Well, what a joy it is today to be back to 2 Corinthians chapter 4, and to be able to look ahead to the weeks that lie before us as we will study together this marvelous section of Scripture.
In our exposition of 2 Corinthians, we find ourselves in chapter 4 at verse 7, looking at the theme “Priceless Treasure in Clay Pots.” And we see it there in verse 7, “We have this treasure” – writes Paul – “in earthen vessels.” And as I told you in our first message in this series, the Lord is pleased to choose the humblest, and lowliest, and weakest servants to carry His transforming truth. He has put the priceless treasure of new covenant-saving gospel truth in clay pots.
And we only need briefly to be reminded that back in first Corinthians, chapter 1 and verse 26, Paul said, “For consider, brethren, your calling, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, in order that no man should boast before God.”
God finds pleasure in clay pots, in which to place His glorious, treasured truth. And Jesus, in Matthew chapter 11 and verse 25, said, “I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent, and didst reveal them to babes. For, Father, it was thus well-pleasing in Your sight.”
God is pleased to put profound truth in clay pots. That is the rich contrast of this passage that is before us. The contrast between the priceless, inestimable value of the treasure of the saving gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and the weak, homely, imperfect, replaceable human containers that it comes in.
And why is this being discussed here? Well, you know the background. Paul was being attacked in Christian. That beloved congregation to which he had given so much of his heart and soul, and time and energy had been invaded by false teachers. They wanted to replace Paul so they could teach lies. In order to do that, they needed to discredit him.
And so, they started a full-blown, character assassination effort against him. And he was attacked as being inept, unimpressive in appearance. In fact, downright ugly, blemished. And they said his speech was contemptible. He was plain, and common, and weak, and unimpressive. He had no personal attractiveness. He was not charming; he was not clever; he had no persona. He had no oratorical talent to win the masses to the gospel.
And so, they began by just assaulting him in his own personal characteristics. The attack, of course, was part of an all-out effort to destroy the confidence of the Corinthians in him so they would then turn to the false teachers and listen to their demonic doctrines.
Well, it was important that Paul defend himself - not for the sake of himself, but for the sake of his platform, in order to preserve the truth and so that the people would continue to listen to him as the voice of God. It was crucial that he defend himself. He didn’t want them to follow the false apostles into false and demonic doctrine. He wanted them to stay with the truth.
And so, they had to stay with him who was the preacher of truth. So, he was in the dilemma of having to defend himself and yet not be proud, or boastful, or self-serving. As we saw last time, he does it in a most remarkable, and a most virtuous, and a most godly way. He defends himself remarkably by agreeing with them. That’s right. They said he was weak, imperfect, frail, replaceable, common, homely, unimpressive, and contemptible.
And he said, “You’re right. You’re exactly right. That’s exactly what I am. And those very realities about me are the things which prove to you that whatever happens through my life must be the power of God. He turns their accusations on them in a brilliant stroke of inspired genius and shows that the very thing for which they criticize him is the badge of his authenticity and the evidence of his legitimacy. His deformities – and he may well have been a bent-over hunchbacked Jew with a severe eye deformity that caused the Galatians to want to give them their eyes, something ugly to look at.
And he certainly was plain. And he certainly was. He, after all, spoke only of the cross. He said, “I’m determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” And in this chapter he said, “And I preach Jesus as Lord, and that’s it. I don’t come to you with human wisdom.”
He was plain, and he was simple, and he was direct. And he wasn’t much to look at, and he wasn’t a great orator. And they condemned him for all of that. And they basically said, “The reason that everybody doesn’t respond to you, and the reason you get rejected, and the reason you’re persecuted, and the reason you’re shunned, and the reason that you’re mocked, and the reason you’re chased out of town and thrown in prison is in part because you are just offensive. You’re just not the kind of person that we need to win the masses, and if you were different, we might be winning the masses to this Christian movement.”
And rather than try to defend himself and find a few folk who will tell them he’s actually cute, if you look at him long enough, or somebody who will say, “Well, frankly I like his speaking style,” or whatever else, he just agrees with them. And he says, “You’re absolutely right; all of those things are true. I am nothing but clay baked hard; I’m nothing more than a garbage pail,” for that’s what they used those earthen vessels for. “I’m nothing more than a garbage pail, but there’s a treasure in me, and by my very weakness, you ought to be able to see in contrast the tremendous truth of that treasure.”
