2 Cor 4 :17-18
Title: Power in a Plastic Bag
Context: Paul explains that it is the Message not the Messenger that is important
Text: 2 Corinthians 4 :7-18
@ Nelson Road on 8th June 2008
Last week I received an important parcel, one which I had was looking forward to receiving, it was going to change my life and help me to do things I had never done before. When it arrived I didn’t pay much attention to the envelope, I ripped it open and smiled with relief as much as excitement when I saw my first passport had arrived. The bottom line was it was the contents of the envelope that was significant to me not the envelope.
And I believe that is the core of this passage this evening…it is the message not the messenger that is the important thing…it is the power of God within the life of the apostle that is vital…that the greatness of the apostle himself
Let’s look and see how Paul unpacks this in these verses
A) I’m just a Plastic bag!
As we have gone through this book we have seen Paul was under attack at Corinth. His authority and honesty were being questioned.
Charges of deception were circulating in the church. Paul was facing a church in revolt.
They didn’t think he was much of a leader or a preacher
How did Paul handle opposition?
Well at every step, he deflected criticisms of his abilities.
He simply refused to defend himself.
But instead submitted to his opponents a list of his weaknesses and the trials he had endured.
Focusing the Corinthians minds on what was important: God's glorious plan of salvation.
Not on the preacher…but on the message
So as we get to this section of 2 Corinthians Paul begins to explain how this message helps him personally to keep keeping on in spite of all that is going on around him
First of all, he says it gives him courage and helps him not to lose heart
The glorious plan of God gives him hope and courage to face each day with great confidence in God
But his confidence is not in his own abilities, for he knew that the ministry he had been only his because of the mercy of God.
And therefore Paul says I am not trying to con people …I am simply wanting to lay down the all truth and nothing but the truth ….of the gospel of Jesus Christ
He only goal in life was to preach Jesus and him Crucified
To bring the light of the truth of the Gospel in peoples lives to expose falsehood and evil for what it is, and to show how the darkness can be left behind as people become children of the light and live in the light of Christ
But speaking the whole truth means he cannot avoid talking about on some of the harsh realities of human existence—suffering and physical decay and this is what he talks about in the verses we are going to look at this evening
These are universal realities no-one can evade
It is interesting to ask why Paul should have raised these matters immediately after the section in which he declared the old covenant to be outmoded, overtaken by the new.
One possible answer is that because the apostle himself had so recently stared death in the face he could not help writing about it.
Another is that for all their words about power, the new ministers in Corinth have nothing to say about suffering, death and judgment.
They were more concerned with temporary and superficial matters.
But in the fact is in the new covenant of righteousness and the Spirit, God meets us humans in our suffering, and physical decay, he meets us at our points of deepest need.
But Paul also wants to show that even through we may be weak and decaying human begins ….God can still use us for his glory
He gets a plastic bag out of his back pocket ….and says inside here is the greatest gift you can imagine….inside this disposable storage container ….is the pearl of great price
It is not the container that’s important but what is inside
In the time of Paul clay pots were disposable, they were easily broken …and could not be mended….but fortunately they were cheap…
But crafty people at the time would still sometimes palace there valuables inside them to try to fool burglars…who might think there won’t be anything worthwhile in them…
Paul was saying that is just like me….yes I’m nothing special…but God has called me to serve Him…He has placed inside my these hands of mine the glorious gospel of Christ
The jewel, or treasure, is ‘the knowledge … of God in the face of Christ’ which God has ‘made … shine in our hearts’ (verse 6).
The earthen jar in which this treasure is contained, the human body, is subject to decay and vulnerable to disease and injury. It is, in ultimate terms, powerless.
But this is not accidental, but deliberate, because it emphasizes the all-surpassing power is from God which is within
Their plain appearance of the jar doesn't detract from their contents.
This verse teaches that our imperfect humanity is no hindrance to God's holy purpose.
A person's flaws, scars, chips, and cracks allow the presence of an all-sufficient God to leak out.
The power to lift man out of his powerlessness in the face of suffering, decay and death does not come from within himself; it comes only from God.
The bottom line is had this priceless treasure of salvation been contained in a strong and permanent body it would have proved a fatal combination for proud and sinful man.
We come to appreciate how powerful God is only when we acknowledge the certainty of our own death.
This, apparently, had been Paul’s experience.
This teaching about power in weakness, is not only applicable to the apostles
It is true for all believers.
