Brian writes in to ask, “Pastor John, I was very encouraged by your message at the Legacy Conference on 2 Corinthians 4:16–18. My question is about ‘light momentary affliction.’ Does this ‘affliction’ include my own sinfulness or only the sins done against me? The sin in my life that tears me down and hurts others, is that ‘affliction’ preparing for me an eternal weight of glory? Also, what about less noble things like my team losing a football game? If my heart feels sad that we lost, is that an affliction that is producing for me an eternal weight of glory?”
I have to say at the beginning of this question that I am so thankful I get to do this, because that is a real question. At first, it may make us laugh that somebody would ask about the loss of a ball game and the affliction that works an eternal weight of glory. But that is exactly where we live, isn’t it? I mean, that is exactly the kind of question that people have, and frankly, I just love that question. So let me try to tackle it in two halves, first the sin question and then the loss of the ball game.
Three Observations on Sin and Glory
Do my sins and their consequences become a part of the affliction that works an eternal weight of glory for me according to 2 Corinthians 4:16–18? I have three observations.
1. God can use our sins to make us depend on him.
God may use our sins to bring us to the end of ourselves and make us despair of anything but him, just like in 2 Corinthians 1:8–9. It is not talking about Paul’s sin, but it is the way God works:
We were so burdened beyond strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
So afflictions work glory for us by knocking props out from under us and making us fall on God alone. And I am saying, Yes, our sin can bring us to the end of ourselves. God in his mercy can make our sin stink to high heaven to us so that we cry out, “I am hopeless, O God,” and we throw ourselves on the mercy of God. So, sin can bring us to the point where we will inherit a weight of glory.
2. Sin diminishes the believer’s weight of glory.
Be careful. It would be terribly misleading to say that sins work for us an eternal weight of glory. In fact, sin in the Christian life is precisely what diminishes the weight of glory for the believer. Second Corinthians 5:10 says we must all face a judgment and receive our rewards (or not) according to the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
And I think the best explanation for that comes from this: If anyone has built wood, hay, and stubble on the foundation, it is going to be burned up. If he has built with gold and silver and precious stones, it will be saved (see 1 Corinthians 3:12–15). So, if we go on sinning, that is like building with wood, hay and stubble, and it is not going to become a weight of glory for us. It is going to diminish our weight of glory. Our cup of joy, using the analogy of Edwards, is made smaller by sinning, and the cup of our joy is made bigger by suffering with patience and meekness and purity — “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth . . . Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:5, 8). So my second observation is, Know that your sinning is not adding to your weight of glory — it is diminishing the weight of glory.
3. Sin causes long-lasting collateral damage.
And the third observation on this sin half of the question is that there is collateral damage when we sin that can last a lifetime. David’s child died because of his sin. He lost his child, and that was a loss that lasted him a lifetime (see 2 Samuel 12:1–23). You might have a car wreck when you are going 60 miles an hour in a 45-mile-per-hour zone. That is sin, and you will be paralyzed the rest of your life because you broke your neck sinning.
Now, will that affliction caused by sin function to bring you to a greater weight of glory? And my answer is, It can indeed. The collateral damage of sin is not sin. Not all the effects of sin are sin. God can use them to make you rely more on him, and that is how our affliction works glory for us. It makes us rely more on God.
Glory for Light Afflictions?
Now let me turn to the last part of the question: What about losing a ball game? Is that part of our afflictions that work for us an eternal weight of glory? You just lost your ball game, missed your field goal, and you were the kicker. Or you miss an airplane, and you are going on vacation. You miss your flight. Or it is prom night, and you wake up, and you have a pimple right in the middle of your forehead. Do those qualify as afflictions suffered for Christ, working for an eternal weight of glory?
And before we laugh, think of it this way: All our troubles — all of them — are on a continuum from easy to horrible. Where would you draw the line — these qualify for working out our glory and these don’t qualify? And all of our troubles from the smallest to the greatest have a potential to make us sin by grumbling and not trusting the goodness and wisdom of God, whether it is a pimple on prom night or the loss of a child. That moment — that little or huge trouble — can make you sin, or not. And so it can become an occasion for casting yourself on Christ.
So my answer is, Any trouble, from the smallest hiccup to the greatest horror — I have always worried about having hiccups before I preach. Isn’t that something? It never happened. I was never kept out of the pulpit with hiccups — if we endure these in the path of obedience to Jesus, they have the potential for working for us an eternal weight of glory, because the issue is: Does it throw us on God as our help and our treasure and our joy?
The girl that laughs at her pimple the night of the prom and sees it as a small thing compared to her belonging to the King of the universe, and the boy who springs back quickly after the high school football loss because his identity and his joy is in Jesus, have both just experienced tiny afflictions that have produced big fruits of holiness. And that will be part of their reward.