Second Corinthians is one of the Apostle Paul’s most personal letters. In it he writes about the nature of Christian ministry, including the victory that God gives us in Christ (2:14-17) despite our suffering (4:8-18, 11:16-33). Those two things do not seem to go together, but Paul reasons that in Christ we truly win, even though we may look like we’re losing:
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 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” (2 Cor 4:16-18).
Decay harms everything but God, and though the world is trying to preserve everything, everything is still decaying. Your body is dying. However, Scripture tells us to not lose heart even though we are dying because Jesus rose from ultimate decay, and God promises that we too will live after our death (4:14). Christ’s resurrection gives us stamina or “heart” in life. But it is easy to forget truth that isn’t visible to us just yet. Just as it is easy to focus on our present difficulties, it is easy to forget to praise God for the greatest gift of all, eternal life in our Savior. I challenge you to praise Him for the things that are unseen, eternal, and unharmed by decay.
Decay makes it hard to remember the things we cannot see, thus our applause and praise is often a result of getting new and shiny possessions. Months ago I was invited to speak at a community event. Everything was going okay until I began to wrap up my message; it was then that I spoke extemporaneously for three sentences. Speaking sentences that are not planned can be dangerous for preachers. We are God’s servants, not servants of our own mouths (2 Tim 4:1-2). But for a moment at this event I was a servant of my mouth, and I’m very ashamed.
The words that came from my mouth weren’t inherently bad. I spoke of a visible thing that God gave to my family, not an eternal one. The room exploded into exuberant clapping and amens. I was shocked, blindsided, and left stammering for a minute. When my mind finally caught up with my mouth, I realized that even though God had given me this decaying thing, that He had not given that thing to all the applauders in the room. In fact, there were many believers in that room who go without it. They had prayed like me, but never received. I am deeply troubled at the amount of praise that shiny new visible stuff gets, especially when other Christians go without it. We tend to question our own faith when God gives a visible thing to a brother or sister but not to us. To be sure, I’ve doubted the genuineness of my faith in Christ because of the visible stuff that others get. At one point in my past I was angry. I thought, “Why is it that my brother can open a book to find a $100 gift but I can barely pay my rent?” Questions like this one along with foolish tests of God tend to make us wonder if we are honestly genuine Christians. Furthermore, I’m grievously troubled when I visit the bedside of a person who is near death to find them doubting their salvation since they are dying. They doubt because they were taught that if they had enough faith, God would give them health, and He hasn’t. Dear Christian, with all due respect, this teaching is terribly false and must be rejected.
Setting false teaching aside, we must be sensitive toward the minds of other believers when we talk of our visible things. Our default mode is to assume that there is something wrong with us because God hasn’t given us the decaying visible stuff that He gives to others. But in comparison to the eternal and unseen things, who really wants the visible stuff? As I ponder this line of thinking one question comes to mind:
• Would this sort of prosperity thinking work anywhere other than in 1st world countries like America? No! God didn’t prosper the early church with health and wealth. Except for John, all the Apostles were put to death. Paul suffered with his thorn in the flesh, although his faith was amazing (2 Cor. 12). Many Christians lost their homes and their jobs because of their strong and genuine faith in Christ; it was never the other way around (1 Peter 1-2).
I believe that we often praise Him for that which we see, and we often doubt Him when we don’t receive it. Sadly, the stuff which we can see that tends to make this life easier will burn up (1 Peter 3:10-12). On the other hand, may we never stop praising Him for the things that we can only see by faith, these are His priceless gifts that He gives to all who follow His Son, Jesus Christ.
Lastly, I type all of this out with a repentant heart. I’m your pastor, and I need to grow. It is easy to allow my eyes to come off of the Lord, even for just three sentences while I’m speaking. Sadly, the fruit of a pastor’s words can lead to bad thinking in the church’s life. I pray that God will cause the people that heard me that day to forget what I said about the visible shiny thing, but to remember when I spoke His words concerning that which can only be seen by faith. Furthermore, may God richly bless you with invisible blessings as you draw near to Him this Advent season. May God allow you to speak of these things among your friends and family as you’re gathered together. Let’s praise Him for the best stuff, that is, the invisible, eternal things, that have no decay.