We Do Not Lose Heart, Part 2
2 Corinthians 4:7–18 – 2 Corinthians: A Testimony to Suffering in the Power of God
Pentecost – June 9, 2019 (am)
There was a popular phrase among my Bible school friends that captured how we wanted to live our lives. Eternal perspective—we wanted to live today in light of eternity. We didn’t want to get caught up in trivialities but to live and serve with eternal purpose. Is that what you want?
In today’s text Paul tells us what that really means, how to do it, what it requires of us. His words may shock us. And he himself had to learn it! He didn’t just know how. Let’s discuss this text under three headings.
The Multifaceted Weakness of the Messenger
From the opening of today’s passage Paul is drawing attention to his weakness and God’s power. That’s metaphor here: 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, the glorious gospel (4,6) in cheap, brittle pots (cf. Kruse 106), easily replaced, functional but fragile, and nothing compared to the value or their contents, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. The contrast here is between Paul’s weakness and God’s power. Paul is saying that his weakness, his suffering, his triumphal procession (2:14) to death so that the life of Jesus… may be manifested in [his] mortal flesh (11), is intended to show that the surpassing power of the gospel that has shone in our hearts (6) belongs to God and not to [him].
In other words, no one is going to be drawn to the gospel by the curb appeal of Paul’s life! He’s common, easily replaced. And no one is going to miss the fact that the desirability of the gospel is not displayed in his life but in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God that He [shines] [into] our hearts in [the Person] of the Lord Jesus Christ (4, 6).
But this is a real danger, isn’t it—believing that powerful, influential, wealthy people whose lives do have curb appeal can draw in others, even into the circle of faith, the church? They can make being a Christian seem cool such that they themselves are the draw, in place of Christ. Christians see this. We even rely on it at times. We can honestly believe that the testimony of a high profile, well-known person bears more weight, draws more interest, even converts more people, than the testimony of and average Christian (whatever that is!).
Lest we make this profound and tragic mistake, Paul is saying here: we have this treasure in jars of clay (7). We’re multiple times weak. And Paul says (13) that he stands in a long line of the suffering righteous from the past (Hafemann 187). Quoting Psa.116:10 (13) where the psalmist experienced [suffering] to the point of death (Psa.116:8) but was delivered by God, strengthened in his faith, and enabled to speak, so it is with Paul. The psalmist preached the salvation of the Lord (Psa.116:13), even in his suffering. And now so does Paul, but with the joy of adding the resurrection of Jesus to the psalmist’s message (14), and also the promise of our resurrection! All that said, the [vessel] is not the treasure! The contents are! The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the [risen] Jesus Christ (6, 14), that is the treasure!
The Surpassing Power and Glory of God
This treasure has an impact in Paul’s life. It makes a difference. It answers his suffering! 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, even though at the start of this letter (1:8) they were so utterly burdened in Asia that [they did despair] of life itself; back here, they were 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. The surpassing power of God now sustained them at every point of need, met them in every expression of trial. It proved sufficient either to deliver them or to enable them to endure in hope (1:10). Just as Paul had written earlier (2:14), they were 10 always carrying in [their bodies] the death of Jesus, 11 … always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, 2:14 … always [being led] in triumphal procession… 10 … so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in [their] bodies, 11 … in [their] mortal flesh, and through [them, spread] the fragrance of the knowledge of [Jesus] everywhere.
The fact that Paul can exhibit such weakness and endure such affliction without [despairing] or being destroyed can only be attributed to God (Hafemann 183). And that is what [shows] that the surpassing power belongs to [Him] and [no one else] (7).
12 So death is at work in us, says Paul, but life in you. Through this ministry of death—my identifying with the death of Christ and suffering to bring you the good news of the glorious salvation it provides—you receive life! God’s power is expressed to you through [my] weakness (Hafemann 184). And the net result (15) is the magnified glory of God as more and more people taste of His grace and erupt in thanksgiving to Him!
16 So we do not lose heart. [Yes] our outer self is wasting away, our life in this sin-shattered, morally bankrupt world (Hafemann 189-90) where we’re always being given over to death (11), but our inner self is being renewed day by day, our life that’s [showing] the surpassing power of God, our life in Christ that’s being strengthened in the Spirit to endure in hope of the resurrection even while we continue to suffer, our life that’s being transformed into [the image of God] from one degree of glory to another (3:18)—this life, known as our inner self, is being renewed day by day.
