2 Corinthians 4:16–18
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Paul claims in these verses to have found the secret of an experience that virtually everyone in the world wants to have. This is an amazing claim. I’m referring to verse 16. And I am referring to the experience of not losing heart, but being renewed day by day. Verse 16: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
So there’s a negative way of expressing this experience, and a positive way. Negatively, he says, “We don’t lose heart.” Positively he says, “Our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
Learning the Secret
In one sense, virtually everyone in the world wants what Paul has found. Test this negatively and positively. Did any of you come here tonight hoping, longing, aching that somebody would sing something or preach something that would make you totally lose heart? Did anyone come desiring to be discouraged? To have the breath knocked out of your hope? To have all your motivation for living stripped away? Nobody. And I would dare to say that nowhere in the world will you find someone who is longing to lose heart. Does anyone say, “Help me be hopeless. Help me lose my motivation. Help me be so discouraged I can’t go on”? No, so if Paul is telling the truth here, he has found the secret of an experience that everyone in the world wants to have. The secret of not losing heart.
And test this claim positively. If I could offer you a way that day by day you could be renewed in your soul with hope and strength and joy, would any of you say: “I don’t want that. I don’t want the secret of finding real hope day by day. I don’t want the secret of finding new strength and new joy day by day”? If you really believed I had the secret, no one would say that.
It’s Not Too Late
There are suicidal people in the world who want life to be over. But that’s because they have tried and tried, and they don’t think there is such a secret, or at least think it’s not for them. They have lost heart. They don’t think there is anyway to be renewed in hope and strength and joy. It’s too late.
If you came here like that tonight, I am praying for you, that God would free you from that lie. The devil is a liar. But I pray that you will know the truth and be set free. Paul has found this secret. He is not a liar. There is a way not to lose heart. There is a way to be renewed day by day.
Does Paul Have a Right to Say This?
Before we start boring down into what that secret is, let’s make sure we see two more things in verse 16, two things that make it profoundly clear that Paul has a right to speak to us about this. The last thing you need is for some naïve, ivory-tower, middle-class, inexperienced theorist to start telling you in your situation the secret of not losing heart. Because, you’re probably going to say to him, “You’ve never walked in my shoes. You don’t live where I live. You don’t know what real life can bring a man.” Does Paul have a right to talk to you? To tell you in your situation how to not lose heart and how to be renewed day by day?
Of course, I could say, Yes, he does. He’s an apostle, an authorized representative of the risen, living, sovereign king of the universe, Jesus Christ. I could remind you that he is inspired by God’s Spirit to reveal the secrets of the universe. “We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13). Yes, he has a right to speak into your life with total authority, God’s authority.
For the Suffering and the Dying
But God did not ordain that his authorized spokesmen speak from ivory towers of naïve, inexperienced comfort. One of the first things the king said to Paul when he called was, “I will show you how much you must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16).
So there are two more things to see in verse 16 that give credibility and realism to Paul’s secret of not losing heart. The first is that the secret of not losing heart and of being renewed every day is a secret for the suffering and the dying. Of course, there is a secret for the prospering. Philippians 4:12–13, “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” There is a secret for not losing heart and being renewed day by day in plenty and abundance — a secret harder to learn perhaps than the one in suffering and dying (though they are at root the same secret).
But here the focus is not on plenty and abundance. Verse 16: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” The secret of not losing heart and being renewed is for those whose outer nature — whose body — is wasting way. What does that mean?
“Wasting away” translates a word used five other times in the New Testament. Here’s a taste.
Luke 12:33: “Provide yourselves a treasure in the heavens where no moth destroys.” You put away your nice winter coat for the summer and take it out in the winter, and it is ruined where the moths have eaten it away.
Revelation 8:9: “A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” Destroyed not by being eaten way but by a great mountain of burning fire being thrown into the sea, capsizing and consuming thousands of ships.
Revelation 11:18: “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time . . . for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” God will one day destroy the destroyers of the earth.
That’s the word Paul uses here to describe the condition where he does not lose heart, where he is renewed day by day. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self [our body, our brain and lungs and liver and heart muscles and bones] are wasting away [being destroyed, being eaten away and capsized and consumed and wiped out], yet our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
Paul has found the secret of not losing heart and experiencing daily renewal while being destroyed. Paul is being destroyed and does not lose heart. Paul is being destroyed and is renewed day by day. That’s the one who’s talking to you.
