Paul says what he says in 2 Corinthians 4:17–18 because he saw the world a certain way.
Physically, he had been through a lot. His outer nature, as he says, was wasting away. Our bodies will do that, too. But the inner nature, the one we can’t see, is being renewed. Another contrast Paul gives is the affliction he endured. The sufferings he experienced he calls a “slight momentary affliction.” Again, he can see his affliction, he can see his hardship, but the eternal weight of glory, a consummated new creation, he can’t see that. Not yet. Do you see what he is doing?
He tells us 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.”
Paul knew that what you see in this life is not what you get. He looked around him at all his hardships, all his difficulties, and he lived and went about his days keyed into another level of reality. What you see is confusion and brokenness and suffering and pressures. But what you get is an eternal weight of glory — one you can’t see now.
The unseen is eternal. As Paul says in Romans 8:24–25, speaking about the hope by which we are saved. He says that “hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes in what he see? But if we hope in what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” That is how he lived. He looked to this hope, this future reality of a new world with Jesus: no sin, no pain, no tears, but being in the very presence of God forever.
Because he knew that what you see is not what you get, he did not lose heart. He lived and invested in what is not immediately obvious. He invested in the unseen. He lived and gave his all to the eternal.
And that’s our call today. There is an eternal weight of glory ahead. Let us look to that unseen. But “how?” you might ask. This is easier said than done.
Be encouraged, though. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” You see, Jesus looked to the eternal. He saw the world this way so that we could, too. He went to the cross and died in our place, he took all of our sins upon himself and bore God’s wrath against us. He was crucified, dead, buried, and then raised on the third day. He did this to save us, to make us his own, and to change the way we live right here and now.
So let us look to him, and by the power of his Spirit, let us persevere and endure as he did, and as Paul did, by not hoping in this transient world, but by hoping in what is unseen, what is eternal.
Because what you see is not what you get.