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. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11 NIV)
How many different types of bowls do you have in your house? We have plastic, silicone, porcelain, and stainless steel, and glass. We have a clay coffee mug that is probably as close as we come to the jars of clay that Paul is using to describe our bodies. It really isn’t the same. It was crafted and beautifully glazed to draw attention to itself. The jars that Paul is talking about were probably very plain and valuable only because they could hold things. We would probably say, we have this treasure in a cardboard box. Many of us look forward to getting that Amazon box, but we’re not interested in the box, we’re interested in the contents.
I read Paul’s description of his situation and I want to be encouraged. I know he is describing the kind of life that following Jesus implies, but somehow that isn’t comforting, and probably it is not meant to be. Paul isn’t interested in our comfort. He is almost as driven to make his readers become like Jesus as Jesus is. The only way to live is to die. The only way to bring others from death to life is to die.
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. – Jesus (Luke 17:33 ESV)
I think this is the key. Perishing people need more than I can offer. They need the life that only Jesus can offer. They will only be able to see God when I become so ordinary as to become almost invisible. They will only see God when their attention is drawn to the contents of the Amazon box and not the box itself. In the previous section Paul used the concept of a reflective surface. It is the light that comes from God that must be seen. The box containing my order may get marked up, dented, and torn, but if the contents arrive safely I don’t care what happened to the box. In fact, I figure that the box did its job if it took a beating but protected the contents.
It isn’t that God doesn’t care about Paul or the struggles he’s going through. If Paul didn’t have total confidence that God cares then he couldn’t write these words: not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, not destroyed. He is full of the resurrection power of Jesus and he passionately wants everyone to see that Jesus lives inside him. Paul uses we and us over and over in this passage. This isn’t talking in 3rd person like so many of our celebrities are fond of doing. Paul is writing this book with Timothy, his son in the faith. It makes a difference to have a partner in ministry and someone to share hardships with. I hope you have one.
To my grandchildren:
Forgive your grandpa when he whines and complains. This might keep you from seeing Jesus and I want you to see him more than anything.