Paul closes this chapter the same way he opens it: with hope. Here was a man that had experienced so much that it would have been easy for him to lose hope.
He had been hard pressed on every side, with conflicts from without and fears from within (7:5). We often face the same problem. Not only do we have to fight our circumstances, but we have to fight our own feelings. We have to fight our fears, our frustrations, our sorrows, our hurt.
Paul had gone through times where he felt perplexed. Literally, the word perplexed in Greek means “no way,” meaning that he was at a loss, seeing no way out of his situation.
He had been persecuted for his faith and even stoned and left for dead. On top of that, we saw all the problems he had with the Corinthian church, leaving him wondering if all he had done had been in vain.
And yet he had hope. Though he was hard pressed, he was not crushed, neither by his circumstances nor his feelings. Though he was at a loss, he was not “utterly at a loss.” He knew that if he sought God, eventually he would find a way out (I Corinthians 10:13). Though he was persecuted, he knew Jesus had not abandoned him. And though he was struck down, he was not destroyed .
Why? How could he hold on to this hope in spite of his circumstances?
Because he knew God had a plan.
He says in verse 1,
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.
Paul knew God had given him the ministry that he had. And God didn’t give him that ministry for nothing. But God had given him that ministry to accomplish His purposes.
More, Paul knew that he didn’t even deserve to be given that ministry. He had hated Jesus and had even persecuted the church. But by God’s mercy, God showed him the truth. God had even told him beforehand, “You will suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:16).
So Paul knew that this suffering he was going through was not a surprise to God. God didn’t say, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming. Sorry about that Paul.” Rather, everything that Paul went through, God knew about in advance. And Paul knew that the same mercy that pulled him out of the darkness of his sin into the light of life, would pull him out of the darkness of his trials into the light of glory as well.
So at the end of this chapter he says again,
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (16-18)
In other words, though we may suffer in this life, even though we may feel like we are falling apart physically and emotionally, day by day God is doing a work in us. He is using our trials to transform us into the likeness of his Son that we may reflect his glory (3:18).
So how do we maintain hope in the midst of trial? By fixing our eyes not on our troubles that we can see. But by focusing on Him who is unseen. And though we may not be able to see his plan, we need to trust that he has one. We need to trust that these trials will not last forever. That he will bring us through. And that if we hang in there, we will see his glory, not just in himself, but in our situation and in ourselves.
I like the New King James version of verse 17.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
So let us remember that. God is not surprised by anything that you’re going through. He has a plan. So whatever you’re going through, put your trust in him that he will work out his plans, and if you do, you will find hope.