2 Corinthians 4:7-18 tells us something that none of us want to hear. It’s something that we all know is true. It’s something that people spend millions to try to prevent. But the reality that we are reminded of is this: Our Bodies are wasting away. And for the Apostle Paul, his body was wasting away because of the immense persecution that he was receiving for preaching about Jesus.
But Paul also gives us something that we all want to hear. Something that is absolutely vital when the fading of the physical body creeps into the soul. And when that dark night of the soul draws near, and discouragement or depression is upon us. He reminds us, that even though the body fails, God renews us every day. Look at what he says, 16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
SO, you want to serve the Lord…but serving him can be hard. You feel under-prepared, under pressure, and physically unable. Well, today we learn where the source of power for ministry truly comes from.
Let’s read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18
Jars of Clay were common items in the 1st century. They were used for holding grain, keeping house goods, transporting oil, and perhaps, even used to store valuables in plain sight. A jar that was made of clay was an item that would last for a short number of years and would then crack or break down and then be discarded. Nearly every archeological dig in the Middle East contains fragments of Jars of Clay.
Jars of Clay were ordinary, useful, and fragile. And Paul says that is the way your body is. The treasure that he says we have in these fragile bodies is something that is anything but fragile. It is what he just described in the previous verse: “The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
True knowledge of the Glory of God…his magnificence and the fact that is the greatest treasure. You can know that deep within you that eternal and indestructible reality is kept in a very temporary and destructible body during the handful of years we have on this earth. What an incredible paradox.
And this incredible paradox is meant to display as vs. 7 says, “that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
There are a lot of reasons to think that we can have the power to accomplish the things that we want in this life or even the things of God. Natural ability, education, reputation, and great wealth relative to those in human history can give us a false sense of accomplishment. Beyond that, it’s easy to assume that someone else should display power to effect change in certain ways if their work or ministry is to be viewed as valid.
This was certainly the case with Paul. The Corinthians assumed that if indeed he was an Apostle, and did indeed have a strong, eternal message, then his own life would display a level of success and power. This makes sense….If you have something of great value, it is carried in a safe. If you have a treasure you carry, you carry it in a strong box. But Paul says that the treasure is carried in a fragile one, Jars of Clay. Christians are not powerful in a manner that comes from themselves. They are vessels of God’s power that is displayed in their weakness. And his life is an illustration of that.
In vs. 8-9, we see 5 contrasting statements of weakness and power, of suffering and perseverance.
Paul says that they are:
Carrying in the body of the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be also manifested in our bodies.
And you might recognize that these troubles or weaknesses are descending from bad to worse. These are Soul-Crushing Trials!
And the strength, or power, is ascending from good to great.
And verse 10-11 point to the reality that our physical weakness points to the life of Jesus. Vs 11 might be summarized as saying, “We are in the process of dying physically so that you might see the wonderful of true life in Jesus, spiritually.”
Here is the weakness-power principle that Paul is referring to in this passage and throughout the whole book: In our great weakness, God displays his great power.
That’s it. In our great weakness, God displays his great power. The ordinary clay pot of your body will fail, but the life-giving, life-transforming knowledge of the Glory of God that is displayed in the face of Jesus Christ.
Do you feel like quitting? Giving up? Wondering when you will be strong enough to handle the gospel work that is in front of you? In your weakness, God displays his power. How does that work? Well, when you are at the end of your resources when you experience soul-crushing difficulty, you can either wallow in despair or you can turn to the Lord. And when God accomplishes something, even when you are able to accomplish nothing…then there is no question in your mind where that power came from. There is no question in the minds of the people you ministered to where that power came from, because when you are barely standing and yet something amazing happens through you…there is only one answer. That’s the power of God.
Here is the great principle of the cross. Death is at work in us, but life in you. When Paul says that death is at work in him, he obviously doesn’t mean that he is already dead. He means that he is in the process of dying, but he is willing to endure that suffering so that those who hear the gospel may experience true life.
Jesus was the example of one who willingly went to death so that we could have life. He gives his life for ours. His physical weakness of suffering and death displayed God’s greatest power in saving souls, and it’s this power that is at work in us.
Knowing that God’s power is at work, even in the midst of suffering, Paul makes a compelling statement about his confidence and his hope. In vs. 13-15, he says, 2
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
He is confident in the Spirit and the Spirit’s work in the inspired word. He quotes Psalm 116. David was near death. His jar of clay was on the verge of breaking. And yet he was delivered and he gives praise to God and expresses his confidence. Listen to just a bit of what David wrote
8 For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; 9 I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. 10 I believed, even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted”;
I believed…in the worst time. That’s confidence.
Application: This is the reason why we share the gospel with people. Because we have confidence in the Spirit and hope in the resurrection!
You know what, it took me years of fear of rejection to actually trust that any gospel conversation I have will be only received if the same Spirit who is one with the Father and the Son is working in the life of the person who hears the good news. Friends, people need the Lord. Are you sharing the gospel with others on a regular basis?
Dr. Paul Brand was speaking to a medical college in India on “Let your light so shine before men that they may behold your good works and glorify your Father.” In front of the lectern was an oil lamp, with its cotton wick burning from the shallow dish of oil. As he preached, the lamp ran out of oil, the wick burned dry, and the smoke made him cough. He immediately used the opportunity. “Some of us here are like this wick,” he said. “We’re trying to shine for the glory of God, but we stink. That’s what happens when we use ourselves as the fuel of our witness rather than the Holy Spirit. “Wicks can last indefinitely, burning brightly and without irritating smoke, if the fuel, the Holy “Spirit, is in constant supply.”