So, in this section, he unfolds a kind of defense that is a most unique approach. A magnificent tribute to the true-heartedness of this man and, I think, a great lesson for every Christian. After all, Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ.” So, whatever he was doing with his life, he was patterning after Christ, and we ought to pattern after him.
As we flow from verse 7 through 15, a number of characteristics unfold. These are the characteristics of this noble man. These are the elements of his defense. The first one is he affirms that the effective servant of God, the effective messenger of Jesus Christ is humble. Is humble.
In verse 7, he says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, in order that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.” “This treasure” – what’s that? The gospel, the new covenant. This glorious truth indicated, at least in part, in verse 6, that “the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God is shining in the face of Christ.” That is to say that Christ is God incarnate.
He says, “We have this vast, incomprehensible, priceless reality in a clay pot. I admit it; I’m a clay pot.” Clay pots, earthen vessels were commonly used for dishonorable purposes, as we note in 2 Timothy 2:20. They were cheap, common, replaceable, valueless, and homely. Their only value was in the service that they performed. They had no intrinsic worthy whatsoever.
And they had accused Paul of being weak, and unimpressive, and plain, and common, and not clever, and not intellectual, and all the rest of it, and nothing to look at, and certainly nothing to hear. And how does he answer them? He says, “You’re right. I am a clay pot. But you know something? God chooses clay pots in order that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves. It makes it very, very clear where the power’s coming from. It puts God’s power and God’s glory on display.
I mean this is a tremendous rebuke to them, because on the one hand, they’re saying, “Well, look, many people reject you; many people turn their back on you. They hate you; they want to kill you. Among the Gentiles, they’re seeking your life; among the Jews, they’re plotting to kill you.
“And look how unpopular – look how offensive you are. You’re nothing. It’s because of your lousy persona; it’s because of your inept oratory; it’s because of your commonness and your plainness. It’s because of that offensive confrontiveness that you’re characterized by as you preach repentance and the cross and all of that. It’s because you constantly hammer on the lordship of Christ. Everything about you is offensive.”
And Paul’s answer to them is, “Well, I’m just a clay pot, but let me put the burden of proof on you. If that’s true, then you explain how it is that my life has been so mightily used. Don’t look at the people who haven’t been converted and say, ‘It’s because he’s nothing.’ Look at the trail of converts and ask yourself, ‘How did it happen?’ You say I’m nothing. Then I say to you God is everything, because look what’s happened through my life.” That’s the implication here. “And the more nothing I am the more everything God is manifest to be. God delights in such clay pots because it leaves no question about the source of power. It leaves no question about the fact that whatever is happening must be God. By your own admission, you just said it couldn’t be me.”
People are not converted by human skills; they’re not converted by intellect; they’re not converted by ingenuity; they’re not converted by genius; they’re converted by God. And all God needs to do that is the truth in a clay pot.
Now, I don’t want for a moment to say that Paul didn’t have a brilliant mind, because he did. He had a brilliant mind – maybe one of the greatest minds of his time. But he never really used that in the presentation of the gospel.
Do you know what he did? He had his own sort of private, personal kenosis. He sort of went through his own self-emptying and took his immense intellectual powers and set them aside. And never did he try to reason people into salvation; he just preached the cross and the lordship of Christ, and left the saving to God. He had his own self-emptying like his Lord had. And he reduced himself to the commonest, simplest level: a clay pot. He saved his immense intellectual powers, his tremendous mind for the great epistles that he wrote to the believers to articulate to them the profound realities of their faith and the meaning of Christ and His work.
But God moved evangelistically through the man in his great simplicity. And really, the burden of proof, then, falls upon the people who are saying, that if he had any personal charm, he’d be more effective, because they have to answer, “How is he effective at all if he has nothing?” And the answer is God must be at work in him. How else can you explain all these converts? Thousands and thousands and thousands. How can you explain all these churches that have been founded, established, nurtured, and are growing and developing?
