Ever buy a used car? Sitting in the dealer’s lot it looks pretty good, maybe even better than expected. Sure there’s a few issues, a door ding here or a small stain there. The surprising thing to me is that after living with the car for a week or so other dings, flaws, and issues begin to pop out. It’s not that they were hiding, they were there all the time. It’s more like we didn’t want to see them.
Sometimes the same blind spot can affect our Bible reading. We read about the heroes of the faith, see their successes and how God used them in fantastic ways but fail to see their flaws, struggles, and humanness. Consider Paul. He had a mighty traveling ministry that took the gospel to Asia and Europe. Paul established churches, raised up leaders, challenged the establishment, broke new ground, worked miracles, saw visions, and wrote letters that became part of the Bible. We can easily expect that Paul never had a bad day, that every mission he attempted was a success and that every planted church flourished without issues. And that would be entirely wrong. We quickly forget the conflicts, the worries, the times he was beaten and jailed, the times when he ran for his life, when he agonized over issues in Galatia and Corinth, and when he was left for dead after being stoned.
Paul did not see himself has some mighty man of God but has a fragile clay pot treasuring and relying on his new life in Jesus Christ. To the church in Corinth, he wrote, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–10, NLT) We, like Paul, are also like weak and fragile clay jars which contain a mighty treasure. We can also be pressed, perplexed, hunted, and knocked down as we journey on in life and in faith.
Pressed but not crushed. Think about taking a clay pot and putting it in a vise and squeezing it until it shatters. It doesn’t take much pressure to break when compared with other materials. When God lives in us, when His strength is our joy, it may feel like we are living between a rock and a hard place. We can withstand the pressures of life not because of our strength but because of the treasure that is within us.
Perplexed but not driven to despair. There is much that perplexes us, causing us to fear, worry, and be anxious. Our world may seem out of control. It may look like it’s falling apart. The evidence may be piling up that the forces of darkness are winning in all the arenas of life – relational, cultural, financial, criminal, and political. In another verse, Paul declares that they were beset by conflicts without and fears within (2 Corinthians 7:5). But in all of these Paul did not despair, he never drowned in fear, worry, and anxiety because of the light – his faith and hope in Jesus Christ always kept him afloat.
Hunted but not abandoned. People do not always welcome the light of Jesus shining from our lives. They may attack our character, our message, our well-being, our employment, even our lives. It may seem that we are standing alone against the world, but we’re not. We may be rejected in many ways by the world, but we are never rejected by God. We never stand alone, we never suffer alone, and we never die alone because Jesus is always with us.
Knocked down but not destroyed. Even if we are knocked down, physically wounded and even killed we are not destroyed. But let’s dial this back just a bit. Satan’s agenda is to derail us, to get us focusing on ourselves. He loves to knock us off the path. Even if we fall prey to the lion seeking whom he may devour, we are not destroyed. We can stand again, brush ourselves off, and continue our walk because Jesus is still with us.
All of these forces remind us that we are nothing more than easily broken clay jars. They also serve to remind us that the real treasure is what is in our hearts. Strength is not found in our strength of will, our strength of habit, or the number of hours we devote to the Bible, prayer, and service. Our strength is not our strength at all but Jesus’ power living in us. The question is how full of Jesus is our clay pot. How much of our lives do we live in relationship with Jesus? That was Paul’s greatest success, dying to himself so that Christ could live through him. But this is also our most significant blind spot. We see what we want to see in ourselves. Some folks only see the risk of failure, they are blind to the strength of Christ. Others overestimate their own contribution to their successes and fail to see that they are fragile clay jars. Both are a strange form of pride that places the emphasis on ourselves instead of on humbly walking with Jesus. Maybe the next time there are pressures, anxiety, fights, and temptations we should ask God where we need to die to ourselves so that we can rely on His strength instead of our fragility.