Paul has confidence in the Spirit.
Vs. 14 tells us why Paul can risk further harm to his body. It is because he has hope.
True hope is not just a mindless or vague optimism. It’s confidence and trust in a specific result.
Hopelessness is the lot of the honest secularist. Bertrand Russell gave it famous expression in his book A Free Man’s Worship:
…the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins…only within the scaffolding of the truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.
Most people, however, are not as cerebral as the philosopher Russell. They base their lives, rather, on a vague, shapeless, subjective hope. Professor William M. Marston of New York University asked three thousand people, “What have you to live for?” He was shocked to discover that 94 percent were simply enduring the present while they waited for the future…waited for “something to happen”…waited for “next year”…waited for a “better time”…waited for “someone to die”…waited “for tomorrow.”
For Christians, our hope is based on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and that means that we will too. And because we know that will happen, we can spend our lives on the work of God no matter where it takes us or how hard it becomes.
I love the way that God works and how Paul expresses it: “Grace extends to more and more people. Thanksgiving increases. Even more, people gain the treasure of the knowledge of the glory of God.
Grace extends. To extend something is to “stretch out,” “lengthen” or “boost.” Think of the extension cord that travels across your yard to give power and light up the Christmas lights. The cord extends the light. That is what Christians do. They have confidence that the Holy Spirit is working, they have hope in the resurrection, which allows them to take risks, and then, through their witness, grace extends to more and more people….lighting up homes, and businesses and neighborhoods with the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.
Who is the one person, that you need to pray for, trust the Spirit with, rest in your hope enough to risk, and become an extension for? Who is it? Maybe it’s time for you to have a conversation about the gospel, soon.
(So we’ve seen the principle: God’s power is displayed in our weakness
(We’ve seen the charge: Even though we are weak, we continue in Gospel Work)
And now we see the main point: Looking to the Eternal Weight of Glory Motivates our Perseverance in Gospel Work
We started with the recognition that nobody likes the reality that we will waste away. In fact, people will spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to fight the inevitable: Life is fleeting, Time is short, and our bodies will waste away, whether by physical harm or old age. And because that’s true, some people will lose heart and be discouraged.
And so when Paul says, in vs. 16 – “So, we do not lose heart, just like he said in vs. 1, “we do not lose heart,” We pay attention to his logic because none of us want to lose heart. The here core of why.
The first reason is why, is that even though our physical body is wasting away, we are experiencing spiritual renewal. If you are a Christian, you’ve experienced this….It’s the fact that you can have joy when things are hard. It’s the fact that God gives you optimism when things look bleak. It is the renewal that happens when you have the ability to continue in love for people when their actions deserve something much less. God renews our hearts. Even if, and perhaps, especially when the persecution is hard. And this happens day by day.
But more than that. We see that God is doing something in us through difficulty that will prepare us for something much greater.
Vs. 17 says, For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
We all know how the pain of preparation can result in something of much greater gain.
The College student who goes through the pain of studying hard, earns a good job.
The athlete who puts in the work in practice, the weight room, and in ongoing training may experience greater success.
So, Paul says, that the difficulty that we have in gospel ministry, hurt feelings, tarnished reputation, and physical difficulty is actually serving to prepare us for the eternal weight of Glory that will be ours.
I’ve thought a lot about that, and honestly, I just can’t fully grasp it. I’m not sure any of us can. Affliction in life feels like a tremendous weight. God is using that weight to prepare us for a great weight. The weight of glory. A beautiful weight. An overpowering reality that becomes ours. The light of the glory of God experienced and taken by us tips the scale and shows us that our current afflictions, though feeling heavy, are light and momentary. And our future reality of experiencing God’s glory tips the scale as it is actually incredibly and wonderfully heavy and it is eternal.
And so we don’t lose heart. We don’t just evaluate life or God’s work based on what is happening on the outside. And we don’t focus solely on the things that cause us pain.
Instead, we keep our eyes on what is happening on the inside and the things that are to come.
Looking to the Eternal Weight of Glory Motivates our Perseverance in Gospel Work
I want to close this morning by asking you to consider what quarter you are in. Next month I will turn 43 years old. I was talking about this with a long-time friend a few weeks back, as he will turn 43 in December. If everything goes really really well with my health, maybe I’ll live into my mid-80s. Which means, that right now I’m at halftime.
And that’s a sobering thought. Half-time is the time when you look back. You see the mistakes you’ve made, you see the things you are happy about. And you realize that you’ve wasted more time than you thought. Half-time is the time to make adjustments for the second half.
I only have half my life left. Maybe less. I want to make sure I spend the second half serving the Lord with everything I have. Because there is an eternal weight of glory that awaits.
What quarter are you in? Are you happy with how you’ve spent the time so far? What will you do with the remaining time on the clock? Don’t get to the final few minutes and look back on life and realize that you’ve wasted it.
How are you going to spend your time, treasures, and talent for something of eternal significance before the Lord?
Who are you going to invest in?
Who needs to know the Gospel in your life that you haven’t shared with yet?