You see, the weakness of the preacher doesn’t limit the gospel at all. The weakness of the preacher assists the gospel. The weakness of the preacher is not fatal to gospel preaching; it is essential to it.
And so, that brief review of verse 7, the first characteristic, as we saw in our last time, is that the servant of God is humble. And God works mightily through that humility.
But secondly, as we flow through the text, there’s another characteristic of the Lord’s servant. The Lord’s servant, while being humble, is also invincible. And what a wonderful parallel this is. Yes, he’s a clay pot – fragile, breakable, replaceable, valueless – but don’t underestimate him either. He doesn’t want to be overestimated, but he doesn’t want to be underestimated either.
This is a marvelous partner to humility. And it’s provided for us in a series of paradoxes in verses 8 and 9. Four contrasts to show that this weakness doesn’t cripple him. This weakness doesn’t destroy him, but it strengths him. In fact, it’s essential and not fatal to the fulfillment of his duty.
Read with me verses 8 and 9, follow along, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; and struck down, but not destroyed.” Here is a humble man, but here is a an invincible man. Here is a man who is very, very well-aware of all of his weaknesses. But at the same time, in those weaknesses, he is mighty.
Look over at chapter 12 for a moment, and let me again review the verses in verse 7 through 10. In order to keep him humble, verse 7 says, God gave him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan. And I think that was the leader of the Corinthian conspiracy, the leading false teacher in Corinth, the one who was carrying the assault against him.
And Paul went to the Lord three times and asked that the Lord might take that away, that the Lord might deal with that man, eliminate him. “But He said to me,” – verse 9, and here’s the principle - “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” The weaker you are in your own strength, the stronger you are in Mine.
So, Paul responds by saying, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I’m strong.”
You see, he finds his strength in his weakness because it’s God’s strength. When he recognizes, in his humility, that he is absolutely nothing, that he’s a clay pot, that his speech is contemptible, and his presence is unimpressive, when he realizes that there’s nothing about him in the physical realm to attract people, he’s cast it then on the power of God. And that’s the whole point.
And as he does that, as he’s completely humbled, he finds the power of God is expressed in his life. And in his brokenness, and in his humility, and in his simplicity, he is invincible because the power of God takes over.
Now, he was not just a clay pot. He was a mercilessly batter jar at that. He was hammered all his life long by people trying to break that clay pot into a thousand pieces. Back in chapter 1 of this epistle, he says in verse 5, “The sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance.” Down in verse 8 he says, “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”
In other words, he says, “My life was full of suffering. Every day I face death. Day in, day out, I face death.” It was just a way of life for him. Back in 1 Corinthians, the first letter that he wrote them, chapter 4, listen to what he says - verse 11, 1 Corinthians 4 – “To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty. We are poorly clothed, roughly treated, and homeless. We toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”
We are not popular. The world looks at us a scum, filth, dregs. It was always like that for him. Second Corinthians chapter 6, look what he says in verse 4, “- much endurance, afflictions, hardships, distresses” - then verse 5 – “beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, sleeplessness, hunger” – verse 10 – “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing all things.” This was his life. I mean it was endless; it was just the way it always was.
In chapter 11, he says, “- in far more labors, imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.” Five times he received 39 lashes. He was beaten with rods three times. Once stoned, three times shipwrecked. He had been in danger from journeys and robbers and countrymen and Gentiles, and labor and hardship, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, without food, cold and exposure. That’s all he ever knew, really in his life.
But all of that assaulting never destroyed him. All of that assaulting never caused him to be crushed. There is an invincibility in this noble servant of God, because when he’s run to the end of his own resources, the power of God takes over. And anyone who Christ should learn to embrace that suffering and embrace that pain as a friend. Because when you’re falsely accused, when you’re maligned and reviled and slandered and all of that, it’s destructive to you. But having destroyed you, people are then left to have to explain the impact of your life.
