16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18 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 Corinthians 4:16–18)
The patience of many people is running thin these days. Between the social distancing restrictions of COVID-19, the racial tensions, and the rioting that is tearing up cities across America—patience is a virtue that is in short supply. Patience is something all of us desperately need.
I made a list of all the benefits of patience that I could think of:
- Patience keeps us from worrying.
- Patience reduces stress.
- Patience keeps us from being bitter.
- Patience helps us to listen to other people more.
- Patience helps us love each other.
- Patience keeps us from rushing ahead of God’s plan.
- Patience helps us sleep at night instead of fretting.
- Patience helps us make better decisions.
Patience is a critical virtue. As Christians, patience is especially important because our Lord is so patient with us.
There’s an ancient Jewish legend that Abraham once invited an old man into his tent for a meal. The old man refused to give thanks to God for the meal. Furious that the man would dishonor God, Abraham kicked him out.
Later God came to Abraham and asked about the old man. “Where is he?” “Well Lord, he did not respect You or give thanks to You, so I drove him away.” Sadly God replied, “I have patiently endured him for eight decades, and you could not spend one night with him?”
O Lord, give us Your patience with others! Do you remember the kid’s song about patience?
Have patience, Have patience,
Don’t be in such a hurry.
When you get impatient
You only start to worry.
That God is patient too.
And think of all times
When others have to wait on you!
I think sometimes us adults need to go back and review those Sunday School songs that we hammered into the kids!
A DEFINITION OF PATIENCE
Turn to James 5. This passage will give us a good definition of patience, then we’ll see how to develop patience in 2 Corinthians 4.
In the New Testament, we find that there are several Greek words for patience that are translated with mainly two English words: “patience” (34 times) and “longsuffering” (17 times).
Longsuffering is a good word, and it’s too bad we don’t use it much today, because it covers so much of what patience is. Patience is more than standing passively in a line. Patience is suffering long!
James 5:7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman [farmer] waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
The Greek word for “long patience” in this verse is makrothymeō. The first part, makro, means “large” or “long” and thumos means anger in the sense of an emotional outburst. The idea is that a patient person is someone that takes a long time to get angry. Instead of being short-tempered, they’re long-tempered.
Patience is the ability to endure a lot before you get angry or bitter. Patience is “the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty” (BDAG). Patience is endurance. In fact, whenever I see the word “patient” in the Bible, I mentally add “endurance.”
To bring home the meaning of patience, James uses a farming illustration. Summers in Israel were very hot and very dry. No rain came at all. In October, the “early” rains would come. This is what the farmers waited patiently for. It did no good to plant until those October thunderstorms came.
Then the farmer waited patiently for April and May to come with the “latter rain.” The “latter rain,” combined with the higher temperatures, produced a good crop.
The farmer had to have a “long patience” for the right time to plant and the right time to harvest. He had to avoid being angry, bitter, or worried when the rain was late. He had to patiently endure.
I love the story about a kindergarten teacher helping a child put on his snow boots…
They worked together to push and pull and tug… and it seemed like she’d never get those boots on him. The boots just didn’t seem to want to go on. They FINALLY got the second boot on when the little boy looked up and said, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.” She looked and sure enough, they were.
It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on—this time on the right feet. He then announced, “These aren’t my boots.”
She literally bit her tongue and controlled herself as she asked, “Well, why didn’t you say so?” Once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off…and then he said, “They’re my brother’s boots. My mom made me wear them.” She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
She mustered up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. Then she said, “Now, where are your mittens?” He sweetly looked up at her and said, “I stuffed them in the toes of my boots!” (https://www.fhu.edu/blogs/spiritualmoment/are-we-there-yet)
This is patient endurance…this is what we must have!
How can we develop patience as a Christian? Turn to 2 Corinthians 4. In 2 Corinthians chapter 4, we get insight into how Paul managed to be patient through the greatest of difficulties and problems. In fact, our first lesson from this passage is that…
PATIENCE IS DEVELOPED THROUGH TRIALS
Sometimes we warn people, half-jokingly, “Don’t pray for patience, God might answer your prayer and teach it to you!” Actually, that’s sad that a Christian would think that. We should want to grow in patience. But like every other skill, it’s not something that we can get from book learning alone. We need to have practice doing it! To learn patience, we need to have trials to teach us patience.