Destruction from Two Sources
The destruction of Paul’s outer man — his body — comes from two sources: fallen nature and fallen men. By fallen nature, I mean that the whole natural world is under God’s curse of futility, corruption, pain, and death. Romans 8:20–23:
The creation was subjected to futility . . . in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption . . . For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
God saves his children in stages, not all at once. We are already forgiven and justified because of Christ, but we are not already free from corruption and death. We will waste away, and we will die. Or we will be swept away in a flood or struck by lightening or die of cancer. This is what I mean by fallen nature. As 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay.” That’s the first force that is destroying Paul — fallen nature.
The other is fallen men. If nature doesn’t kill you, people will. If nature doesn’t cripple you, human carelessness in a car will rip your legs off, or human hostility with a bomb will blow your eyes out. Verse 9: “We are persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Verse 12: “So death is at work in us.”
The Secret: Being Renewed Day by Day
So whether it is fallen nature or fallen people, Paul is being destroyed — being struck down, wasting away, dying. And precisely in that situation — probably more bleak than any of us will experience — Paul experiences the secret of not losing heart, but being renewed day by day. The secret of not losing heart and of being renewed day by day is a secret for the suffering and the dying.
Which leaves one other thing to see in verse 16. The experience of not losing heart fades and must be renewed day by day. If you are a veteran Christian, you know this from experience. If you are newer in the faith, this is one of the most important things you need to know. Discovering the secret of not losing heart is not an experience that lasts a lifetime. It’s the discovery of a fountain of life, not one drink so that you never have to drink again. The secret is that you never have to look anywhere else for life and hope and strength and joy.
A New Dosage for Today’s Pain
Be sure you see the word “renewed” in verse 16: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” Do you see what this means? It means the refreshing, renewing, strength-giving drink you took in the morning that kept you from losing heart must be taken again the next morning — or night or noon. “Re-new” means something runs out. The bucket leaks. The car runs out of gas. The spiritual metabolism of your life feasted on the renewing meal, and now it needs another one.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Its own trouble. Its own wasting away. Its own destruction. Its own moths and rust and persecution and pain and dying. Each day has its own. And the car of your hope and strength and joy is not meant to run on yesterday’s gas. The metabolism of your spiritual renewal is not meant to run on yesterday’s meal. The relief from your spiritual medicine does not come from yesterday’s dosage. The text says “day by day” the renewal comes! There are no spiritual booster shots that last for ten years. There are no meals designed by God to carry you for a year. There are no gas tanks in the car of your faith big enough never to need refueling. Look at what it says: “our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
Which is why the Bible not only said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble,” but also said, “The mercies of the Lord are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22–23) — every day, day by day. There is new water flowing from the fountain. New food for today’s spiritual metabolism. New gas to drive today’s car. A new dosage to relieve today’s pain.
Why We Need Renewal Daily
And we saw from Felipe Assis’s message on the previous passage (veres 7–15) that there is a reason God would design things this way. Don’t get in God’s face and complain to him that he is saving you this way. Don’t murmur against God that the path to heaven takes so many thousands of acts of renewal to keep from losing heart. Don’t tell God you know a better way. You don’t.
This is a conference under the banner, Soli Deo Gloria — to God alone be the glory. And what did verse 7 say: “We have this treasure in jars of clay [jars that need refilling, renewing day by day] to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” God saves us through a thousand battles, a thousand renewals, so that we never, never forget that we are weak and he is our strength. He is our strength, our living water, our food, our gas, our medicine.
And the giver of the strength — the giver of hope and joy — gets the glory. That’s what the apostle Peter said: “Serve by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:11). The giver of the strength gets the glory for the service. That’s why we are weak and why we need renewals day by day so as not to lose heart.
To the Heart, Through the Head
Now the stage is set to ask: What’s the secret of not losing heart, but being renewed day by day? How does it happen?
There are two kinds of clues: One from outside the text and one from inside. First, consider the one from outside. Paul uses the verb “renew” one other place in all his writings. Colossians 3:9–10: “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” So the clue is the phrase “in knowledge.” Our inner selves — our new regenerate, Christ-trusting selves — are being renewed “in knowledge.” Being renewed day by day comes through what we put in our heads. God has designed the glory of the human being such that the condition of our heart is profoundly influenced by the content of our head — or by what the mind consciously focuses on.
More Than Knowledge — But Not Less
Notice, I’m saying this carefully so as not to overstate it. Knowledge alone, without the Holy Spirit applying that knowledge by miraculous illumination, produces pride. Paul said so in 1 Corinthians 8:1: “this knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.” I know that there are many people whose heads are full of true statements about God and the Bible, who are, in fact, children of hell. Jesus said so in Matthew 23:15.
