We gain insight into the meaning of the phrase the weight of glory in 2 Corinthians 4:17 when we zoom out and consider it in the context of the whole chapter. The Corinthian church had questioned the apostle Paul’s motives and methods, so he started by presenting a defense for himself and other ministers of the gospel.
Paul explained that he and his fellow servants of God did not give up even in the face of suffering, trials, and persecution because their human weaknesses magnified the all-surpassing power of God (2 Corinthians 4:7). They endured the constant threat of death so that the life of Jesus Christ would be displayed in their dying bodies (verse 11). Their suffering had a purpose. The pain that Paul and others endured furthered the gospel and thus made it possible for the Corinthians to hear the gospel and have eternal life in Christ.
Their suffering also brought with it a reward. Those who suffer for Christ’s sake will experience His resurrection life (2 Corinthians 4:14; Philippians 3:10–11). Resurrection life awaits all believers and not just Christian ministers (Romans 6:5). The hardships we undergo in this world will give way to glory in the next world.
In 2 Corinthians 4:16, Paul addresses the fact that all of us suffer and feel the power of death as we exist in mortal bodies: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” In this present life, believers live in a paradoxical state. We have the Holy Spirit living inside us as a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14), giving us hope and many spiritual blessings. At the same time, our physical bodies are decaying, having not yet received full salvation and the resurrection of our heavenly bodies. We are wasting away and being renewed all at once. Outwardly we belong to the physical realm, which is passing away, but inwardly we belong to the eternal age to come. People who are aging or experiencing the pains of physical decay more acutely often experience depression and anxiety. As believers, we can receive great comfort and joy in the knowledge of our inward renewal by the working of the Holy Spirit.
Then Paul makes a marvelous statement in 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (ESV). This “weight of glory” speaks of the relative insignificance of our present, earthly suffering in contrast with the magnitude of resurrection life and eternal salvation. Our corruptible bodies will experience the same resurrection power that raised Jesus Christ to life: “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).
The Contemporary English Version expresses 2 Corinthians 4:17 as follows: “These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing.” Our present sufferings are so light and fleeting, they weigh less than a feather and pass in the blink of an eye when compared to the hefty wonders that await us in our future glorified state.
Paul was confident, and we can be, too, that all believers will receive their eternal reward—the weight of glory—in the new heavens and new earth. We can take courage, knowing the difficulties we experience now are minor when compared to all that God has in store for us in heaven.
In 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul urges believers to keep their eyes focused on the eternal prize of heaven: “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (NLT).
At present, we only have a veiled glimpse of the weight of glory. We don’t fully know everything we will experience in heaven. (1 Corinthians 2:9; 13:12). But we do know it will be glorious and filled with the unparalleled riches of God’s grace: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6–7).