Summary: Is God bending, shaping, or polishing me right now? What’s my attitude: Am I thanking and praising God, or am I complaining about the process? Trials are intended not to provoke us but to prove us. See the present from the perspective of the future. Look
Opening illustration: The Steinway piano has been preferred by keyboard masters such as Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, Cliburn, and Liszt—and for good reason. It is a skillfully crafted instrument that produces phenomenal sound.
Steinway pianos are built today the same way they were 140 years ago when Henry Steinway started his business. Two hundred craftsmen and 12,000 parts are required to produce one of these magnificent instruments. Most crucial is the rim-bending process, where 18 layers of maple are bent around an iron press to create the shape of a Steinway grand. Five coats of lacquer are applied and hand-rubbed to give the piano its outer glow. The instrument then goes to the Pounder Room, where each key is tested 10,000 times to ensure quality and durability.
Followers of Jesus Christ are also being “handcrafted.” We are pressed and formed and shaped to make us more like Him. We are polished, sometimes in the rubbing of affliction, until we “glow.” We are tested in the laboratory of everyday human experience. The process is not always pleasant, but we can persevere with hope, knowing that our lives will increasingly reflect the beauty of holiness to the eternal praise of God.
Let us turn to 2 Corinthians 4 and check out from God’s Word to see how He handcrafts each one of us.
Introduction: Paul begins this passage with the thought that it might well be that the privileges and the glory which a Christian enjoys might move him to pride. But life itself is designed to keep a man from pride. However great his Christian privileges and glory he is still a mortal man; he is still the victim of circumstances; he is still involved in a human situation over which he has no control; he is still subject to the chances and the changes of human life; he has still a mortal body with all the body’s weakness and pain. He is like a man with a precious treasure, but the treasure is contained in earthen vessel which itself is weak and worthless. We talk a great deal about the power of man, and about the vast forces which he now controls. But the real characteristic of man is not his power but his weakness. Pride and glory is coveted and was attributed to Roman generals for their triumph and victory. But there were two things that were designed to keep the general from pride –
(i) First as he rode in the chariot with the crown held over his head, the people not only shouted their applause but also, ever and again, they shouted, “Look behind you and remember you will die.”
(ii) Second, at the very end of the procession there came the conquering general’s own soldiers, and they did two things as they marched – (a) they sang songs in the general’s praise but (b) they also shouted ribald jests and insults to keep the general from too much pride.
Life has surrounded us with infirmity, although Christ has surrounded us with glory, so that we may remember that the infirmity is ours and the glory is God’s and so that we may recognize our own utter dependence on God.
Paul goes on to describe this Christian life, in which our infirmity is intermingled with God’s glory through which God keeps crafting us in His ways and likeness. Paul uses a number of paradoxes to convey this message.
How does God handcraft us?
1. Under pressure to build and raise (vs. 8-9)
Identifies one being hard pressed from ‘inside and outside’ and yet not being crushed. We may be knocked down but not knocked out. The supreme characteristic of the Christian is not that he does not fall, but that every time he falls he rises again. It is not that he is ever beaten, but he is never ultimately defeated. He may lose a battle, but he knows that in the end he can never lose the campaign. After Paul states the great paradoxes of Christian life, he goes on to give the secret of his own life, the reasons why he was able to do, to bear and to endure as he did. As believers, we will face trials but God controls them and uses them to strengthen His people. God’s glory is manifested through broken vessels, through people who endure troubles by relying on His power. Here the picture is of someone trying to harm another. Paul was literally almost killed by stoning in Lystra … the Lord saved his life. The allusion is still to combat. This occurred so often and in cases so extreme as to make it manifest that the power of God was exerted on his behalf. No man from his own resources could have endured or escaped so much. There is in these verses an evident climax, which reaches its culmination in the next sentence. He compares himself to a combatant, first hard pressed, then hemmed in, then pursued, then actually thrown down. This was not an occasional experience, but his life was like that of Christ, an uninterrupted succession of indignities and suffering.