Series on II Corinthians, I Paul’s Dedication to Ministry, D Steadfast, 2 Surpassing Power, Text 4:7-15, Title: Jars of Clay

Introduction

I remind you that this letter is Paul’s greatest defense of his apostleship and ministry in the face of accusations that he was not a true apostle of Jesus. I would hate to face that!  When I came here as your stated supply, not one person said to me that I was not qualified. Paul faced that accusation in triplicate. That is why he says his ministry was sincere, successful and spiritual. In Chapter 4, his steadfastness in ministry was revealed first in his faithful communication of God’s word, but it is also revealed in his sufferings. Paul was quite aware of the frailty of human existence. He understood that the light and the blessing come through sacrifice and suffering. He refers to himself and others as jars of clay. These are jars that are common. These are jars that are meant to be broken. They do not last, but what is in them may last forever. I am reminded of Job. When his sufferings commenced his wife said to him, “Curse God and die.” If he had done that, would Job be part of your Bible today?  No! He said, “I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end I will be vindicated.” For Believers suffering is not a punishment, it’s a process through which God reveals his glory. Broken jars are the way to glory. We will never get a better insight into heaven than we get through broken jars.

I We see Jesus through Suffering

The painful circumstances that Paul recounts in verses 7-11 will be repeated and enlarged. 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. 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. He will be pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. We see him dying to self and surrendering his life to the gospel of Christ. This is the time when we celebrate the protestant Reformation. Did Martin Luther or John Calvin suffer persecution? Did the other reformers? Did the Huguenots in France suffer persecution? Did the Scottish Covenanters suffer death for their faith?  Was it all for nothing? They were not conquered, and neither shall we be conquered. But we should not think for a moment that all the spiritual value of suffering is lodged in great heroes. You do not have to be a missionary in Bora Bora without support and living on rice alone in the midst of alien natives to die to self.  Convalescent homes, marriages with invalids, business relationships, difficult marriage relationships, personal tragedy and illness, abuse or addiction, all provide an opportunity to die. We are always delivered to death by the truth. Our problem is that we often do not see the value in this experience. We are so consumed with our own suffering and misery that we do not see that this is the greatest opportunity God has given for the extension of His kingdom. The authenticity of Paul’s Apostleship was given through his willingness to suffer and still give the glory to God. Amy Carmichael, an invalid missionary once wrote, “If I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into the vice of self-pity and self-sympathy; If I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” I am at a loss for words to communicate the total effect of suffering saints but it is monumental. As it was in the case of Paul so it is in our lives.

II We Share Jesus through Suffering

The basic rule is this: The suffering of Jesus is revealed in the flesh of one part of the body so that spiritual life may be revealed in another part. In verse 12 Paul writes, So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. Is this really a rule? Can it be that the agonies of some saints are the profit of others? Yes, Amen and Yes!  Paul is sure that his constant dying is not fruitless because the result is that others have believed in Christ and grown in Him. We are talking about clay vessels, which when broken, show forth the light. If Paul is not alluding to the story of Gideon and his faithful 300 in Judges, certainly we can see the parallel. Three hundred soldiers surrounding the enemy multitude with trumpets and torches hidden in clay jars. At the signal the jars were broken and the hills were aflame with light and the air was filled with the blast of horns. The enemy fled. When the clay pot is broken the light shines. Jesus said you are the light of the world, and he also said, in the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. From the Apostles and martyrs of the first century there is an unbroken chain of suffering. It runs through the Protestant Reformation and descends to the present day sufferings of Christians around the world. This suffering together with the Word of God is a seed that grows and bears fruit. In Chapter 10, verse 10, Paul describes himself. For his letters they say are weighty and powerful;, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible. Paul’s answer is, 12:10, When I am weak, then I am strong. The light shines on.

III We Succeed in Jesus through Suffering

What is our criterion of success? Paul’s is found in Psalm 116 from which he quotes in verse 13.  The Psalmist was delivered in this life. He trusted in God’s promise. Paul transforms this into the hope of the resurrection in verses 13-15, 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. This language was apparently essential to Paul’s ministry and his view of success. In Romans 10 he says If we believe in our heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead and we confess with our mouth, we are saved. In Friday’s Tampa Tribune there was an article about employees who have left Microsoft and what they were doing. One of them was a self-confessed born again Christian. He is a father caring for three children because his wife died of cancer in her thirties. He was a physicist, and now he is a Presbyterian minister. Here is a man who believed and has spoken, like Paul. He does not fear the future, because whatever that may bring, he knows a merciful God is in control. How dare Paul and how dare I reduce life down to this simple formula. I believed and I have spoken. Is that all there is to our existence? Yes, that is all there is! The resurrection of Jesus changed everything.  In the last few weeks America has been radically changed by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Doesn’t it make you wonder how we would be changed if we took seriously the Gospel of Christ and the resurrection of our Lord?

Conclusion

Physical death is not a choice!  We can choose many options in our lives in marriage, education, jobs and lifestyles, but death is not a choice unless you understand with Paul that we die daily. We are all going to die. Some choose to start the process early. They have the assurance of eternal life. Do you have this assurance and this hope in your life? If not, you can have it today. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.