2 Corinthians 4:7-12 (NKJV) But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed– always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
This passage of scripture is so often used in situations that do not rise to the measure of the word, that it has lost some of its meaning to us in Christianity in America. Let’s be honest, we western Christians are not very perseverant or tough when it comes to dealing with ordinary trails of life. We may have difficulty with a person at work or in our families or some other uncomfortable situation, where we get all hot emotional and are looking for an answer. Those helpful and caring brethren, will often quote this verse for encouragement. Although our efforts are sincere, often what people need is an “knock it off this is not a major issue of life or persecution” kind of kick in the pants. We need to help one another to grow up and that means recognizing the real peril or lack there of in the trials we face. The above passage is for those who are having peril which rises to a level of danger, which threatens life, livelihood, or loved ones, because they have decided to live 100% for Christ.
THE ONE THAT BRINGS ON THE DIFFICULTY
With a subheading like, “The One That Brings On The Difficulty”, the temptation would be to assign the pain and suffering we encounter, to the the enemy of our souls. Although he certainly is often the means of the discomfort, he often not the one leading us into pain.
In Matthew Mark, and Luke, when reading of Jesus baptism where He was filled with the Holy Spirit (especially in Luke 4:1-2), we see it was the Holy Spirit that led (word in Greek actually means drives) Jesus into the pain of the wildness temptation. It was here that Jesus learned “obedience through the things He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). What does this mean? It means that the Holy Spirit was the reason Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, was in discomfort. The pain had a purpose or multiple purposes, yet the key is remembering the the Holy Spirit led Him to pain, although He (the Holy Spirit) did not cause the pain.
A word of qualification is necessary. Many would use the afore mentioned truth to declare that God is the author of every suffering and trial we face. This is a broad overreach, as we understand that humanity was given a free will as a gift from the Lord. Being that we have free will, we must admit that many of our choices lead to necessary pain; pain the God will use as a method of discipline.
Therefore, we can understand that for the one who is sold out to Christ (a free will choice) they will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means the Lord will walk you into things to grow your faith and as we will find a little bit later, accomplish a deeper work, that is not possible aside from suffering for Jesus. Whether our Father specifically ordains or allows a circumstance is of little value or use in the debate. What is important to grasp is His presence in the trial, and the encouragement that what we face, is for the authentic faith of Christ in us.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us”.
The above verse reveals that what is to come in verse 8 and 9, is a result of our being filled with the treasure Jesus sent to us when He ascended on high… The gift of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. In the second half of the verse, we understand why the trials are so beyond our ability; That our living through them in Christ-likeness would be seen as beyond our human ability. This is a point of witness for Christ. We will see in a little while how clear this witness can be, but first we must see how threatening are the difficulties.
THE TROUBLE IS BEYOND OUR ABILITY TO WITHSTAND
In verse eight and nine we see how all encompassing and overwhelmingly difficult the trials are that bring about our clearest witness and highest calling in Christ.
(We are hard pressed on every side) This phrase paints a vivid picture of our being surrounded with threat to life and limb and lively hood. The circumference is getting tighter like a noose poised to choke our faith
(we are perplexed) Being we have no way out through the means of man or our own ingenuity or power we are at a loss for what to do.
(persecuted) There is no let up in the trial, as we are being pursued by the enemy and his kingdom to either cause us to deny the faith we hold, or take our life from this earth. Persecution is a legally or culturally approved attempt to eradicate of our faith.
(struck down) These troubles are so strong and consistent they beat us prone into a defenseless position.
I realize we may desire to water the above definitions down to spiritual and poetic meaning, but that is to do a disservice to the word of God. Think of the children in the middle east being told to renounce Jesus or face a torturous death or their parents who can do very little to save them except deny the Savor of their soul. Think of the mother and father who know that denying Jesus will still lead to the death of the child and themselves. This is to be hard-pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. Yet let me present another situation that is closer to home.
The same day I found out about the atrocities against the Syrian and Iraqi Christian children, I received word that a former District Superintendent from the fellowship and the state I used to pastor in had take very ill. Our brother in Christ, Gordon, has also served with great dependence on the Holy Spirit of God in pastoral ministry. It was only a few years ago that this brother and his wife Barbara and another fine ministry couple planted a church in Brunswick Ohio. The Lord blessed and has grown a powerful disciple making church. Since his illness he has progressively lost his strength. Our dear brother is confined to his bed 70% of the time and has not been able to eat food for more than a couple of years, therefore he is hooked up to an IV for most of his day.
Through all his struggle, his dear wife has ministered to him as his caregiver, as led and strengthened by the Lord they have ministered God’s love as able. Here is a situation that is like a python, ever tightening, with no way out, where every avenue of their strength is being hunted, to the point of being stricken and afflicted to almost immobility. And yet they are not crushed, not in despair, not forsaken, and not destroyed. They still have hope that Jesus will accomplish His purpose in their life–hope for the day when they are before Jesus Christ–hope that their lives still matter in the kingdom of God and in the world of lost men.
THE CLEAREST WITNESS AND HIGHEST CALLING
always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
Although few I have met actually like pain, we must grasp that God’s greatest glory comes when we, like Jesus, “learn obedience through the things we suffer”. This means that as we get into problems of an existential nature, where we must choose to stand in faith waiting for God to deliver us, we learn obedience. We also become a very clear witness for Christ, by what He does through our lives. When we suffer for our faith, Jesus Himself manifests His resurrection through our lives to keep us living in hope and alive period. It is in this impossibility that the world of lost men, truly see Jesus best. This is even more clear than having a perfect theological message of the cross. For as necessary as that message is, “for faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God”, it is seeing that message of the risen Savior lived out in a person who should have collapsed in death, hopelessness, unbelief or terror, which makes the difference.
I freely admit I am only in God’s elementary school concerning this truth, but I so want to graduate. The word of God declares this as the highest calling and also the most fertile ground to experience the manifest presence of Christ, this side of heaven. We find this truth in Acts 5:41 where the disciples, after being beaten profusely lept for joy, being worth to suffer for Jesus. Paul also wrote profoundly of this call…
Philippians 3:8-10 (NKJV) Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,
Paul’s prayer in verse ten is powerful evidence of the clearest witness and most high calling for the saint. It is for this reason I desire to encourage those reading this… If you want to bring fame and glory to Jesus and have surrendered all you have and are to the Savior, know that trouble in forms beyond your ability to manage or escape will rise more prevalent as you become more mature in your faith. Yet through it all, Jesus is there to reveal Himself to others and give you the resurrection Spirit to do more than survive. He is there to give witness through you and usher you into the highest and most satisfying calling.