We bring nothing to the table….all we have comes from Him….and He only deserves the glory
God always works through the weak and powerless so that it is clear that this extraordinary power belongs to Him and does not come from people…
In fact, God chooses the weak and powerless to demonstrate His power
Today, the church may seem weak, unable to withstand the tidal wave of immorality in society.
But the fact is that God still loves to work through the weak….who are willing to call out to Him In there time of need
Indeed weakness and powerlessness should provide the basis for a renewed hope in God.
The Lord loves to deliver, rescue, and save…those who have no hope other than Him
For a Christian, powerlessness is never a limitation but an opportunity for God to work in mighty and powerful ways.
B) A crumpled Plastic Bag!
The new teachers who were moving into the Corinth church apparently spoke of power and triumph in the Christian life.
Everything is going to be all right, you’re a Christian now….
This kind of teaching has been heard down the centuries and many have eagerly listened to impressive-sounding preachers who have preached the good life in the here and now
We heard it today in the Word of Faith movement….get you’re thinking and speaking right and everything will be fine
Some people have embrace these hopes so much that they fine it hard to admit to any problems in there lives
Paul, however, is emotionally honest.
Life is tough….even for Christians…and in some cases especially for Christians
He does not cover up his difficulties, but, is happy to admit he is just a “jar of clay”
And that sufferings and hardships are a normal part his life
Being hard pressed but not crushed
The idea here is that of a general pitting a tiny force against a wily opponent with vastly superior numbers. The enemy is resourceful; his troops are many; soon the general is outmaneuvered and almost completely surrounded, yet by some miracle he is not quite cornered. Through he is almost trapped; the enemy cannot manage to delivered the final crushing blow
Being perplexed, but not in despair means a feeling of being ‘cornered’.
Paul does not shrink from admitting there were times when he didn’t quite now what was going on
He admits he is often completely bewildered, at a loss to see the way forward, but never at the point of blank despair
He says he is persecuted or ‘hounded’ but not forsaken
Picture a wounded stag with a pack of hounds snapping at his heals, and yet but by some miracle of grace, it stumbles on, with teeth and claws of the pursuing pack never quite closing in
And finally, he confesses to being struck down but not destroyed
Here again the idea is a wounded solider, felled by a blow from the enemy. He ought to have been finished off, yet somehow he regains his feet and faces the foe once more
Taken together these pictures tell us Paul was hard headed realist with no romantic illusions and serving God.
Paul is no spiritual superhero blazing a trail of constant success, but a groggy fighter reeling from a succession of near lethal blows, surprised to find that he is still standing…and knowing it only because of the grace of God
While most of these problems arose from his calling, many of us will still recognize and identify with his feelings
And we will be encouraged to know that their difficulties were also shared by the great apostle.
But the most wonderful about all thing these statements is the “but not” in the middle them. ‘Pressured’ but not crushed; ‘distressed’ but not in despair; ‘hounded’ but not abandoned; ‘shuck down’ but not destroyed.
And these but nots” testify to the ‘power is of God that is working in Paul’s life in the midst of all his troubles
Paul is reminding here us here that though we may think we are at the end of the rope, we are never at the end of hope.
Our perishable bodies are subject to sin and suffering, but God never abandons us.
Because Christ has won the victory over death, we have eternal life. All our risks, humiliations, and trials are opportunities for Christ to demonstrate his power and presence in and through us.
The death (better, ‘dying’) of Jesus which Paul carries around in his body (verse 10) is Paul’s way of speaking of the physical and emotional pain associated with his ministry
Jesus himself was Paul's model. He suffered humiliation, insults, and finally death (see Phil 2:5-11).
Paul saw his own sufferings for the cause of Christ as connected to Jesus' sufferings on earth.
Jesus had warned his followers they could also expect suffering and hardship: "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (see John 15:20-21 NIV).
The suffering of Paul was merely an extension of Jesus' own suffering.
This again can apply to other Christians who give themselves in ministry in a world which is generally indifferent to the Gospel
The believer who goes all-out for God will share in the rejection of His master
While there are great compensations, all true ministries of God are costly not only in terms of what one gives up to pursue it but also in the misunderstanding or abuse, which goes with it
This cost is part of what Paul means by carrying around in the body the death of Jesus (verse 10).
There is a close connection between death that is at work in Paul and life in the Corinthians (verse 12).
Paul suffering for the Gospel…. was the means by which the life of God, through the Spirit, was at work within the church
Without Paul’s ‘death’ there would be no ‘life’ for the Corinthians.
This principle of life arising out of death or costly sacrifice originates with Jesus.
