Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful. That is a very controversial statement because of how much insane suffering there is in the world.
Every time something horrific happens, an interviewer will say, “Meaningless.” And that is what it looks like — at least from our perspective. They look at it, and they say, “This is meaningless.” Suffering is everywhere. Now that we have the internet, there is no excuse for not crying every day. “Weep with those who weep,” right (Romans 12:15)? If you don’t have a theology that can cope with internet horrors, you just better check out or get one.
Second Corinthians 4:17 says our “light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.” It doesn’t say, “will be followed by an eternal weight of glory” — that would be good enough. That’s not what it says. Katērgadzomai — forgive the Greek: I just love it, and I feel like I have to dump it out every now and then. The word means produce, prepare, cause to bring about. I’ll venture this: every millisecond of your pain — from fallen nature or fallen man — every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that suffering.
“Our light, momentary affliction is doing something. It’s not meaningless.”
That’s a very controversial statement — and I believe it. So if anybody says to me that a believer’s suffering was meaningless, I’ll be quiet probably because they’re hurting really bad right now. I’m going to wait and see when the right time is, but I’m going to come back eventually and say, “It wasn’t meaningless.” I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness — it wasn’t meaningless because 2 Corinthians 4:17 says that my light, momentary, lifelong, total affliction is doing something. It’s doing something. It’s not meaningless.
Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. This is the main unseen thing 2 Corinthians 4:18 is talking about, I think. What’s the unseen you’re supposed to look at? You’re supposed to look at the promise of God in verse 17 that says your pain is doing something for you. You can’t see it. You can’t feel it. Either you see it with the eyes of faith and believe it because the text says it, or you lose heart.
I love John the Baptist, and I love his story, and I weep over the way it ended (Mark 6:14–29). John the Baptist is in prison, and you know why he’s in prison? Jesus said that there is no man born of woman greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). John’s in prison. Do you know why he is in prison? Because he looked the king right in the face and said, “You can’t have her. She is Phillip’s wife. You’re an adulterer.” Well, that’s a very dangerous thing to say to a king who has absolute authority over anybody and can do anything he wants.
So he puts John in jail. He’s scared of him. So he hasn’t killed him, but there he sits. And now it’s Herod’s birthday. And he gives a party for himself and throws in a little bonus — a little sexual bonus — for his guests. He has a step-daughter dance — a really, really pleasing dance that turns everybody on. They’re all loving it. And when she is done, he knows she has pleased the guests. So to reward her he says, “I’ll give you whatever you want — up to half my kingdom.” She goes to her mom Herodias, who hates John the Baptist. She says, “What should I ask for?” And her mom says, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
She walks back in. Everybody is listening. What’s she going to ask for? “I want, right now, the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Silence in the room. The king can’t take it back. He whispers to his attendant, “Get it.”
John is sitting there in the prison cell, wondering how the kingdom is going to come. And the door opens. Two guys are standing there, one with a sword, just a moment of silence. He doesn’t know what’s going on. And the one with the sword says, “Come over here and kneel down, and if you struggle we will bind you.”
“Every millisecond of your misery is producing a glory you will get because of that suffering.”
And John says, “What happened? What? What’s going on?” And the executioner says, “The king’s daughter danced in the party. And she asked for your head, and we have come to get it — we’re going to take your head.” That’s the last thing he has to think about in the next twenty seconds. What would you think?
Everything in me says, “God, what can be more meaningless than a party where a girl dances, asks for the head of the greatest man on the planet, and within two verses of the Bible, he’s dead. Meaningless. That’s an absolutely meaningless way to die. There is nothing glorious about it. It stinks to high heaven.”
I’ll tell you, I hope that God in his mercy put into John’s head in those twenty seconds, “This light, momentary affliction is working for you an eternal weight of glory.” And so, I believe that the main because for not losing heart in this text is that none of your suffering is meaningless.
It will feel meaningless. That is why verse 18 says don’t look at what is seen. Imagine you’re just standing there watching that happen to John the Baptist. They’re going to kill him. “He didn’t do anything. She just danced. Just don’t do that. It’s meaningless. This is totally crazy. This is an absurd novel. This doesn’t happen.” That’s the way you’d talk, right? What your eyes are telling you is meaningless.
Don’t look to what is seen. When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you got cancer at 40, when a car careens onto the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say that this is meaningless. It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory. Therefore — therefore — do not lose heart, but take these truths, all the ones you’ve heard in every message, and day by day, focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.
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