

Romans 8:17-18

17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

What we need to understand and believe that there is that nothing compares to the glory which is ours in Christ. There is nothing in this world that outshines the glory to come. Paul’s says that that eternal glory far outweighs them. If you were to have a set of scales and on one side heap all the things that you might have had to suffer and go through in this world, or even all the things that this world might offer or promise you (the glory of this world), Paul says that the glory to come won’t just balance these things out, but it will far outweigh all the hardship and suffering and sorrow we might have experienced.

I remember as a kid being on one of those wooden sea saws. You don’t see them around much today. They are not like the gentle, protective play equipment that you see in playgrounds today. The old ones just used to be plank of wood pivoted across a metal bar in the middle and depending how long the plank was you would raise you to what seemed at the time to be dizzy heights – your feet didn’t even nearly touch the ground. The problem was that if you weren’t careful you would send your little sister seated on the other end into the air because you far outweighed her. Or sometimes if you had brother like mine, they would decide to get off when you were up in the air and with nothing on the other end to compensate you would come crashing down. Paul is saying that about our troubles compared to the glory to come they are light. They are far outweighed by the glory to come.

There is nothing in this world can offer us, or take away from us, or do to us which compares to the glory that will be ours in Christ, the glory that is to come. There is no reward worth spending your life chasing that is worth trading for the glory that will be yours in him. There is no treasure worth having that go anywhere near what will be ours. There is nothing that we might suffer now for the sake of the gospel that we will regret going through when we come into fullness of all that Christ has for us.

Friends we not only believe in the glory to come but we believe that nothing can compare with it. We know that it is better than anything that we might have to endure now and go through in this world. We know that it is worth persevering. It is worth living for Jesus here and now because we believe that what awaits us, the eternal glory, is just far better.

We believe that we have a permanent dwelling

Lastly, we believe that what awaits us is permanent. It’s eternal glory. We can’t see it yet, but we have a permanent, eternal dwelling that God has prepared for us.

2 Corinthians 5:1

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

You must keep in mind that Paul was a tent maker. He made and repaired tents. That was what he did for a living. The thing about tents is that they don’t last, and Paul knew this better than most.

For about 12 or so years, we spent the better part of two weeks of our summer holidays, under a tarp, holidaying in a tent. Over those 12 years we had at least three different tents and I don’t know how many different tarps we had but there were many. We were always repairing them and fixing them. But no matter what you did they always wore out. They aren’t permanent dwellings.

What Paul has done in chapter 5 is he has likened our bodies to a tent that we live in. He said in verse 16 of chapter 4 that outwardly we are wasting away. This is true of all of us. We don’t last. The bodies that we have aren’t permanent. They are programmed to grow old and perish. They wear out and we all must give them up for they give out. But Paul doesn’t lose heart for not only is God renewing us inwardly, getting us ready for what is to come, Paul says that when this earthly tent is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal home.

Again, he is talking about our bodies. Here he is talking about ones which won’t perish, ones which won’t wear out, ones which won’t grow tired and old and decrepit. He is talking about an imperishable, immortal body that God will give us and that is far better then what we what have now. In fact, that this is what we long for now while we live in these tents which are our bodies.

Some nights when we were camping when the wind was howling and the rain beating down on the tarp, we used to look enviously at those who were dry and warm in the more permanent dwellings that were there onsite, the nearby cabins. Paul says that we know this sort of longing while we live in these tents which are our earthly bodies. The older you get with the back that goes, the knees that give out, the eyes that fade, the arteries that clog and all the aches and pains that come with getting older the more we long for what is to come.

2 Corinthians 5:2-4

2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

We all long for our mortality to be swallowed up by life. We are not looking forward to being unclothed, having a bodiless existence, but being raised to live with an imperishable, immortal body like that of the Lord Jesus. It’s part of sharing in his glory – having a body which will last and won’t grow old, one which won’t perish but is eternal, one that isn’t temporary, but is permanent. This is what we look forward to and long for and this is what believe in and know to be true. And so, although we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed because we don’t just see what we can see now, but we have our fixed on the unseen eternal things. We know that God has something better for us, something that will last for all eternity.

Fix your eyes on the unseen things

We are therefore to fix our eyes on what is to come. This is how we are to navigate our lives in 2021 and live them out as the people of God who live by faith in Jesus. So, friends fix your eyes, this year, not things that you see going on around you, but the unseen things, the things that you know to be truth, the things that you believe, the things that God has spoken, the promises of God that that are ours in Christ Jesus. The life that is lived with our eyes fixed on the unseen things is a life that is lived by faith in Jesus. Pauls says in verse 7 of chapter 5, “For we live by faith and not by sight”.

Don’t be distracted by what you see

Friends don’t be distracted by what you see going on around you. All around us, people are living for things that won’t last. They are chasing after things that they can never hold on to. They are eating and drinking and making merry because they know that tomorrow it will be all be gone. They don’t have what we have to look forward to because they don’t know Christ. Don’t be distracted and don’t despair for what we have is far better.

What awaits us is far better

We believe that the one who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us to be with him. We also know that we will share in his eternal glory and nothing can compares with that. We know that when these tents of ours are destroyed that God will clothe us with our eternal dwelling and what was mortal will be swallowed up by life. Friends, what awaits us is far better and knowing this does two things.

Persevere now and don’t lose heart

Firstly, it encourages us to persevere in the face of hardship or suffering. We know that in comparison to the glory that is to come our troubles are light and momentary. Of course, they never seem like that at the time. But we do not lose heart because we know that what we are going through will pass, and a new day will dawn, and the sun will rise and the new day will be glorious and eternal and all the tears will be wiped away and the pain will be no more.

Live the truth that we believe

Secondly, we are reminded that we are to live now in light of the glory to come. We believe that his glory will one day be our glory and so we live now by faith in him, living out the truth of what we believe not what we can just see and what seem to work in this world. Paul wrote in chapter 4 verse 13…

2 Corinthians 4:13-14

“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.”

Remember what is you believe and speak and live to glorify Jesus this year. In chapter 5 verses 7 to 9 Paul  wrote.

2 Corinthians 5:7-9

For we live by faith, not by sight. 8We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.

With our eyes fixed on the unseen eternal things, our goal here now is to please him. This is how we are to live here in this world for it is how we know we will live in eternity. Friends, whatever happens let us fix our eyes on him and walk by faith in what he has promised us and make it our goal, this year, to please him.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:13–15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The New International Version. (2011). (2 Co 4:17). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.