Second Corinthians 4:16 expresses something everybody here this morning wants to experience. Paul says, “We do not lose heart, though our outer self is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.” There is something here nobody wants and something everybody wants.
What Nobody Wants and What Everybody Wants
Nobody here this morning wants to lose heart. Nobody came in here saying, “I sure hope we sing some songs and hear a sermon that helps me lose heart. I really want to be discouraged this morning by what John says.” Not one of you. Nobody wants the heart for living knocked out of you. Neither did Paul.
On the contrary, everybody wants inner renewal day by day. We all know that feelings of strength and newness and hope and vitality and courage and zest for life last for a little while, and then they tend to drain away. If we are going to be strong on the inside and have hope and joy and resources to love, we are going to have to be renewed day by day. We know that. Life is not static or unfluctuating. It is up and down and up. It is fill and deplete and fill again. It’s renew, expend, renew, expend, renew.
Every one of us wants the power of renewal. Nobody here wants to be left in the valley of depletion and emptiness and discouragement. If there is a secret to being made strong, hopeful, joyful, and loving again and again and again day by day, we’re interested.
Two Crucial Words: “Therefore” and “For”
This means that there are two words in this text that should get our attention. The word “therefore” at the beginning of verse 16 and the word “for” at the beginning of verse 17. Why are they so crucial?
Verse 16 as the Top of a Triangle
Picture verse 16 at the top of a triangle with two sides supporting it. So there is our longing supported by these two lines: “We do not lose heart . . . but our inner person is being renewed day by day.” That’s what we all want this morning — to be able to say that and really mean it.
Verse 16: We do not lose heart . . . but are renewed day by day.
Verses 7–15 as One Side Supporting the Top
The word “therefore” at the front of the verse means that Paul has been saying some things that lead him to this experience and support it: “this is true and this is true and this is true” in verses 7–15, “Therefore we do not lose heart . . . Therefore we are being renewed day by day.” So the first line of the triangle is the truth of verses 7–15 that leads up to this experience and supports it. That should get our attention and send us hunting in those verses for what it is. Maybe it is meant for us too!
Verses 17–18 as Another Side Supporting the Top
Then the word “for” at the beginning of verse 17 means that Paul is about to say some things that are the reason for verse 16. “We do not lose heart . . . and we are renewed day by day” for (because) this is true and this is true and this is true. So the second line of the triangle coming down on the other side is the truth of verses 17–18 that support the experience he just described.
So can you see it now? The experience we long for is sitting there on the point of this triangle with two supporting sides. Verses 7–15 are true, “Therefore we do not lose heart but are renewed day by day.” That’s one side. “We do not lose heart, but are renewed day by day” for verses 17–18 are true.
So our aim then is to look at the two sides of this triangle and make the truth that sustained Paul the truth that sustains us.
In the Midst of Suffering
But first, one brief observation: verse 16 acknowledges that not losing heart and being renewed day by day are happening in the midst of suffering. “We do not lose heart, but though our outer person is decaying our inner person is being renewed day by day.” Paul knew that he was dying — and that everybody is dying. He experienced tremendous suffering, and in it he saw the decay and the wasting away of his earthly life. There were weaknesses and sicknesses and injuries and hardships and pressures and frustrations and disappointments. And every one of them cost him a piece of his life. One way to say it was that “death was at work in him” (2 Corinthians 4:12).
That was the context for saying, “We do not lose heart . . . we are always being renewed.” So what we are really asking now is not just, “How can I not lose heart in life?” and “How can I be renewed day by day?” but “How can I prepare to suffer without losing heart?” “How can I accept the decaying of my body and the ebbing away of my earthly life and at the same time not lose heart, but find renewed inner strength to go on with joy to the end with acts of love?”
Now we are ready to see Paul’s answer to this question. First in verses 7–15 and then in verses 17–18.
Four Reasons Not to Lose Heart
In verses 7–15, there are at least four reasons that lead Paul to say, “Therefore we do not lose heart.” And every one of them takes into account the decaying of his earthly life. He never loses sight that he is a dying man and that his life is being spent. So what he is doing in these verses is showing what is true in spite of and even because his outer nature is decaying and wasting away.
1. The Glorification of God’s Power and God’s Son
First, though his outer nature is decaying, in and through this suffering, God’s power and the life of God’s Son are being manifested and glorified.
“In and through suffering, God’s power and the life of God’s Son are being glorified.”
Verse 7: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels [that is, decaying, weak, outer persons], that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.” Therefore we do not lose heart . . . because God’s power is exalted in our weakness.
Verse 10: “Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus [that’s another aspect of the decaying of the outer man], that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” Therefore we do not lose heart . . . because the life of God’s Son is exalted in our daily dying.
Verse 11: “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Therefore we do not lose heart . . . because the life of God’s Son is manifested and glorified in our decaying bodies.
So the first reason Paul doesn’t lose heart as his outer nature decays is that in his weakness and his daily dying for the sake of others, God’s power and the life of God’s Son are glorified, and that’s what Paul loves more than anything.
