How to Endure Difficulties (pt. 3)

I apologize that it is taking me so long to get through this serious on endurance.  I have had sevearl other things come up that have sidetracked me, but today we will stay on topic.

2 Corinthians 4:7-18

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; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 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. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

I. The Humble Purpose for Our Difficulties (vv. 7-12)      
a. to display the power of God

b. to reveal the life of Jesus

In vv. 10-12 the apostle Paul takes all of the paradoxes that he listed in the previous verses and sums them up in one final paradox.  Paul sums it up by saying that he was “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”  

In this final paradox Paul explains more specifically how we reveal the power of God through the difficulties that we face. 

First, Paul says that he was “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus ….”  But what does this mean?  Well, the word that is translated here as “dying” is not the normal word that would be used to refer to death.  When Paul uses this word he does not have in mind the death of Jesus, but rather the events leading up to the death of Jesus.  One commentator put it this way, “Paul uses νέκρωσις in v. 10 to portray not a single event (the death of Jesus), but a prolonged process, the course of events leading up to Jesus’ death or the daily trials and hardships that befell Jesus as an itinerant preacher….[1]  This means that when Paul said that he was “carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus” he meant that he faced persecution, hardship, and difficulties just like Jesus did.  We saw this in vv. 8-9.  Additionally, it is not just Paul who faced these kinds of difficulties; the scriptures are clear that all ministers of the gospel will face these kinds of difficulties.  Jesus said in John 15:20 that “if they persecuted me they will also persecute you.”  In Luke 9:23 he said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” All followers of Jesus will encounter these afflictions in some way, but the apostle Paul in particular knew what it was to bear the afflictions of Christ.  He was able to bear this burden because he understood what the result would be. 

Paul tells us that through “carrying about in the body the dyiung of Jesus… the life of Jesus [was] manifested.”  The life that Paul speaks of is the life that belongs to Jesus.  This life represents the very essence of God’s power because even though Jesus was led to the cross and crucified he was raised to life by the Father.  It is through this life that spiritual life has been revealed to us.  By the sacrificial death and divine resurrection we can escape the deadly results of sin.  Really, Paul is simply using the phrase “life of Jesus” as short-hand for the gospel message he had been called to proclaim.  Thus, a major part of Paul’s gospel ministry centered on the difficulties that he was forced to endure.  Through these difficulties the gospel message was proclaimed.  By enduring, Paul was able to be a part of the glorious gospel ministry.  What is so ironic about this is what Paul emphasizes in v. 11. 

In v. 11 Paul again emphasizes his participation in gospel ministry, and this time makes it a point to emphasize that this participation occurred in “our mortal flesh.”  This last phrase, ἐν τῇ θνητῇ σαρκὶ, refers to the physical body, and it does so in such a way so as to highlight the weakness of mankind.  “Our mortal flesh” is that exact opposite of the “life of Jesus.”  It reminds us that we are transitory, finite, weak, feeble creatures, yet we are able to reveal the eternal life of Jesus.  Truly this is a testament to the power of God.  Only God could use such weak and feeble creatures to proclaim such a powerful truth.  If we were powerful beings who never had any troubles with anything it wouldn’t take the power of God to spread the gospel.  This is why we must face difficulties.  Our suffering and our weaknesses play such an intricate role in gospel ministry.  

Paul brings home his point in v. 12, where he reminded the Corinthians that “death works in us, but life in you.”  The false teachers had made the Corinthians doubt Paul’s ministry credibility because of the afflictions that had come upon him.  However, Paul is quick to point out that it was through these afflictions that the Corinthians had received the life of Jesus.  If Paul would have quit then the gospel would not have made it to Corinth (1:6).  But he did not quit.  He endured all of these afflictions so that the Corinthians could receive the gospel.  To use Paul’s words, death was at work in Paul, and because of this life was at work in the Corinthians.  This was the glorious result of all these difficulties!  

As we reflect on vv. 7-12 it is plain to see that there is a purpose for the difficulties that we face as we seek to serve the Lord.  That purpose is to demonstrate the power of God.  Specifically, our difficulties demonstrate the power of God by revealing the life of Jesus.  If we never face any difficulties or afflictions in our life then people might look to us and credit us with the power.  However, when the world sees God continually delivering us, providing for us, and comforting us it will become clear that the power belongs to Him not us.     Additionally, the message of the gospel will take center stage rather than our own abilities, gifts, or effectiveness.  Therefore, if we want to endure in gospel ministry and effectively spread the message of Jesus then we must accept the difficulties that we face and understand the humble purpose for those difficulties (I call it humble because it is not about us, it is about displaying the power of God through the life of Jesus to the world around us.) 

[1]Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 345.