II Corinthians 4
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (NIV)
In my own time of mourning, I have been thinking on II Corinthians 4:16-18. I memorized them awhile back in the KJV, the Bible of my youth and of my study in college. (The King James Version is no longer the language of my lips in sermons, but it remains the language of my heart in private with God.)
I learned a long time ago not to rush to a commentary in order to study Scripture. “Read the text” was drilled into me in inductive Bible study classes. I consult commentaries and theological books when I do not understand something. I only open a commentary when I have a question that I need an answer for. This prevents me from living “a second-hand life” through books about the Bible, instead of reading the Bible itself.
An intellectually oriented pastor was met at the door after his sermon by a woman with a paper bag. She handed it to him. He asked about what she was giving him. She replied, “You said that the common taters didn’t agree with you. So, I brought you some sweet taters.”
I think that lady punctured his ego-balloon.
One of my questions for this passage is:
How can I concentrate my sight on something I cannot see?
I have looked at numerous commentaries and theology books, but two only answer my question—Charles Hodge’s commentary on II Corinthians. R. C. Sproul, a theologian and pastor (and a teacher of mine twice). I recommend his book Everyone’s a Theologian. (His Scripture Expositions are still being released as they edit the sermons from St. Andrews Chapel where he preached for 20 Years. I highly recommend his Exposition of Romans.)
II Corinthians 4:16-18 introduces the reason we do not call it quits when the ministry gets tough.
Paul had outward persecution from all kinds of persons.
Certainly the ministry was always tough going for Paul. Hodge cites two Scripture passages to show how tough it was for him.
I Corinthians 4:9a; 11-13
9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena… . 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. (NIV)
II Corinthians 11:23-28
23 Are they [the false teachers] servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (NIV)
Dr. Will Norton was professor of missions at Reformed Theological Seminary–Charlotte, when I worked on my D.Min. there. One day someone from the administrative staff inquired about where I was staying. I replied that I was staying at SIM headquarters, just opposite Carowinds. They asked me if I would pick up Dr. Norton at the airport when he came in at 10:30 pm. (I was younger then and could stay up past 11:00 pm.)
I will never forget that ride from the airport to Dr. Norton’s home. He queried me concerning the state of the church I served. Well, that state included a Church-fight at the time. He gave me this advice—”Always remember that someone needs you!” In other words, in the midst of strife, don’t forget about the needs of others. He died at 102 years of age.
Most of Paul’s suffering was due to his ministry.
An ancient means of torture—board with weights
added until the person gave up or died. (WikiMedai Commons)
But note an extra source of suffering Paul has—
Paul had pressure from people constantly coming to him for advice.
11:28 …I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. “Concern” is in Greek “merimna—care, anxiety.” Literally it means “to be drawn in different directions.” (Thayer’s Lexicon) The same word describes Martha in Luke 10:41.
This word for “pressure” (epistasis in Greek) is interesting. Thayer’s Lexicon gives this meaning—”a troublesome throng of persons seeking help, counsel and comfort…thronging to one.”
Then, in addition to the outward suffering, the pressure of ambassadors from other churches coming for help or sending a person with a letter eliciting Paul’s opinion on a matter.
Ellicott says this—”The daily visits of inquirers, the confessions of sin-burdened souls, the craving of perplexed consciences for guidance, the reference of quarrels of the household or the church to his arbitration as umpire, the arrival of messengers from distant churches, each with their tidings of good or evil—this is what we have to think of as present to St. Paul’s thoughts as the daily routine of his life.” (picture of Ellicott, from Wikipedia)
Please don’t think that pastors are weak or unfit to serve if they suffer from personal attacks by parishioners and/or officers. Much of this kind of suffering is like the torture picture above—people keep putting pressure on the pastor until his health breaks or he leaves. Pray for pastors because they care for those without Christ.
Paul gives us the one thing that will keep us going under such pressure.
The word Paul uses here in II Cor. 4:18 is skopeō meaning: “to fix one’s (mind’s) eye on”; or the “end-marker of a foot-race” (Thayer’s Lexicon) In English we sometimes say I scoped out a place place for fishing.
In Phil. 3:14, Paul uses a cognate of the word skopeō—I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Skopos is used once in the Greek NT meaning “the goal or end one has in view.” Thayer’s Lexicon.
Which eye does Paul allude to in this II Cor 4:18 ? (1) not the physical eye since we cannot see the glorious benefits of our resurrection yet; (2) rather, Paul says we use the eye of faith.
Jonathan Edwards says this about seeing God—
As to the faculty that is the subject of this vision. It is no sight of any thing with the bodily eyes; but it is an intellectual view. The beatific vision of God is not a sight with the eyes of the body, but with the eyes of the soul. (Edwards, J. The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Volume I & II . Candid Publishing. Kindle Edition.)
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
We use the eye of faith as we read God’s Word to see in part what awaits us in glory. Only such a mediated vision can keep us going in tough times!