What does 2 Corinthians 4:17 mean?
ESV: For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
NIV: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
NASB: For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,
CSB: For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.
NLT: For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!
KJV: For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
Paul's suffering for the sake of his mission for Christ was not easy by any human standard. In chapter 1 of this letter, he described a recent incident that left him and his friends "so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself" (2 Corinthians 1:8). In other words, he felt the impact of his suffering. His experiences were not trivial—they were brutal.
Now, Paul wants his readers to see that, by comparison, the very worst suffering experienced on earth is only a "light and momentary affliction" when compared with the glory of the eternity with God that is to come. The comparison he makes is one of magnitude and time. Weighed on a scale, any suffering in this life is far outweighed by the glory of the life to come. Measured in time, the suffering here happens in an instant and is replaced by glory forever. Because he knows this to be true, Paul refuses to lose heart, to give up, even when the suffering in this life feels unbearable (Hebrews 11:14–16).
Paul does more than just compare his suffering to the glory to come. He also describes it as preparation. His suffering here is not meaningless; it serves a purpose. It is getting him ready to experience the far "heavier" glory of eternity. He put it this way in Romans 5:3–4, "knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." The hope of glory is what keeps Paul from losing hope as he continues to carry out the difficult mission of carrying the light of Jesus to the world.
Second Corinthians 4:7–18 explains that the priceless treasure of knowing God's glory through faith in Christ is kept in the fragile containers of human beings. In this case, this refers to Paul and his co-workers who preach the gospel. Their suffering is enormous, but God keeps them from being wiped out. They don't quit because even after they die, they know they will be resurrected, as Christ was. Then they will spend eternity with Him in a glory that will far outweigh and outlast the comparatively lightweight and momentary suffering of this life.
Paul insists that he and his co-workers for Christ would never act in a way that is disgraceful or dishonest, though he knows some are blinded by Satan from believing their message about Jesus. They cannot see the light of knowing Christ as God. That knowledge is a priceless treasure stored in the fragile containers of Paul and his friends. No matter how difficult their suffering in this work, Paul refuses to quit. He is confident that he will be resurrected after his death and then all his pain on this side of eternity won't even be worth comparing with the glory there.
Second Corinthians 4 follows Paul's teaching in the previous chapter about the transformation that happens for those who see God's glory in Christ. Some are blinded to it by sin and by the god of this world. Paul knows that he and his co-workers are fragile containers for the priceless message of God's grace through faith in Jesus. They won't quit, though, because God sustains them and will eventually resurrect them. Once in eternity, all the suffering in this life won't be worth comparing with sharing God's glory forever. Chapter 5 expands on the idea that believers in Christ look forward to something much better than this life.
Second Corinthians returns to similar themes as those Paul mentioned in his first letter to this church. Paul is glad to hear that the church in Corinth has heeded his advice. At the same time, it is necessary for Paul to counter criticisms about his personality and legitimacy. Most of this text involves that subject. The fifth chapter, in contrast, contains comforting words which Christians have quoted often in times of hardship. Paul also details his expectations that the church in Corinth will make good on their promise to contribute to the needs of suffering believers in Jerusalem.
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