As a young preacher, I determined not to become a fat one. I’d seen too many. So, I jogged, played racquetball, biked, swam, lifted some weights. Not until my late 60’s did I realize now fragile my body really is.
Odd, then, that our Lord chose to make these frail bodies the “chest” to hold his treasure.
What treasure? Paul explained earlier . . .
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
That’s the treasure. The Creator’s light shining in our hearts “to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in Christ’s face.” Not only so: this glory inwardly transforms us into his likeness by the Spirit.
Plutarch ( late 1st & early 2nd century Roman biographer) tells of the 167 B.C. Roman victory when 3,000 men celebrated by carting spoil of silver coins in 750 earthen vessels (The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Philip Hughes).
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay . . . ” (2 Corinthians 4:7a).
So the Lord put the treasure of his glory in the fragile human bodies. Why? “ . . . to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7b).
What “all-surpassing power”? “ . . . the life of Jesus . . . “ (4:10,11). The Lord’s glory (4:6,18). The power to remain uncrushed by hard pressure, to not despair when perplexed, to not feel abandoned when persecuted, to get up undestroyed when struck down (4:8). All this is the power. So Paul boldly declares . . .
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).
“Hard pressed” as by a violent mob. “Perplexed” as to be completely overwhelmed by some hardship. “Persecuted” as being pursued with hostility. “Struck down” as to be beaten down. In every case God’s power protects Paul from being crushed, in despair, abandoned or destroyed.
“We” refers to Paul and his team. Paul is commending himself and his gospel to the Corinthians, who, fueled by the “super apostles” out to discredit Paul, mutter, “In person Paul is unimpressive and on a 1-10 scale in speaking gets a zero” (10:10). On the contrary, Paul says, “You don’t understand God’s gospel ways. He intentionally chooses unimpressive apostles so Jesus is seen in them. “For we . . . are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body” (4:11).
Who is being revealed is key. Tell me. Who is revealed in the following short video? Jesus or the preacher?
The genuine apostle, then, suffers for Jesus’ sake. He’s “crushed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down”. And it’s all “for Jesus’ sake”–that is, so unbelievers and believers alike may see Jesus’ power in the non-crushed, non-despairing, non-abandoned, non-destroyed apostle.
So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God (4:12-15).
Paul describes his sufferings as “death . . . at work”, so that “life [may be) . . . at work [in the Corinthians].” The Corinthians receive “life . . . at work in [themselves]” as a result of the “death . . . at work in [the apostles]”.
Quoting from Psalm 116, a thanksgiving hymn for deliverance from death, Paul echoes David’s words. He speaks because he believes that God “who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” The end of the apostle’s bodily suffering, isn’t death, but bodily resurrection.
And here for the first time we see that what the apostle writes of himself in all of chapter 4 pertains, not just to himself, but to the Corinthians (“and present us with you in his presence”). Paul takes his “It is written” quote from Psalm 116, a hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance from death . . .
Yet the apostle’s suffering lies beyond that of the Corinthians. It’s “for your benefit” and has a sweeping purpose to include increasing numbers of people and ultimately glorify God: “so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” As John Piper has written, “The purpose of missions is worship.”
All this provokes Paul to keep pushing on . . .
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (4:16-18).
In 4:1 having this ministry “through God’s mercy” kept Paul from losing heart. Here it’s ” . . . an eternal glory that far outweighs [our light and momentary troubles]”.
Paul writes graphically of what’s happening to him: “ . . . wasting away”. It translates the Greek diaphtheiro, used of moth-consumed clothing. Just as powerful his inward condition: ” . . . yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” This daily renewing is the Spirit’s work, who is transforming us “from one degree of glory to another” (3:18).
Remarkably, Paul calls his troubles “light and momentary”–not because he’s being stoical, but because he’s seeing troubles from eternity’s view. John Piper has wonderfully said, “Eighty years of pain, then–glory!”
Just as remarkable, Paul claims our troubles “are achieving for us” an eternal weight of glory. The Greek is katergazomai–“accomplish, produce, bring about.” He counters his critics who claim troubles disqualify him as an apostle, by claiming, “Sure, I’ve got earthly troubles in a wasting away body. But not only am I being inwardly renewed day by day, these troubles are actually producing an eternal weight of glory for me.” In other words, the more troubles now the weightier glory then.
Therefore, what does Paul fix his eyes on? ” . . . not on what is seen (temporary troubles, his wasting-away body) “but on what is unseen” (daily inward renewal and eternal glory).
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Our take-away here covers the entire passage, because what Paul applied to himself in some measure applies also to us. So a suggestion: reread my comments and substitute your name where you find Paul’s.
Frankly, I loathe the “wasting away” part. If I were God, I would have done things differently. But I try to content myself that God is far wiser and loving than I. So I have to trustingly accept these “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Clay pots glorified! Meanwhile, I have to pray that Jesus’ life will be revealed in my fragile, mortal body.
One question remains: How can we fix our eyes on what we can’t see?
Answer: By prayerfully, worshipfully filling our minds with the words of those who saw the unseen glory revealed . . .
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1) . . . “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched– this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).