2 Corinthians 4
Today is an Ember Day, Ember Days being days in which we are to focus on fasting and prayer. On this Ember Wednesday, we contemplate our weakness and God’s strength, a truth brought home every time we fast or suffer any kind of deprivation. In this way, Ember Days and 2 Corinthians 4 should be seen as means of coming closer to God by recognizing our own weakness and the necessity of depending on the Lord for all things.
Here in 2 Corinthians 4, St. Paul brings together two of the most important truths of the Christian life into one powerful phrase: “treasure in earthen vessels.”
The first point to consider is the incredible treasure that each Christian contains. That treasure is Jesus Christ Himself, which is why you are called a “Christian.” A Christian is not just someone who “believes in” Jesus Christ, or else we could rightly call the demons “Christians.” A Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ who, by the Holy Spirit, has Jesus Christ dwelling inside him so that he is enabled to live with, in, and for Him.
We must first understand the treasure, for if we do then all else is made bearable and even joyful. Notice in verse 10 that Paul explains this treasure for us, when he says: “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”
We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the place where God dwells. If this isn’t the most valuable, beautiful treasure in the world, then I don’t know what is. This treasure, our Lord Himself, includes all parts of Him that He can share with us. It means that we truly participate in His suffering and death, but it also means that we participate in His resurrection and life. Christ is in us; God is with us.
This is our inestimable treasure.
The strange thing about this treasure is the way God wraps it. If I were God, I think I would like to package Myself and My glory in vestments befitting My glory. I would probably do something obvious like putting Myself in men 50 feet tall, dressed in white and having glowing faces. I wouldn’t want the world to miss my glory. After all, if I hid my glory in ordinary people, all those humans might miss it!
Thank God I’m not God!
One of the first consequences of my version of where to hide God’s glory is that there would immediately be the danger of people mistaking the vessel for the glory, mistaking the creation for the Creator. It seems to me that we humans already have a difficult enough time with this one.
What God does instead is He takes ordinary human beings like you and me, and He hides His glory in us. We are the earthen vessels of which Paul speaks. The earthen vessels Paul alludes to are the kind of clay pots in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. They are not particularly strong and are liable to break. They are made of common clay and don’t look like anything special. But inside those clay pots found in the Essene caves was the incredible treasure of the priceless scrolls (and we might even say that God has hidden His love letters inside of the clay pots of our bodies.)
Because of God’s wisdom, nobody in his right mind will mistake you or me for God. In fact, God has done His job so well that the opposite danger is more serious – that we might all miss the treasure because of the homeliness of the vessels. The earthenness and fragility and ordinariness of these vessels, our bodies and selves, is so great that even we who contain the Treasure often forget that we do. We believe the Satanic lie that we are just clay from the earth, and not clay from the earth that God has breathed life into and made in His image and resurrected and glorified with His Son.
Now why would God take such a risk, that we all might miss Him and His glory? It is so that when people do see the Treasure in us – and they do, when we are faithful – then it will be plain to all that we have this Treasure not because of but in spite of ourselves. As Jesus says to St. Paul says in several chapters from this one: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
In our weakness, by our weakness, when that weakness acknowledges God, then God is glorified.
Because God has given us this glory and works through and by our weakness, we do not lose heart (verse 16), even when there is suffering, as there will be. Our outward man may be perishing. Our bodies may groan, our minds may grow dim, and our souls may become heavy. In fact, they will. But every day God offers to renew our inward man, if we will come to His strength in our weakness. And every time we turn to God in our weakness, God is glorified, and we are strengthened, because he who humbles himself shall be exalted and God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.
There is a very practical problem with all that Paul has just said, and that is that things don’t seem this way. If we judged only by WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), then we would all be tempted to see mostly weakness, frustration, and suffering. But remember that the invisible reality of the Treasure, Jesus Christ, in you is the true reality.
When we look at the things, such as God, that are unseen, then with Paul we realize a colossal truth: that our momentary and light affliction is producing in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
I know that many of you groan in body, mind, and soul and eagerly await the resurrection of the body. In this life of earthen brokenness and pain, I want you to remember something today. Take a minute to measure the pain you have experienced and are experiencing. Your being will become very heavy. For some of you it might seem like too much to bear.
But now I’d like you to measure the glory God desires to share with you. However great you have judged your suffering to be in your life, God promises to those who truly love and obey Him that the glory He has in store for you is far, far greater than the suffering you have experienced. St. Paul believed that this glory will so outweigh the suffering that the two aren’t even worthy of being compared. And I agree with him.
However great your pain is, use it to measure how immeasurably greater is the glory and joy that God has in store for those who love Him and keep His treasure.
Prayer: Father, thank You for entrusting Your glory to such weak and earthen vessels as myself. Help me to remember that while suffering is visible and momentary, joy and glory are eternal, even when not visible. I ask, Jesus, that You would take my pain and suffering today and carry it with me, and that You might help me to see You and share in Your resurrection and life today.
Points for Meditation:
1. Meditate on what a treasure it is to have Jesus Christ living in you through the Holy Spirit. Meditate as well on the wonder of God doing such an amazing thing.
2. Take more time to measure the suffering in your life, that you might better measure the surpassing glory and joy to come.
Resolution: I resolve to acknowledge the Treasure of Jesus Christ whom the Father has given me and to remember that Treasure in hope throughout the day. I further resolve to use each pain of the day to remind me how much greater the joy and glory will be.