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Hard pressed but not crushed

August 16th, 2012

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

2 Corinthians 4:7-8

This “treasure” he wrote of is the light of God shining in our hearts to give us the knowledge of His glory in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). The Spirit inspired Paul to word this reality so brilliantly that we see its truth permeating every aspect of our lives and of our Christian experience. This is what happens at our conversion – that we see Christ as we had never seen Him before – but this is the continual uplifting experience in our hearts throughout our life. The words “face of Christ” relate to us the intimacy we come into with Him – the face described knowledge, intimacy, and relationship – and though our physical eyes in this age will never rest upon the face of Jesus of Nazareth, by the gospel and by the Spirit we know Him just as surely as if they did, even more so for He works this truth down into our hearts and souls and spirits until He permeates ever aspect of our character.

Regarding God’s display his power in us Professor Albert Barnes eloquently stated, “The instrumentality employed was altogether disproportionate in its nature to the effect produced.” We are the instruments God employed to display His work – and weak ones we are. The miracles of conversions, forgiveness, healings, spiritual maturity, witness, and martyrdoms – especially when done in the graciousness of God’s Spirit – reveal that the power is not of human origin but of God. There is nothing spectacular about us – we are just normal folks, with all the weaknesses and mediocrities that brings – and even the most impressive among us, even the brightest and most talented and most daring and determined among us, are as nothing compared to the effect that the power of God has in lives through His word and Spirit. When God uses us in our weakness to display His power, He should get the credit, not us.

But God’s power in our weak lives also gives testimony to us, encouraging us to praise Him. We stand because He is able to make us stand (Rom. 14:4). The Apostle Paul wrote these words to remind the readers what he and his colleagues had suffered for the sake of the gospel: they had willingly taken on great responsibilities and placed themselves in perilous situations so that others whom they had never met might hear the gospel and be saved. But to a larger degree they apply to the troubles of every sincere believer who seeks to stand for Christ. Though they may appear in isolation to be broad statements, these are not a reference to the general troubles of life – he had brought those up in the first chapter – but specifically to the hard realities of bearing witness for Christ and those burdens we carry in associations and identifications with other believers. When we weep and mourn with those who weep and mourn for the sake of Christ’s love, then we are also brought into the realm of the reality and the promises of these truths. And they also apply to the carrying out of our responsibilities – as parents, for example – out of a sense of Christian faith.

Many of these wounds had come from fellow believers – it was not just the world that had attacked those bearing witness and living out the truth of God’s love. Just as Jesus said, “They hated me without reason” (John 15:25), so He said they will treat us the same way (John 15:20). Our mission is to answer in love, and not to return hatred for hatred – “bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not” (Romans 12:14).

They were “troubled” on every side, hard pressed, like someone pinned down in a wrestling match, but God gave them strength so that they were not crushed. Later in the epistle Paul was more specific, “When we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Cor. 7:5), but then he mentioned the coming of Titus cheered them up. So God not only brings deliverance through His Spirit working within us, but also through people and circumstances. You and I may be God’s instruments to encourage someone who feels almost crushed by their circumstances.

They were also perplexed, uncertain of what to do, stretched in their ministry beyond their natural gifts or experiential wisdom, even beyond those abilities called spiritual gifts, yet they found strength and wisdom and direction from God in even those circumstances. They were never completely without His help, and though they had wished for a great beam of light to know exactly what they should do, and God had provided them with just a small candle, it was enough for the moment.

They were persecuted, but not abandoned. The record of the hatred hurled at them through persecutions is found in Acts, but God was especially close to them in those moments. They were struck down, like a man on the battlefield, but not destroyed. Christ taught us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28a). Our bodies are but poor jars of clay, coming from dust and they will eventually return to dust. The treasure of the gospel – of Christ living in us – is infinitely greater and stronger than all that we may face.

The design of God in allowing these things is to teach us who believe and demonstrate for the world how great He is, that we, and all people might turn to Him in trust and faith. The grace to bless others in difficulty, to trust in Him when we feel overwhelmed and confused by our circumstances, to trust and worship in times of persecution and rejection, to know in our hearts that “though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity” (Proverbs 24:16) – God’s great treasure in us will bring victory to us in every circumstance.

Where do you need to experience His strength in your current situation? Where do you need hope and light and the strength to rise and forgive? If all that God provides is a faint flickering candle, that is all that you will need at this moment. The great beam of light – of knowledge, peace, direction, and strength – will come later. Trust Him now in your circumstances. Faith is resting on His promises regardless of what the circumstances around us are like.

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