I’m honestly not sure how to encourage you with this passage today.
Maybe you’re like me? There have been times in my life when I have come across passages like this one and thought, “I’m sure glad that I don’t need that encouragement today!” I close my Bible, grab my coffee, and run out the door. The words fade from my memory.
Today is not a time like those times. Not for me. Today, I struggle to see the world the way Paul did. There is pain in my life. Real pain. It sure feels like affliction, but nothing about it feels light or momentary. It feels heavy. It feels like it could last for years. It feels like it may never go away. The only weight I feel is my pain. Nothing feels glorious. If anything, it feels hopeless.
We know that Paul’s life was no walk in the park. He bore real pain: physical pain from beatings, imprisonments, and illness. But it went deeper than just physical pain, he faced rejection, false accusations, and abandonment. You can turn to any one of his letters and see his love and care for the believers, the emotional burden he carries for them, and the wounds they have inflicted on him.
It is clear that Paul is not minimizing suffering here. He is not saying physical and emotional suffering is nothing. He is saying that our assessment of our suffering will change based on where we are looking. Like the lens of a skilled photographer, when we fix our sights on the unseen future reality that Christ secured for us, the relative size of our current pain fades from view. In comparison, it is light and momentary. In the words of Romans 8, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (verse 18).
Are you struggling to hold on to hope today?
Verses 15-16 offer us the path to see our afflictions as “light and momentary.” We must: focus on God’s glory, seek the good of His church, and be renewed. In verse 15, Paul sees his suffering as worthwhile because God receives the glory and the cause of the gospel is advanced. While that can sound trite, especially in the midst of our pain, verse 16 shows that it is more than just “right thinking” it’s daily spiritual renewal of the kind Paul prays for in Ephesians 3:14-19:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
As I’ve walked through this painful season, God has brought clearly into view the comfort that he offers His people in the midst of suffering. He doesn’t just provide comfort afterwards, He is there with us in the trenches. Take some time to read the verses of Psalm 119 this week and see how often the Psalmist is encouraged by the truth of God’s Word in the midst of his suffering, not after the fact. As we face our pain, we must seek daily renewal, focused on God’s glory, and longing to see the Church grow and advance.
One final word for all of us, these verses certainly apply to how we navigate our physical and emotional suffering in a fallen world, but Paul is specifically thinking about his suffering for the cause of the gospel. No matter how painful our present circumstances, it is easy for us to avoid suffering for the cause of the gospel. It’s easier not to speak up, it’s easier not to share the gospel with our friend, family member, or neighbor, but we must! We have the words of eternal life (John 6:68).
The unseen things will one day be seen and they are eternal. Look to those things and rejoice as God is glorified and He builds His church.
Pray the words of Ephesians 3:14-19 over the circumstances of your own life or those you know who are suffering. Pray for wisdom and seek at least one practical step you can take to renew your own walk and the walk of others in your church.
Read Psalm 119 and write down all the ways the Word of God encouraged the Psalmist in the midst of his suffering.
Is there an area of your life where the Lord is prompting you to be bold and risk suffering for the cause of the gospel? How are you going to step boldly into that circumstance?
AUTHOR: Peter Morris serves as a missionary in San José, Costa Rica, leading a team of missionaries with ReachGlobal as they multiply transformational churches by mobilizing missionaries, equipping leaders, and bringing hope. Peter grew up and completed college in Sydney, Australia but lived in the United States from 2001-2015 where he completed his Masters degree and met his wife, Melanie. From 2007-2015, Peter served as the Family Ministries Director at Ambassador Bible Church, near Washington DC. He and Melanie have four young children: Samuel, Madeleine, Benjamin, and Alexandra. You can learn more about their ministry on their blog.