June 06, 2021 homily on Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 by Pastor Galen Zook
“Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.” — Mark Twain
If we were infants entering this world, and if we knew all of the heartaches and pains and struggles that we might face in life, no doubt the occasion would be quite somber.
On the other hand, if we were the person passing on to glory to be forever with the Lord, then we would no doubt be rejoicing.
Now don’t get me wrong, I generally enjoy life, and I’m grateful for each and every day that God has given me here on this earth. But life can be challenging at times. Especially when we’re sick or ill or feel the effects of our bodies aging, many of us probably can identify with the Apostle Paul’s statement that “our outer nature is wasting away” (2 Cor. 4:16).
Several of the more senior saints here in our congregation have warned me never to get old. They say, “it’s no fun getting old!” And indeed, as I turned 40 several months back, I have begun to understand a little bit of what you’re talking about. Especially the past few weeks as I’ve been having some back pain, I resonate with Paul’s statement that about our “outer natures wasting away.”
In our society we try to do everything we can to stay young – or at least to appear to stay young. From exercise and diets, to cosmetics and cosmetic surgeries, we have an obsession in our culture with delaying the aging process. But in the end there’s nothing we can do to stop it. As long as Jesus tarries, and if God sees fit to keep us here on this earth, no matter how old or young we are, we will all eventually experience our “outer natures” starting to waste away, little by little.
But the apostle Paul actually uses this as an example and a reminder of the hope that we have in Jesus, and to remind us that this life is not all there is. Paul tells us that the same God “who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us…into his presence” (2 Cor. 4:14). Paul says later in the passage that “We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). We have a heavenly body, and a home in heaven that Jesus is preparing for us.
This is why Mark Twain can suggest that we would rejoice at our own funeral. Those of us who are in Christ Jesus know that when we die and leave these earthly bodies, we will be given a brand new body with no pain or afflictions, no sickness, or disease. And we will live eternally with Jesus.
But what can we say then about this life and about the pains and sorrows and afflictions that we experience here on this earth?
Well the Apostle Paul has an answer for that as well. He says that “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).
This is the role of the Holy Spirit working within us. Though our bodies may grow tired and weary, the Holy Spirit works within us to renew our strength, to give us new life and breath and energy. This is why we often see Christians who are going through incredibly difficult outward circumstances, and yet they have a peace and a joy that comes from within. That’s the Holy Spirit working within them, to restore and renew them, and to give them new life.
As I look around at many of you here in this room, I see that happening in you. I know the pains and struggles that many of you have experienced in this life, and yet you exude a peace and a joy that cannot be explained by your outward circumstances. And that peace and joy is growing in you more and more, the older you get! Many of you are like fine wine — you’re getting better with age – because the Holy Spirit is working in and through you, renewing you, helping you grow to be more and more like Christ.
The Weight of Glory
Paul goes on to say that the “slight momentary affliction[s]” that we experience in this life are “preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17).
In other words, one of the ways that God works within us is that God uses the challenges and difficulties that we experience here on this earth to refine us and purify us.
Now, I am not saying that God is the one bringing the afflictions. The suffering and pain that we experience in this life are due to the reality that we live in a fallen world. And the enemy constantly brings trials and temptations to try to defeat us and to get us down. These things do not come from God. But God can take these afflictions that the enemy intended for our harm, and turn them around and use them for our good (see Gen. 50:20).
And so Paul says that these “momentary affiliations” are “preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (2 Cor. 4:17).” In other words, the glory that we’re going to experience one day is so massive – so heavy – that it cannot be measured!
Gold is measured by its weight. The heavier the gold, the more it’s worth – the more valuable it is.
The word “glory” here refers to splendour, brightness, magnificence. The majesty and magnificence of heaven is so wondrous that we could never begin to measure it.
And somehow, God is using the experiences – the trials and the affiliations that we endure in this life, to refine us and to prepare us for the glory that we will experience when this life is over – a glory that cannot be measured.
Christian author Randy Alcorn uses the analogy of mountain climbers, saying that
“Mountain climbers could save [a lot of] time and energy if they reached the summit in a helicopter, but their ultimate purpose is conquest, not efficiency. Sure, they want to reach [the top of the mountain], but they desire to do it by testing and deepening their character, discipline, and resolve.”
Mountain climbers could find a lot of easier ways to get to the top of the mountain. But they want to challenge themselves, to stretch themselves to the limit. And undoubtedly the joy that they experience when they reach the top of the mountain after having stretched themselves to the limit is that much greater because of the challenges that they experienced on the way up the mountain.
Randy Alcorn goes on to say,
“God could create scientists, mathematicians, athletes, and musicians. [But instead God] creates children who take on those roles over a long process. [And in the same way] God doesn’t make us fully Christlike the moment we’re born again. [God] conforms us to the image of Christ gradually.“
This is why Paul says in the previous chapter, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
“In our spiritual lives, as in our professional lives, and in sports and hobbies, we improve and excel by handling failure and learning from it. Only in cultivating discipline, endurance, and patience do we find satisfaction and reward. And those qualities are most developed through some form of suffering.“
God uses the suffering that we endure in this life to purify us, to strengthen us, to make us more like Christ, and to prepare us for the “weight of glory beyond all measure” that we will one day get to experience.
It’s all for God’s Glory
Now the end result of all of this is not our glory, but God’s. And so Paul says earlier in verse 15, “Yes everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:15).
God loves us and cares about us. God desires a relationship with us. God desires for us to experience God’s grace and goodness. Abd God wants more and more people to experience the grace and mercy of Christ. That’s why Jesus gave his life for us by dying for us on the cross – to show the extent of God’s love and forgiveness, to bring us back into relationship with God.
And the end result of all of this is that God will be glorified. God is worthy of all the worship and praise. God is worthy of our love and affection and devotion. And so God is at work within us so that grace may extend to more and more people, and so that more and more people may know the wonder and majesty and the glory of God, and worship and adore God forever.
Indeed, this is what we were made for! We were created to worship God. And so as we are being refined, and renewed, and made more and more into the image and likeness of Christ, and as we extend God’s grace to other people through acts of love and kindness, and as more and more people are brought into into the family of God, then more and more people are living into the purpose for which we were all made – to glorify and worship God. For God is worthy of all praise.
This is why in Psalm 138, David says:
1 I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
2 I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness;
for you have exalted your name and your word
3 On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.
And David goes on to say,
4 All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth.
5 They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
6 For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;
but the haughty he perceives from far away.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;
you stretch out your hand,
and your right hand delivers me.
And David ends by saying,
8 The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
And so the Apostle Paul says “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 4:16-5:1).
Friends, what we see here is temporary, but one day we will experience an eternal weight of glory that cannot be measured. The afflictions we endure here in this life are momentary. And even though our bodies may be wasting away, God is at work within us, renewing us, restoring us, purifying us, making us more like Christ, so that God’s grace may extend to more and more people, so that they too may praise and glorify God.
God is worthy of our worship and praise – now and for all eternity. And so let us respond by opening our hearts for God to work within us, and to renew us by the power of the Holy Spirit, that God’s grace may extend to more and more people, to the praise and the glory of God.