September 11, 2023

Affliction that Produces Glory

Two years ago, I experienced a loss that gave me an understanding of affliction that I had never had before. In 2021, my son passed away from a severe illness at only eighteen years of age. In the months following, I found that the verses in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 illuminate God’s perspective of affliction in a beautiful way. These verses say, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

I love these verses because they do not dismiss the pain we experience in this life, which is very real. Yet, rather than dwell on the difficulties, they point to something greater—the hope we have in eternity. The trials of this life can be overwhelming, but having the right understanding of what affliction is and how to overcome it will make bearing it easier.  

The word affliction appears in Scripture fifty-three times, and there are many more uses of its synonyms. We also find words that refer to a specific type of affliction, such as trouble, persecution, tribulation, chastisement, and so on. Clearly, Scripture has much to say on this topic. We cannot review all these references, but we will take a close look at what 2 Corinthians 4:17 teaches us about affliction, and then consider Biblical examples of how to overcome it.

Key words from 2 Corinthians 4:17

Affliction. To begin with, we need to understand what we are talking about when we say we have an affliction. An affliction is something that causes persistent pain, suffering, distress, grief, or misery. A few verses prior to 2 Corinthians 4:17, Paul noted several examples, including being troubled, perplexed, persecuted, and cast down. We could add many more: physical illness, personal loss or calamity, broken relationships, violence, to name a few.

Affliction can also vary in its scope and type. The pain we feel may be emotional, physical, mental, or even spiritual. Some afflictions are common to the saved and unsaved, such as poverty, war, oppression, and natural disasters. Some will only affect the unsaved, such as the guilt and shame of sin, and having no hope in eternity. On the other hand, only a person who is saved can share in Christ’s suffering, endure righteous persecution, or carry a burden for lost souls. In general, we get the sense that affliction is a broad term which encompasses many of life’s trying circumstances.

Our. The word our in this verse indicates that affliction pertains to us all. We live in a world that is broken by sin, and we see its consequences all around us. By considering all the prayer requests that are read every week in our churches around the world, we can see clearly how all are impacted. Even those who have been saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Spirit cannot avoid adversity. No one is exempt.

Beyond the fact that we each have our own problems, as members of God’s family we also should share in each other’s hardships. Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” Thus, we may not be experiencing persecution ourselves right now, but Scripture tells us that we should remember those who are, as if we were there with them.

From a human perspective, this sharing of each other’s troubles would seem to increase our individual load. However, we find that the opposite is true—our own burdens are lifted when our brothers and sisters in Christ are supporting us. This is one reason I am so thankful for the family of God; in trying times, the strength we gain from other believers is phenomenal. When someone says, “I’m praying for you,” it goes a long way! It strengthens us.

Many of us experienced this during the pandemic. Some of us were in congregations where there was little or no impact of the virus, which was wonderful. But when we heard about another congregation that did suffer loss, we were touched by that grief. We have love one for another, so if one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. That’s the Church! We enjoy a beautiful fellowship in Christ and we support each other.

Light. The word “light” in this verse is a bit of a paradox because affliction is by nature something heavy. Putting the two words together is like saying there was a “small catastrophe” or a “minor disaster.” Initially, it does not make sense. To understand why Paul would describe something heavy as being light, we must take into account the “weight of glory” mentioned later in the verse. We might imagine a balance with “affliction” on one side and “glory” on the other. Paul was saying that when the two are weighed against each other, the affliction does not come close to the weight of the glory! By comparison, the affliction that we normally consider to be heavy can only be described as light.

Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this concept is childbirth. A mother’s labor is usually terribly painful, but it is also followed by one of the greatest joys in life—the mother holding her baby in her arms! In a sense, the joy the new baby brings overshadows the agony of birth. That is the type of comparison Paul was making. Yes, we experience real pain at times, but it cannot compare to the rejoicing that is to come. Thank God, any affliction in this life is light when we look at it from His perspective.

