Monday, December 1, 2014

Focal Point {from the archives}

My reading Saturday morning included 2 Corinthians 4. It's a favorite chapter (like Ebony, I say that a lot), but I confess to reading hastily and partially, rushing through preparations for the Living Proof Live simulcast with my mother at her home.

Knowing me as He does, the Lord gave me another chance at getting the hint. In the midst of the first teaching session of the simulcast, Beth Moore starts talking about jars of clay, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed, . . . I drew in breath, whispered to my mom, "That's 2 Corinthians 4. I just read that this morning."

The day's exhortations held so many lovely, personally helpful thoughts, however, that this one might have been lost among showier treasures, so the Lord sent a third witness, a man I didn't know reading the epistolary portion in the Sunday service. The reedy monotone of his recitation could not conceal the words I should have been expecting by now. For the third time in 24 hours, from three different translations, once again the Lord presented me with these thoughts from 2 Corinthians 4:6ff (HCSB here):

For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but notin despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus’ life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh.  So death works in us, but life in you.  And since we have the same spirit of faith in keeping with what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke," we also believe, and therefore speak.  We know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and present us with you. Indeed, everything is for your benefit, so that grace, extended through more and more people, may cause thanksgiving to increase to God’s glory.
Therefore we do not give up.
Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction [Or trouble, or tribulation, or trials, or oppression; the Gk word has a lit meaning of being under pressure, mgn] is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
It appears here that Paul is not enjoying the best of days. He describes the "seen," "temporary" circumstances of Timothy and himself this way:
  • pressured in every way
  • perplexed
  • persecuted
  • struck down.

If he had stopped there, this passage would not be cherished by so many, including myself, as a source of hope and encouragement. Thankfully, he does not stop there. If you notice, the list in the text is composed of contrasts, indicated by the repetition of "but not":
  • pressured in every way but not crushed
  • perplexed but not in despair
  • persecuted but not abandoned
  • struck down but not destroyed.

Why in the world are they not crushed by despair and abandonment in their sorrows? The good apostle explains that, too, beginning with a trio of "so that" clauses:
  • We always carry about the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (v.10).
  • We who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus' life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh (v.11).
  • Everything is for your benefit, so that grace . . . may cause thanksgiving to increase to God's glory (v.15).
Paul and Timothy persevere in their afflictions in the expectation that the life of the risen Christ will be manifest in them even as they "carry about the death of Jesus." They persevere in the expectation that the same God who raised Jesus will raise them and reunite them with the Corinthians in the presence of God (v.14). They persevere in their afflictions for the sake of the Corinthians, in the expectation that the grace they receive will multiply thanksgiving among God's people and thus glorify God.

Those hopes are so great that they do not give up, even though earlier in the letter he had written, "we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life" (1:8).

This chapter concludes with another series of contrasts which support me  in my afflictions more than all the preceding ones, although I grant that my afflictions are so far surpassed by Paul's that they hardly seem worthy of the name. The seen present, he says, involves affliction and the destruction of the outer person, but this is temporary, momentary, and light. The unseen gain, on the other hand, is glory and the renewal of the inner person, and this glory is eternal, absolutely incomparable, and weighty.

Paul looks through the lens of faith and chooses not to focus on the ugliness and sorrows of the foreground but instead to shift his focus to the unseen, eternal glory in the distance.

Crumbles, this finds some of you in quite serious afflictions. I do not mean in any way to make light of your suffering. Nonetheless, I take God at His word. Even though difficult to believe and impossible for me to imagine, someday even the worst this life can inflict on us will shrink to the significance of so many grains of sand in oysters' flesh. The glory awaiting us in the kingdom of God is so magnificent and weighty that it will seem a heap of shell-bursting pearls, overwhelmingly beautiful and valuable beside the bit of grit, yet produced by those same afflictions, in that day light and momentary by comparison.

You are hurting now, but piles of pearls await you. What is more (retreating to 4:6-7) the chips and cracks in our clay jars now are the places through which "the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ" shines out of the believer's life into a dark world. It boggles the mind, doesn't it?
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows (2 Cor. 1:3-5).
May you experience the reality of that overflowing comfort through Christ in your need today. God grant that we may be able to say with Paul, "Therefore, we do not give up."

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