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.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
These verses from Paul’s second letter to the believers at Corinth can be considered part of the testimony of the Apostle as he labors in the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the great themes of his two letters to the Corinthians is his own defense of the Gospel ministry committed to him by our Lord and for which he suffered greatly. There were those in Corinth and beyond who questioned whether Paul was truly an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. These “super apostles,” or false apostles, claimed Paul was untrained in speech, among other things, and therefore unable to be one who could truly proclaim the message of the Gospel (see 1 Corinthians 1, 2; 2 Corinthians 11). Throughout these letters Paul is constantly reminding the Corinthians how he came to them in humility, preaching only Christ and Him crucified. The Gospel was never about those who wanted to draw attention to themselves, but about Christ and the power of God displayed in frail sinners redeemed by grace. We learn more about the suffering of the Apostle Paul in these two letters than we do anywhere else in the New Testament, with the exception of the narrative of his journeys in the book of Acts. The “treasure” of verse 7 surely refers to the ministry Paul received from our Lord, as well as the Gospel itself and the power represented therein through the Holy Spirit. He was able to rejoice in the midst of great suffering, which he readily relates to the “carrying about in the body the death of the Lord Jesus,” because he knew that the focus of his ministry would then necessarily be upon the power of God and the “life of Jesus” manifested in his body. These great themes come together beautifully in the later chapters of this second letter where Paul identifies one of the marks of a true Apostle as being suffering. When he was afflicted with a thorn in the flesh which the Lord refused to remove, we find the Apostle enabled to rejoice in the midst of weakness and suffering—not because he enjoyed it or even desired it, but because he knew that in weakness and suffering the power of Christ would be seen (see chapter 12). We are dying daily, Paul says, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested and seen in our mortal flesh.
While these verses may have their first application to the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul, the principles of Christian living for all believers powerfully shine through here. The image of the treasure of God’s glory in Christ shining powerfully through the weakness and frailty of our human lives, broken and cracked vessels of honor, is one of the most beautiful in all of Scripture. The Lord manifesting His power in our weakness is what Paul came to know when he later wrote: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10) That is the testimony of every Christian!
Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is not the place to direct someone who may be interested in sound theology. Many times, though well-intentioned, the theology of many Christian artists can be at best trite, and at worst, very wrong. However, there are times when the theology of a particular song captures beautifully the heart and essence of the Christian life and longing. Tenth Avenue North’s song, I’m Worn, is one such song. In the first verse and chorus, the songwriter captures the cry of the believer’s heart to see the power of God in the Gospel manifested in our weakness:
I’m tired I’m worn, my heart is heavy from the work it takes to keep on breathing;
I’ve made mistakes, I’ve let my hope fail, my soul feels crushed by the weight of this world.
And I know that you can give me rest, so I cry out with all that I have left:
Let me see redemption win, let me know the struggle ends;
that you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn;
I want to know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life;
And what’s dead inside can be reborn, cause I’m worn.
What we see here and in the verses above from 2 Corinthians is that the Christian life is not about having it all together, with no problems or struggles. We were reminded at the end of last year that Christ did not come for those who were well, but as the great Soul Physician, He came for the sick, weak, frail and needy. And He invites all such as know their lost condition to come unto Him for rest, for strength, for help, and for joy unspeakable even in the midst of the deepest sufferings (see Matthew 11:28-30). As Christians, we long to see the power and glory of God manifested in this world. We pray and long for it as we desire the return of the prodigal child. We weep and pray for it as we long to see a marriage torn apart by many sins, brought again to wholeness in Christ. We want to see redemption win in the life of a child lost in the maze of mental illness. We want to see a broken life raised from the ashes with a song rising in praise to our God. We want to see the dead reborn, and glory shining through the cracks of frail, earthen vessels—jars of clay now fashioned as vessels of honor into which God’s Spirit is poured out. We long to see wholeness where there is brokenness; strength where there is weakness; life where there is death; hope where there is despair; faith where there is doubt; joy where there is sorrow. And the reason why we long for all of this is because we long to see the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal flesh!
As you prepare to come to the Lord’s Table this week, consider that our gracious God has set before us a sacrament where He visibly displays in the elements of bread and wine this great truth: redemption wins; the struggle will end; frail hearts can be mended; songs can rise from the ashes of broken lives; and what is dead can be, and has been for all who believe, reborn. I invite you to come, all who are weak and worn, to the Savior Who presides over this Table and Who longs to give you rest. His every grace is yours as you come with faith believing that He has already won the victory for you. We are worn and weary; but we will not lose heart as we look to Him Whom, though yet unseen, we love. That is why, with the Apostle Paul, we can and must only preach Christ and Him crucified, the only hope for the worn and weary!
Rejoicing in Him, Savior of the worn and weary,
Pastor Ted Trefsgar