2 Corinthians 4:17
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”
~ 2 Corinthians 4:17
This verse seems paradoxical to life. While it ends on a high note of glory, it is eclipsed by the dissonant chord in the beginning. To read of a “light affliction” that is only “for a moment” is difficult for many who have suffered or are suffering in significant ways. Why? Because their suffering doesn’t feel light and it doesn’t seem momentary.
You might be tempted to roll your eyes at Paul as though he were a fifteen-year-old prattling about the hardships of life. The earlier part of the fourth chapter is sufficient to disabuse us of any notion that Paul does not know suffering. He wrote:
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed
~ 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
A brief survey of his life reveals many afflictions:
But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
~ 2 Corinthians 6:4-10
For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.
~ 2 Corinthians 7:5
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.
~ 2 Corinthians 11:24-28
When we put the words of our text against the background of Paul’s life, we cannot think that he did not know what he was talking about from experience. He walked through the valley of the shadow of death and he also found comfort in the rod and staff of the Shepherd.
Two juxtapositions give us our perspective. The first is our “light affliction” compared with the “weight of glory.” This isn’t levity nor is it a denial of the severity of afflictions human suffer. Even the sharpest affliction is but light in comparison to future glory. Paul wrote in Romans 8:18: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” There is no unit of measure that compare the two and that future glory is such a weight that afflictions are hardly a feather when compared.
The second is the “moment” of afflictions compared with the “eternal” glory that awaits. What are a few years in light of eternity? Even if we suffer our entire life, it is but a moment in light of eternity. The Bible consistently reminds us how short life is. The span of our suffering does not merit a blip on the timeline of eternity.
Our suffering is a light moment. That does not mean it isn’t real or painful. It does mean that there is an end to our suffering—a final, forever end.
The two ends of the verse are joined in the middle by working. The affliction is neither random nor pointless. It is not some sort of hazing on our way to eternity. The affliction that comes to us from the hand of our loving Father is working glory in us and for us. It is sanctifying.
Before we close, let me touch on an objection. I just said that our affliction comes from the hand of God. This is exasperating to some. How can such a thing be? A lengthy defense could be provided, but rather let us look at an example. The great affliction of Jesus was from the hand of His Father.
“For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”
~ Acts 4:27-28
Christ’s death was from the hand and counsel of God. It was the fulfillment of His will and He permitted that cruel slaughter by evil men. Christ knew this as He told His disciples that this was the reason He had come into the world (John 12:27). Christ accepted the affliction, knew it was momentary, and knew it was accomplishing a greater good.
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
~ Hebrews 12:2