Jesus seen in us. 4:6-12
In chapter four Paul deals with the present difficulties experienced by the apostolic band, how those difficulties do not hinder the work of the gospel, and how they will be overshadowed by the future glory.
v6. As God commanded the light to shine on our world, so he has commanded light to shine on us, a life giving light. This light is the "light of the gospel of the glory of Christ."
v7. Yet, this transcending glory of God is housed in meager vessels; it operates in the rough and tumble of human existence with all its difficulties and limitations.
v8-9. Paul now lists his experiences in the flesh - many a time down, but not out. There is his own weak self, "perplexed", and there is the circumstances of life pressing in on him. Yet he is not crushed, "not in despair". The inner substance of his faith maintains him. He is sure the Lord is with him and this gives him strength, Heb.13:5. Experience has confirmed for Paul the sustaining power of the indwelling Christ, Acts.14:19f; "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness", 12:9.
v10-11. There is a sense where a believer shares the life of Jesus, his suffering and victory. Those who follow Christ, particularly when exercising a ministry which confronts the powers of the dark domain, will similarly experience trouble (a kind of death). Yet,we will also experience, as Christ did, life; victory out of defeat, resurrection, restoration.
v12. The Apostolic band (The "us" in this passage) are without doubt weak, sharing in the sufferings of Christ, "given over to death for Jesus". It can easily be demonstrated that "death is at work in" them. The circumstances of their life alluded to in v8-9 is common knowledge, cf.6:3-10. Yet, it is also easy to see the evidence of life at work in them, particularly in the power of the gospel which they proclaim. The tangible evidence of this is the Corinthian church itself.
God's power is made perfect in weakness
Believe in Jesus and all your problems will be wiped away. A statement like this is an example of success theology. It's based on the false notion that the Christian life is one of constant blessing; that God's intention for our life in this shadow land is joy and happiness. If we find our life a mess, full of trouble and distress, then either we are living in sin and need to confess it, or we are short on faith and need to renew it.
It's ideas like this that lead us into cloud cuckoo land. If we end up believing that we should be free from worry, distress, trouble, suffering, bad times..... then we have to pretend we are living the victory life when all about us is crashing down. When we start to think this way, reality becomes distorted.
A glance at the New Testament should leave us a little wary of a health, wealth and happiness theology. Of all people, Jesus was not a success. At the end of his earthly life he only had his mum, a few women disciples and John, to stand by him at his crucifixion. His ministry was a success in God's eyes only; from a worldly perspective it was a failure. Paul was in no less a situation. "Who is weak, and I do not feel weak", says Paul. "Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn." From God's perspective, Paul's arrival in Rome is glory indeed. Yet, from any other view, it was a paltry achievement - he was a prisoner.
Our passage for study reminds us of our weakness, a weakness increased through faith in Christ, not decreased. Yet, it also reminds us of the wonder to be found in our limited lives. It reminds us of "treasure in jars of clay".
1. Enlightened, v6
When Paul beheld the face of Christ on the Damascus Road, the brilliance of that face blinded him. In that vision he knew God in all His glory. We may not have had his vision, but that light has shone "in our hearts."
2. Mere clay pots, v7-9
It is an amazing fact but true, we bear the image of the living God, and yet we bear that image in an ineffective, limited, even compromised frame and so have to admit to being constantly overcome by the circumstances of life: "Hard pressed on every side.... perplexed..... persecuted..... struck down."
3. Death and life in Jesus, v10-12
On one hand we share the sufferings of Christ, yet on the other hand we share his life, his resurrection power, now and forever, a life that not only enlivens us, but enlivens others through the gospel we cherish.
1. Share some of the troubles you have faced and some of the ways you have not been trapped, in despair, forsaken, or done in.
2. How do you think your enlivening could facilitate the enlivening of others?
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