Scripture Reference: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Keep Eternity In MindDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | May 15, 2016
Scripture Reference: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Selected highlights from this sermon
This world, with its pleasures and trials, is passing away. Everything that is seen will disappear. Our present bodies will perish, and our possessions will burn.
The next world will endure forever. Every present suffering will be outweighed by the eternal glory that is to come for those follow Jesus Christ.
Which world are you living for?
There is a story about a janitor in a small church, and the janitor was talking to a parishioner in the hallway about the furnace. But someone who overheard the conversation thought that the janitor was talking about the pastor. What he said was, “The blower still works, but the fire’s gone out.” (laughter) I think at this point the fire is still here. (applause) The blower still works, and I’m excited about the opportunity to preach and to give the rest of my life for the cause of the Gospel. (applause)
Today I’m going to speak on the topic of living for eternity. I want you to listen because this message is not just from the text of Scripture, though it grows directly out of Scripture. This message is also from my heart to your heart directly.
You know, all of us face the issue of the conflict between faith and reality. Sometimes faith is very difficult because reality is so harsh and so hard. We’ve all wondered at times about the promises of God. Do they really work? I mean if they work why am I in this dilemma? Why is life so difficult? If you are here today and you are suffering because of any reason at all, you’ve come to the right place. You are listening to the right sermon. Please continue to listen, because you’re going to receive hope and encouragement.
But there is another reason why I preach this message and that is that the church of Jesus Christ is headed for some very rough waters. The foundations (morally, spiritually and politically) of this country seem to be crumbling. And yet God has given us the awesome privilege (and it is a privilege) to be able to be alive at this moment to give our lives for the cause of representing Him in a world that is increasingly losing its way. And you, too, shall be encouraged. This is a message to individuals, to myself especially, but also to the church.
Now, if you are at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, as Rebecca and I were a few years ago… We actually had the opportunity of being there for a lunch. There’s a restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. If you see the Eiffel Tower up close… I mean if you are two feet away all that you see is this mangled steel and bolts with no rhyme nor reason at all, and that’s the way we see life. But if you step back—say 500 yards— you can see its beauty and its symmetry, and you say, “Oh, so those bolts and that steel, that seem to have no rhyme nor reason at all, really contribute to the bigger picture.”
Today we are going to look at the bigger picture. We’re actually going to go behind the curtain and talk about the invisible world and how we should interpret the present world in light of the invisible world. And when we do that we can handle tomorrow despite the sorrow, despite the heartache, and no matter what comes up, because there’s another world coming.
The passage of Scripture is 2 Corinthians 4, or as a politician called it, Two Corinthians. (chuckles) The passage is 2 Corinthians and I’m beginning at verse 16 and reading three verses. Everyone looking at the text! If somebody next to you doesn’t have a Bible, share yours with them. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary 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 (they’re here today and gone tomorrow), but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
What we’re going to do is to look at three contrasts that the Apostle Paul makes here—three contrasts between this world and the next. And when we are finished we want to grab ahold of how to live life in light of the next world.
The first comparison, or contrast I should say, that the Apostle Paul makes is between the inner life and the outer. “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed.” The moment you and I are born, we are born to die. We are born and our bodies begin to die and to disintegrate, and eventually, of course, it is not only continuous, it is visible and it is irreversible. All those people who want to make sure that they live long lives, and they take all the medicines or whatever, that’s fine. It’s fine to have a good body and to live as long as you possibly can, but in the end death gets them. Death always wins.
Whether you’re ten or twenty or a hundred, the fact is that death stares all of us in the face, and it often comes unexpectedly. And terrorists cannot increase the number of people who die. Terrorists do terrible things, but all those people killed in terrorism would eventually die. That’s not to minimize the horror and evil of terrorism. I’m simply saying that death is so universal that nobody gets out of it.
I remember talking to someone who is a friend of ours in heaven today, and he was saying (because he had terminal cancer), “You know, if I could get out of this I would, but I’d have to go through this again.” And he would, and so do you, and so do I.
Now that’s the outer man. But the inner man is being renewed day by day—that is your soul. Your soul is being perfected for eternity. Your soul is under construction because you are going to live forever. Now eventually your body will live forever, too, but that will be a little later. Your soul is going to go to eternity when you die, and the inner man is being renewed day by day in strength, in faith, in purity, in holiness. In all of these different ways the inner person is being renewed if we are responding to God.