The apostle Paul was not a man without trials. He writes:
2 Corinthians 4:8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 2 Corinthians 4:9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
Then, a few verses later, Paul writes the words that we’ll take a close look at—
2 Corinthians 4:16 For which cause [“the glory of God,” verse 15] we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
What does Paul mean by “our outward man”? He means those parts of ourselves that are subject to decay: our physical strength, our organs and tissues, our mental sharpness, and so forth. Because of sin, we all physically decay.
Perhaps Paul was feeling tired and worn out, not so much from age, but from years of hard missionary work and persecutions. A few chapters later, Paul details the trials that he encountered:
23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23–28)
How does that bad day you had last week look now? Paul not complaining, because while the “outward man perish yet the inward man is renewed day by day.”
The “inward man” refers to our inner self—our attitudes, beliefs, desires, personality, character, and so on. These things are being “renewed day by day.” Paul relied on God’s grace to get him through each trial and each day (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Becoming a Christian doesn’t instantly change you into a perfect person. That happens gradually over the course of months and years, as the Spirit changes you little by little.
In verse 17, Paul calls his trials, light afflictions—
2 Corinthians 4:17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
Have you ever thought of your trials as light afflictions? We tend to think of whatever we’re going through as pretty heavy! And most of us don’t have anything even close to what Paul went through!
Why does Paul call these trials “light affliction”? The reason is because he has an eternal perspective. That’s lesson number two. Lesson one is that patience is developed through trials and lesson two is that…
PATIENCE IS DEVELOPED FROM AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE
In verse 18, Paul mentions the importance of perspective. He says, “while we look not…” That’s perspective!
Perspective is how we look at something. It’s the angle from which we view something. If I stand on one side of a room, I’ll have a different perspective than if I stood on the other side.
Every human being sees life from a perspective that is temporal, physical, limited, and mortal. We can’t see the future. We can’t see how or when things will work out. We need to look to God’s Word in order to develop an eternal perspective.
How does having an eternal perspective help us have patience?
1) Patience Comes From The Perspective That Trials Are Short
Paul says in verse 17 that his “light afflictions which is but for a moment…” How can an affliction be light?
Because, when you measure the time of a trial against the length of eternity, you only have a small dot where the trial was. You discover that it was “but for a moment”!
Joni Eareckson Tada has been a quadriplegic (she can’t use her legs or her arms) in a wheelchair for over forty years—but even she would say that’s only a dot in comparison to eternity. Her trial is short!
How does viewing trials as short give us patience? Maybe I can answer that using parenting as an example. Parents are often more impatient with the first child or two than they are with the last child. The last child is the “baby of the family” and spoiled.
What happened? Did they just get tired of parenting? Maybe! But they also realized that their time with the kids is really short. Before you know it, they’re getting married! So the parents more patient with the younger ones; they enjoy more the childish things that they do. They know that it will soon be over.
Christians need to train ourselves to remember that our time on earth is short compared to eternity. Our trials are short.
I think sometimes Christians think that this life is all there is—they say they believe in Heaven but they live as though there’s only Earth. We need to pull our beliefs into our thinking. Our afflictions are short when compared to eternity. When that comes to the center of our thinking, our patience grows.
2) Patience Comes From The Perspective That Trials Work Good For Us
In verse 17, Paul also says that our trials, our light afflictions…“worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;” This is one of my favorite phrases in the Bible. What does it mean?
Imagine a scale—the old-fashioned kind where you balance weights on either side. On one side are your trials and on the other side is the God’s thumb pushing it all the way down. Eternity outweighs temporary trials.
Okay, so the “eternal weight of glory” outweighs temporary, light afflictions. But what is this weight of glory? The “eternal weight of glory” is what we become in Christ.
18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Christian patience comes from believing that God is working to produce something better, “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” out of every situation.
