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Tuesday, September 05, 2017

A Pocket Full of Glory

It’s amazing what I miss.

I mean, I’ve preached on 2 Corinthians 4, and I have a feeling I may have botched the passage rather horribly.

This was years ago, but I still recall a post-meeting conversation with a sniffling middle-aged lady. She was at the time embroiled in an exceptionally tough family situation and wanted to thank me. And to be fair, it had been a fairly encouraging message: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” Paul says. Wonderful. Very uplifting.

I never thought to ask the question “Who’s the US here?”

Is this “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” for every believer in Jesus Christ? I’m not sure the context supports precisely that interpretation.

Relentless Egalitarianism

Our culture is relentlessly egalitarian. “Equality” is the mantra of propagandists, and most of us on some level have bought in, even though as Christians we may find precious little in scripture that can even vaguely be construed to support the concept beyond the Genesis statement that all human beings are created in God’s image. But “same for everyone” just sounds so nice and kind and fair and reasonable, doesn’t it? Everybody gets a participation ribbon, folks, thanks for coming.

God’s economy doesn’t actually work that way. It never has. In God’s way of doing business, his creations are demonstrably not equal in power, wisdom, strength, opportunity, authority, honor, health, wealth, longevity … or reward.

Principalities and Powers

Long before mankind, God created and anointed a guardian cherub, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. He was without peer in heaven, and he was given tremendous responsibility. Even Michael the archangel does not presume to speak harshly against him, though Michael’s title reminds us that there is a hierarchy among angels. There are ordinary angels, archangels, seraphs, cherubs and maybe others.

Throughout human history, God has regularly appointed some men to rule over other men and women. In the religious sphere, there was one high priest, a larger number of ordinary priests, and an even greater number of Levitical helpers. The basis for these distinctions was bloodline rather than merit, and none of those chosen received their offices via the popular vote. Even today in the home and in the church, God allots responsibility and its corresponding authority as he so chooses, and the popular complaint is that these roles are “unequal”.

Because, well, they are.

Pay Irregularities and Inequalities of Outcome

Where reward is concerned, the parables of Jesus are full of pay irregularities. The faithful servant receives authority over ten cities. The unfaithful servant does not. The seats at wedding banquets are ranked; there are better spots and worse ones, and the higher ones are more honorable, even if we are to win them by voluntarily taking the lowest place as our Saviour did. Terribly un-egalitarian of the Lord, isn’t it?

Where understanding is concerned, “To the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Not equal.

In the kingdom, Christ will be enthroned. There are seats to his left and to his right, and it looks like those are already booked. Hard on others who aspire to them, perhaps, but there it is. Not equal.

In heaven, twenty-four elders sit on their own thrones. The rest of us get to stand, I suppose. I’m not complaining, but it’s not equal.

When the Christian goes to his or her eternal reward, we find that some actually receive that reward while some are saved “as if by fire”.

Forgive me for pointing this out, but God seems remarkably unconcerned about whether we think him fair. Perfect wisdom undoubtedly comes with perfect confidence in one’s choices. I’m good with that, not that my opinion matters.

Light Momentary Affliction

Sorry, I dither. Back to 2 Corinthians. Eternal glory is surely of such a character that we’ll all be well beyond delighted with whatever measure of it we receive, even if it’s only a pocket full. But I suspect eternal glory will not be doled out on any different basis than the rest of God’s rewards.

Paul speaks of a weight of glory beyond all comparison. A little attention to context suggests that sort of glory is specifically meted out to those who have undergone the “light momentary affliction” to which Paul refers in verse 17. Correctly responded to, affliction produces glory. This “affliction” is not the mere burden of being human, or of going through a terrible illness, or of living in poverty, or even of being a Christian and having to give up certain things because of it. Rather, I believe it’s the sort of affliction Paul speaks of a few verses earlier:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
Here there is both an “us” and a “you”, the “you” being the Corinthians to whom Paul is writing this letter. The “us” is almost surely Paul and Timothy, who are writing it.

The Fairest Thing

By extension we may reasonably apply these verses to the other apostles and those who went out on their behalf as “ministers of reconciliation”, and to all those in Christ’s service throughout history who have done and continue to do the same sorts of things for Jesus’ sake, and who are “afflicted in every way” because of it.

But those of us who have paid little or no price for our faith to date are hardly in a position to claim glory in such abundance, are we? And perhaps that’s a good thing: the greatest weights are not given to those least equipped to carry them.

Our culture may predispose us to think the fairest thing for God to do would be to spread the glory around equally, but I don’t think scripture gives us much evidence to support that theory.

On the other hand, even a pocket full of glory is no small thing.

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