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2 Corinthians 4:8-9; Affliction in the Way of Jesus

09/02_2 Corinthians 4:8-9; Affliction in the Way of Jesus; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180902_2cor4_8-9.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul is talking about the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (4:6); the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (4:4). He points us to God who said ‘out of darkness, light shine!’, who has shone in our hearts to give us this light. He says

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

We carry around light, the treasure of the light of revelation; the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. We carry around this light, and we transmit this treasure to others, but we do so in earthenware containers so that the superabundance of power comes from God and not from us.

Inestimable treasure, of infinite value and worth, carried around in ordinary earthenware, common, plain, fragile, breakable. This is so that the surpassing power is of God and not originating in us.

He goes on in the next verses to show how God puts his own power on display in these fragile clay vessels.

2 Corinthians 4:8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Verses 8 and 9 lay out four pairs, four contrasts to put on display the life of Jesus in us, life that comes out of death.

Life Out Of Death; The Way of the Cross

Life must always come out of death. Jesus said:

John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

He was speaking of his own death. He said in verse 23 “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The way Jesus was to be glorified was that he was to die. He was to fall into the earth like a seed. Without dying, a seed is just a seed. But in its dying, the seed bursts out with life and produces much fruit.

This is the way of Jesus. He came to die. He came to be crucified for the sins of mankind. But that was not the end. That was not the goal. He came to die in order to rise again, that he might become the firstborn among many brothers (Rom.8:29; Col.1:18). He died that we, with him, might live.

Jesus goes on:

John 12:25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. …

Jesus invites us to follow him in laying down our lives to bear much fruit. In Matthew 16 he says:

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

(cf. Mk. 8:34; Lk. 9:23)

Lose your lives for my sake. Deny yourself. Follow Jesus. Take up your cross. If you do you will truly find your life.

The way of Jesus is laying down your life in order to truly find life.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Affliction is Not Unusual

Four contrasts that put on display the life of Jesus in us. In everything, in every place, all the time. ‘In every way’ begins the sentence, and goes with all four of these clauses. These four things are not unusual. They are not infrequent. Verse 8 begins with ‘in everything.’ Verse 10 begins with ‘always’. Verse 11 begins with a different word for ‘always’. Suffering, affliction, is not unusual for the follower of Jesus. It is the path of following Jesus.

This is not a popular message. It was not popular in Corinth, and that is why Paul had to say it. It is not popular today. Many preach a prosperity gospel, that says ‘if you follow Jesus you will be be blessed. Your health will be blessed. Your finances will be blessed. Your relationships will be blessed.

But Jesus said:

Luke 6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven…

Notice, you are blessed. Many teach that if you follow Jesus you will have a nice job and live in a nice house with a nice wife and nice kids and drive a nice car. Nothing wrong with any of those things. But when you lose your job and you lose your nice house and you wreck your nice car and your spouse leaves, and your kids are broken, you might conclude one of two things. There is something wrong with you, or there is something wrong with God.

You are to blame. You didn’t have enough faith. Maybe there’s sin in your life. Maybe you didn’t give enough money. This is dangerous, because it can lead to unhealthy introspection and depression. What is wrong with me that things aren’t going well for me? What did I do wrong? What didn’t I do? This whole line of thinking is messed up. It is a works based system. I believe, I give, I pray, and if I do it right, God is obligated to make things go well for me.

The other line of thinking is just as damaging. There is something wrong with God. I did the stuff I was supposed to do, and he didn’t come through. Maybe he’s not good. Maybe he’s not powerful enough. Maybe he doesn’t keep his promises. Maybe he’s not even there at all.

The problem is not in God, and it is not in your performance. The problem is that what you are believing is not true. It is not true that if you follow Jesus every circumstance will go your way. It is not true that believing in God is the magic key that makes every problem dissolve.

Jesus said “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Lk.21:17). Jesus said:

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. …20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. …

Jesus said:

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. They will persecute your. In the world you will have tribulation. These are promises of Jesus to his followers. Affliction is not unusual. It is the path of following Jesus.

Paul says ‘in every way we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. Always carrying in our body the death of Jesus. Always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake. This is not unusual. This is the normal Christian life.

Four Contrasts

Let’s look at these four contrasts that put on display the life of Jesus in us.

