“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you…..
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, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:7-18, NIV)
You and I are the jars of clay he’s talking about here—but oh what power lies within us! What unimaginable potential and power for good…for the hope of mankind…for showing unbelievers a foretaste of God’s love! Within each of our frail, disintegrating little bodies—-or clay vessels—lives the Holy Spirit and the good news about Jesus Christ!
But from the birth of the church 2000 years ago, challenges, heartaches, pains and attacks have been occurring and understood as what God has always intended. Did you hear that? The life of the Christian was never intended to be free from conflict, persecution or being pushed down by those that hate us. Those things are, in fact, quite needed and required for the church to pure and holy, become the proper bride of Christ. Yet we wring our hands and whine about life when the smallest obstacle comes our way. The suffering He is sending or allowing is meant to crack the jar so that the treasure inside, Christ, can break out and shine.
You think that this church has challenges? Consider what the early church experienced—their enemies wanted to annihilate them and feed their children to wild animals at the Coliseum! But also consider the joy they displayed despite the hatred or the physical beatings they endured for the treasure they had inside them. The could not keep that treasure a secret! It keep breaking out the more they were persecuted! We give up too quick, pick up our stakes and leave one church, camp or family, after another looking for a perfect church, camp or family— whenever something goes wrong.
Paul beautifully wrote that, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body….” The “death of Jesus” is the forgiveness of sins that His sacrifice on the cross brought to us! And that forgiveness allows us to live the life He lived—-one totally set apart and focused upon God—not the taunts, teasing or meanness of those that want nothing to do with that which is pure and holy.
That’s why Paul can later proclaim that even though each of our bodies are slowly decaying—-and they are—despite our hopes of never aging or getting sick—we’ve all got less days to live this week than we did last week! And yet the more we grow in Christ, the more we lose focus of these temporary little temples we call our bodies, and the more we can begin to fix our eyes on things eternal worthy of eternal imagination. And with that new focus comes joy! We stop our whining and complaining and rejoice in suffering for what we now know it’s going to produce.
Friends, we all suffer, and it’s a mistake to tell the new believer or a child that if you come to Jesus He will take all your pain and suffering away. He will not! In fact, He will add to it!
David Platt one asked the question: “How dod God Himself most clearly show His love for this world? Through the suffering and death of His Son. So then, how are you and I going to show Jesus, the suffering child of God, most clearly to this world? Through a luxurious life filled with health, wealth, and prosperity? No. That will not show the world a clear picture of Christ, and it will not impress those who are without Christ. The world is not impressed when they see a bunch of Christians living it up with all the pleasures and possessions this world has to offer and then going to worship God on Sundays. If that’s all the world sees in us, then the world will say, “I’ll have none of that. I can have the same pleasures and possessions in this world, and I don’t have to go anywhere on Sundays. I’ll just play more golf or head to the beach” The world is not impressed, friends, by healthy, wealthy people who choose to tack on Jesus to it all once a week.”
What gets the attention of the world is when Christians give away the possessions of this world, when they forsake the pleasures of this world, when they lose their health and lose their wealth, when pain comes, when cancer strikes, when a spouse dies, when people lose that which is most valuable in this world. And in the middle of it all, they say with joy in their hearts, “Praise God, for He is good….He is sufficient…He is sovereign…though He slay me I will trust Him. That gets the attention of the world.
Do you know what gets their attention even more? When you and I give our lives to spreading this gospel, knowing that it may mean damage to our reputation, it may mean getting passed over for a promotion, it may mean going to a difficult area of our city or a dangerous part of the world. When we go willingly, knowing that it’s not going to be easy, knowing that suffering is going to come, but we go anyway. Why? Because we know that though we will be afflicted, we will not be crushed. And though we will be perplexed, we will not despair. Though we will be persecuted, we will not be forsaken. And though we will be struck down, we will not be destroyed.
We will carry in our body the suffering, the death of Jesus, if we remain connected to Him, so that the life of Jesus might be clearly seen in us. We must embrace suffering, knowing that we will receive comfort, and our comfort will not just be for our sake. It will be for others’ sake that we might spread the love of Christ, the suffering Savior, to the world around us. People are watching to see if this faith we talk and sing about is genuine!
When Paul wrote this letter, it was well known that he was not a gifted orator, nor was he the favorite apostle among the Corinthians; his opponents had even raised questions about the authenticity of his ministry. But here’s Paul, doing one of things he does best: he tells the truth about who he is—the least of the disciples, a little man that is cheap clay jar, humble, and simple. But his point, for us today, is while a popular preacher tends to draw attention to the cheap pot, i.e. himself, a man in love with Jesus will point to the treasure we carry inside. The point is the treasure within the pot— that is the good news of Jesus Christ and His gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the point Paul makes—it’s all he lives for.
Paul rightly puts the attention and spotlight upon God and His power to save and deliver in the midst of trouble and suffering.
In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis’ spoke of the grief he experienced when his wife passed. He said, “Not that I am in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe …. dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all.’ but ‘So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ ” Have you come to the wrong conclusion about God that Lewis dreaded? That God is really a rather mean and heartless God???
Lewis’ quickly realized that, “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. God knew it already. It was C.S. Lewis who didn’t. Anyone one of us can fake our faith until the hard things of this fallen world test it, but then our weak foundations are laid bare and exposed for what they truly are. As Saint Francis famously said, the straightest path to God is found in suffering. It truly reveals who and whose we really are.
Like Lewis, we might discover that our faith falters and falls when He allows suffering, and that we trusted God only as long as He protected us and we were happy, as long as our children were safe, our relationships solid, our health robust, our dreams fulfilled—as long as what happened in our lives seemed right and made sense.
You may be ask, “But what good is it be a son or daughter of God if I still have to suffer just like all the others of the world? What does it really matter? Does God’s love make my pain any less or my suffering any shorter? Because heaven is real and my sin is forgiven, do I not cry out when I am betrayed or forsaken or suffering?” Suffering and pain are real, and there is no way around them. Commenting on his own journals, Lewis writes, “Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to accept it? Who still thinks there is some device (if only he could find it) which will make pain not to be pain. It doesn’t really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.”
“Lord, give us spiritual spines of iron that we would stand and not crumble when life sucker-punches us in the gut. Help us to lean with all the weight of our grief and pain onto You, the One who is always faithful and always good. May we trust You even when nothing makes sense, when our worst fears are realized—when we are penniless, sick, drowning in grief, betrayed. May we see you face to face and walk away transformed.”
In the ancient world, people realized that wine would not last long, or taste very good, if stored in silver or gold vessels. It was the cheapest container, a clay jar, well-sealed, that preserved wine the best. God’s good news, and the power of the Holy Spirit are similarly not best kept in vessels, or people, that are proud and ornate, but rather those that are common and humble.
Paul was such a man—and he encouraged others to follow his example of simplicity and humility. Gracefully accepting suffering is a sign of such humility. Paul saw his suffering as inconsequential when compared to the eternal glory that awaited him. In the meantime, he admits that he has been been touched by despair, sleeplessness, and anxiety. He he maintained that he did not care what was about to happen to him—he had within him something of such great value that he did not care what happened to the vessel—his vision was upon that treasure God had placed within his body. He was certain that the “cracked pot” would one day be made eternally whole. Do you know the same thing?