“Okay, I’ve been through all of that. I’ve received it all. Now, you’ve said I’m nothing. Everybody thinks I’m nothing. The truth is I am nothing. I have been crushed down to nothing. Now you explain the impact of my life. How did it happen? How is it happening? What is the power? And there’s no other explanation but that it is the power of God. And if it is the power of God, then I am the servant of God, and your accusations are wrong.” It’s a powerful rebuttal. All that assaulting on the apostle made him less able to trust in himself and more able to trust in God. And that made him more powerful.
And so, everybody had to explain how it was happening if this man was nothing but a clay pot. Look at what he says in verse 8, the first of four contrasts. We are afflicted in every way but not Christ. Afflicted is from thlibō, the Greek verb that means to be subject to pressure, to be under pressure. We talk about pressure today; we think we’re under pressure. We don’t know what pressure is until you wake up every day and face death. That was Paul. Every day he woke up with the sentence of death within himself. Every day he faced the reality that somebody could take his life, and somebody wanted to take his life, and probably somebody was trying. He was under pressure – the pressure of just making it through the day without being assassinated.
And then he had the pressure of the care of the churches, which burdened his heart, as he says in chapter 11, verse 28. And then there was the pressure or the despair of disappointment. So many times he was disappointed.
The verb means to be hemmed in, to be pressed, to be pushed, pressured. But he said, “In all of that, we’re not crushed.” He uses the plural pronoun again as he so often does, and he may be including others who were with him, but primarily he uses it just because he doesn’t like to use the singular pronoun. It’s a – it’s an expression of his humility. He says, “We’ve been pressured, but never crushed.” Pressed – pressed into a confined space so that it looked like there was no escape, and he could always triumph.
Secondly, he says, “Perplexed, but not despairing.” In the Greek it’s aporeō but not exaporeō. Perplexed means to be at a loss, but not at a total loss; to be at wits’ end, but there’s a still a way out; to be despondent, but not despairing; being at a loss, but not having lost. Paul says, “You can push me right down to the bottom. And when you get to the bottom, you’re going to find strength. The strength of God.”
Then he adds thirdly, in verse 9, “Persecuted, but no forsaken” – diōkō – that’s the word “to pursue.” It’s used of hunting an animal. It’s a word for stalking. He was stalked. They stalked him to kill him. They wanted him dead. They went after him day in and day out, trying to snuff out his life. The Jews were plotting daily to kill him. The Gentiles pursued every possible and avenue, when he’d come into town and stir up the city, to get rid of him. He was stalked like a hunted animal for the purpose of killing. But he was not forsaken.
What does that mean? He was never really alone. The word means to be deserted or to be abandoned. It can mean to be in difficulty that is impossible. He says, “You can run me right out to the end like a hunted animal, and there’s going to be someone there to deliver me.”
And lastly, he says, “Struck down, but not destroyed.” It means – the word literally means to strike someone with a weapon. In ancient times they might use a great broadsword to smash against someone. They might use a great stick, or a rod, or a spear, or whatever it might be, or just a blow of the fist or a blow of the forearm. It’s a word used in combat; it’s a word used in wrestling; it’s a word used in boxing, when the KO blow is given, or when the wrestler flings his opponent to the mat and pins him. He says, “Look.” He says, “I’ve been knocked down. I’ve been slammed to the mat. I’ve been KO’d, but I’ve never been destroyed. Never to perish, to quit, to stop.
Now, all four of those descriptions picture severe assaults in some kind of a combat area. In dealing with adversaries and enemies, and he says through all of it, “I have survived.” And I remind you that triumph is not escaping adversity, it is defeating it. And the question – the question that the false accusers have to answer is how do you explain the impact of this guy’s life? How do you explain the continuity of it, the zeal of it, the faithfulness of it? The fact that he never waivers; he keeps moving; he keeps preaching; he keeps confronting? Nothing changes, and tremendously powerful things happen when you know it isn’t him. It can’t be him. It must be God. There’s no human is going to take that kind of abuse on his own, in his own strength; that kind of an onslaught, in his own resources, and still maintain his joy, maintain his peace, keep preaching the same message. He was invincible.
And the less of Paul there was the more invincible power was manifest. He was strong when he was weak. He was strongest when he was weakest, because therein the power of Christ took over. What a tremendous, tremendous testimony.