You know, when you are in nursing homes what the folks that are there will tell you is that there are two different kinds of people who grow old. Of course, everybody grows old, but you find those who, when they are old, are bitter, and they are angry. They swear. We received an email from my sister this week about an uncle of ours who is like that. He claimed to be an atheist, and atheism hasn’t served him very well. Now he sits in a wheelchair, an angry, bitter old man.
When people are like that… Actually many people believe, and probably they are right, that that’s who the true person always was. It’s just that they’ve been able to mask it in order to get along and to look good. That’s the inner person. And then there are those who are sweet in their senility, and they have been perfected day after day by the Holy Spirit of God, prepared for eternity. And so the inner person is being renewed day by day despite the failure of the outer person, and all of us are sensing that failure, aren’t we?
Jesus said, “Do not fear those who are able to kill the body, and then after that there’s nothing they can do, but fear him rather who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Wow! Remember Luther’s words? “The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”
Moody Church, and all those who are listening to this message today, let us repent of giving more attention to our body than we do our souls. There are those, you know, who are so concerned about their body (and we should be), but their souls are shriveled. They are selfish, angry, self-serving people. God says that as a believer at least, most assuredly cultivate your inner person. It should be renewed day by day. That’s the first contrast. Let’s go on to a second contrast that Paul makes.
And now we’re in verse 17. It has to do with future glory versus present suffering: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” The Apostle Paul undoubtedly, in his mind from what we can determine here, may have an ancient scale in mind. Now I have to explain to the young people—all of you who are part of this digital generation—that it used to be when I was growing up in Canada we’d go to a store and there were these scales that were really based on weight. In other words, on one side you put a two-pound weight (a two-pound piece of iron) and on the other side then, you’d put enough meat so that it balanced and then you’d know that you had two pounds of meat. That was the ancient scale.
Here’s what the Apostle Paul… (laughter) Yeah, I know. What can I say? After all, people have asked me, “What was it like to work with D. L. Moody? (chuckles and laughter) So on one side, the Apostle Paul says, “Put all of your troubles.” For some of you it may be a divorce. For some of you it may be betrayal. For some of you it may be an unjust lawsuit. For some of you it may be financial hardship. For some of you, you’ve learned something about your body you thought would only be true of somebody else, and you are slated to die. Whatever it is, Paul says, “Put it all on this side of the scale.” And then if you put on the other side of the scale the eternal weight of glory he says the scale will just go “plunk.” It’s like putting a mouse on one side and an elephant on the other. There is no comparison. Notice the difference. He says, “Our slight momentary affliction…” You say, “Pastor Lutzer, my affliction has been going on for 20 years.” Let me repeat again! “Slight momentary affliction” in comparison with an eternal weight of glory.
Have you forgotten how long eternity is? It’s a long time.
You know, if a little bird were to come to this earth every million years and take one little grain and go off and then show up again a million years later, and come back and take another little grain, it would move the entire earth, and eternity would not be exhausted. Paul says that there is an eternal weight of glory far beyond comparison, and you and I should live with our mind and heart on the eternal world.
I think that there are two implications that the Apostle Paul makes here. There’s no doubt about it that those that are going through a lot of suffering look toward glory more than those who don’t. Most of us are committed to staving off death as far as we possibly can and eking out every last day of existence. But if you go to countries where there is suffering, if you go to those who are going through times of persecution and heartache, children being killed for the cause of the Gospel, if you live in that kind of a world, the eternal glory is something that you look forward to every single day, because this life is so hard and you know, as a believer, that eternal glory is coming. And so it is with a great sense of joy… You know, during the days of persecution in Rome there were people, and perhaps this almost got out of hand, who wanted to be martyred. Now nobody should want to be martyred, but they understood that their martyrdom was eternal glory. That’s one implication.
I think there’s another, and I think that what the Apostle Paul is saying is that the more suffering in this life, the more glory in the life to come. That’s why you have in the Bible the emphasis on martyrdom, yes, and the martyr’s crown. You can’t tell me that you and I who have very little suffering, oftentimes that we complain about, that we are actually going to have the same degree of honor and glory as those who have been willing to suffer for the faith and have lived all of their life in persecution, in heartache, and they were faithful to the end.
