Here is another message I gave this past week in my Message Preparation for Women class. Once again, even though it was intended for my fellow classmates, I hope all can benefit from the promise in God’s word that pain and death don’t have to be meaningless. In a year as discouraging and, in a way, stunted as 2020, I think it is important to remember that for believers, our hope is in things unseen. All will one day be consumed by life, and the momentary troubles of this earth will be forgotten.
Where would you keep your most precious treasure? Many stories and myths of hidden treasures span the globe even today. From El Dorado to the legends of Oak Island, people have spent a lot of time and effort securing their wealth away from the rest of the world. For example, in the early 1800’s a miner named Thomas Jefferson Beale found an estimated $63 million worth of precious metals in the Rocky Mountains, which he buried for himself. He then wrote three coded messages describing the treasure’s location, and entrusted them to an innkeeper named Robert Morriss. Morriss was supposed to get a key to the trove 10 years later if Beale did not return, but he never received anything. Only one of the coded messages was ever cracked, and the fortune has never been found.
Humans have fascinating ways of hiding their treasure, but I think an even more fascinating question is this: where does God keep His most precious treasure? Does He have a royal vault in heaven? Does He hide it deep in the earth, or out in the solar system? Does He leave behind cryptic clues for us to follow? Paul actually tells us in 2 Corinthians where God keeps his most precious treasure, and also answers the question we have not yet been asking: what is God’s treasure worth to us?
If 2 Corinthians is our map, then X marks the spot on 4:7-18, so let’s turn there together.
Before we really unearth the wealth of hope and wisdom in this passage, we must note that Paul’s focus in writing it is to teach the Corinthian believers that since God’s treasure in Christ overwhelms earthly limitations, we can live in reliance on Him in defiance of death. Paul is also expressing his joy at their repentance and obedience since his last disastrous visit to Corinth. The problems Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians were not resolved until after he made this visit. Hearing that the conflict ended in his absence, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians and made a final visit to the church (recounted in Acts 20).
Here in this epistle, he tells them that God’s treasure in Christ overrides our earthly brokenness and limitations in 4 ways: Christ’s power, Christ’s life, Christ’s truth and Christ’s glory.
First in this passage, we find out where God keeps His treasure, and that Christ’s power overwhelms our frailty.
Let’s read verses 7-9:
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
God puts His treasure in jars of clay–His people! The word “treasure” in verse 7 refers back to verse 6, where Paul describes it as “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” which God causes to shine in our hearts. That’s a lot of prepositions in one sentence, but in a simpler fashion, George H. Guthrie explains it as “personal comprehension of God’s glory”. In other words, the greatest treasure God has is revelation of Himself in Christ. And the contrast of this glorious treasure contained our bodies–simple jars of clay, which were the most common and inexpensive objects in the Ancient Middle East–proves that it originates in God, and not ourselves. Imagine that picture for a second, a simple jar of clay holding great riches. Or consider this analogy: just as in the beginning God breathed into dust to make the first man, so also Christ breathes the newness of eternal life in us through the Holy Spirit, and we are now earthen vessels of His heavenly grace.
This is why we can suffer every kind of hardship conceivable, because Christ’s power sustains the Church in spite of her frailty.
Do you feel hard pressed by the scrutiny of our culture for standing for biblical truth? Know that you will not be crushed.
Are you perplexed by the mysteries of suffering in the world and God’s plan in this strange reality we call COVID-19? Know that you don’t have to despair.
Do you fear persecution’s hand sweeping across the world and hanging on the American believer’s horizon? You will never be abandoned by Christ.
Have you been struck down in your battles with sin, or watched evil infiltrate a church that you loved? Have you seen dear friends make a shipwreck of their faith? Know that Christ’s bride is bestowed with strength, she will never be destroyed.
I encourage you to choose something from this list in verses 8 and 9 that you struggle with today. Even now in this moment think of an example in church history or the Bible to remind you that God’s power overwhelms the frailty of His people.
