Working out is something that I grew up doing. With a father that used to be a powerlifter, I was around weightlifting all of my life. When we were working out, my father would wake me up around 6:00 a.m. to go to Gold’s Gym and start the day with squats. In the evenings he would make us both large peanut butter milkshakes right before bed for weight gain. And while I did get stronger, I never gained any weight. My metabolism was so high, and I was growing so quickly that I was a strong 6’1 120lb kid that looked like a stick. Ultimately, while I did enjoy working out, a career in weightlifting was not something the Lord had designed for me.
Bodybuilders and powerlifters alike put themselves through a great amount of training and pain to make the gains needed to reach their goals. The change their eating habits, research different methods and make sure that their entire lifestyle is designed around attaining their desired result. One of the things that must be endured in working out is the pain of tearing your muscles down so they can be built back up. Mental toughness is also required to see workouts through to completion; when the body is breaking down, often the mind has to come in and push it along. Ultimately if you stick with working out, you can achieve what you want, but it does come at a cost.
Scripture speaks to the same idea in 2 Corinthians 4 when it says,
“For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 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 (vvs 17-18).”
Paul is not talking about weight lifting, but he is talking about the pain and suffering that the believers were enduring for the sake of the gospel and the promised hope found in salvation of Christ. The idea is the same. The weight lifter understands that it takes the endurance of pain to accomplish the wanted outcome, and the believer likewise knows that the suffering of sanctification (that is becoming more like Christ) is necessary for our good (2 Cor 12:8-9). Neither one disagrees that the actions are painless, but believers are not promised a pain free life once they decide to follow Jesus. The forthcoming refinement by the Holy Spirit in the process of sanctification is even foreshadowed in what the believer must do to follow Jesus when He says,
“‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 16:24b-25).’”
Based on the words of Christ, the believer should be clear to understand that Jesus is saying to come and follow Him is to come and die. This looks different for everyone. Some will come to Jesus and die to sin and themselves throwing away selfish pride for the joy of the gospel. Others will come to Christ and literally be killed while preaching the gospel overseas, but the message is the same: they believed Jesus to be worth more than their own lives and they laid them down each as they were called.
Paul tells the believers in 2 Corinthians 4 that while there is pain and suffering in following Christ, it is “…light and momentary…” and it is being used to prepare us for an eternal weight of glory with Christ. The Christian knows that the eternality of being in the glory of God far surpasses the greatest temporal suffering here on earth, and they have given their life to this realization.
Paul then points the believers to look past what is in front of their eyes, and to look with eternal eyes seeing the worth of Christ beyond the suffering unfolding before them. The Christian is reminded to look at not what is seen, but unseen. Before Abraham was used in blessing many nations, he and Sarah were an elderly barren couple. Before the Red Sea parted before the people of Israel, Moses said he couldn’t speak for the Lord. Before King David received praise for “slaying ten thousand,” there was the ruddy little shepherd boy. And before Peter spoke in the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost he was drowning in the sea. Some people read the Bible and only see a story about a Jew from Nazareth, but the Christian looks not at what is seen and by the Holy Spirit sees the Word made flesh, the King of kings.
So if we know like the weight lifter that pain produces the desired results, the question then becomes is Christ worth the suffering? Whatever it may be, however a Christian is called to suffer, is Jesus worth it? The significance of the suffering is not found in the pain, but in the reason behind it and the result that follows. Women go through the pain of childbirth, and the reason and the outcome is the new life born into the world. Christians endure suffering for the Lord offering a temporal sacrifice for an eternal consequence. We need this consistent reminders of where our faith rests. Our Lord suffered on a cross despising the shame for the joy set before Him (Heb 12:2). As believers are we willing to suffer for Christ for the joy of being with Him?