He said, “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain. I am now ready to be offered. I have finished the course; I have kept the faith.” He was ready to go. See, he had no fear of death. And if you have no fear of death, you have no fear in life from the physical side.
And secondly, if you have no fear of defamation, then you have no fear of anything anybody says. Paul had no fear of anybody. He didn’t fear what they did to him. All they could do was kill him, and that was a promotion. He had no fear of what they said about him, because the more they said about him, the less significant he became; and the less significant he became, the more the power of Christ was manifest. And the more they destroyed him as a person, the more they had to explain how the things that were happening through him were happening if it wasn’t for God. And if it was God, that’s pretty convicting for the critics.
The harder they stomped on him, the more he became the man God wanted him to be. He didn’t mind dying, so he had no fear of life. Nothing in life could frighten him because the ultimate thing to fear is death. And if you’re not afraid of that, what else is there to be afraid of? And he didn’t want to keep his reputation at all, and he didn’t mind abandoning that because when he was nothing, Christ was everything. So, what are you going to do to the guy? You can’t do anything to him. Invincible. It wasn’t his personality, or his reputation, or his prestige or popularity that was at stake. And it certainly wasn’t his life. In fact, I’m sure there were many times when he would have wished to leave and go to heaven. He said so, “Far better to depart and be with Christ.”
Here’s a loyal witness to the Christian gospel who is manifest as humble and invincible. Let me give you a third characteristic this morning: sacrificial. Sacrificial. He didn’t mind giving himself away. As I said, he didn’t fear death, and he didn’t fear slander. He didn’t fear what people could do to him physically, and he didn’t fear what they could do to him verbally because there was purpose in his suffering. Whether it was physical persecution, or whether it was this tremendous hostility brought against him in the ruinous accusations of his reputation. It didn’t really matter because this whole thing had such purpose.
Look at verse 10. And here in this verse 10 and 11, actually, he explains the significance of his suffering. He gave you a little litany of his suffering in verses 8 and 9. He gave you some paradoxes. Now he interprets them. He says, “They all boil down to always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”
Now, that’s the explanation of his suffering. You see, all of that suffering, whether we were afflicted, or whether we were perplexed, or persecuted, or struck down – any and all of that is simply carrying about in my body the dying of Jesus. And so, he elevates his suffering to this marvelous level. Notice the word “always.” It was unrelieved suffering.
First Corinthians 15:31, Paul says, “I die daily.” Romans 8:36, he says, “We are being put to death all long.” It was every day. “We are always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus.” Always. It’s just a way of life. I get up every morning; it’s the same thing. “All of my sufferings,” he says, “need to be understood that way. They are a carrying about in my body of the dying of Jesus.”
What does he need by that? What is he saying here? He’s saying, “It’s not really me that they want to kill; it’s Jesus. This daily facing death is really the dying of Jesus.” You see, the people who hated Jesus were still around. And they – they couldn’t express their hatred to Jesus, since he had died, and rose, and ascended to heaven and wasn’t there. So, what they did was they went after the people who named His name. They went after the people who associated with Him, who preached His gospel. They took their hatred for Jesus and put it on the agent – Paul. Hate for Jesus was directed at him.
So, he says, “All of this effort to kill me isn’t really me. Do you think they’re trying to kill me because I’m a lousy speaker? Do you think they’re trying to kill me cause I have limited oratorical skills? Do you think they’re trying to kill me because I’m homely? The world is full of people who can’t speak very well and are homely; they’re not trying to kill them. They’re trying to kill me because they’re trying to kill Christ.
You remember now the false apostles had said, “Well, the reason Paul is persecuted all the time, the reason he has all this – all these problems is because he has a secret, hidden life of sin under the surface, and this is God, and God is letting him be persecuted and punished.” And they said it was for his sin.
He refers to that back in verse 2, where he reminds them he had renounced the things hidden because of shame. He says, “No. He says, “My dying isn’t the dying of Paul. I’m not dying for something I’m doing. They’re not hating me because of me. They’re not trying to persecute me because of me; they’re not trying to kill me because of me. They’re trying to kill me because of Jesus.” “Always carrying” – that verb is a present tense perpetual, continual verb. Perpetual exposure to death, constantly, all the time, every day. Shouldn’t surprise him.