What is this weight of glory? This weight of glory is the fact that forever we will be a joy to God, and that indeed will be glory for us. And also, we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be that way throughout all of eternity. God will exist in the throne, and we will come and we will drink of the fountain of the water of life. Perhaps that is symbolic, but nonetheless at the head of the fountain, it says, there is God throughout all of eternity. And we’ll never get tired of it. It’s not a matter of beginning on page one in a hymnal, singing your way through and then saying, “Hey, we have to begin and do this all over again.” The eternal weight of glory!
Elsewhere the Apostle Paul says the same thing in Romans 8. “The suffering of this present world,” he says, “is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” You and I need to repent of the complaining that all of us do because of suffering.
Did you know that this world is full of complaints? Just yesterday I was in a condo that turned the heat off because it assumed that it would be warm enough here in Chicago, and it wasn’t, and I mean this woman on the elevator used words that I don’t use in church or elsewhere, all because “we can’t handle it.” We think that suffering is fundamentally unconstitutional.
Paul says, “Don’t compare what you’re going through with what you’re going to have.” Your grief is going to be compensated.
Your grief will be compensated (I’ll say it again) with eternal glory. Keep your eye on the next world.
Third, you’ll notice that the Apostle Paul makes a contrast here, and he says “between the seen and the unseen.” I’m in verse 18: “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.” Everything that you can see is transient. All the art that people have ever been able to create – all of it is going to be gone. All of the buildings that have been built… All of that is going to be gone. All of the achievement, all of the books that have been written… They will be gone. All of the CDs of sermons… They will be gone. Some of us hope that they last until the coming of Christ, but they also are going to be gone. It’s all going to be gone—every achievement that people have had you can see. That’s why 1 Peter says this: “In light of the fact that all these things shall be destroyed, what manner of people ought we to be in all godliness and holiness?”
This past week I had my car in the garage for a problem, and while it was outside the garage somebody was backing up and they hit it and they made this little scratch on it. And oh, you know, the garage made a big thing of it. In fact, they told me where they could get it fixed, and the person who did it actually belonged to a company that would be able to fix it. They said, “Do you know, do you think we should call the police?” Give me a break! I mean we’re talking about a little scratch. Do you realize how that car is going to end up someday in a junk heap? It’s on its way. I mean, of course, if you’re in an accident, you can fill out an insurance form (and stuff like that) but life is so short. Don’t be concerned about all the little things that have no eternal import because it’s all going to be gone (applause) because it belongs to that which is seen, and it’s on its way out.
But look at that which is unseen. What is unseen? Well, let’s list some things that are unseen. Certainly, heaven and hell are unseen, and let me say this word about hell. It’s a very horrifying thought but it’s also comforting. When you think of the evil that is done, when you think of men violating young women and the whole bit, I have to say that hell could become a comforting doctrine.
So you have hell, you have heaven, you have angels, you have demons. Of course you have God, and you begin to concentrate on that which is eternal. And if you want to know exactly what Paul had in mind, look at what it says in chapter 5, verse 1. Remember that chapter breaks were not part of the original text. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Probably the house may refer to the resurrection body of the future. It may also refer to the fact that when you die now and your body goes to the grave and your soul goes to heaven, your soul takes on the characteristics of the body, so that you can communicate, you can talk, you can recognize. So the Apostle Paul says, “If this tent be destroyed…” You are living in a tent today. And eventually a tent gets old. Eventually water leaks through. Eventually things fall apart. You take all of the medicine and all of the vitamins that God ever gave man the ability to make, and in the end you die because this tent is not built for eternity.
So Paul says you keep your eyes and your mind on that which is eternal. And how do you do that? You do that through Scripture. I’m thinking, for example, of a friend of mine dying of cancer (And he died about six or eight years ago.) and how, when I visited him, he showed me that he had about 120 promises of God. I said, “Aren’t you fearful?” He said, “Whenever I get fearful I remind myself of all of these promises.” And that’s one way that you can keep your mind on that which is eternal, and deeply repent—deeply repent—of our materialism, of our living for this world, for our living as if this is the only world that matters.