For myself, this school year has tempted me to despair with all of its perplexing nuances. I don’t know why I moved off campus far from my friends in an already isolating time, or why the regulations we have to follow to keep our campus open seem so arbitrary at times. I question if any of it is worth it, or if I should just give up. But then I remember the psalmist in Psalm 13, who asked God “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and every day have sorrow in my heart?” He endured a storm of internal upheaval. By the end of his song, however, he praises God, declaring, “I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation.” I think of this psalm to remind me of the hope we have and the character of God, so that I do not despair in the midst of personal turmoil.
After Paul’s locates God’s treasure and offers encouragement in these first few verses, he then communicates that Christ’s life overwhelms our death.
Verses 10 and 11 say this:
“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.”
Notice Paul’s repetition of the word “body”. Each of our bodies, these jars of clay, is a cosmic battleground for life and death. Our bodies decay as we age, fall prey to all kinds of diseases, get addicted to substances that destroy us (even those as seemingly harmless as Oreos or potato chips), and those are just physical examples of how we experience death as a result of the Fall every day. We also die mentally as anxiety and depression grip the reins of our lives. We die socially whenever we let gossip divide us, or when the fallout from our broken relationships leads us to burn our bridges. Corporately, our death is multiplied even further. Think about how historically warring nations have devised increasingly horrible ways to exterminate each other–everything from machine guns to the atrocity of the atom bomb.
This is the pit of death we inhabit. It’s all around us and we only escape by being rescued from it.
Yet, in Christ we are bought with a price, claimed as His territory and our bodies are no longer our own. He is inside of us now, and he has defeated death eternally to repurpose it for the task of consuming the universe with life.
He has built a new, paradoxical pattern into the redemption of the world: die to live. His new kind of death looks like starving our vices, enduring shame from worldly powers, expending our time and energy for the sake of loving others, persevering through criticism and betrayal for His sake, and giving the best of ourselves away–even our very lives.
The character Hero in Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing demonstrates this concept in her journey from death to life. Much Ado About Nothing is a sixteenth century Rom-Com, and if you’re not into Shakespeare now, watch the Kenneth Branaugh film adaptation of the story and I bet you will be. What happens is that Hero is about to get married to the man of her dreams, Claudio. But the evil Don John has tricked Claudio and convinced him that Hero is not a virgin. On their wedding day, Claudio confronts Hero, unwittingly slandering her in front of everyone, which causes her to faint. He storms off in the drama of the moment, but once Hero comes to, the friar officiating the wedding concocts a plan. He tells her that she should pretend to be dead from the shock of the accusation until the lie can be exposed and her dignity restored. He consoles her with these words, “Come lady, die to live. This wedding day perhaps is but prolonged. Have patience and endure.” I’ll explain what happens to Hero a bit later, but for now, remember that she has to die (in a symbolic way) in hope of one day being able to live her life apart from the effects of evil and sin.
In the same way, we follow Christ’s pattern of dying to ourselves and our sin to experience life in eternity.
When the apostles followed this pattern, they saw the power of Christ’s life overwhelm death in those they ministered to as well.
Verse 12 says,
“So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
To get the fullest picture of the meaning of this verse, we should look at the example of martyrdom. Tertullian famously said that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” They die so the church may live. But this is no accident on their part. Martyrs make the small choices of death to self in everyday moments in order that Christ’s life may overwhelm them, and it’s through the practice of these many smaller deaths that they are able to finally die well for their Lord and His glory.
What death is at work in you so that others may believe the gospel? What parts of you–habits, styles, sin patterns, or relationships–have had to die since coming to Moody? What do you yet have to relinquish to the Lord as you present yourself as a living sacrifice? How do your scars show the mercy of Christ?
Take some time with the Lord this week and ask Him to show you where the death in your body is allowing for the life offered in the gospel to move forward in your spaces of influence.
Indeed, Christ’s life overwhelms our death, and that should cause us to broadcast the news to the world. In fact, what we see next in this passage is that Christ’s truth overwhelms our silence.
Verses 13-15 say: 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 of 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.
Paul quotes Psalm 116:10 here, which is a praise psalm thanking God for his deliverance. The first verse of the psalm reads, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.” The psalmist goes on to speak of his affliction because he believes in the Lord’s power to save him from it. In the same spirit as this psalmist, Paul freely verbalizes his difficulties because he trusts that one day we all will be raised with Christ and presented to him. The nuance of the language is important here, because the word “present” in verse 14 is also used in 2 Corthians 11:2, where Paul speaks of giving the church to Christ, as a “pure virgin” for “one husband”.