Glory. When my son was sick, one day he called me and said, “Dad, I need you to come to the hospital and pray with me.” He wanted to be saved. It was a privilege to pray with my son and see him wonderfully experience salvation. He only served the Lord for a few months, but in that short time, he fully embraced the Gospel. After he was saved, he did not fear death anymore. When the doctors let us know that he had a limited amount of time left, he told me he was worried about his mom. He was not worried about himself because he had made his peace with God and was ready to go to glory land! As a parent, this was a great consolation. His parting words were, “Mom, I love you. We will meet in Heaven.” Indeed, we will see him again in Heaven, where there will be no more parting. What glory! We do endure sadness and grief in this life, but they cannot compare with our hope of Heaven and the eternal weight of glory that awaits us there.

Worketh. The link between affliction and glory is the word worketh, which means “produces, prepares, brings about.” This tells us that if we allow affliction to have its God-intended purpose in our lives, it actually accomplishes something for us—it produces glory. This means that nothing we suffer in this life is pointless; it is all meaningful. When we are surrendered to God and we go through hardships, we will be rewarded for our patient endurance in Heaven.

Jesus touched on this lesson during the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11). The word blessed refers to deep spiritual joy and happiness. Here again, from a natural perspective we would not expect joy or happiness to result from an affliction like persecution. However, Jesus continued, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” There’s the reason for the happiness—the glory that awaits us in Heaven. We are not happy to be mistreated, but we can be happy for what we know God is accomplishing through our suffering, which we will see in Heaven.

The example of Job

With a better understanding of what affliction is, let us now consider an example of one who was victorious in spite of tremendous trials. Job is perhaps the paramount Biblical example of affliction, and there is much we can learn from him. Here are just a few lessons from the life of Job.

Focus on God. From the outset of his account, we know that Job’s character was above reproach. Job 1:8 says, “And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” He was perfect in his own generation. Considering that, we might expect that life should have gone smoothly for him. However, God allowed Satan to afflict Job. This tells us that there is no need to focus on what Satan is trying to do in our lives; he can only do what God allows. Even though Satan has intentions for our trials, they are permitted by God for His purposes, and that is where our focus should be.

Recognize our humanity. We can hardly imagine what Job went through. In just one day, he lost nearly all his material possessions—thousands of sheep, camels, oxen, and more. Subsequently, he lost his position in his community. Yet those losses were far surpassed when he lost all his children. Shortly thereafter, God allowed Satan to touch Job’s health. His friends did not provide any encouragement, and even his wife—the person who should have been his greatest source of comfort—told Job to curse God and die.

It may be tempting to think that we would never do what Job’s wife did, but we must remember that she was also experiencing profound affliction. When God allows affliction in our lives, even when He gives the grace to go through it, our humanity will still be there. God does not usually give supernatural power that takes away all our grief and pain. We can read how Job wrestled with his humanity all the way through his trial, and yet he did not sin. God helped him, and Job came through with victory.

Some people might expect that a strong Christian will coast through trials and never struggle with doubts, but Christians are still human. When the Bible says we should weep with those who weep, it is because we are human and we hurt when we go through problems.

Our humanity may cause us to wonder things like, Why did this happen to me? If different choices had been made, could this have been prevented? Is there any point to what I’m suffering? These types of questions are a natural human response. Some people might expect that a strong Christian will coast through trials and never struggle with doubts, but Christians are still human. When the Bible says we should weep with those who weep, it is because we are human and we hurt when we go through problems. Yes we are spiritual, but we are also human, and the outward man may not accept the trials of life easily. Thank God, He knows we are merely “dust” and He is merciful. He gives us grace to endure, and by faith we can see something more glorious in our trials—we can see what God is doing, which gives us hope.

Maintain spiritual integrity. Job was also merely dust, yet in all he suffered, he did not sin. The Bible says he shaved his head, fell upon his knees, and worshipped. Rather than curse God, he surrendered to Him. Job said, “Naked came I into the world, naked will I go . .  . The LORD giveth and the LORD taketh away; blessed by the name of the LORD.” That is integrity!