In every place, in everything, all the time, we are this but not that. This but not that. This but not that. This but not that.

θλιβόμενοι ἀλλ’ οὐ στενοχωρούμενοι, We are afflicted but not crushed. Both of these words point to being in a tight place. We are crowded, we are pressed, we are pressured. The world is closing in on us. Our enemies are pressing us hard. Jesus uses the root of both these words in Matthew 7 when he says:

Matthew 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Narrow, tight, cramped, hard; as opposed to wide, broad, open, easy. Paul uses this first word in 2 Corinthians 7:

2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn— fighting without and fear within.

He uses it to refer to both external and internal pressure. He uses the second word twice in 2 Corinthians 6:12, and this is the only other place it shows up in the New Testament.

2 Corinthians 6:11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.

Notice the contrast between wide open and restricted. Narrowed, cornered, restricted, boxed in so that there is no way out. We are hard pressed, but not with nowhere to turn. We are severely pressured but not restricted; there is still a way out. We are cramped but not cornered.

ἀπορούμενοι ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐξαπορούμενοι, perplexed, but not driven to despair; The second word in this pair is an intensified version of the first word. This refers to being perplexed, in doubt, at a mental loss, uncertain what to do; the second word means to be utterly at a loss; to despond or despair. Despair is when you are so perplexed, at such a mental loss, that you are stuck there and lose all hope.

Paul already used this second more intense word back in chapter 1.

2 Corinthians 1:8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction [pressure] we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.

Notice that Paul doesn’t downplay or deny his troubles. He doesn’t try to hide his emotional turmoil or pretend that he is unaffected by outward circumstances. He is candid and open about his own struggles. They were so utterly burdened beyond their strength that they despaired even of life itself. But they weren’t stuck there.

2 Corinthians 1:9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

We began to despair, but that drove away from self reliance to trust completely on God who raises the dead. It taught us to fix our hope on God. So we are confused but not confounded, at a loss but not totally lost, perplexed but not driven to despair.

διωκόμενοι ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐγκαταλειπόμενοι, persecuted, but not forsaken. The first word means to be pursued hard after, hunted or persecuted. This is the word Paul uses to describe what he did to the church of God (and to Jesus) before his conversion (Acts 22:4; 26:11; 1Cor.15:9; Gal.1:13; Phil.3:6.

The second word is to abandon, neglect or forsake. This strong word is used in Hebrews 10:25 to encourage believers not to forsake, abandon or neglect meeting together. This is the word from Jesus’ lips on the cross, when in utter darkness he cried out with a loud voice “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We are pursued, persecuted, chased down by our enemies, but we are not abandoned by God. Jesus was abandoned by his Father on the cross, so that we who now belong to him would never be.

Hebrews 13:5 …be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

καταβαλλόμενοι ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἀπολλύμενοι, struck down, but not destroyed. Paul was struck down. Literally. In Acts 9, a light from heaven flashed around him and falling to the ground he heard a voice. In Acts 14, in Lystra, ‘they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.’ Cast down is a word used in the Old Testament for city walls being cast down, or an enemy falling by the sword. It often means death.

There seems to be a progression here. Paul’s enemies are pressing in hard, but he has room to flee. He is at a mental loss, but does not give up hope. He is pursued hard by his enemies but not abandoned by God. Then his enemies finally catch up and strike him down to death but he is not destroyed. What does that mean?

Destroyed is the word Paul used in 1 Corinthians 1:18 and 2 Corinthians 2:15 and 4:3 to draw a contrast between those who are perishing and those who are being saved. Perishing in this context is being lost for eternity. This is the word Jesus used when he said “Whoever loves his life loses it” (Jn.12:25).

Look at what Jesus says in Luke 21.

Luke 21:16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish.

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. Some of you they will put to death. But. But not a hair of your head will perish? How can you be put to death and yet not a hair of your head will perish? Unless this word perishing means something more than being put to death. Christians, even apostles can be struck down and die. But not a hair of their heads will perish eternally. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. In the words of Jesus:

John 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

We may be struck down, even to death, but we will never be destroyed.

Rejoice In That Day

Look back at Luke 6. Jesus said:

Luke 6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven…

When you are hated and excluded and reviled and spurned on account of Jesus, you are blessed. When. In the middle of the mess, you are blessed. Rejoice in that day! Leap for joy! Look, your reward is great in heaven! Our reward is not primarily here and now. We look forward to our reward when we see Jesus face to face. But even now, even in the middle of the brokenness, in the middle of the pain, we can rejoice. We can leap for joy.