Jesus said in Matthew 10, “The servant is not above his master, and the disciple is not above his teacher. And if they persecute the master and the teacher, they’re going to persecute the disciple and the servant.” And Jesus said in that Matthew 10 chapter, he said, “Now, there’s going to come a time when they haul you away and they punish you. And there’s going to come a time when people in your own family will seek to kill you, and don’t be surprised.” Don’t be surprised.
In John 15, Jesus said essentially the same thing in verses 18 to 21. “They’re going to persecute you; they’re going to try to kill you because of Me. They’re going to do it for My sake.” Because they hate Christ, they’ll hate you.
So, he says, “I’m just constantly carrying about in my body the dying of Jesus. It isn’t my life they want; it’s Jesus’ life they want. They can’t get Him; they get me in His place.” You talk about a death as having occurred; you talk about someone in the process of dying as something that’s ongoing.
Paul says, “I’m in the process of dying.” This is an ongoing process, like someone who has a terminal illness, and they just get closer and closer and closer to death every day. It emphasizes the ongoing suffering, “Every day, every day, every day I’m in this process of dying.” Every time he suffered whips on his back, every time he suffered rods flagellating his flesh, every time somebody crushed a stone against his body, he says in Galatians 6:17, “I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.” Those scars, every one that he ever found, every one he could ever find and see on his arms or his shoulders; or every scar he may have had on his hands or anywhere else during the times of persecution; every scar on his wrist rubbed raw down to the bone by the stocks, in which he was kept captive, and around his ankles – every one of those scars on his body was a scar that marked out a suffering for Christ. It was the dying of Jesus that he was going through, not the dying of Paul really.
He says in Colossians 1:24, “I fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Jesus was relentlessly stalked and ruthlessly hunted by His enemies. He lived in the face of death until He died on the cross. And now they’ve taken up the hunt and they’re going after Paul and the others who preach Christ. But it was a necessary thing. It was okay, because he says, “While I’m going through this process of dying, it is so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
You know what happened? Here was the battered, bruised, hammered, maligned, persecuted, assaulted man, crushed down to nothing. And in his nothingness, Christ’s life was being manifest. How else could you explain what he was able to do? How else could you explain the courage of his preaching and unflinching? How else could you explain the transformation of lives among the Jews and the Gentiles?
How else could you explain the overturning of a synagogue as people come to faith who have all their life long been plowing through the furrow of Judaism? How else can you explain total pagans with no knowledge of the true God, coming to faith in Christ by hearing him preach a sermon in an afternoon in their city square? How else can you explain the founding of churches? How else can you explain more young people growing up, ready to give their lives for the cause of Christ? How do you explain this, in this crushed man? Because the life of Jesus is being manifested in his body. That’s the only reason for his courage. That’s the only reason that he would continue to risk death. That’s the reason for his power.
So, both the death and life of Jesus are simultaneously working in Paul. Nothing mystical about this. This is how it is every day. He’s getting killed, and Christ is being made alive. And whatever’s happening is happening through Christ. “I am crucified with Christ,” Paul says to the Galatians. “I’m dying. Nevertheless, I live. Yet it’s not I, it’s Christ living in me.” The life of Christ was manifest. He had learned in whatsoever state he was to be content. He knew how to be abased and how to abound. Why? Because he was – he could be strengthened in all things in Christ.
When he says “in our body,” he means his earthly physical life. On one side he was exposed constantly to forces that were killing him. On the other side he was exposed to a Conqueror – namely Lord Jesus Christ who was infusing his life with such power that he was literally overturning the world.
And don’t you know that God gets such glory out of this, taking the clay pot and putting in it the treasure? And there shouldn’t have been a question in anybody’s mind where the power was coming from.
So, here are the critics. They condemn Paul for all of his physical inabilities, and Paul says, “You’re right. And that’s precisely why you can’t explain what happens in my life other than the power of God. And if the power of God is flowing through me, you better silence yourself when you criticize.”
