There’s a C.S. Lewis sermon that I think about on a near-weekly basis. It’s called “The Weight of Glory.” He originally preached it on June 8, 1941 in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford. It was then published in Theology for the first time in November, 1941, and has been in print ever since. You can also read it for free online. Usually when I quote this sermon, I reference Lewis’s discussion of how we ought to view others, knowing that every human being has the potential to become fully part of God’s own family. Today, though, I want to start by looking at the message as a whole.
Lewis opens by speaking of the rewards offered a Christian and pointing out that wanting these rewards while living a godly life is not “mercenary.” He spins out Paul’s analogy of the law as our schoolteacher (from Galatians) in more modern terms. He also speaks of our eternal reward and the longing for God in each human heart as a Romantic idea that proves there is something wonderful and heavenly in our future (much like being hungry for food proves that food must exist in some form or another).
The promises of Scripture may very roughly be reduced to five heads. It is promised, firstly, that we shall be with Christ; secondly, that we shall be like Him; thirdly, with an enormous wealth of imagery, that we shall have “glory”; fourthly, that we shall, in some sense, be fed or feasted or entertained; and, finally, that we shall have some sort of official position in the universe—ruling cities, judging angels, being pillars of God’s temple. The first question I ask about these promises is: “Why any of them except the first?”C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 4
Even just one of God’s promises are overwhelmingly amazing, yet he offers us even more, including “glory.” Lewis links glory with “what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please” (Lewis, p. 5). We might not describe ourselves as desiring glory, but that’s what we seek when we want “good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things” (Lewis, p. 6). Basically, glory is “being ‘noticed’ by God” or “known by God” (Lewis, p. 6; 1 Cor. 8:3). Plus, of course, there’s the other sense of glory as well–“glory as brightness, splendour, luminosity” (Lewis, p. 7). Then, we get to the part of this sermon that I think about and quote most frequently:
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 8
It’s this idea of weightiness that I want to focus in on today. When we think of glory, I suspect we think of God Himself being glorious. We might think of shining like lights in the world now, and shining even more when we’re spirit beings in God’s family. But I don’t think we often think of glory as a “load, weight, or burden” that is “heavy” to carry.
Weight of Glory
For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison2 Corinthians 4:17, NET
Lewis doesn’t reference 2 Corinthians 4:17 directly in his sermon, but it’s alluded to throughout and explicitly referenced in the title. The Greek word for “weight” is baros. It means “weight in reference to its pressure, burden, load” (G922 Zodhiates). You could also translate it “heaviness, burden, trouble” (Thayer). It’s the same word Jesus uses in His parable of the workers in the vineyard where the first workers complain, “These last have spent one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!”’” (Matt. 20:12, WEB). It’s something that’s heavy, often burdensome, and it’s carried like a load.
This burdensome heaviness is contrasted with “light suffering.” Here, light is elaphros and it means “light in weight, quick, agile” (G1645 Thayer). It means something that’s “not heavy, easy to bear” (Zodhiates). It’s such an interesting word picture. Paul describes our suffering as light and easy to carry, and eternal glory as something heavy and burdensome. Why not the other way around? Suffering seems like a heavy thing to drag around and glory like something shining and light and wonderful. What’s going on here?
There aren’t a whole lot of other verses using baros that we can look at for more information on how it’s used in the Bible. One stands out, though. Paul uses this word in Galatians when he says, “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2, NET). That one seems fairly straightforward–we all have metaphorical burdens we carry, so we should help each other out with that–but thinking of “glory” as being included in our burdens adds an interesting additional layer to this verse. It brings us back to Lewis’s point about taking the burden of our neighbors’ glory seriously (and I’m sure he knew about the connection between these two verses since he could read Greek).
And what about “light suffering”? The only other time this word translated “light” appears in scripture is when Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30, WEB). The word for “burden” here isn’t baros but phortion; a word that’s also related to freight loads, but is metaphorically connected to “rites” and “obligations” (G5413 Thayer). The burdens that Jesus asks us to carry (including, though not limited to, suffering in this life) are not unreasonably heavy. He’s yoked to us, carrying the burdens alongside us.
Worthy and Weighty
Now we come to the verses that started me off on today’s whole study. I was sitting in church listening to a sermon and I don’t remember if the speaker read the definition for a Greek word used in these verses or if I looked it up myself, but I was intrigued by the idea of “worthily” and “weighty” being connected.
I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been calledEphesians 4:1, NET
so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects—bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God,Colossians 1:10, NET
Worthily is from the adverb form of axios, which (not surprisingly) means “worthily, suitably, properly” (G516 Zodhiates). But if you start looking at the related words like the adjective axios, you learn that it has to do with weight. The root is ago (G71), which means “to weigh.” Axios describes something that has inherent, weighty value (G514 Zodhiates; Thayer). It may mean something of equal value like items in a market balancing a scale. It can also mean “worthy or deserving” and “suitable, congruent, corresponding to” (G514 Zodhiates).
Now, I read this and the first thing I thought of was the phrase “weight of glory,” though I now know Paul uses a different word for the “eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17, NET). Even so, both have to do with the idea of weight as something to carry (just like the English words weight, burden, and heavy are all related). It’s not too much of a stretch to connect the idea of “the weight of glory” to living a worthy or “weighty” life.
Sufferings and Glory
There’s something deeply valuable about the glory that God offers us. It’s weighty. It has meaning. It’s worth far outweighs the inconvenience of suffering, which is light in comparison. Understanding the weight of glory has a profound impact on how we live our lives now.
So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ)—if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us.Romans 8:12-18, NET
Over and over in the New Testament, suffering is linked with glory. Jesus said He had to suffer before entering His glory (Luke 24:26). The writer of Hebrews goes so far as to say Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death” (Heb. 2:9, NET, emphasis added). Peter also talks about the connection between Christ’s suffering and His glory, then links it to our suffering and glory as well (1 Peter 1:8-11; 4:12-13; 5:1-3, 10).
Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad. …
And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.1 Peter 4:12-13; 5:10 NET
It makes more sense, now, why glory is a weighty burden and our sufferings so light we may hardly notice carrying them. I’m sure we’ve all met someone who is always smiling, positive, and talking about how good Jesus is to them while they’re going through things that you’d expect would drive someone to despair, or at least dampen their spirits. One of the people who comes to mind for me is Tamie Haupricht, a woman who became my friend while we were dancing together at a Messianic congregation. She asked me to work with her as an editor when she published her story two years ago, and you can click here to get a copy of Always Smiling: A Journey From Abuse To A Life of Faith and Joy (I don’t make anything from sharing this book; I just started writing this paragraph and then felt I should share her story with you).
The more we learn about the gifts God shares with us, the more we ought to feel the weightiness of carrying His name, nature, and future plans for us. Incredibly, these gifts include and are not limited to glory so momentous that it outweighs sufferings by so much that they can seem light in comparison. We’re offered glory along with Jesus; a share in the glory He received after suffering in our place. And, as Lewis reminds us, we’re not the only ones offered this. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and as a result “whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15; John 3:16). Everyone we meet has the same glorious potential that God is giving us. I wonder how much it would change my life if I really, truly remembered this. I’m carrying the weight of the glory God offers me. God loves every person I interact with or even hear about enough to die for them and He’d be overjoyed if none of them perished (1 Tim. 3:4; 2 Peter 3:9). Those truths should impact my every choice and interaction.
Featured image by Lamppost Collective
Song Recommendation: “Glorious” by Ted Pearce