Facing Affliction with Faith
Having compared Gideon’s broken jars with the believers whose “flesh” was being broken to manifest their inner light, Paul continues in 2 Cor. 4:13, 14,
13 But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore, I spoke,” [Psalm 116:10] we also believe, therefore also we speak; 14 knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.
Paul was referring to the resurrection, which is the hope of believers who are being killed and broken through persecution. Paul quoted Psalm 116:10 from the Septuagint Greek translation, where the psalmist expresses his hope of resurrection. The Septuagint reads somewhat differently from the Hebrew text. In context, the NASB of Psalm 116:3, 4 and 8-10 reads,
3 The cords of death encompassed me, and the terrors of Sheol came upon me; I found distress and sorrow. 4 Then I called upon the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I beseech Thee, save my life!” … 8 For Thou hast rescued my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. 9 I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living. 10 I believed when I said, “I am greatly afflicted.”
In other words, Paul (like the psalmist) “said” words of faith when he was “greatly afflicted.” He believed that God would save him out of death and Sheol and that he would “walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Paul said that he and other believers had been “afflicted in every way” (2 Cor. 4:8) and were “constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:10). But, like David, he had faith that God would deliver him from death and Sheol.
It is important to note that both the psalmist and Paul himself had a firm hope in resurrection. This was not merely a hope for physical deliverance when his life was being threatened. He recognized the very real possibility of being killed for his faith in Jesus. But he believed in the future resurrection of the dead, saying, “I SHALL walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”
The Hebrew text of Psalm 116:10 reads, “I believed when I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted’.” The Septuagint reads, “I believed, therefore I spoke.” The meaning is that even though they recognized that they were being afflicted, neither the psalmist nor Paul spoke faithless words. To recognize the reality of the affliction does not indicate a lack of faith. It is only when we are “crushed” or “despairing” (2 Cor. 4:8) that we seem to lose faith and hope.
Our faith, Paul says, is in the fact that we know that “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.” In other words, death is not the end of the story.
Glory is Manifested in Death
Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 4:15,
15 For all things are for your sakes, that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.
All of this affliction and persecution is “for your sakes.” Paul put it in another way in Rom. 8:28, saying,
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Even persecution and death works in us for a good purpose, even as the earthen pitchers in the hands of Gideon’s army were broken for a good purpose. That purpose was to shine the light into the darkness of the world, giving grace and glory to all, “which is spreading to more and more people.”
The message is clear: Do not despair at persecution and affliction at the hands of those who remain veiled at the reading of Moses’ words. The darkness cannot overpower or extinguish the light (John 1:5). Neither can the persecutors prevent your resurrection from the dead, for the same Spirit that raised Jesus will also raise us to walk with Him in the land of the living.
Paul then gives comfort to the church in 2 Cor. 4:16, 17, 18,
16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal [aionian] weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 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 [aionian].
The affliction of persecution and death is light in comparison to the aionian weight of glory. In other words, the present persecution is only a few ounces or grams, whereas the glory that this breaking process produces is many tons. Death is for a moment, but the immortal life that we shall receive cannot be measured.
The word aionian, mistranslated “eternal” in the NASB, is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word olam. We must therefore define aionian in terms of olam, since the Greek word was being used to convey Hebrew meanings. Olam means “hidden, unknown, indefinite,” for it comes from the root word alam, “to conceal, hide.”
Hence, olam (and aionian) must be defined, not as “eternal,” but as a hidden or concealed amount of time. In other words, the time is indefinite and therefore unknown.
Paul uses the term in 2 Cor. 4:17 to describe “an aionian weight of glory,” because its weight is unknown. It is too great to be measured. Likewise, those things which are seen and temporal are usually small enough to be measured, but “the things which are not seen are aionian,” that is, they are beyond the comprehension of man and hidden from our sight.
The Outer and Inner Man
Finally, Paul tells us that “our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed.” The outer man is the “old man” (Col. 3:9; Eph. 4:22, KJV), that is, the fleshly person that was begotten by our earthly parents. The inner man is the term Paul uses to identify that which has been begotten by the Spirit. Whereas the old man is mortal, being descended from Adam, the new man is immortal, being descended, as it were, from Father God Himself.
For this reason, Paul says, we ought not to be overly concerned at the decaying (dying) condition of the outer man, for he is no longer us. As believers in Christ, we have changed our identity from the outer man to the inner man.
And so the outer man of flesh is being broken, even as the pitchers were broken in the hands of Gideon’s army. The outer is broken so that the inner man, full of light, may be released and “renewed.”
For this reason, Paul says, we have hope and can speak by faith and confidence in the face of all affliction.
This is Paul’s interpretation of the story of the battle of Gideon.