But I don’t know any Christian who is being renewed day by day so as not to lose heart without putting biblical truth in their heads. In other words, it takes more than knowing to be renewed day by day, but not less. Let this sink in because it will have a massive effect on your ministry. God has designed the glory of the human being such that the condition of our heart is profoundly influenced by the content of our head — what we consciously focus on. The issue here is not losing heart. Heart! And our first clue says, Not losing heart is profoundly connected to not losing truth. Fresh strength in the heart is profoundly connected to fresh knowledge in the head.
That’s the first clue — Paul’s use of the word “being renewed” in Colossians 3:9–10, “renewed in knowledge.”
The Head Serves the Heart
The second clue is, then, exactly what you would expect. It points to the same thing: the head of knowing serving the heart of feeling. The first word in verse 16 is “so” (connecting it with the knowledge of what went before), and the first word after verse 16 is “for” (connecting it with the knowledge that comes after). “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.”
What’s another word for “so” at the beginning of this verse? “Therefore.” What’s another word for “for” at the beginning of verse 17? “Because.” You know how these words work. You use them everyday.
I am hungry. So — therefore — I am going to eat. I am going to eat, for — because — I am hungry. When the support for an action becomes before the action you use “so” or “therefore.” I am hungry. So I am going to eat. And when the support for your action comes after, you introduce it with “for” or “because.” I am going to eat. For I am hungry. My hunger is the reason I am going to eat. So, if the reason comes first you follow it with “so” or “therefore.” If the reason comes second, you introduce it with “for” or “because.”
Why I’m Here
Now you may be thinking: This is weird. We didn’t come to Chicago to take a grammar lesson. Or a logic lesson. Why are you talking like this? Get on to the meat. This tastes like a side dish.
My response goes something like this: Why do you think I was invited to this event? I’m not cool. I’m not hip. I don’t dress cool. I don’t talk cool. Moreover, I don’t give a hoot about dressing cool or talking cool. I’ll tell you why I think I was invited. Because I have spent the last forty-plus years of my life mainly digging into the becauses and the therefores of the Bible, and showing as many people as I can the treasures I have found. That’s why I think I’m here.
Helping Others Read the Bible for Themselves
The Legacy Movement is not mainly about entertainment, but about making disciples in the city. You know how you can tell if you’ve made a disciple? The person you’re working with can detect the becauses and the therefores in the Bible and can dig down into the treasures they contain until that knowledge explodes with heart-changing power, and they are being renewed by their own discoveries day by day. Until then, they are second-handers mooching off of your spiritual plate.
The great need in our churches, in our discipling, is for preaching and for teaching that deals with the words of the text and shows why they are there. And does it with a view to helping others see it for themselves.
Digging Up the Treasures
So I say again, the second clue to the secret of not losing heart, but being renewed, is that the word “so” at the beginning points back to massive renewing support for the heart in verses 7–15, and the word “because” at the beginning of verse 17 points forward to the massive renewing support for the heart in verses 17 and 18 (and beyond).
We have already heard a message on verses 7–15, but here is a glimpse of what I mean about the treasures being dug up under the word “therefore” at the beginning of verse 16.
Verse 7: We have the treasure of Christ and his gospel in weak bodies so that all the glory goes to God. Therefore, we do not lose heart.
Verses 8–9: “We are afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Therefore, we do not lose heart.
Verse 10: When we carry about in our body the dying of Jesus, the life of Jesus is manifested in our body. Therefore, we do not lose heart.
Verse 14: “God will raise us from the dead with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” Therefore, we do not lose heart.
Verse 15: “Through our suffering grace extends to more and more people and increases thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” Therefore, we do not lose heart.
Paul is really experiencing a heart-renewing power by filling his mind with these truths. And he is inviting us into this same experience. We are renewed day by day by putting these glorious realities into our minds. God has designed the glory of the human being such that the condition of the heart is profoundly influenced by the content of the head — by what we focus our minds on. That is the meaning of the “therefore” in verse 16. The truths of verses 7–15 really have power to renew the heart in faith and hope and strength and joy.
Look to the Unseen Eternal
And so it is with the “for” or the “because” at the beginning of verse 17. We do not lose heart . . .
For (because) this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
The main support in this paragraph for our daily renewal is in verse 17. “For (because) this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Verse 18 emphasizes: look at this. Look at all these future, unseen glorious things. Think about them. Set your mind on them. Meditate on them. Chew on this meal. Memorize them. Preach them to yourself. Look. Look. Look.
