Chapter 4:7-12 (ESV) - 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.
Question to consider: What does Paul mean when he says that we have this treasure in jars of clay?
“This treasure” was a reference to the knowledge of salvation through Christ Jesus which we proclaim like a light to a world overtaken by death and darkness. However, we don’t proclaim this from perfect and powerful bodies but from “jars of clay” which are common and fragile. People may look up to famous, good looking Christians that give every appearance of having their act together, but the Holy Spirit brings people to faith through the proclamation of the gospel from the weak, the ordinary and the afflicted. The reason Paul gave for this was to show that the power of salvation came from God instead of us.
If someone has told you that becoming a Christian will solve your problems, fulfill your life’s purpose and guarantee your success in this world, they have given you bad information. God loves us enough to keep us from being destroyed, but He allows us to be afflicted. God loves us enough to keep us from despair, but He has been known to leave us perplexed when things don’t work out like we think they should. I often wondered why my faithful father suffered so much pain and indignity as Alzheimer’s took him apart, little by little. But Paul emphasizes in this passage that we are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
Those who were able to witness my dad in his final days saw the glory of Christ in a jar of clay. Now that he has gone on to be with the Lord, I’m sure he’s seen how the Lord has used his affliction to draw others to Christ and is filled with inexpressible joy. One of my favorite passages of scripture is Isaiah 53:11. The NIV actually conveys the idea really well, “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” The picture here is of God’s servant (Jesus) who looks back on the suffering He endured and experiences tremendous satisfaction at seeing how God used it to bring people into a right relationship with Him.
May these words encourage you in your own afflictions that the life of Christ is being made manifest in you.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for demonstrating the life of Christ in us even when we have to face all kinds of afflictions and difficulties in this world. Please use our weakness to let people see Your glory and help us to keep our eyes fixed upon Christ and the day that we are finally raised to eternal life. Amen.