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Jun 28 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 26, 2010

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 Corinthians 4:16-18  

INTRO: In the rough grammar and elusive logic of Paul’s letters, we sometimes miss his other literary gifts
For example, here in 2 Corinthians, Paul develops his theme by loading chapters 3-5 with polarities
 – he demonstrates the way Christians are pulled in two directions
 – it is in this context they need to understand his calling, credentials, and service to them  

As we go back and listen to Jesus, it becomes clear that navigating polarities is a daily challenge  

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted toone and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mt. 6:24)
“. . . a wise man who built his house on the rock . . . a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Mt. 7:24-27)
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt. 22:21)  

Some of Paul’s polarities in these three chapters:  

  • tablets of stone versus tablets of human hearts (3:3)
  • death and dying versus life and living (3:6-7; 4:10-11; 5:14-15)
  • ministry of condemnation versus ministry of righteousness (3:9)
  • darkness versus light (4:4,6)
  • the outer person versus the inner person (4:16)
  • momentary affliction versus eternal glory (4:17)
  • the seen versus the unseen (4:18)
  • the temporal versus the eternal (4:18)
  • our earthly tent (body) versus a building in the heavens (5:1)
  • at home in body versus absent from the Lord (5:6)
  • absent from the body versus at home with the Lord (5:8)
  • walk by faith versus by sight (5:7)
  • good versus bad (5:10)
  • appearance versus the heart (5:12)

Three observations regarding these polarities:  

  1. Each pair of binary opposites indicates a tension—we are torn between the two
  2. There is one central polarity underlying all the others; namely, the seen versus the unseen
     – this is a critical factor
     – if God is silent, he is silent only to our intellect; he is invisible only to our eyes
     – spiritual progress depends on us becoming comfortable with the unseen nature of our life in God (5:7)
  3. Somehow all these polarities are reconciled in Christ:
    Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Co. 5:18-19)


 We will limit this mediation to the tension between the temporal and the eternal  

Here’s an example of how we might experience the tension:
It could be to my immediate advantage to do something dishonest
 – perhaps I could save my neck with a lie, receive or give a bribe
 – perhaps I could seal a deal if I received or gave a bribe
But taking an immediate advantage like this would damage character
 – in particular, my faithfulness to the truth and my trustworthiness with others 
 – grasping for an immediate goal may compromise or ruin a lifetime goal
Almost everyone we know is willing to endure the temporary pain of surgery if it means saving their life 

Let me point out something that could otherwise be confusing
One of the lessons we’re learning in contemplative prayer is to be with God in the moment
 – the only place to meet God is in this present moment
 – if we put off meeting him now, when will the encounter take place?
 — it’s too late for to meet God in the past
 — the future is not real or guaranteed
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near” (Is. 55:6)
But even though we live in the moment, we do not live for the moment–we live for the eternal 

As mortals, we are trapped in the flow of time 

  • The past haunts, defines, shapes, and to some extent controls us
  • The future frightens, taunts, threatens, and agitates us

We, ourselves, are temporal and bound to the conditions of the present
 – we constantly feel the pressure of the temporal to conform us to it
 – but we can’t forfeit our thinking, attitude and behavior to be conformed to the temporal (1 Jn. 2:15-17) 

Can we turn this polarity into a creative tension

In other words, when we find ourselves between two opposing forces (or necessary conditions) we look for a way to take advantage of the benefit of what lies at each end of the polarity without losing the benefit of either or allowing one to dominate and eliminate the other 

Paul says that when the pressures of our temporal situation become oppressive, we can shift our focus to the eternal 

  • By shifting our focus, our perspective changes and as a result, “we do not lose heart”
     – this produces another interesting effect;
    it brings our attention to the present moment, the vantage point from which we look at eternity
     – eternity comes close to us–it intersects the temporal
  • Standing in the eternal now  liberates us from the past (5:17) and gives us hope for the future (5:1-4)
  • We have a real experience of that future now in the Spirit of God who is in us (1:22; 5:5, a “pledge” or down payment)
     – the Spirit is a bridge between the temporal and eternal, heaven and earth, God and the human spirit

Let’s imagine taking eternal perspective into work 

  • First, it will have us looking beyond the specific task of this hour
     – the perspective of eternity draws our minds to bigger things–higher thoughts
  • Second, and as a result, our work time becomes more nourishing to our soul
     – we still have to give whatever attention is required to work, but our minds are “set on things above” (Co. 3:2)

This is how Jesus transformed the daily work of his followers
 – he gave them a new vision of their occupations in a way that connected them with the kingdom of God
It will take some creativity on our part, because Jesus’ parables of farmers, fishers, and shepherds did not include welders, hair dressers, and computer geeks
But it offers us a perspective that we can carry with us into our work that opens into a larger world  

The well-known American poem, “The Village Blacksmith,” ends: 

Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought. 

Longfellow saw in the particulars of the smith’s trade—the flames of the forge and the hammer on the anvil—the processing and shaping that goes on in each person’s mind
 – It is the connecting of a particular to the universal that is the essence of art
The particular is transformed into a metaphor or an analogy–a vehicle to a new way of seeing
– It is the connecting of a moment with eternity that is the essence of spirituality 


CONC: Shifting to the eternal perspective can result in intellectual, emotional, and spiritual breakthroughs
Psalm 73 is the classic example 

  • the psalmist’s perspective within the moment was depressing
     – there seemed to be no value in integrity while at the same time wickedness turned a good profit
  • this continued, “Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end” (v. 17)
     – Moses had done this same thing for Israel many years earlier, “Would that they were wise, that they understood this, That they would discern their end” [same word] (De. 32:29) 

The breakthrough that results from seeing the big picture can be a vision that takes us
 – from the pointless to the meaningful
 – from despair to courage (“not lose heart,” 4:1 & 16; and “being always of good courage, 5:6)
 – from shallow or mediocre spirituality to a deep spirituality 

So challenge is to live within the temporal, yet in our outlook and calculations, rise above it
There’s only one catch:
 – we cannot transcend where we stand in time
 – we cannot truly raise our minds to that eternal perspective–at least not just by taking a few steps back
Where’s the ladder?
Where’s “chronoscope” that can show us time through God’s eyes?
– we are in history; we’re in the box
– we can’t take a distant historical view of our lives from where we stand–we’re limited and we certainly cannot see the future
We travel along on the valley floor
We do not see the terrain before, behind, and around us that we would if we stood on the mountain overlooking the valley 

But we can go somewhere that the view of time is greater than what we ordinarily see
Actually, we can go to Someone who gives us a larger view of time–Someone who has, himself, entered time from eternity 

If we stand with Jesus, we will see past our temporal constraints 

  • Jesus is the center of history (“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son . . .,” Ga. 4:4)
     – think of history like a pyramid and Jesus is at the apex
     – imagine that in one direction, time declines into the past and in the other direction,  it declines into the future
  • God chose us “in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ep 1:4)
  • And once history has run its course, Jesus will hand over “the kingdom to God the Father” (1 Co. 15:24)
     – Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of God’s work in human history 

The beginning and the end of God’s work in us

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