Strong Treasures - Weak Containers
Strong Treasures—Weak Containers (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Have you ever said, "I am simply too weak for God to use me"? Actually, the problem may be that you are not weak enough. God does not triumph in lives conscious of their strength. God conquers in lives that are all too conscious of their weaknesses. Our weakness is the only stage on which God can display His strength.
The Weakness of Humanity Contains the Strength of the Gospel
In the biblical world, there was a custom of burying expensive treasures in fragile, inexpensive, earthen vessels (Matt. 13:44). The weakness of the container stood in contradiction to the value of the contents.
There is the great reality of the Christian life. Every believer has a treasure. That treasure is "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). But that treasure is contained in the weakest of vessels, our frail humanity. By "clay jar," Paul refers not only to our perishing bodies, but also to our entire personalities. The Old Testament often compares powerlessness and littleness in God's eyes to a clay jar (Job 10:9; Isa. 30:14). The word points to our emotional distress and even our moral weaknesses. We are, at best, like clay jars. The message of Christianity is magnificent, but the messengers are not.
There is a reason for putting this great treasure in a fragile container: "to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2 Cor. 4:7b). When God prevails in us despite our weakness, it magnifies His power alone to us and to those who watch us. His power is more than sufficient to triumph over opposition. Those who watch us actually perceive that the power and ability do not belong to us, but to God. That is why we must never present ourselves as more than earthen vessels: weak, fragile people who need the treasure we carry to save us.
The Power of God Prevails in the Midst of Difficulties
It is our very difficulties that cause God's power to shine greatly. Paul makes four statements characterizing his own difficulties that revealed God's power (vv. 8-9). In each of these, the first part of the statement reveals a human weakness, and the last part reveals the more than compensating divine strength. The thoughts come from soldiers in combat or from gladiators in a life-or-death struggle in the arena.
We can prevail in outward pressures: "We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed. . . . persecuted, yet not abandoned." Life put the squeeze on Paul in all things. Enemies hounded him constantly. Yet he was never hopelessly cornered or abandoned by God. The power of God shines forth even to unbelievers when we constantly overcome seemingly impossible pressures.
We can prevail against inward pressures: "perplexed, but not in despair." We may be at our wit's end, but not out of our wits! Just like you, Paul could not understand all that God permitted in his life. Yet even in his mental agitation and confusion, God's power wrought a great victory. This distracted man was able to write Romans and Ephesians! The person who is always naturally calm, cool, and collected may show great humanistic strength, but does not reveal the power of God. God's power reveals itself when our minds are about to snap, but His presence sustains us.
These pressures reach a climax: "struck down, but not destroyed." Like a warrior thrown to the ground by his enemy, we sometimes feel it is all over. Yet in the strength of God, we rise again to face the fight. This enduring grace comes only from God.
The Death to Self Releases the Life of Christ
Behind the Christian's conquest, in spite of weakness, rests a great principle. The conquering Christian reproduces the death of Christ: "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus. . . . we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake" (4:10a-11a). Like a Daniel, always being thrown into the lions' den, Paul was constantly on the edge of death for the sake of Christ. The daily danger and distress were sapping his very life. We may not face physical death daily for Christ, but we must face ego death daily. We must reproduce in ourselves His death to self.
When this happens, the conquering Christian experiences the resurrection life of Christ: "so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body." In Paul's frail, weary, battered person, he bears the dying of Jesus that the life of Jesus may be exhibited to the outside world. This is the secret source for successful Christian living. It is the life energy that comes from the living and reigning Jesus.
This is the universal principle. If you seek to save your life, you will lose it. If you lose it for His sake, you will know His life in you (Mark 10:39).