2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. ESV
Paul often spoke of the ‘outer man’ and the ‘inner man’. (see Ephesians 3:16; Romans 7:14-25) The outer man is a reference to our physical bodies which are plagued with mortality. The Bible says – “It is appointed unto men once to die…” (Heb 9:27) Regardless of how many vitamins we might take, we’re all going to die someday. Whereas the outer man is a reference to our mortal physical bodies, the inner man is a reference to our immortal soul. Paul said that while his outer man (self) was wasting away, his inner man (self) was constantly being renewed – day by day.
The wasting away of Paul’s outer self might have been a reference to the natural process of aging. It is believed that he died while in his early to mid-sixties. Though someone dying in their mid-sixties might seem young to some, the Bible says that the average life-span of a man is seventy years. (see Psalm 90:10) Someone who lives to be their eighties has been given some bonus years.
In addition to the natural process of aging, Paul’s body was also weakened through constant suffering and persecution.
- Five times he was whipped with 39 lashes
- Three times he was beaten with rods
- Once he was stoned
- Three times he was shipwrecked; once spending a day and a night adrift at sea
- He suffered from hunger, thirst, sleepless nights and exposure to cold weather without proper clothing
- Above all, he bore the constant strain of caring for all the churches ((see 2 Cor 11:24-28)
By the time Paul died, he was a tired old man. He had traveled thousands of miles (mostly on foot) and given all he had for the cause of Christ. (see Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6) But though his outer self had been wasting away, his inner self was being made stronger day by day. How so?
For one thing, we know that Paul’s inner strength came through the abiding Holy Spirit. (see Ephesians 3:16) But in cooperation with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Paul also received strength as the result of his spiritual focus.
2 Corinthians 4:17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 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. ESV
Paul didn’t spend all of his time singing – ‘Oh Woe-is-Me!” Instead he sang praises to God! (see Acts 16:25) He didn’t focus upon what was wrong; he focused upon what was right. He didn’t treasure what was temporary; he treasured what was eternal. He didn’t dwell upon where he had been and what he had gone through; he dwelt upon where he was headed and what would one day be his. Thus, even though his outer self was always wasting away, his inner self was always being renewed.
I read once that “Attitude Determines Altitude.” The Apostle Paul was living proof of this.