Jesus seen in us. 4:6-12
In chapter 4 Paul deals with the present limitations experienced by the apostolic band, how those limitations do not hinder the work of the gospel, and how they will be overshadowed by the future glory.
v6. The quotation refers to God's creation of this universe. As he commanded the light to shine on our world, so he has commanded light to shine on us, a life giving light. The light is the "light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" received at the time of our conversion, v4. In simple terms, we may understand this enlightening as a bonding with the person of Christ.
v7. This transcending glory of God, this eternal truth, is housed in meager vessels. Believers, with all our frailties, house within our being the eternal image of God. The limitations of our mortality do not in any way impede the glory of God, in fact, they highlight it - "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness", 12:9. The image of clay jars most likely comes from the Roman triumphal procession when the wealth of the defeated nations was carried in earthen jars.
v8-9. Paul now lists his experiences in the flesh which affirm the weakness of his situation. 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.
v10-11. The idea of carrying around the death and life of Jesus in our bodies refers to our union/identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. A believer has died with Christ in that they are dead to the condemning power of sin, although sin itself is not dead. A believer has risen with Christ in that they are alive for eternity and enlivened for living.
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 be easily 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." It's called success theology. It is based on the false notion that the Christian life is one of constant blessing. God's intention for our life 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, we end up quite off key. Reality becomes distorted and we then start to believe that "all are mad save ye and me, and ye a little".
A glance at the New Testament will leave us a little wary of a success doctrine. 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. As far as this world is concerned, 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 at Rome in the last chapters of Acts is glory indeed. Yet from any other view, it was a paltry achievement.
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. We can actually 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 in that the condemnation of sin no longer hangs over us. On the other hand we share his life, his resurrection power, now and forever. In simple terms, that life is God's love for us, his intimate friendship with us in Christ.