Christian patience comes from having the perspective that God is sovereignly working for our good behind the scenes in every circumstance of our lives. And the ultimate good He wants to work out is to make us more like Christ! And one way that we can all be more like Christ is to develop His patience through the trials we encounter.
A classic example for me, is when I get stuck behind a slow driver. I find that I have more patience with them when I start thinking about why God might have allowed me to be stuck there in the first place.
Is it to prevent an accident—a collision with a deer? (Did you know that deer kill more people in Montana than all other animals combined? Bears are number seven on the list).
Is so that we have more time to think or talk while we’re traveling, hitting on an idea or conversation that makes a difference in our lives? Is it just to make us more patient?
We can find patience by thinking about what God might be up to in any situation in our lives:
- The stomach pain that leads to several hours at the doctor’s office might be a cause of impatience until the doctor takes an x-ray and discovers the early signs of cancer.
- The late night phone call (wrong number even) might upset us, but then we smell natural gas from downstairs.
Unbelieving people call this sort of thing luck and it does nothing to help them grow.
The Christian perspective is that it as God working in our lives, if only to develop more patience in us.
3) Patience Comes From The Perspective That Eternal Things Are More Valuable
2 Corinthians 4:18 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.
We tend to value the things that we see more than the things we can’t see. We have a saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
But in the next chapter, Paul has a better saying, “(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)” (2 Corinthians 5:7). What’s more valuable to you: Heaven or a material possession?
There has to be an effort on our part to value the eternal more than the visible. Paul says that we must “look.” That’s what we must do.
We must shift our perspective from the physical and temporary to the eternal. Or as, Paul says in Colossians, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).
When we are able to set our affections on eternal things more, we will find that our patience increases—
One day when John Wesley [a 18th century evangelist] was away from home, someone came running to him, saying, “Your house has burned down! Your house has burned down!” Wesley replied, “No, it hasn’t, because I don’t own a house! The one I have been living in belongs to the Lord, and if it has burned down, that is one less responsibility for me to worry about.” (John MacArthur, Strength for Today)
If we hold our temporary possessions loosely and hold to our eternal possessions tightly, we’ll find ourselves more patient when those temporary things rot, decay, break, burn, or get stolen.
This week, I saw the question, “Where is God in the Coronavirus?” How would we answer that from what we’ve learned here?
First, we need to understand that God was here long before this virus, and He will be here long after. In poetic language, the psalmist says—
2 Thy throne is established of old: Thou art from everlasting. 3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord, The floods have lifted up their voice; The floods lift up their waves. 4 The Lord on high is mightier Than the noise of many waters, Yea, than the mighty waves of the sea. (Psalm 93:2–4)
The floods of disease and riots have lifted up their voice. But be patient, the Lord is mightier and is from everlasting. If this lasts for a decade, it would still be a mere dot in the eternal timeline.
Second, God wants to teach and grow us from these trials. Don’t allow yourself to grow angry and bitter—that’s how Satan wins. Let patience have her perfect work in you so that you will be a more mature, more Christlike person. What is it that God is wanting you to grow in? Are you listening?
Third, that thing that God wants you to grow in—whether it is patience, humility, compassion, or something else—that thing is more valuable than anything you can own. Maybe you can’t see that—don’t look by sight, look by faith!
How has God been patient with you? God was patient with me. I was saved when I was 19. But I can trace God’s active working to bring me to Himself for more than a decade:
Every summer at Vacation Bible School, I raised my hand to be saved. I would come close to God for awhile and then back off.
In eighth grade, there was a classmate who read his Bible at school. Once again, I was drawn close, only to back off again, to the point of denouncing God when I was in my mid-teens.
Finally, when my boss told me her testimony, I admitted my rebellion against God and received Christ as my Savior.
Have you trusted Christ as your Savior? God has been patient with you, but there will come an end to His patience. God is calling you now, but there will be a final call from God someday. When you die, God’s patience will end for you.
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: (Hebrews 9:27)
Don’t test the patience of God any longer…trust Christ today.