The Everlasting Glory Our Afflictions Work
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more
exceeding and eternal weight of glory. II Corinthians 4:17
Do you agree with the apostle Paul?
As far as his claim (that our afflictions work glory for us) is concerned, we no doubt can agree with Paul. Surely in a physical sense that can be very true. A very serious and painful affliction in surgery, for example, can give us misery for a few weeks, and then brings years of relief and a very pleasant life.
But in this vale of tears, does the child of God really have only a "light affliction," and one that lasts only for a moment? That word "affliction" which Paul uses is very often translated as tribulation, or even as persecution. Can we then agree with Paul and call this persecution a light affliction, which is but for a moment?
Yes, for if we delve into what our God says here through Paul, we not only agree that this verse brings to us the truth, but also that God never lies. What is more, the verse assures us of that which is tremendously comforting for the child of God. Whether a child of God dies as the result of persecution which Satan realizes through unbelievers, or whether his death is simply part of what happens to all men because the wages of sin is death, he is going away from this sad life and into an everlasting weight of glory, as Paul here declares.
We do well, however, to change one word in our translation of this verse which Paul wrote. The word "eternal" should be changed to "everlasting." That which is eternal has no beginning or end. Our light afflictions do not work for us an eternal weight of glory. The glory our light affliction works has a beginning in our lives. Our afflictions have a beginning because we come into this world at a divinely appointed moment of time. What is more, that affliction also begins at a certain moment of time. It has a beginning in us, because we have a beginning of life. We are not eternal as our God is. How can that which does not yet exist be eternally afflicted? Whatever has a beginning enjoys and experiences nothing that is eternal. Whatever has a beginning is not eternal. Scripture reveals the truth to us in that way. In Genesis 1:1 we read that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. These places were not eternal; and likewise men who are created on the earth are not eternal and have no eternal weight of glory. What is more, in Revelation 21:1 we read of a new heaven and a new earth, which John saw in a vision. And in the next verse we read of a new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven.
Now our light affliction does work for us a far more exceeding and everlasting weight of glory. In Luke 2:14 we find the angels singing: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward me." This they sang at Jesus' birth. And the glory of God is the shining forth of His virtues and strength. When He sent His Son into our flesh to be our Savior, He revealed His love and power; and in that way He manifested to us how glorious He is.
Through His Son our God graciously worked in us an exceeding and everlasting weight of glory. Graciously God makes us glorious by making us righteous and holy. He causes us to be born again as His elect children. He removes our guilt and keeps us safe from the punishment which we deserve. God's glory is the radiation and shining forth of that wonderful work of His grace whereby He implants in us love for Himself, even though through our father and mother, Adam and Eve, we began to hate Him. Satan brought that shame and agony upon us. But God makes His elect to be people in whom He implants a new spiritual life; and He keeps Satan from taking that spiritual life away from them.
The affliction which we have, as children of God, is light compared with what Christ suffered as our Head and representative. And that affliction is the work of God's grace. It is not that which we earn, namely, that exceeding and everlasting weight of glory. What must be stressed in the church-world today is that we do not earn the smallest part of our salvation. Every bit of it, including our desire for it, is the gift of God's grace. That desire for salvation is not the condition which we have to fulfill in order to have that salvation with its blessedness. The Arminian philosophy of Christ offering salvation to us, waiting to see whether we will ask Him to begin it in us, is Satan's devilish philosophy. Nowhere can we in Scripture find Christ - or for that matter the Triune God - asking us to let Him begin salvation in us.
Look up Psalm 139:14. There we read, "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well." Likewise in John 13:7 Christ Jesus presents to us the awesome truth: "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter." Look then also at verse 18, namely, "I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen." We do not get salvation because we decided to ask for it. We can and do ask for it only after God has implanted that desire in us. And when Christ Jesus was on the edge of dying on His cross, to earn for us that exceeding and everlasting weight of glory, He said, as recorded in John 17:9: "I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou has given me; for they are thine."
Likewise in John 10:15 we read, "I lay down my life for the sheep." That refers to a specific number of sheep. Satan also has sheep; but not one of them will be saved. God - who is not moved and does not have His mind and will changed by what men do - chose a definite number of sheep for whom Christ would die and bring salvation. Consider also that Christ's church is called His body. We read, for example, in Ephesians 5:30, "For we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones."
Now our afflictions, of which Paul speaks here, are designed and decreed by God to bring us to a particular place in the body of Christ, which body God designed and builds perfectly. Our afflictions are not what God sends upon us in His holy wrath. Our afflictions are sent in God's love. We do well to bear in mind that each one of those whom God eternally chose to be a member of the body of Christ belongs to the church which He designed. And God designed a particular place for every single one of His elect, with a particular work to perform as the member of Christ's body, and with a particular work to perform in a particular place in that body of Christ.
Our hands do different work than our feet, and are in different places in the body. And as God is shaping the church, that body of Christ, the elect members of that body not only have a specific place designed by God, but have a particular work which they will perform. We do not now see why this one dies in this way, and that one in that way. We cannot now explain why' these members of Christ's body die at the same time and by the same "accident," or sickness. But we do well to bear in mind and appreciate the fact that our light afflictions are designed by God, and are used by Him. Do we not read in I Corinthians 12:12 this astounding truth, namely, "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ?" And then in verse 27 we read, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."
Look then at your afflictions in the light of what God says of it, not what men will say about it. Compared with the exceeding and everlasting weight of glory, this affliction is light. In fact, look at the light affliction as a shining light upon your pathway and experiences. The unbeliever, looking at his afflictions, may grumble and complain. He may even commit suicide, thinking that death will end it for him, and then find a very painful and everlasting weight of God's wrath in hell! But the child of God, when the Antichrist comes with affliction upon the members of the body of Christ, must hold on to this comforting truth that such affliction is light in comparison with what God is preparing.
Thank God for all the afflictions which He sends, and say with Him what He says through Paul in Romans 8:28: "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."
Now, to see that more exceeding and everlasting weight of glory we, as the next verse tells us, must look by faith at that which our fleshly eye cannot see. By faith we can see the tremendous significance of Christ's cross. By faith we can see Him enjoying that exceeding and everlasting weight of glory. We can see Him there as the Head; and we can see ourselves as the members of His body, each in a particular place.
Seeing these wonderful and blessed things, we can and will call our afflictions light, and of only short duration. Seeing these blessed things, we have the God-given proof that our exceeding and everlasting weight of glory is being prepared for us, and that through our afflictions God is preparing us to receive them.
Do not then for one second question God's love and wisdom in what He sends upon us. Instead sing with your soul the truth which we find in Psalm 98 and Psalter number 261:2, namely:
Truth and mercy tow'rd His people
He hath ever kept in mind,
And His full and free salvation
He hath shown to all mankind.
Sing, O earth, sing to Jehovah,
Praises to Jehovah sing;
With the swelling notes of music
Shout before the Lord, the King.
Rev. J.A. Heys in the Standard Bearer of December 1, 1993
Last modified: 12-Nov-2001