After that marvelous truth is stated in verse 10, it is reiterated in verse 11 as he reinforces it, “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
He says it again, “We who live.” What do you mean? Those who possess spiritual life, those who have the life of Jesus, those who preach and witness and live for Christ are constantly being delivered over. That’s a word used to take a prisoner and hand him over to the executioner. It’s the very word used to describe the time when Jesus was handed over to the crucifiers.
We who are constantly being delivered over to physical death as a result of the hatred of men toward Christ, we who are suffering for Jesus’ sake are suffering so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our humanness. That’s just such a profound thought. It causes you to understand why Paul would say, at the end of this tremendous epistle, “I am content with weaknesses. I’m content with insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake, for when I’m weak, then I’m strong.”
I don’t know about you, but I want to get to the end of myself. I went to get crushed down till there’s no more John MacArthur left and it’s all God. The life of jeopardy suited Paul fine because it made him weak, and in his weakness and in his inability, he cast himself on the power of God. He says, “The purpose for this sacrifice is so that the life of Jesus also may be manifest, so that the power and the life of Christ might shine through me.”
You see, he saw – he saw his suffering as a purposeful sacrifice that resulted in power. So, how do you mark out the servant of God? He’s humble; sees himself as nothing in himself. He’s invincible; when he’s gotten to rock bottom, you’re going to hit the power source. And he sees himself as sacrificial, because he knows that the greater the sacrifice of himself, the greater the usefulness and the manifestation of the power of Christ. Sacrifice is the path to power.
And all through life, I see a cross/Where sons of God yield up their breath/There is no gain except by loss/There is no life except by death/There is no vision but by faith/No glory but in bearing shame/No justice but in taking blame/And that eternal Savior’s claim/Be emptied now of right and name.
Sacrifice, the path to power. It all comes to this - it all comes to this. In the measure that I am humble, in the measure that I am invincible, in the measure that I am sacrificial, I will be useful. Criticize me all you want, attack me physically, come against me to destroy me physically, come against me to destroy my reputation, mock me, revile me, slander me, accuse me falsely, destroy me, and then you’re going to have to back up and explain me. You’re going to have to ask the question, “How is it that if he is what we say he is, if he is so weak, so inept that God so uses him?” That’s Paul’s defense. And there’s more to come.
Father, thank You again for Your word this morning. Thank You for a look at this noble servant who sets the pattern for all of us. How thrilling it is to see this man’s life and character.
And, Lord, we would desire that as Paul was like his Lord, we would be like him. We’re just garbage pails, clay pots in which the treasure is contained. And the more invisible we are, the less significance we have, the more the glory of the treasure shines. May we be humble. May we find that the bottom of our self-emptying, the invincible power released, may we be willing to give our lives away in sacrifice because we know that sacrifice will manifest Your strength.
Father, we thank You for giving us the ministry of new covenant truth, of standing up and naming the name of Christ boldly in our world, no matter what it brings. Just give us a little bit of Paul’s character. We don’t know what it means to wake up every morning and wonder if we’re going to die because of Christ. We don’t know what it is to have our name and our character slandered every day mercilessly and relentlessly.
And we wonder whether we would be able to endure as Paul endured, and whether we would so totally manifest Your power in that circumstance. Lord, give us the strength in our little ways of having to endure suffering, those little insults, those small threats that come against us for Christ’s sake, to at least be faithful there, and to find in our own humility and our own sacrifice the great power that can make us useful to You in Your kingdom.
Help us to know that there’s no merit in just suffering, but there’s wonderful commendation in suffering for the sake of Jesus. There’s no virtue in just inflicting pain on ourselves. There’s nothing to be gained there. We don’t need to become monastics and monks; we don’t need to deprive ourselves, thinking we can gain meritoriously with You. There’s no need to inflict pain on us as some have done, flagellating themselves and cutting themselves through the centuries even of your Church, and even until modern times.
The only gain is when we suffer because we have been faithful to Jesus Christ. And in the small ways in which we suffer, keeps us faithful. And may we embrace our pain and our suffering and find in that weakness your strength, that Christ might be made manifested through or humanness, and that there’ll be no way to explain our lives except that it is the power of God, the life of Christ. That should silence the critics. We pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.
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