2 Corinthians 4:17. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison
Death leads to life. Crucifixion brings resurrection. This is the story of the gospel. This is the upside down nature of the Kingdom of God. This is the pattern that Paul has been telling us about in this letter all along.
Darkness breaks forth into light (4:6).
Jars of clay hold treasure (4:7).
Being given over to death manifests life (4:11).
Death in us works life in you (4:12).
The outer self wasting away renews the inner self day by day (4:16).
And then one of the greatest gospel truths comes to us in 4:17 – there is a relationship between our suffering and our glory. A relationship seen in their contrast but also in their connection.
Contrasting Suffering and Glory
Paul is contrasting our present with our future. Our pain now with our glory later. The first is light, the second is weighty.
The glory of the law was nothing compared to the glory of the indwelling Christ that we experience now. But there is an even greater glory yet to come. We are in Christ, but we have not reached the pinnacle of glory yet. Now we are jars of clay, soon we will be golden vessels. Now we are tents, soon we will be palaces. Now we have a physical body, soon we will have a spiritual body (which is also physical). Now we experience Christ’s death daily, soon we will experience Christ’s resurrection unto glory.
Our union with Christ is a union with the cross. It is a life of dying. It is a life of self-sacrifice. It is a life of suffering. Just like Jesus’ life, It is a life totally dependent upon grace. But our union with Christ has made our suffering today light and momentary in contrast to our future glory. How? Because of that same grace.
Connecting Suffering and Glory
Paul is challenging our perspective. Is their hope? Or are our struggles meaningless? Are they the end, or are they a means to an end? And…is there a causal connection between our trials and the glory we will experience with Jesus one day?
There is. But first let’s make clear what the relationship between suffering and glory ISN’T.
It isn’t a relationship of works. Your suffering is not a good work that earns you more glory in Heaven one day. We must never desire suffering or call our suffering good. Yes, it can and will be be used for good. But evil is evil. Bad is bad. Sorrow is sorrow. We are never called by God to seek out trials and suffering. In fact, quite the opposite – we are called to relieve suffering wherever we can.
Also, it isn’t a mechanical connection at all, whereby somehow the more we suffer the more glory we will experience. Again, if this were true we might be tempted to run around looking for more and more suffering. Suffering will find you, you don’t have to find it. Those Christians in “harder” parts of the world, or missionaries in Tibet, or persecuted Christians in Iran are not earning more glory points than you.
It IS a faith relationship.
Faith in our union with Christ and the never ending grace that comes with it, allows us to embrace our suffering. Any and all suffering is meant to bring inner renewal by faith.
Whenever and wherever you live, you will suffer. And no matter what your suffering, or where your suffering occurs, it brings you into fellowship with Christ. No matter how big or how little. Whether you are in suburban America, or Syria. Whether your suffering is just or unjust. Whether it is physical or spiritual.
All suffering is an opportunity to receive God’s glorious grace. To die to sin and live to God. When we receive our path of suffering, or when we carry our cross, we allow ourselves to be loved by God and carried along by his grace and goodness. If you are not embracing your suffering then you are rejecting grace. And that leaves you living by works and for your own glory, not God’s. Good luck with that.
“To live is Christ” is to live simultaneously in suffering and grace. Embracing the suffering of the cross by faith is the proof that we have embraced the grace of God, and it is the means by which we continue to embrace the grace of God. Living this cruciform life today prepares for us an experience of grace in the presence of Christ that will blow away anything we are going through now.
Is it difficult for you to see your suffering as light and momentary? Can you see it in light of your eternity with Christ? How does union with Christ bring hope in your suffering? How does it allow you to embrace suffering so that you will also embrace grace?