2. The Strengthening of the Church
Second, though his outer nature is decaying, in and through this suffering, life is flowing from him to the church. Christians are being strengthened by Paul’s weakening.
Verse 12: “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” Therefore we do not lose heart . . . because not only is God being glorified, but you, my loved ones, are receiving life and strength and hope.
Verse 15: “For all things are for your sakes, that the grace which is spreading to more and more people [through Paul’s suffering for them] may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” Therefore we do not lose heart . . . because [and notice how verse 15 puts the first two reasons together] in my ministry of suffering, grace is spreading to you and glory is going to God. These are the two great loves of Paul’s life: bringing grace to others and bringing glory to God — and this verse says they happen in the very same experience. Therefore Paul does not lose heart.
3. God’s Sustaining Presence
Third, though his outer nature is decaying, in and through this suffering, God sustains him and does not let him be overcome.
Verses 8–9 (notice in each of these pairs what he is really saying is, Yes, our outer nature is decaying, but, No, we do not lose heart): “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Therefore we do not lose heart . . . because God sustains us and does not let us be overcome.
4. Our Resurrection from the Dead
Fourth, though his outer nature is decaying, he will be raised from the dead with the church and be with Jesus.
Verse 14: “[We know] that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.” Therefore we do not lose heart . . . because it’s going to be all right. Not even death can make the story have a bad ending. I’m going to live again; and I am going to live with you, the people I love; and I am going to live with Jesus and share his glory forever and ever.
Therefore — that’s the first line of the triangle (verses 7–15) that supports the great experience of not losing heart but being renewed every day.
- I am being renewed because God’s power and the life of God’s Son are being manifested and glorified in my decaying weakness.
- I am being renewed because life is flowing from my suffering into the church that I love so much.
- I am being renewed because God sustains me in my suffering and does not let me be overcome by it.
- I am being renewed because I know I will be raised from the dead with you and with Jesus to live together forever and ever.
Therefore I do not lose heart!
Four Reasons Not to Lose Heart
Now look at the other line of the triangle that supports Paul’s wonderful experience in verse 16, namely, verses 17–18. He does not lose heart, and he is being renewed day by day for verses 17–18 are true. Again there are four reasons for Paul’s not losing heart in spite of his decaying outer man — his weaknesses and sicknesses and injuries and hardships.
1. Momentary Affliction
He does not lose heart for his affliction is momentary.
“Present afflictions will not have the last say in life.”
Verse 17: “For momentary light affliction . . .” This does not mean it lasts 60 seconds. It means it only lasts a lifetime (which is momentary compared with a million ages of millennia) and that’s all. The word means “present” — “the present afflictions” — the afflictions that will not outlive this present life. I do not lose heart . . . for my afflictions will end. They will not have the last say in my life.
2. Light Affliction
He does not lose heart for his affliction is light.
Verse 17: “For momentary light affliction . . .” This is not the judgment of a comfortable modern American. This is Paul’s own judgment. Nor had Paul forgotten what he says in 2 Corinthians 11:23–27:
In far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my concern for all the churches. When Paul says his afflictions are light, he does not mean easy or painless. He means that compared to what is coming, they are as nothing. Compared to the weight of glory coming, they are like feathers in the scale. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). I do not lose heart . . . for my afflictions are light.
3. An Eternal Weight of Glory
He does not lose heart for his affliction is actually producing for Paul an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.
“Afflictions are producing for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Verse 17: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” What is coming to Paul is not momentary, but eternal. It is not light, but weighty. It’s not affliction, but glory. And it is beyond all comprehension. Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).
And the point is not that the afflictions merely precede the glory; they help produce the glory. There is a real causal connection between how we endure hardship now and how much we will be able to enjoy the glory of God in the ages to come. Not one moment of patient pain is wasted. I do not lose heart . . . for all my troubles are producing for me an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
4. The Unseen, Eternal Glory to Come
Paul does not lose heart for he sets his mind on the unseen, eternal glory to come.
Verse 18: “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” God might offer you all the glory in the universe to keep you from losing heart and to renew your soul day by day, but if you never looked at it, nothing would come of it.
God’s Lavish Invitation
In fact, that is what God is doing right now in this sermon. This text is one lavish invitation from God for you to look at all the reasons why you don’t have to lose heart — all the reasons why you can be renewed day by day.
- Look! The power of God and the life of his Son are manifested in your weakness.
- Look! The life of Jesus is flowing through your suffering into the lives of other people.
- Look! God sustains you in your afflictions and will not let you be destroyed.
- Look! Your afflictions will not have the last word; you will rise from the dead with Jesus and with the church of God and live in joy forever and ever.
- Look! Your afflictions are momentary. They are only for now, not for the age to come.
- Look! Your afflictions are light. Compared to the pleasures of what is coming, they are as nothing.
- Look! These afflictions are producing for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
So Look! Focus! Meditate! Think on these things! Believe what God says, and you will not lose heart, but your inner person will be renewed day by day.