To varying degrees, everyone has experienced hardship in this life. And in contrast with prosperity preachers of our time, trusting in the Lord Jesus does not remove hardship from us. It might even, in fact, add hardship to us for the glory of God. So, when the Christian life is hard, how do we deal with it? Paul gives us a good example:
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
18 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
First of all, what kind of light momentary affliction is Paul talking about here? Specifically, here’s what he is facing:
8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-12
He is facing so much hardship for the sake of the gospel that he goes so far as to say that the Corinthians have life working in them, but he has death working in him. And if you’ve read the book of Acts and other places in the New Testament, you’ve seen how this has played out in Paul’s life: stonings, shipwrecks, snakebite, etc.
Yet he refers to his afflictions as light and momentary. The reason why he can do so is because he compares it to something exponentially greater: an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. When he compares his very real hardships to what he will experience with Christ for all eternity, suddenly, they seem very light and momentary. It’s like comparing the size of the earth to the sun: what feels like a big planet suddenly appears minuscule and irrelevant.
So, how does Paul keep this mindset? How does he not lose heart? He looks not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. In other words, he doesn’t focus too much on this world that is wasting away. He focuses on what’s to come. And that drives him forward in the midst of trial.
There’s an axiom out there that derides spiritual people: “Too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” But the truly heavenly-minded person will be the most earthly good, because they are energized to persevere and obey the Lord even in the midst of trial. There is probably no one besides the Lord who has suffered as much for the gospel as Paul has, and there is probably no one besides the Lord who is more heavenly minded than Paul was.
By the way, this hope is only for those who trust in Jesus for salvation. If you would also look forward to this eternal weight of glory, you must first turn from your sin and give your life to Him. Then, you can look forward to that which we look forward.