Summary: When it comes to suffering, Paul calls us to forsake pity parties and glorify God. We can remember that Jesus shines through us, that our weaknesses glorify God, that we may be down but never out, and that our sufferings may bring eternal life to others.
Down but Not Out!
A Christian need never suffer. At least that’s what some preachers might tell you. However, that is not the message of scripture. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). We should expect no better treatment than that received by our Lord. So, when suffering comes, how can we handle it?
In today’s scripture, Paul was writing in response to some “super-Apostles,” people who were flamboyantly teaching the gospel, yet perverting it as the very first prosperity preachers. Paul talked about his own sufferings and suggested that, through our weakness, through our frailty, God can shine through even brighter. Paul says, “It’s not about you; it’s all about Christ in you.” So imagine yourself in the crowd of First Church, Corinth, as Paul’s letter is read aloud. Let’s listen in and see what we can learn about making the most of our suffering. Lesson #1:
1. You don’t have to be in the spotlight, because you have the light of Christ in you (v. 6)
Paul contrasted true believers with those false teachers who drew attention to themselves. They wanted to be in the spotlight. Yet, Paul says, “It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus in you!”
Sometimes we feel the pressure to perform. We want to be bigger, better, louder, faster, smarter, prettier, brighter. We’re tempted to toot our own horns, to draw attention to ourselves. Yet, Paul reminds us that Christ’s light shines in our hearts the moment we surrender to his lordship. In verse 6, Paul states that the one who spoke light into being at creation is the same one who puts the light of Christ in your heart. The moment you become a believer, God creates again. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation: the old has gone, the new is here!”
Now for Paul, this image of Christ’s light was very personal indeed. Paul became a believer when he was blinded on the road to Damascus. The light of Christ was brighter than the noonday sun. Paul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” And the Lord answered, “I am Jesus, the one you’ve been persecuting.” Paul shared in detail about this light in at least three separate occasions preserved in the New Testament. Christ’s blinding light changed him forever.
As Craig Groeschel said, “God did not call us to blend in, but to stand out. Let your light shine.” “This little light of mine: I’m gonna let it shine!” How are you at letting Christ’s light shine through you? You don’t have to try harder. You just need to trust more. Trust that God will use you as you make yourself available for his purposes. Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” You don’t have to be in the spotlight, because you already have the light of Christ in you. And lesson #2 ...
2. The older you get, the more glory God gets (v. 7)
The moment we are born, our bodies begin to die. The aging process sets in, just as it did for our first parents, Adam and Eve, the moment they sinned. Death and dying is part of our sinful world, for now at least, until God makes all things new.
Yet, the good news is, the weaker we are, the more glory God gets. Paul gives an object lesson in verse 7. He says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Our bodies are like jars of clay, or another translation reads, “earthen vessels” or “clay pots.” The Amplified Bible calls them “unworthy earthen vessels of human frailty.” I look in the mirror, and I see a body much different than 20 years ago. Although I think I’m the same person, the mirror does not lie.
Now I did some research this week on clay pots, and here’s what I found. [Show a terracotta clay pot intact from the store.] Here is a modern clay pot. Back then, people used earthenware for all kinds of storage, from human waste to remnants of scripture, like the ones which housed the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were kind of like our modern-day storage containers, canning jars, or cardboard boxes. Yet, like a lot of storage containers, they are fragile. According to my research, here is what happens when you drop a clay pot on a hard surface. [Share some fragments wrapped up in a towel.] Even though something important may be stored in the pot or jar, the container itself is not that important.
That’s how it is with us. Our bodies house our spirit, which for believers will one day go to be with God, as our bodies go back into the soil from which they came. “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” Yet, our spirit will live on, with God’s Spirit, someday to receive a new resurrection body.