II Corinthians 4:13 – 5:5
“The Weight of Glory”
June 7, 2015 - Second Sunday after Pentecost
I confess. Beth and I
watched all but the last season of the ridiculous television series “Once Upon
a Time.” We were entertained, but we cringed when we heard dialogue like this
between the boy Henry and his grandfather David. They held a picture of Henry’s
missing mother and grandmother, David’s daughter and wife, and said:
David Nolan: Don’t worry.
Emma and Mary Margaret [Snow White], they’re alive.
Henry: How do you know?
David Nolan: I have faith.
Beth and I shouted at
the television (we do that at our house), “Faith in what?!” “Once Upon a Time”
uses religious language. Emma is the “Savior.” “Prophecies” are made. But after
four seasons there is no indication any of the characters believe in God (other
than perhaps a nun who is the Blue Fairy) or that God has any active role in
the events. Whatever it’s in, Prince Charming’s “faith” is not in God.
Whatever faith the
character David has in a television fantasy, verse 13 of our text tells us that
David king of Israel had the very same faith Paul had, that we have, a
robust and living faith not just in God, but in Jesus Christ the Son of God.
Verse 13 quotes David
as he remembers coming close to death, maybe in battle, maybe in illness.
Whichever, in Psalm 116:10 David said, “I kept my faith [I believed], when I
spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted.’” David kept his faith in God even when “the
snares of death encompassed him,” even when he “suffered distress and anguish,”
even when all around him, “Everyone is a liar.”
Paul says “we,” you
and I, “have the same spirit of faith,” the same sort of faith David did. We
believe in God with the same confidence and trust during hard times and
affliction “because,” verse 14 goes on, “we know that the one who raised the
Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his
Paul has the same
spirit of faith David did in Psalm 116. He has that faith in the same sort of
troubles. Back up a little above our text to hiss litany of troubles in verses
8 and 9, “afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair,
persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed.” Paul believes in
Jesus despite all that, in all that.
Faith in Jesus Christ
is trust and belief in the future based in reality. We don’t just “hold good
thoughts” or “maintain a positive attitude” because it helps us feel good or do
better work. We trust in what God will do because we know what God has done. He
raised Jesus Christ from the dead and so we believe He will raise us too.
We believe in Jesus
Christ. Because He died and rose from the dead, we believe even more. In verse
15 Paul tells us that all his own afflictions did some good. They were for the
sake of us, for the sake of everyone who hears his message now and receives
grace. As Paul wrote in chapter 12 of this same letter, his pain and troubles
demonstrate the sufficiency of God’s grace. So he says here that all his
affliction was “so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may
increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
Our faith in Jesus
Christ is faith in grace that takes suffering and makes something good out of
it. You may think the burden you are carrying is a private one, whether physical
illness or emotional distress. You imagine how you handle it only affects you.
But our faith in the grace of Jesus says that’s not true. If you respond to
suffering with courage and trust in God, it may be exactly what others need to
see to get through their times of trial.
It’s not just about
you when you get sick or lose your job or face tough family issues. A whole crowd
of people who know you will either be blessed by your faith or discouraged by
your despair. Despite the horror that goes on in Nepal after their earthquake
there are great stories like that of Rajbahadur Thapa who carried his injured
57-year-old mother on his shoulders for four hours through the mountains to get
her help. When we carry our own burdens with solid faith in Jesus, we are carrying
others into His grace.
I don’t say these
things to put a heavier load on you when you feel like you’ve got more than you
can carry. “Oh great,” you say, “now I’ve not only got all this trouble and pain,
I’ve got to worry about how I affect other people.” No, the point is that your
pain is not pointless, not worthless. When you come through it in the grace of
Jesus, it lets His grace extend further than you can see.
Which brings us to
verse 16, Paul’s own firm commitment, “So we do not lose heart.” Think about
it. Paul had been stoned and left for dead. He had been imprisoned. He had a
physical problem that tormented him. And he was writing to people who had lost
faith in him. But he still says, “So we do not lose heart.” The reason, he
says, is “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is
being renewed day by day.” Paul cared more about what God was doing in him than
he did about what was happening to him.
I quit waxing our cars
a long time ago. I realized it didn’t matter. Why should I spend an hour or two
in the driveway polishing a vehicle that’s just going to keep getting dirty and
dinged? What I care about is whether it will get me where I need to go. So I
pay little attention to the outside. But if something is wrong with the engine
or other mechanical parts, if there’s a leak or a squeak, I’m all over it. I
get the oil changed and the brakes checked and the air filter replaced. The
body of the car doesn’t matter too much, but the motor which drives it is worth
my attention, worth some regular service.
Paul knew that his
body was going to keep getting older and weaker, that his circumstances were
likely to get worse rather than better. That didn’t matter to him. What
mattered was what was happening inside, what was driving him, keeping him going
in faith. And that “inner nature” was being “renewed day by day.”
