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"Outward Pain, Inward Renewal"
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Wednesday AM Bible Study
July 30, 2008
One of the reasons that 2 Corinthians is such a blessing to read is because it is—primarily—an expression of Paul's heart in ministry. It's difficult to organize; because it was it wasn't written as a systematic presentation of theology as much as a letter of love for those to whom he ministered, and of the privilege he felt in being called into the service of the Lord.
And in this morning's passage, Paul shares what it is that enables him to bear up under the remarkable affliction he suffered in that ministry of the gospel.
I. THE SAINT'S EXPERIENCE (v. 16).
A. Paul, in the midst of his affliction in ministry, did not lose heart. This is a continuation of a thought begun in 4:1; but the details behind it are given in verses 1-15. There would have been lots of reasons why a man in Paul's situation of ministry could have become discouraged or faint-hearted—particularly considering that the ministry he was given was to be fulfilled in a mere "earthen vessel". But Paul did not lose heart.
B. Far from "losing heart", he experienced daily renewal of "the inward man"—even though the "outward man is perishing".
1. The outward man speaks of his body—that "earthen vessel" that he was called to manifest the glory of God through (v. 7). It is constantly undergoing decay. This is true not only because of the remarkable toll that Paul's call to ministry must have taken on him physically (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-29); but also because of the reality of the natural breakdown of the body. We grow old. Our faculties fail. We increasingly feel our limitations. Eventually—unless the return of the Lord prevents it—this "tent" will be destroyed (5:1ff). God calls us to do eternal work in that which is only meant to last for a short while.
2. But though the outward man is decaying, the inward man is experiencing constant renewal. The inward man, in this case, is the spiritual aspect of our being that has an eternal relationship with Christ (see Romans 8:9-10). It is being renewed and made in to the image of Christ (Col. 3:9-10). Note that this is a constant, continual renewal—a day-by-day renewal! No matter what the circumstances to the outward man, the renewal of the inward man progresses.
II. THE ETERNAL RESULT (v. 17).
A. This inward "renewal" happens during times of "affliction". Paul is realistic. Trials and troubles will come upon the saint. But the affliction we experience is called by God's word "momentary", and "light". It certainly doesn't seem that way when we're undergoing times of affliction. They seem very "heavy" and "drawn-out". But the fact that God's word says they're "momentary" and "light" in comparison to what they produce should give us a sense of anticipation for that which follows! These momentary, light trials are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).
B. Note that the result of these momentary, light afflictions—in the context of the continual renewal of the inward man—is "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory".
1. There is a marvelous parallelism to this. What is "momentary" works something that is "eternal". What is "light" works something that is "weighty". What is rightly called "affliction" works that which is called "glory".
2. Note also that the phrase here translated "exceeding" best applies to the verb "works" or "produces". In other words, the afflictions produce something that is not only different in nature, but different in degree far beyond measure!
III. THE NECESSARY VIEWPOINT (v. 18).
A. All of this assumes that the saints are looking faithfully upon their trials with this sort of exalted viewpoint. Paul says that we do not lose heart "while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen". The things which are seen pertain to the "outward man"—that aspect of our being that is not meant to last forever, and that is subject to destruction. If that's all we look at—and at all the things that may lead to its destruction—we will most definitely become disheartened.
B. But instead, we are to raise our view to that which is "above" (Col. 3:1-4). That which is "seen"—that is, that which pertains to the destruction of the outward man—is "temporal". It is as temporal as the outward man is. But that which is "not seen"—that is, that which pertains to the inward man; that which is revealed to us by God's word (1 Corinthians 2:7-10) and that is apprehended by faith (Hebrews 11:1)—is "eternal". So long as we have our eyes on those eternal realities, we can bear up under the temporal affliction (1 Peter 1:3-7).
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As the apostle James writes; "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2-4). May God help us to see our trials as He sees them—and to see what it is that He is producing through them!
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