Whatever experiences we go through in life, our goal is spiritual integrity—to remain faithful to God. Our testimony is not that God never allowed a trial, but that we stayed true to Him no matter what we suffered. Our God is worthy of that loyalty; He is that good. No affliction can touch the work He has done in our hearts and nothing can separate us from His love. If we lose everything else in this life but still have the Lord, we have everything we need.

Expect trials. According to human reasoning, what happened to Job was strange. His trial was extreme, even though he was a man of the highest integrity. Our natural expectation would be that rejecting God should lead to heartache and troubles, but endeavoring to live in a way that pleases Him should result in success and prosperity. When we serve God faithfully and still are met with loss or disappointment, it may not make logical sense, but God understands all things.

It is very important that we expect to be tried and tested in this life. Many verses in Scripture let us know that Christians will have trials. In Acts 14:22, Paul said, “. . . we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Paul also said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” In 1 Peter 4:12 we read, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.” Peter was referring to the persecution that the Early Church was facing. After receiving salvation, which of course was wonderful, they may have expected their Christian lives would always feel glorious. However, Peter let them know that it is normal for Christians to face insult, slander, and attacks. Affliction was not a sign that they had done something wrong; it was to be expected.

God has a purpose in all the afflictions He allows in our lives, and often times winning lost souls is a primary objective. We need to arm ourselves with a Christlike attitude so that we do not try to run away from His plans but rather embrace them and so accomplish His purposes.

Today as well, Christians are slandered around the world. We are frequently blamed for problems in society, especially those of us who teach holiness. We may be accused of intolerance if we do not participate in what is contrary to God’s Word. If we are not prepared to suffer for the Gospel, we might be surprised when difficulty comes. We may even feel betrayed. In 1 Peter 4:1 we read, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” God has a purpose in all the afflictions He allows in our lives, and often times winning lost souls is a primary objective. We need to arm ourselves with a Christlike attitude so that we do not try to run away from His plans but rather embrace them and so accomplish His purposes.

It is humbling to consider all God does for us, from watching over us before we were saved, to drawing us to salvation, and then helping us daily to grow in our faith. He takes us from strength to strength. Then at some point along the way, He will allow us to be tested. What will we do when the test comes? We cannot turn our backs on the One who has done so much for us, but must trust Him and surrender to His ways. When we do that, the God who gave Job the grace to live a life of integrity will give us the grace we need also.

Suffering with Christ

Christ is our perfect example for how to live pleasing to God. If we really want to be like Christ, we must realize that He suffered. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was oppressed and afflicted, and led as a lamb before the slaughter (see Isaiah 53). That was Christ—though He lived a perfect life, He endured affliction all along the way.

Yet, consider how the balance between affliction and glory would look in Christ’s life. On one side we would have what He suffered—the scourging, the beating, the mocking, and betrayal. Eventually, He was crucified. He who knew no sin was made to be sin. We cannot comprehend the magnitude of His agony. But on the other side—the glory side—would be the redemptive work! There we find victory over sin and death. It’s the reason we can sing, “Hallelujah, my sins are gone!” Captives are set free, beauty is traded for ashes, and joy comes in place of mourning. This is God’s perspective of affliction.

To truly follow Christ’s example in affliction, we must follow Him to Gethsemane—the place where we say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Surrender does not come naturally, but with His help we can do it. We have to allow God to shape us as a potter shapes a vessel. Whichever tools He chooses to use, though they sometimes bring tears, we must yield to Him. That idea is not something flesh and blood can receive easily. However, when we believe that “it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), then we know that the more we submit our wills to God, the more He can use us. When our wills are surrendered, we are with Christ on the victory side!

Through Scripture we come to understand that affliction brings glory and surrender brings victory. In the natural, these concepts do not make sense, but “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). When we look with spiritual eyes, we can thank God for our trials and afflictions because we know He has a good purpose in allowing them. He will be near to us when we are hurting and refresh our souls, He will give us the needed grace and strength to endure, and in the end He will take us to glory.

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