That’s what God does
with us all when we trust in Jesus Christ. He’s putting us on a maintenance
plan that is all about what really matters inside of us. He doesn’t care too
much about cosmetic details like whether we are physically healthy, whether our
hair is blond or black or turning gray, or if we have any hair left at all. He
doesn’t mind if we want to work out or eat organic food or visit the doctor.
That’s fine. But he just has deeper, weightier concerns, like whether we are
ready for the world to come.
So Paul invites us to
take all the stuff which troubles us—all our medical problems and money worries
and family disputes and job issues—take all that stuff and put it on one side
of a balance scale. Now stop and contemplate what we as people of Jesus Christ
believe in and hope for and expect to have some day, the vision of God’s glory,
the face of Jesus Christ. Take that hope of glory and put it on the other side
of the scale. What happens? The “eternal weight of glory” as he calls it in
verse 17, is “beyond all measure.” It’s no contest, glory trumps and outweighs
all our gripes and all our griefs. They are literally “light,” light in weight,
“momentary afflictions” compared with eternal glory.
It’s all, Paul goes on
with verse 18, “because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be
seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but cannot be seen is eternal.” Here’s
where the philosopher rises up in me and I want to say with C. S. Lewis’s
Professor Digory Kirke in the last book of the Narnian Chronicles, “It’s
all in Plato, all in Plato: Bless me, what do they teach them at these
Plato knew there are
many things of great weight and importance that we cannot see, that are not
just objects around us in the world. He talked about justice and love and truth
and beauty. You cannot find them just by observing matter in motion or by
taking measurements. You seek them with an inner vision, with a heart and mind
willing to see what cannot be seen just with the eyes.
As a Christian
philosopher I learned that those great glorious weighty matterss which Plato
wanted to see with his mind have been made visible for us in Jesus. In the
grace of Jesus Christ, God has shown us justice, beauty, truth, and most of all
We need to look for
the unseen things, the essential realities which undergird the visible reality
in which we live. Our time is all mixed up about marriage because all we see
and talk about is the visible part of it, two people who live together and have
sex. We’ve completely forgotten the invisible spiritual essence of the
institution which God created to be not two but one flesh. It happens over and
over. We miss the weight of glory by focusing on what’s visible and temporary
rather than on what’s invisible and eternal.
C. S. Lewis’ most
famous speech was a sermon on this text called “The Weight of Glory.” In it he
pointed out part of the meaning of verse 18. Almost everything we see around us
is temporary. This building will not be here forever. Those chairs you’re
sitting in are pretty worn out. The oak trees outside are dying. Even the earth
and the sun will eventually run out of energy, cool down and get colder and
darker. The only thing we see here in this world that will last forever
is each other.
That’s why the
beginning of chapter 5 should correct any wrong notions we get about all this. As
Christians our aim not to escape from our bodies, no matter how weak and
troublesome they are. When Paul talks about the renewal of the inner nature and
looking for what is unseen, he’s not saying that our aim is to be pure spirits
or bodiless immortal souls. That’s ancient heresy which new age thought likes
to pretend it invented.
When God raised Jesus
from the dead, He made our human bodies the single bit of physical reality
promised to exist forever. As Paul says there in chapter 5 verse 1, this
earthly tent may be destroyed, but God has a new house for us, an eternal
dwelling. We don’t just have immortal souls. God will give us immortal bodies.
Our bodies trouble us
now. As Paul says they waste away and they lead us into temptation and they get
tired and hungry and restless. In this “tent,” says verse 2, “we groan, longing
to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling,” with the remade, healthy and strong
body God has for us like He had for Jesus when He raised Him.
Take my car again. I
give all that attention to the engine rather than the body. But the body is
still important, necessary, part of the whole. It wouldn’t be a car if it were
just a motor. We’re not human if we’re just a soul. That’s why verse 3 says we
aren’t meant to be found naked in heaven. If we take off a body for a little
while when we die, it’s only so that we can be clothed even better when we rise
with Jesus. Verse 4 says, “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life.”
But right now we can’t
see all that. We can’t see those heavenly unseen realities and the glory that’s
waiting for us when we are raised up to live forever with Jesus. So verse 5
tells us we’ve been given a guarantee, a guarantee that lives inside us, the
very Spirit of God. When we’re trying see the unseen, to have faith in the
eternal, the Holy Spirit comes to point us in the right direction, to help us
look for what matters.
I invite you to look
for that unseen weight of glory. It’s there, the Holy Spirit guarantees it. The
burdens that weigh you down are just a hint of that weight of glory, because
God is using your troubles to get you ready for glory. As Lewis said, look for
that glory not just in yourself, but in the people around you. You may not be
able to see how, but the load you carry may be making theirs lighter, making
them stronger. What you carry now is only strengthening you and your brothers and
sisters to carry something better, to carry the eternal glory of a life with
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2015 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj