Inward Vs. Outward
In II Corinthians 4:16, the apostle Paul spoke of our outward man perishing. “Outward” obviously refers to that which can be seen, specifically, our physical selves. The Greek word translated, “perish” means, “to change for the worse, corrupt.” The verb is in the passive voice meaning that our bodies are corrupting (aging) and we are passive in the process. In other words, there is nothing we can do about getting older and dying. No amount of surgeries, cosmetics or other enhancements will change the fact that each of us is going to our “long home.” (Ecclesiastes 12:5).
Before anyone launches into a fit of depression or worries that I myself am battling depression over the facts just stated, take a look at the rest of II Corinthians 4:16 with me. Yes, the outward is wearing away, but, in contrast to that, God has given us the opportunity to renew the inward on a daily basis. While the word translated, “inward” is defined as “from within,” it’s clear from the context that Paul was not talking about the inner workings of the human body. “Inward” is placed in opposition to “outward” in the same sense that “spiritual” is contrasted with “physical.” The grammatical structure of this sentence in the original language indicates that both of these actions were going on within Paul at one and the same time. He physically bore the marks of sorrow and persecution that he had suffered for the cause of Christ (II Corinthians 4:10), but his spiritual muscle was growing every day.
Looking at the larger context of Paul’s statement, it would seem that he was saying that while every pain, every heartache and every tear were a part of the decaying of the outward man, these very sorrows were actually making him spiritually stronger. Think carefully about that for a moment, won’t you? Grasping that concept could give you a whole new perspective regarding not only aging and dying but also suffering. Why was Paul’s inner man being renewed? It was because he was looking toward heaven and putting God first (II Corinthians 4:18). If we could see that every difficulty we face actually has the potential to give us new strength and vigor spiritually, would we tend to look at life’s challenges differently? Would we possibly see them as reminders of the brevity of this life and the greatness of eternity in heaven? Would we possibly see them as building blocks to make us more effective in God’s service rather than stumbling blocks that make our lives miserable? Please carefully consider this.
Reading further in II Corinthians, we find Paul talking about being burdened while in this fleshly tabernacle (II Corinthians 5:4). As long as we are in the flesh, we are going to have to endure burdens, both physical and emotional. If we walk faithfully with God, there will be those who will inflict these burdens upon us through words, deeds and even physical harm. They did it to Jesus. They will do it to those who obey Him. Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20). Notice also in this verse that Paul talked about groaning while being burdened in the flesh. That groaning is the Christian’s desire to move out of this fleshly tabernacle and move into the eternal abode of heaven. Faithful Christians think about heaven and its glories. We dream about heaven and its endless rest. We know it is there for us. That’s what kept Paul going. He considered his earthly troubles to be momentary, light afflictions when compared to heaven (II Corinthians 4:17), each one of which made him more mindful of being with the Lord and more focused on doing the Father’s will in order to be found pleasing to Him (II Corinthians 5:9). Every outward pain has the potential to renew the inward muscle.
Every step we take brings us one step closer home. Yes, the physical part of us is weakening, but thanks be to God that our spiritual selves can be renewed, invigorated, refreshed every day. May we have the wisdom to see this great truth so that the challenges of this life do not wear us down.