7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 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. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12 NIV)
For most of us 2020 has been a year like no other, and it is not over yet. It could get worse. Then I read through Paul’s list and realize that I cannot claim all the things he is experiencing. I do feel pressure but would find it difficult to justify saying I am hard pressed. The word translated perplexed can also be translated to be at a loss. Almost every day I encounter some situation where I do not know what to do. Confusion, indecision, and frustration can easily lead to despair. I live in a wonderful neighborhood surrounded by loving family, so it is not realistic to consider myself persecuted. I fall too often, but I do that on my own. I do not think I have been struck since I was a child. I cannot imagine being hit hard enough by another person to be knocked down.
I am certain that Paul is not saying that we should go seeking these things he is experiencing. However, it is possible that we will not understand what it means to carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus until we have experienced significant hardship. For Paul there is an unbreakable connection between the death of Jesus and the resurrection powered life.
I want to know Christ– yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11 NIV)
Paul understood how fragile and broken he was. Clay pots were essential in his day and had a wide variety of uses from basic sanitation to storage. The concept of a decorative clay pot would probably be unthinkable except for the very wealthy. At the other end of the scale would be vessels made from precious metal. Gold and silver cups and bowls would have been common among the wealthy. The primary purpose of the gold cup is to show off the wealth of the owner. Paul paints a striking picture. The God of the universe chooses to dwell in the lowliest and most common of containers. We are those containers and while we may not try to look like fancy silver serving dishes, we do not want to look like the cracked clay pots that we are. We do our best to look like solid stainless-steel bowls.
Every effort we make to hide or cover over the cracks in our pot, the sin in our life, results in preventing the treasure we are holding from shining out. Paul was focused on a different objective. He wanted to become as much like Jesus as he could and knew that this meant suffering for Jesus. This desire to honor Jesus and let the treasure of Paul’s relationship with God shine I would call worship.