Because we understand the way of Jesus. The way of the seed. Life comes out of death. We know that God works all things together for good; even the hard things, the painful things.

How do you respond to pressure? To emotional turmoil? To being pursued and persecuted? To death? Do you feel cornered? Confounded? Abandoned? Destroyed?

Or do you rejoice that you hold this treasure in a fragile earthenware pot so it is clear to all that surpassing power is from God and not from you?

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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September 2, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 4:7 Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels

08/26_2 Corinthians 4:7; Divine Treasure in Earthen Vessels; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180826_2cor4_7.mp3

In 2 Corinthians 2 and 3 Paul displayed the surpassing glory of New Covenant ministry. It is ministry where ‘God through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere’ (2:14). It is self-authenticating ministry, where God writes Christ on the tablets of human hearts by the Spirit of the living God (3:3). It is the life-giving ministry of the Spirit (3:6). It is ministry more glorious than that of Moses, whose face radiated glory and had to be veiled (3:7-13). It is ministry that brings righteousness (3:9); it is permanent (3:11). It is ministry that removes veils (3:14-16), that brings freedom (3:17). It is ministry that beholds directly the glory of the Lord, ministry that brings about transformation (3:18).

In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul has been giving us the characteristics of authentic Christian ministry; ministry that does not lose heart. Authentic ministry is ministry by mercy; it is not deserved. It is ministry with integrity; it isn’t secretive, it doesn’t tamper, it doesn’t use every means possible. It is engaged in spiritual warfare; the god of this world blinds the minds of unbelievers. It is the plain proclamation of the gospel; the good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners; Jesus Christ as Lord. Authentic ministry is accompanied by the creative power of God; God speaks in and through our speaking to create life and light, to reveal Jesus, to remove blinders. In the middle of our ministry God’s creative word flashes out and shines light in the dark hearts of unbelievers to create seeing and believing in Jesus.

This is exceedingly glorious ministry! And to think, this ministry has been entrusted to us! We do not lose heart. We can have confidence. We can be very bold.

But

But… In verse 7 we run in to a big ‘but’.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Woven throughout this passage are warnings to keep us humble. But here in verse 7 Paul illustrates the truth graphically to prevent us from becoming puffed up. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, jars of clay.

Earthen Vessels

We hold a great treasure, but it is placed in ordinary, unimpressive containers. Clay jars were about the equivalent of plastic or styrofoam cups. They were cheap, ordinary, fragile, disposable, and the landfills are full of them. They couldn’t really even be recycled. Many sites in Israel you can hardly walk without stepping on fragments of broken pottery [show examples]. There are even pits in the ground filled full of broken fragments. If a vessel made of glass broke, it could be melted down and re-blown into something useful. But not clay pots. Under Levitical law, bronze or even wood or leather or cloth containers that came into contact with something unclean could be washed in water and cleansed, but an earthen vessel must be broken (Lev.6:28;11:32-35; 15:12).

In Isaiah 30, God describes the consequences to his people of rejecting and distorting his word:

Isaiah 30:14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

A clay pot’s usefulness comes from its form. It does not come from the inherent worth of its material.

The Potter and the Clay

When it comes down to it, a clay pot is essentially dirt. Mud. Clay that has been formed for a specific purpose. And that is exactly what we are. According to Genesis,

Genesis 2:7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Formed by God of dust from the ground. Then after our rebellion, we are told:

Genesis 3:19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lest we begin to think we are something, we are reminded that we are but clay jars, formed by the hand of our Master for a specific purpose.

This is an analogy that is used several places in scripture. In Isaiah 29 the Lord says:

Isaiah 29:16 You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

How dare a created thing reject its creator! How dare something formed insult the one who formed it! Again in Isaiah 45:

Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?

I looked up how to make usable clay for pottery out of regular ordinary dirt. It is a simple but labor intensive process. It is basically a process of washing and screening and sifting to removing the impurities so that the clay will hold together.

Isaiah 64 describes us:

Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

We are full of impurities, and in order for us to be useful, God must remove the contaminants.

Isaiah 64:8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

For us to even make it on the potter’s wheel, there must be an intensive process of cleansing.