That’s the point of verse 18. The basis of your day-by-day renewal and your not losing heart is mainly unseen and eternal. The fallen nature and the fallen humanity oppress you and cause you to waste away — those things are painfully visible. Don’t focus on them. If you do, you will be filled with despair. Look on the unseen. Look on the eternal.
All Your Affliction Is Meaningful
And how do you do that? How do you see the unseen? You see it through the windows of therefore and because. So look at the because window in verse 17. We do not lose heart, but are being renewed day by day, “because this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Look at this. Look at this unseen reality. You can’t see this in the world. This is invisible. This is a promise that something is happening in your affliction that you cannot see. How do you see it? You see it here in verse 17 in a promise underneath the “because.”
What is this promise? What is this unseen reason that you should put in your head for the sake of your heart, so that you will be renewed day by day?
Answer: It’s the promise that all your affliction, even if it lasts a lifetime (which it did for Paul — no season of rest and retirement to reward his suffering at the end of his life — he was executed by Nero) is light and momentary and totally meaningful. So we do not lose heart.
Even a Lifetime of Affliction
Notice the contrast in verse 17 between momentary and eternal, and between light affliction and weight of glory. “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal (contrasting with momentary) weight (contrasting with light) of glory.”
So the truth Paul wants us to put in our heads day by day so that we will be renewed and not lose heart is this: Compared to endless ages of ages, these seventy or eighty years are as nothing. Compared to the weight and greatness and wonder of the glory we will see and we will be, this inglorious, shameful, painful affliction is light. His yoke is easy and his burden — even a lifetime of affliction — is light. And remember this is Paul talking, not John Piper. He had really suffered.
Every Moment of Affliction
And then comes what is perhaps the most amazing “because” of all. We do not lose heart because every single moment of our affliction in the path of obedience — whether from sickness or slander — fallen nature or fallen people — all of it is meaningful. That is, all of it — unseen to our eyes —is producing something, preparing something, for us in eternity. Verse 17: “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
This glory, that God will show us and give us, is beyond imagination. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). And more than that. There are special glories in the age to come brought about by your particular afflictions. That’s what verse 17 says: Your affliction is preparing [producing] for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Producing a Special, Eternal Glory
That is what I mean by saying every moment of your affliction is meaningful. It has meaning. It is doing something. Causing something. Bringing about something glorious. You can’t see this. The world can’t see this. They think, and you are tempted to think, this suffering is meaningless. It’s not doing anything good. I can’t see any good coming out of this. That’s what you feel if you focus on the seen.
To which Paul responds, look to the things that are unseen. The promise of God. Nothing in your pain is meaningless. It is all preparing. Working something. Producing something — a weight of glory, a special glory for you. Just for you because of that pain.
The Tragedy of the Baptist’s Death
I’ll close with an example of what I mean. The death of John the Baptist. From one angle this must be one of the most tragic stories in all the Bible. Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). And now he is in prison because John said publicly: “No, King Herod, it is not lawful for you to have your brother Philip’s wife Herodias. You are living in adultery.”
And as he sits alone in jail, wondering, is this how the kingdom is supposed to come, Herod throws a birthday party for himself. And for a little sexual bonus for the guests he has his step daughter dance. She was so pleasing that Herod promised whatever she wanted as a gift. She consults with Herodias her mother, who hates John the Baptist, and says, “The gift I want is the head of John the Baptist on a platter” (Matthew 14:8).
And in two simple verses, it is done. And how many times have I put myself in John’s position. He is sitting there in prison hoping for release to continue his ministry and his life. The door swings open, and there are two men, one with a sword. A moment of silence. Then the executioner says, “Come over here and kneel. If you struggle, we will bind you.” “Why? What’s going on? What happened?” “They liked the king’s daughter’s dance, and she asked for your head.” And the last thing John is left thinking as his short life ends is: “A dance? A dance? My life for dance?”
A Particular Weight of Glory Forged Forever
And everything in us wants to cry out: Meaningless! Meaningless — except for one thing. We have looked to the unseen. And I have heard God say in 2 Corinthians 4:17: This too, this seemingly irrational, pointless, meaningless murder of a great man is preparing (producing!) for him an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
It was not meaningless. At that moment eternity changed. A special, particular weight of glory was forged for John the Baptist forever.
And so it will be for you. Therefore, do not lose heart. Look at this unseen, eternal weight of glory day by day, and be renewed.