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"For this slight momenary 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 Cor 4:17-18
This was a scripture in our small group bible study this week. It prompted some good discussion, and I have not stopped thinking about it. I don't think Paul's point here is to urge his readers to live for unseen things. He does that elsewhere. By this point in 2 Corinthians, it is an assumption that the Christian is looking to unseen things.
Here Paul argues that he is able to overcome his current suffering for Christ by looking to eternal things rather than transient things. Similar principles may apply to general suffering if we can understand it in light of the seen/unseen dichotomy. However, sometimes it is our focus on transient things that causes us suffering. This is particularly true of psycological suffering such as stress or anxiety. We worry about the opinions of others. We stress about the level of education our children are receiving when they will almost certainly be in the top 10 percent. According to Matthew 6:25-34 even our fear about where our next meal will come from is misplaced. And these are probably the most important things that take our energy. Paul, however, is suffering because of the rejection of the Gospel. His suffering is both psychological and physical, but he can overcome because he looks to unseen realities for his true identity and comfort. He knows God is his father, and he trusts that whatever happens, it is the result of God's care for him.
This prompted me to wonder about what makes me think I suffer, what I spend my money on, and what I spend my time doing. Could someone look at my life and say, "He is living for unseen things?" I am not sure. I think this may be the true mark of the Christian. It will look different at different times and in different people's lives, but I think it is the difference. Do I live out of fear an anxiety that comes from living for transient things or out of the confidence that comes from living for eternal things?
In my discussion with my small group, I said that maybe we should pray for opportunities to suffer as Paul did. Thankfully, some of them pulled me back from my asceticism. Instead, we should pray that the Holy Spirit will not leave us alone living for seen things. As we are driven to live for unseen things we will inevitably suffer because we will be running contrary to the world.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. John 15:18