Jesus’ death, literally speaking, is the source of eternal life to humanity; the death of those who minister, figuratively speaking, is the means of life for mankind.
But what does Paul mean by so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (verses 10–11)?
Probably that’ the life of Jesus’ he means, first, the four ‘but nots’ we have already looked at ….not crushed….not in despair….not forsaken…not stuck down…
That the Christian is not submitting to his problems and difficulties is evidence that the life of Jesus is active within him, helping them to keep keeping on
Paul, however, is also speaking of the future when God’s resurrection power will finally deliver us from death (see verse 14). Then, too, the life of Jesus will be manifested within us, but permanently.
C) But a Content Plastic Bag!
Having stated that ‘death is at work’ in him so that life may be at work in the Corinthians, Paul now proceeds to state two reasons or motives for his sacrificial lifestyle.
People may have well said to him…with all that you’re going through why you keep going on….
He says here are my reasons
The first is that he has that same spirit of faith (verse 13) as the writer of Psalm 116 who testified to God’s deliverance of him from death.
In this psalm, Paul saw an extraordinary expression of faith, which he endeavored to imitate. The psalmist had refused to let his circumstances dictate to him what he should believe.
In the same way that the Palmist believed that God would deliver him for the driest situation, so, Paul believed God would deliver him
And because he was confident of this…he was at peace about continuing to preach and to teach…in the way he had done before, knowing he was just an empty clay pot but giving all the glory to God
So far from having lost heart (verses 1, 16), as his critics claim, the recent experience of deliverance from death has strengthened Paul’s resurrection faith, and because of this he writes, we … speak (the Greek implies ‘continue to speak’) the word of God.
Christians are called to walk by faith (5:7; Gal 2:19-20). Believers are to look beyond the troubles of this world to God and his eternal glory. That will give them hope.
Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence
The second reason for keep keeping on was his passion for the glory of God (verse 15).
Paul continued to labor so that more and more people (verse 15) would come to understand the grace of God and cause thanksgiving to overflow to God
Paul longed that men and women to be converted through the gospel and express thankfulness to God, and so glorify him.
Basically Paul was at peace with his God given role in life…there was no rebellion , he was happy to be a plastic bag …because he knew God was using him….God was blessing his friends at Corinth through his ministry. Soon they would be raised to be with there Glorious Savior…and spend eternity with Him….what had he to be upset about?
Therefore he says I do not lose heart….
Because although the outer of husk of the man Paul; was fading away…the inner man …was growing in maturity …being transformed from glory into glory
The person who was made for this age…the here and now was pasting away …. But the man was once made for the age to come was going from strength to strength
God was creating within his inner nature a new person out of the old, so that when it is finished it will be completely new….and ready to life forever with God…in glory
This passage seems to be saying as the decaying human frame approaches degeneration; the finishing touches are being applied to the new creation. At death the scaffolding of our outer frame will be removed and God will unveil to us the building from God, the house not built by human hands, eternal in heaven
Seen in true perspective, the troubles of our outer nature are ‘light’ in weight and of momentary duration, while the glory of our inner nature is of heavy ‘weight’ and eternal duration.
That is why Paul does not lose heart
The troubles of this life cause us to fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen (verse 18). Troubles help us to understand that there is no future for us here in this second rate, fading existence. Therefore we focus, increasingly, on the unseen, resurrected and glorified Christ
We can do physical exercise and keep to a sensible diet we can rely on the skill of the surgeons in transplanting organs to give us hope of greater life-expectancy
But the power of death within us is in the end irresistible.
We have no power either within ourselves or outside ourselves by which our lives can be renewed or extended in any ultimate sense
Our only one hope is God and the new ‘dwelling’ (5:2) he will give us
This is good news it is also very humbling.
And this is opposed to the teaching of the new teachers at Corinth who believed the delusion that our future lay with this body in this world.
We need to see like Paul saw….that the world we cannot see is vastly more real than the one we can see…we to re-educate ourselves…so that we can be at peace like Paul was….He was happy to be here because God was using him in spite of his weakness, but also knew that this was just prelude for a lasting future busting with glory
These verses raise certain questions
- Do we think too highly of ourselves
- Do we think highly enough of the gospel
- What do we need to be effective in our outreach, a great teacher or the power of God
- Are was content to be a plastic bag as long as the power of God flows through us and blesses others
- Do we live our lives in the light of the glorious future God has planned for us
- Do we see that troubles are not a sign to give up …but to press on
- Our world is crying out for believers who can boast in the weaknesses…and as they do show they have a God who gives them all they need to be all he wants them to me