This world does matter, but it matters only as it is preparation for that which is eternal.
I love to tell the story, apparently true, of a nine-year old girl in a school in China during the days of the Boxer Rebellion when people came to the door of the school and they said, “Those of you who are willing to step on the cross that we are putting outside of the step… If you step on that cross, that proves that you are despising the cross, and you are allowed to live. But if you walk around the cross in honor of it, you’ll be shot.” The first eight students walked around the cross and they lived, but number nine was a girl who prayed that God would give her the grace to do what she knew she should, and she walked around the cross. I hope I said it correctly. The first eight stepped on the cross, and so they were allowed to live. She walked around the cross in honor of it, and she was killed, and other students took her example.
Let me ask you something. How can a nine-year-old child live for Christ like that? I’ll tell you why. She believed in another world. (applause)
This week I heard about a man who, in his work, was told, “If you don’t come with us to this strip club (and all the employees together), you may be fired.” And he walked away and was willing to be fired from his job. Why? It’s because he believed in another world. (applause)
And I think, for example, of what the church of Jesus Christ is going to go through. What is going to happen when things become so difficult that you are told that “hate speech” is believing that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father? Are you going to be silent, Church, or are you going to speak because you believe in another world? That’s the question. (applause)
What’s going to happen when like one man I know who had a very responsible job and was doing an excellent job, but his company found out he was giving his testimony in churches over the weekend? Somebody found it on YouTube and he was fired. He was asked to either stop doing that or “You’re going to be fired,” and he said, “I am going to continue to do that.” Why? It’s because he believed in another world.
College students, let me speak to you. I am told that at university there are very few college students who really live for Christ. Now, one of the ways to make sure you do is to get in with a good crowd, to attend church, to read your Bible, to be absolutely determined that you’re going to live for Christ. But why is it that so few… Did you know? I saw a study on this. It was not for intellectual reasons, not because it is so difficult to square the Christian faith with rationality or science. It’s peer pressure. Do you believe in Jesus? You must be one of those Bible thumpers, narrow-minded—you fill in the blank. And most college students, even Christians, can’t handle it because this pressure is so great.
I’m sharing my heart with you today. Live for another world! There is another world coming. And live for Jesus Christ, no matter what the cost is because the suffering of this present age is not worthy of comparison with the glory that shall be revealed in us.
I hope that in the years to come as Moody Church continues, and as the Gospel continues to go from this place, that there may be a fire in this place, a burning desire to share the Gospel and to be faithful at great personal cost. I don’t have many opportunities to share with you anymore, but from my heart to yours, live for the next world, and not this world, but for the world to come! (applause)
I think all of us have to deeply repent, myself included, because we live for that which is seen, for this world. Invest your life for the next. And, of course, we know who the great example is. It’s Jesus. You know, nobody would choose to die as a result of terror, as a result of injustice, but Jesus chose that. Now that’s unique about Him. He said, “No man takes my life from Me.” He said, “I lay it down and I take it again. I’m in charge here. I wouldn’t have to do this.” But you know why He did. It’s because He believed in another world. “Oh for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross. He despised the shame. He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on High” because He knew that eternity was coming.
And it’s possible to lose in this life and win in the life to come. And so what He did is He died on the cross, and was raised again. Why? It was to prepare us for the next world that we might be with Him as He prayed in John 17: “I pray that they also whom Thou has given Me be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory because Thou has given Me glory from before the foundation of the world.”
Do you know Christ as Savior by the way? Have you ever believed on Him? He’s the only One who can prepare you for eternity. Don’t be like that angry person sitting in an old folks’ home, claiming to be an atheist, and now beginning to think about eternity, angry, angry—complaining, complaining because he lived only for this world. What a tragedy when there’s a different world coming. Believe on Christ and be saved, the Bible says—because Moody Church, I love you. (applause) Thank you, thank you!
Thank you so very, very much! My last word to you today is “Live for the next world!”
Father, we don’t know how many days You’ll give us, whether it will be days or years or hours, but I pray, Father, that each of us will invest our lives to make any sacrifice, to repent of all of the materialism, the selfishness, the self-protection, our reputations. Help us to repent of all that and invest our lives in the world to come. We love You and we want to follow Jesus all the way. In His blessed name we pray, Amen. Thank you!