Facing death for Christ: 2 Corinthians 4

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Today’s reading: 2 Corinthians 1-4.

The words of Paul in today’s passage are hard to accept, for in them he seems to say there is a necessity of suffering – even dying – for Christ in order for the life-giving power of Christ to be shown to others. If so, it is a hard lesson to learn for those of us who have lived without persecution. If true, it may explain why our witness has been so weak.

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 be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 2 Corinthians 4: 7-12

The treasure which Paul describes is “the gospel of the glory of Christ” and “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” The jars of clay were the common storage containers of his day, similar to our Tupperware. Like clay flower pots, they were cheap but brittle. People did sometimes hide their valuables in them. God used this great contrast between the treasure of his glory and the commonness of his messengers to remind men that the power of the Gospel was supernatural.

Our clay bodies show off the surpassing greatness of God’s glory, but they are easily bruised and broken. Paul lived in a day when men often violently rejected his message and directed their anger at him. It was necessary for him to suffer in order to carry the Gospel through that minefield of opposition. He was risking death so that others might live.

But what about believers who live in times and places where the opposition isn’t so great? Do we still need to demonstrate the death of Christ so that the world can see the life that is in the Gospel? Certainly we must share the story of Christ’s death on the cross, but I think Paul is getting at something more dramatic. In 2 Corinthians 1: 5 he said, “as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” In Romans 8: 17 he said, “we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” In Philippians 3: 10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” In Colossians 1: 24, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

Paul describes the tribulations he endured – hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down – but also the way his clay pot of a body survived. He quoted Psalm 116 in which the Psalmist faced “the cords of death…the anguish of the grave,” yet was able to cry, “O LORD, save me!” and see God deliver him. I picture Paul’s clay pot being squeezed so hard from the outside that it was bound to break, but miraculously it didn’t because of the strength of the glory of God hidden inside him. This miraculous survival demonstrated the relationship between Paul and God in a way that nothing else could, and we still see this miracle today in the lives of persecuted Christians around the world.

Believers know how fragile our skins are; we live with them every day. What we miss is the strength of the treasure hidden inside us. We see our weakness. We miss God’s power. Let’s value the treasure inside us more, and dare more, so that others can see the life-giving power of Christ more clearly.

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars. – M.K.W. Heicher

Image by oatsy40 on Flickr, CC by 2.0

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