“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 ESV
Last time we learnt in 2 Corinthians 3 about the “veil” being lifted so that we might see Jesus for who He truly is – throughout the whole Bible; Old- and New Testament included. It is important to note, however, that we had no part to play in the lifting of the “veil” or in the Gospel being planted in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. It was all God’s doing. As Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
No one is born a Christian. We have to be born again by the work of the Spirit (John 3:6-8). All believers were once “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5).
Yes, we carry the light of the Gospel inside of us, but it is carried in puny, weak, broken and fallen bodies – “jars of clay”, far from perfect. Simply gaze out at the vast array of stars at night and you will quickly realize how small you truly are. Thus the “surpassing power” is God’s, not ours.
Many believers ponder the question of why God allows suffering to take place. It may be simply to keep us humble – to know that we are human and that God is God. But, wait, there’s more. Paul said in the above passage that our suffering shows the death of Jesus in our bodies. Why? “… so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” There is hope in our sufferings – we will never be “crushed”, “driven to despair”, or “forsaken”. “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Even though our outer “jars of clay” are slowly but surely brought to decay, the Holy Spirit is continually renewing us on the inside, molding and shaping (and sometimes shaking!) us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. In this way, we share both in Jesus’s suffering, but also in His life.
“So we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16).