The Outcome of This Union in Time and Eternity
This is a pretty amazing reality. This is the surpassing power of God doing its work in Paul, in the Corinthians, in all of us who believe. This is the outcome of our union with Christ throughout the course of our life here on earth—day by day [renewal] (16) toward the image of God from one degree of glory to another (3:18) in ever-increasing reflection and experience of the coming new heavens and new earth, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will raise us also with [him] and bring us… into his presence forever.
So, the outcome of this union doesn’t just benefit us in time, but also in eternity. Our suffering with Christ in gospel ministry and our wasting away in this sin-saturated, death-laded world is not just eased by the sweet and life-changing, life-giving ministry of the Spirit (cf. 13) as He brings the future fullness of the Kingdom of God into our lives day by day, but this day by day [renewal] is shaping our future experience of that coming Kingdom as we endure it with an eternal perspective—18 as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. The Spirit of God enables our endurance in hope until His Kingdom fully and finally arrives! And it’s in the very suffering we endure that we come to know the surpassing power of God, to taste of its sufficiency! 17 For this… [our] affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
Instead of destroying Paul, his sufferings “outwardly” are the very instrument God uses to reveal the glory of his presence and power in Paul’s life “inwardly” (Hafemann 190). Suffering is the setting in which we are most able to recognize the glory of God’s presence and power in our life—to recognize it as glory and presence and power. And Paul didn’t just know this in principle, he had to learn it by experience! (Hafemann 190-1) We mentioned it earlier: 1:8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction (same as v.17 here) we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened (same as v.17, weight) beyond our strength that we despaired (same as v.8,) of life itself.
So, Paul’s burden was [weighty] when this letter began. It was too heavy for him such that he was in despair. But through his experience with the Corinthians, his eyes have been opened to the fact that suffering in this life is best backdrop for grasping the glory of God! God’s glory [shining into] our hearts (6) in the midst of our suffering in this world is the only thing that can show us, prove to us, not only that His glory is more [weighty] than our suffering, but that in comparison to the eternal weight of His glory that surely awaits us (proven by the resurrection of Jesus ), any level of suffering, of affliction, we experience here can only be described as light (not [weighty]) and momentary (not [lasting]) (17).
We might even say that without our affliction, we wouldn’t have the proper context, we wouldn’t be in the necessary place, to understand and appreciate fully the immense weight, the gravitas, of God’s glory revealed in the gospel, revealed in the resurrected Christ, revealed in the ministry of the Spirit Who brings a small portion of the coming Kingdom into this world, to help us to see the unseen and live in light of it (18)—to give us an eternal perspective.
So, an eternal perspective is actually one fruit of the gospel that enables us to see our suffering in light of eternity, and to desire eternity more than freedom from suffering. It doesn’t just enable us to see our light, momentary afflictions in light of the eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as though only our small sufferings are overshadowed or swallowed up by our hope of heaven. Paul isn’t leaving the assessment of our afflictions up to us and telling us the little ones are outweighed by the glory that awaits us.
No, he’s telling us that the pinnacle expression of his own suffering—the daily pressure on [him] of [his] anxiety for all the churches (11:28) sent him on from Troas (even though a door was opened for [him] to preach the gospel [2:12]) to Macedonia in hopes of meeting up with Titus and hearing a good report from Corinth (2:13)—was itself [outweighed] by the power and presence and glory of God in his life allowing him to see even his massive and distracting afflictions as light and momentary by comparison!
This is amazing! So, it’s not just our small trials that are overshadowed by this eternal weight of glory. This also applies to our big and life-altering afflictions. As we fully embrace the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (6) such that we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (3:18), our deepest and dirtiest and most debilitating and discouraging trials are redefined day by day into something light and momentary in our eyes!
Do you know what this means? It’s not just sadness and discouragement and impatience and relational conflict and all other sorts of everyday difficulties that become light and momentary in our eyes. It is also cancer and MS and heart disease and bereavement and imminent death. They all become light and momentary in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that awaits us, that is right now being [prepared] for us, that is our inheritance as surely as Christ is risen from the dead, as surely as the Holy Spirit of God is our down payment on the coming Kingdom with all its glory, which we celebrate on this Pentecost Sunday!
So, press on through your weakness and suffering to live and proclaim the gospel with thanksgiving to God, knowing the weight of glory that awaits you in this pursuit.