Paul picks up this theme in Romans 9

Romans 9:20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

God as creator has rights over the clay. He can do with it what he chooses.

In Jeremiah 18, Jeremiah is given an extensive object lesson with clay pots.

Jeremiah 18:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

The potter is at liberty to do with his clay what seems best to him. God goes on to warn:

Jeremiah 18:7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

The point of these illustrations is that God is the potter. We are the clay. The potter has the right to make what he wishes with the clay. It seem ridiculous for a clay pot to take issue with the potter over the way it has been formed, especially when we spoil ourselves in his hand. Yet that is just what we so often do. The Potter is wise. Our Potter is good. He knows what he is doing. We can trust him.

Another thing to note about clay pots, is that they can be molded and shaped into something that looks great, but they are useless until they are fired. They have to be put in the furnace or kiln to become usable. I don’t know if Paul had this in mind when he calls us earthen vessels, but it certainly fits with what he goes on to say in the rest of this chapter. The furnace of affliction and trials proves character. It makes a soft pliable wet lump of clay into a functional container. It becomes useful. And it can last a long time. Many of these pieces of pottery are thousands of years old.

In Jeremiah 32, during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem, God instructed Jeremiah to buy a field to demonstrate God’s promise that after the exile, fields will again be bought and sold in the land.

Jeremiah 32:14 ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time.

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd discovered some clay jars in a cave near the Dead Sea. The jars contained great treasure, manuscripts of the Bible and other writings preserved in the jars for over 2000 years! Indeed, treasure stored in an earthenware vessel can last a long time.

This Treasure

The point of Paul’s contrast is between the nature of the jar and the nature of the treasure it is meant to carry.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

We have some fancy vases in our house that we don’t ever put anything in. They are beautiful, and they are completely for show. If I were to put even a flower in it, the beauty of the vase would detract from the beauty of the flower. The simplicity and plainness of a container allows the beauty of the treasure to be seen and treasured for what it is. That is what Paul is warning here.

We contain treasure. We have been entrusted with New Covenant ministry. The ministry of the gospel; the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. We proclaim Jesus Christ the Lord. God’s creative word has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The container is not meant to compete with the glory of the treasure. We want nothing to detract from the treasure. Fancy pots won’t do!

The Power is God’s

This verse could be translated literally ‘but we have this the treasure in earthen vessels in order that the superabundance of power might be of God and not out of us.’ The verb is not ‘to show;’ rather the verb in this phrase is ‘to be.’ God’s purpose in putting his infinitely valuable treasure in these fragile human containers is that the power would be his and not ours.

If the container were impressive, attention would be drawn to the container. With containers this earthy, this ordinary, this vulnerable and common, there is no question whose the power is.

Paul may have had in mind the simple oil lamps that were so common in Corinth. Made of clay, they were inexpensive, yet functional. No one would question if the clay were giving off the light of itself or if it was the oil that was inside. It is the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God; it is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God creatively spoke this light into existence in our hearts. When this light shines out in such a way that others begin to see the light, it is evident that the extraordinary degree of the power is from God and not from us.

Paul was accused of being unimpressive. The Corinthians wanted someone powerful, someone eloquent, someone with a commanding presence. Paul said here I am; a simple clay pot, worn, tattered, vulnerable, broken, but containing a power not his own, a divine and supernatural light. The power of forgiveness. The power of knowing Jesus. The power to transform lives.

When Jesus blinded Paul’s physical eyes, and opened his spiritual eyes to who he is, he called a man named Ananias to go speak to him.

Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument [vessel] of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Paul was a vessel, a container in which the name of Jesus would be carried around to all people. In the coming verses we will see how this treasure in earthen vessels connects with the necessity of suffering.

In Matthew 5 Jesus talked about light of a lamp that shines and gives light to others. He said:

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

How is it that we are the light of the world, and that we are to let our light shine in such a way that people see our good works, but they don’t praise us; rather they give glory to our Father in heaven? How do we let our light shine in such a way that God gets all the attention?

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers…

2 Corinthians 4:6 It is God who said ‘out of darkness light shine! … 7 [lit] But we have this, the treasure in earthenware vessels in order that the superabundance of power might be of God and not out of us.

You and I are really not all that impressive. God is.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

August 27, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment