So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light 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 Corinthians 4.16-18.
To someone who presently wakes up each morning to a whole range of indicators that his “outer self is wasting away”, these verses are a clarion call for me to get my eyes off them and to make sure my focus is somewhere very different.
First, Paul points out something which should be obvious to everyone but often isn’t to those who are still young and who have their health; that life for every human being is what William Barclay has called “a slow but inevitable slipping down the slope that leads to death”. There is a day by day wasting away of our present mortal body. But, says Paul, matching that day by day wasting away of the outer self, there is (for those who belong to Christ) a day by day renewing of the inner self. Inside, the “me” that will live forever is not growing old and never will. It is being sustained by the water of life and the bread of life. The “me” inside is forever young, forever healthy, forever full of vigour.
On the face of it, this looks as if Paul is going down the route of regarding the body as a kind of unimportant shell that will soon be discarded to release an all-important and vastly superior soul or spirit that will live forever with God; but nothing could be further from his thought. As chapter 15 of his first letter to the Corinthians makes crystal clear, Paul’s great hope is not to be a disembodied spirit floating around in “heaven” but to dwell in a resurrection body on the new earth; and that is the context of what now follows.
All that we go through now, he says, as this body wastes away, is preparation for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”. The Greek translated here as “beyond all comparison” almost defies translation. It is kath’ hyperbolen eis hyperbolen which is literally “excessively to excessively”. To accuse someone of hyperbole is to say that they are exaggerating whatever it is they are describing … “going over the top”. But Paul is saying that it is impossible to exaggerate the glory that awaits us. Go over the top in anything you say about the glory of the world to come and it won’t be anywhere near the top; so you’ll have to go over the top even more, and then again, and again, and again …
And it is a “weight” of glory. Paul has just said that our momentary affliction is “light”, and now he provides the contrast. The glory to come has real substance. We shall wear it, indwell it, like a king at his coronation wears a crown and a robe, each heavy with gold and precious stones. And that is what I am to “look to”. The word here is not blepo which is the general Greek word for to look at something, but skopeo which means to set one’s sight on something and see its worth, make it a focus and a goal.
My focus, today and every day, is not to be my aches and pains, my incapacities, but the world of glory that awaits — glorious body, glorious world, glorious company, glorious Christ. These are the eternal realities, everything else is transitory.