I’ve been encouraged lately from mulling over 2 Corinthians 4:17–18: “This slight 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. …” When difficulties and disappointments come, my initial reaction is to be dismayed. By themselves, these things darken the prospects for happiness in the days ahead. But according to this passage, difficulties and disappointments should serve to brighten the future, because they can prepare a weight of glory for me. Just how much does this glory weigh? That is, how valuable or desirable is this glory which my present difficulties can prepare for me? “Beyond measure to an extent that itself cannot even be measured” is the answer Paul gives if we were to translate his Greek words literally. And then, to top it all off, he says that the value of this glory, which is so beyond all comparison, is eternal. If the afflictions that come to me in life can lead to such a bright prospect as this, I’d better stop being dismayed by them, and as James 1:2 says, count it all joy when various difficulties befall me.
Note carefully that difficulties and afflictions don’t automatically prepare a bright future for us. According to 2 Corinthians 4:18, they do so only if we focus our attention away from the visible things, to the unseen things that God has promised in Scripture. To do this we must “let the word of Christ dwell in us richly” (Colossians 3:16) and “meditate on it day and night” (Psalm 1:2). When our minds seethe with God’s Word, then we are in a position to respond to the difficulties that life will bring so that they prepare a glorious future for us. This means ignoring the ill that these difficulties bode (not looking at what is seen), and rejoicing in God’s promise that they will prepare a glorious future for us (looking at what is not seen). This involves exercising our faith (Hebrews 12:11) and fighting the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12). It involves the pain of putting to death our sinful natures, which prefer so to wallow in the perverted pleasure of self-pity and indulge in anger against the cards that life deals to us.
But when we “glory in tribulation” (Romans 3:3) and “count it all joy when we meet various trials” (James 1:2), then God will cause life’s difficulties to produce for us an eternal glory whose value is beyond measure. Everyone suffers; but those who suffer with Christ by rejoicing in tribulation because of what God has promised will be the ones who reign with him (Romans 8:17).
During my father’s last illness his lungs kept filling with fluid because of his weakened heart; and general malaise and weakness made him feel miserable all day, and often robbed him of sleep at night. But I’ll never forget how he once said, “It’s so wonderful how the Lord, in the night seasons, brings to mind the passages of Scripture that I have preached on, and comforts me with them by causing me to rejoice over the glorious future that lies ahead for me.” This is an example of what it means to suffer with Christ.
Christmas marks the time when the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In his incarnation, death and resurrection, Christ gathered into himself all the promises God has made in Scripture and gave us a sure guarantee of their fulfillment. As we look unto Jesus during this Christmas season, and believe that he is the guarantee of the marvelous new world that God will establish, then our afflictions which are really momentary in comparison to eternity, and light in comparison to the future weight of glory—these afflictions will prepare for us an eternal glory whose value is beyond all comparison.
Daniel P. Fuller