24 April 2020
In studying the life of Apostle Paul, we note the extent and degree of his sufferings as he sought to fulfil God’s calling for his ministry. We are familiar with the following passage:-
“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and day I was adrift at sea, on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corin. 11:23-28).
We see that the list is exhaustive; and for many of us, we may not even have gone through a fraction of Paul’s sufferings.This passage is highlighted with the view to appreciate the following statements made by Apostle Paul.
“For 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. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corin. 4:17-18).
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
We need to look at 2 Corin.4:17-18 and Romans 8:18 with the context of 2 Corin.11:23-28 in the background.
Paul was saying that our affliction and suffering here on earth is slight and momentary. He further added that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to come. When we survey the extent and degree of Paul’s sufferings, it must come through as ‘unbelievable’ that he should label even his own sufferings as among those which are slight, momentary and not worth even to be compared with the glory that is to come.
In addition. notice that this labelling is made in comparison with the eternal weight of glory, that which is unseen and eternal, and this glory is so great and immeasurable that he considered it to be beyond comparison with any amount of sufferings in this present world and realm. Not only are our sufferings here on earth (however intense and unbearable) not worthy even to be compared to the glory God has for us in our glorious eternal hope, they are also to be considered as transient and slight (when compared to eternity and the hope that awaits us).
As these truths sink in, we must therefore take a closer look at what is our hope of glory as believers and to understand why the Apostle Paul made such stunning statements regarding our sufferings here on earth compared to the hope of glory that is to come.
We must of course qualify first of all that Paul was an outstanding believer and apostle, given a special mandate by God. We also need to take into consideration that Paul had an extraordinary spiritual experience which he was not allowed to elaborate:-
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – and heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corin. 12: 2-4). Many would agree that Paul was referring to his own vision and spiritual experience in this passage. Perhaps it is not out of order for us to conclude that Paul had a vision and experience of ‘entering into heaven’ and hearing things that are to be kept to himself.
But even given the above qualifications, it seems that Paul was making the comparison between present sufferings and future hope and glory solely on the basis of what he received from God and His Word. Of course, his stature and experience might have enhanced his convictions but even apart from them, the Apostle wanted believers to know that this is the way we need to look at our present sufferings and our future hope of glory.
Let us now consider what this hope of glory entails.
The Bible indicates that the glory of God is the final end of our sanctification (Eph. 1:4-5,6,13,14). Elsewhere in Phil.1:9-11), Paul prays that the love of his fellow christians may abound more and more, so that they may be pure and blameless, filled with the fruit of righteousness, “to the glory and praise of God”. All the amazing blessings of our salvation, including our sanctification, have as their final goal the praise of the glory of God.
Nothing in all history will reveal the fullness of God’s perfections as brilliantly as will the completed glorification of HIs people. In other words, the ultimate goal of all of God’s wondrous works, including the sanctification of His people, is that He shall be given praise, honour, and glory forever.
The goal of sanctification is the perfection of God’s people.This perfection will be the final stage in the history of the image of God, for in the life to come God’s people will perfectly image Him and Christ, who is “the exact representation of His being (Heb. 1:3). Paul says in1 Corin. 15:49, “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” This “man from heaven” is obviously Jesus Christ, whose glorified image we shall fully bear and reveal in the resurrection.
The goal of our sanctification is described as perfect and total likeness of Christ, and therefore to God (1 John 3:2).This total likeness will not entail the loss of personal identity, since we shall retain our individuality; it will, however, means a complete sinless existence (see Eph.5:27, Heb 12:23; Rev. 22:14-15).
This hope of glory and glorification means that God’s purpose for us is not just future happiness or a guaranteed entrance into heaven but perfect likeness to Christ and therefore to Himself. God could not have designed a higher destiny for His people than that they should be completely like His only Son, in whom He delights. The future perfection of God’s people will be a sharing of the final glorification of Christ. We are not only heirs of God, but fellow heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17), “provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him”. Notice the relationship between suffering with Christ and glory with Christ.
So in the life to come, the glorification of Christ’s people will occur together with the final glorification of Christ (Col. 3:4). When our sanctification will have been completed, we shall be wholly like Christ in HIs glorification. Then we shall see Him face to face, but shall totally and undividedly live to the praise of the glory of His grace, world without end.
So now perhaps we can understand a little bit more why Paul made the statements that he made despite the extent and degree of his sufferings for Christ. He wanted us to see this clearly for ourselves and to live it out here on earth, keeping the hope of our glory and glorification constantly in our hearts and minds.