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

Psalm 41:3

“The LORD will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing:
thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.”

~ Psalm 41:3

It is the lot of God’s people to suffer the affliction of sickness. In His wise providence, we find that not all suffer the same afflictions, but all suffer from one degree to another. The testimony of Holy Scripture is plain. The Psalmist writes, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Psalm 34:19). Jehovah declares, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). Peter wrote, “The same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Peter 5:9).

Some sicknesses are chastisements and some are trials. However, all are according to the purpose of God and all accomplish His glory. Furthermore, we can be assured that the sickness will accomplish His purpose in us.

Sickness can be a sore trial and especially to those who are not right in heart or weak in faith. Surprisingly, many professed Christians are reduced to the “weak and beggarly elements” by sickness. Often that one will question their affliction thus, “Why has this happened to me?” On the other hand, they will submit, “I try to eat right. I work hard and exercise. I take vitamins, minerals, and herbs. I just don’t understand how this could happen to me?” Their attitude seems to be that these good physical habits have insulated them in some way from sickness. We certainly can abuse our body, and we ought to care well for our earthly tabernacle, but these things are no safeguard from suffering physical affliction.

That testimony is essentially the same that many worldlings give in their sickness. It is the same reply against the Sovereign Creator made by the unsaved. I ask you to consider – Is this a testimony that is glorifying of the grace of God, when you murmur thus as if you were above common suffering? When the disciples’ hearts were near failing them for fear, Christ asked, “Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). He marveled that they could think and act like the unsaved when faced with a sore trial. On the contrary, we magnify His grace when we are “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation” (Romans 12:12).

Some even question the love and mercy of God concerning sickness in His people. Perhaps some might wonder whether He has the power to do anything about it. Expel all such wicked thoughts at once and repent over the same! The report to Jesus concerning Lazarus was, “Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick” (John 11:3). It did not diminish the Lord’s love that He tarried two more days before He went to Bethany. Nor was it a token of His displeasure that He did not immediately heal him.

Yes, we have a hard time comprehending His love, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it”
(Psalm 139:6). Such is the love and mercy of God that gave to the rich man in his lifetime “good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things” (Luke 16:25). It is easy here to complain against God, but fight off the temptation. The rest of the verse gives us, “But now he [Lazarus] is comforted, and thou art tormented.” While we do not understand Lazarus’ affliction, it is clear it was a “light affliction, which is but for a moment,” and it certainly worked for him “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

We are assured that His love is present, even in our sickness, and that blessing is borne out in our text. There are precious blessings contained in these words that are now in our view. However, before we assay to appropriate the blessings, we must observe the condition that comes before.

This Psalm begins, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble” (Psalm 41:1). We may trace the word “him” through the first three verses and note that verses two and three are extended blessings on “he that considereth the poor.” This condition is multiplied throughout God’s Word. “With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful” (Psalm 18:25), etc. The condition is this: Have you been merciful to others in their affliction? Have you done what you could to relieve them that suffered sickness? If you have, the blessing is here for you. Solomon taught, “The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh” (Proverbs 11:17).

Let us now turn to the particular blessings of our passage. In the first place, David writes, “The LORD will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing.” The aforetime merciful one has been brought down to the bed of sickness, sorrow, and discomfort. Being confined to the bed of sickness is a particularly difficult trial for the mind and spirit of man. We are tempted to murmur or just give up. The burden may seem greater than we can bear to the point that we are driven to despair.

Ah! But here is the blessed thought, “The LORD will strengthen him.” The word translated ‘strengthen’ signifies to support, to hold up. God will undertake to bear him up. Note here that God does not promise to remove him from the bed, but rather to sustain him “upon the bed of languishing.” Do not misunderstand the blessing promised. There is no heavenly panacea here. God is promising to supply grace and strength to the sick saint. He is going to make him able to bear his affliction. The Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In the last place, David writes of God, “Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.” Here we find love, mercy, compassion and unparalleled condescension. The language is picturesque of a nurse tending to the sick. It does not take long for the sick to grow weary on their bed. They toss to and fro and quickly come to discomfort. That nurse with tender hand will turn the bed or remake it to give them relief.

Here God promises to attend to the bed of the sick saint. With mercy, love, and tender hand God will make the bed of His afflicted child. No, in His wise providence, He does not lift him off, at least not yet, but He makes up the bed and “giveth His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). I have known Bro. Bill James to say, “He will even fluff up your pillow for you.” Praise God that we have not an austere man for our attendant when we are sick. We have a kind, compassionate, benevolent Father. He pities us “as a father pitieth his children” (Psalm 103:13).

Are you sick at this very hour? Are you tempted to murmur and complain? Have you sought to appropriate this blessing? Are you praying that the purpose of the Father will be accomplished in you? May God make our beds giving us rest and comfort, and may we rejoice to know that He is near.

Matthew 10:29

“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?
and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.”

~ Matthew 10:29

The verse that now occupies our attention is certainly worthy of our meditation. On first notice, we deem that sparrows are near worthless creatures, (five could be had for a halfpenny according to Luke 12:6), and that God takes notice when even one falls to the ground. From this, we glean that God has knowledge of all His creation, taking notice and interest of the least of His creatures and that He is brought into sympathy with them.

These thoughts are the froth and cream of the verse and not strong meat sufficient to strengthen us for a forty days journey (1 Kings 19:8). There is more here than an incidental omniscience. Here the sovereign power of God is extolled. Let us take a few moments to fix our meditation here and be profited thereby.

In the first place, I wish to consider the context. In this tenth chapter, Christ is preparing His apostles to go out to work. “He gave them power” (Matthew 10:1), and He tells them to “Go… And as ye go, preach… freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:6-8). They are going to do the Lord’s work. He said, “Behold, I send you forth” (Matthew 10:16).

Christ further prepares them by giving them a warning, “But beware of men” (Matthew 10:17). He promises that they will suffer persecution. They will be cast out, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22). The path of righteousness is attended with hardship and trials for those who tread its narrow way. Christ tells them plainly that they can expect trials. However, in our text, the Lord is encouraging His apostles and makes an appeal to the sovereign power of God.

We have already seen some reasons why this verse contains more than a casual, or even intimate, knowledge of God of His creation. This is further evidenced by reading verse 31, “Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” There is an obvious connection between the two verses. Christ intended the truth proclaimed in verse 29 to allay the fears of the apostles. He said, “Fear ye not therefore.” Just knowing that God had knowledge of them could not sufficiently relieve the fears of the apostles and embolden them for fervent service in the face of difficulties. I believe that Christ gave the apostles two things here, the first, to make them God-centered instead of self-centered, and the second, to increase their faith.

The first truth is about the sovereignty of God in His creation. Sparrows are essentially worthless to humans, but not so to God. Christ said, “And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” It is not just that God takes notice when the least of His creatures die, but He is active throughout the span of their life. He wills their birth and wills their death. Not one sparrow shall die until the time appointed by God. Not only this, but He sustains their life, “your heavenly Father feedeth them” (Matthew 6:26). Furthermore, their life, from beginning to end, fulfills His purpose.

There’s not a sparrow, or a worm, But’s found in His decrees;
He raises monarchs to their throne, And sinks them as He please.

We see God seated high upon His throne, ruling and reigning over the least to the greatest of His creation.

Let the whole race of creatures lie Abased before their God;
Whate’er His sovereign voice has formed, He governs with a nod.

The second truth is about the loving-kindness of the benevolent heavenly Father. Notice in our text that Jesus says, “Your Father.” He speaks of the base sparrows and yet says, “Your Father.” He shows God’s hand in feeding the fowls and yet He says, “Your heavenly Father” (Matthew 6:26).

The sparrow fulfills the design of its maker and is dependent upon Him from first to last, but the sparrow’s relationship is only as creature to creator. Not so with the child of God! Jesus declares that He is “your Father.” If the sparrow is in His hands, how much more is His beloved child? God has determined our beginning and end and He will sustain us all the way.

The apostles could take comfort in these truths, especially while serving Him. No matter how fiery was their trial, they could rest in the power of God and His love for them. Their duty was to proclaim His glory. May we receive grace and strength from God to “Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people” (Psalm 96:3). Amen.

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