We must finish the story of Hero and Claudio to illustrate the beauty of this future reality for the Church. This is your spoiler alert! A group of guardsmen overhear the villains who carried out the plot against Hero’s honor and put the fiends under arrest. When Claudio learns the truth, he is crushed because he thinks Hero died for nothing, yet he promises Hero’s father that he will do anything to make it right. He even agrees to marry Hero’s cousin in her place as reparation for his slander. When the second wedding day arrives, however, it is Hero who actually walks down the aisle, veiled and hidden from her groom. She reveals her identity just after he promises his life to her forever. She has died for a time, and now lives, so the truth compels her to speak. Imagine her joy when she declares to everyone at the wedding, “One Hero died defiled, but I do live, and surely as I live, I am a maid.”
Christ’s truth overwhelms our silence in the same way. We can rejoice, praise him, and spread the gospel even though we have been afflicted, because we have joy looking forward to that wedding day of Christ and His Bride, where we will be presented to him as a pure virgin to one husband.
What beautiful story can you tell others about your deliverance from death to life in Christ and about your eternal hope? How could you creatively display his faithfulness in your life publicly, so that others see the glory of God? Your options are infinite. Indeed, this is the task of our entire lives as believers. But maybe right now you need to think of a new and fresh way of doing it. If you are artistically inclined, you could write a song, paint a picture, or compose a piece of writing to post on your social media. Maybe it’s as simple as offering an item of praise the next time someone asks you for prayer requests.You could also choose an item to display that represents what Christ has done for you. For example, I wear an emerald necklace almost everyday as a reminder of God’s kindness to me in the midst of loneliness. The story behind it is too long to go into here, but the point is that when people ask about it, this necklace is an opportunity for me to let Christ’s truth overwhelm my silence in the most difficult parts of my life. Unlike those who hide their treasures deep in the earth, God wants the treasure of Christ to be unveiled before the world, so He gives us His message to overwhelm our silence.
Christ’s truth is the powerful hope that we carry, and finally we see that Christ’s glory overwhelms our troubles.
Verses 16-18 say:
“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 what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
The simultaneous wasting away and renewing that we experience in Christ is a wonderful paradox, and it can also be a messy process. For example, on one hand, Moody has been confronted by the media for standing for biblical truth, and on the other hand we are also having our imperfection in caring for abused people uprooted in a deep way. I believe this is the Lord giving us an opportunity for greater life through humility and repentance, but that journey is a long and difficult one. We are deeply troubled, because death and life are battling for our school.
(While these comments apply specifically to my school’s current circumstances, I believe the same principles to follow apply to any community of Christians.There is no perfect community of faith this side of eternity.)
I would like to say something to you all as a fellow student and follower of Christ: Don’t be surprised or lose heart when Moody fails you. Please resist the temptation to fall into bitterness. Moody is not inherently a great place, it is a jar of clay. Its greatness comes from God’s grace working over and above its limitations. In fact, we are a community whose currency should be God’s treasure held within us–the grace of Christ. Praise Christ for His faithfulness to this school and forgive Moody for its failures. Jesus was perfect because Moody is incapable of being so. His surpassing glory will carry us through these momentary troubles. In light of this, let’s be students who commit to advocacy for victims, to healing and forgiveness for our administration, and to promoting the name of Christ in everything we do here. I don’t know precisely what that looks like for each of us in this season, but let the Lord dictate to you what your attitude should be on your floor, bro-sis, in your jobs, classes, and in conversations with people from outside of this campus.
Remember that these hardships (and any that you may also be facing personally) are an investment into eternal glory, and the return on that investment will make it well worth it. Christ’s glory overwhelms our troubles today.
I think that the hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” succinctly and worshipfully conveys what verses 16-18 teach about Christ’s glory.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.”
To reiterate Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians 4, we know that in any peril we encounter on this earth, we can live in reliance on God in defiance of death, because His treasure in Christ overwhelms all limitations. This treasure is within us, even though we are simple jars of clay, and its incomparable worth grants us Christ’s power, life, truth, and glory. Let us then surrender our bodies, die to live, let truth interrupt our silence, and never lose heart.