Jars of Clay: God’s Yes for You

jars - calendar2 Corinthians 1

1. We are Jars of Clay!

Life is a bitch – lie to say otherwise. And we are jars of clay

A biblical life avoids two extremes: content-less expressions of praise on the one hand, and human-centred "testimonies" on the other. Genuine praise is not a mindless act designed to escape thinking about our daily lives, nor is it a means of sugar coating our circumstances. Our praise of God should never be transformed into some sort of Christian "mantra," nor should it be used to make things look better than they really are.

We praise God in the midst of our life, not because things are not as bad as they seem, but because of who God is and of what he does in and through the reality in which we live. Our praise (1:3) is grounded in the praiseworthy character of God himself (1:4-11).

Those who genuinely testify to God’s mercies will present a God-centred display of his character and attributes as seen in his works (1:11; Is. 64:4).

Suffering and comfort actually produce endurance. It was the experience of Christ.

Against the backdrop of his opponents’ accusation that Paul’s suffering disqualifies his ministry, he answers this question by revealing just how drastic the situation really was. He knew that, humanly speaking, he was in over his head, both physically and emotionally (v8).

Indeed, Paul’s suffering was so severe that he saw no way out but death (v9). In other words, the apostle felt as if he had received a "sentence of death".

But God’s purpose was that the apostle was brought to what he thought was the end of his life in order that he would in no way rely on himself, but only "on God, who raises the dead"

Like Christ, Paul too was called in his "death" to trust the God who raises the dead. And just as God raised Christ from the dead, so too God delivered Paul (1:1).

Just as Christ’s resurrection points forward to and secures our hope in God (1 Cor. 15:20-28), so too God’s past deliverance of Paul establishes his confidence in the deliverance to come (2 Cor. I:10).

This replay of Christ’s death and resurrection in Paul’s own life makes him confident that God can be trusted to deliver him in the future. This confidence is the   biblical notion of "hope." 

Far from calling our discipleship into question, it thus becomes clear that Paul’s past deliverance and present endurance in the midst of suffering are the means by which God continues to display that he is both willing and able to deliver and sustain his people.

Paul’s experience in Asia was an object lesson of the same divine faithfulness and power portrayed in the cross and resurrection of Christ. As such, it should draw others to join Paul in trusting in praising God in the present as they look to the future.

Hence, since Paul’s suffering is the platform for the display of God’s resurrection power, the Corinthians should not reject Paul for his weakness. Rather, they ought to pray for Paul that, having learned to hope in God, he may continue to trust God in the midst of his adversities.

And as a result of the many prayers being offered up on Paul’s behalf, others will join in praising God for displaying his great; mercy and comfort to his apostle (v11).

The character of God: His Uniqueness

As a prayer of thanksgiving, though concerned with suffering, it is ultimately about God. This is so countercultural this is in our day and age. The comfort of God so desperately needed in our day derives not from within, but from knowing the God as the one who has delivered and will deliver his people. God himself must become the central subject of our worship, of our conversation, and of our theology.

David Wells: “we have bought cultural acceptability by emptying ourselves of serious thought, serious theology, serious worship, and serious practice… The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequential upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common."

Westminster Confession of Faith:

I There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

II. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself, and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them: he is the lone foundation of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things,- and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest,- his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature,- so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, he is pleased to require of them.

John Piper: God is utterly unique. He is the only being in the universe worthy of worship. Therefore when he exalts himself he thus directs people to true and lasting joy. "In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore" . (Ps 16:11).

3. The provision of God: Comfort.

Paul praises God because of his confidence that the Corinthians too will be recipients of God’s comfort in the midst of their suffering (1:6-7, 11). To curtail the extent of God’s power or purposes in the world is to cut off the possibility of comfort in the midst of adversity.

The comfort of God is not his empathy with us as someone who feels the tragedy of evil but is helpless in it. The comfort of God doesn’t lie in his actions as a "substitute", who is brought in after things have fallen apart to save the day just before the whistle blows.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. For that purpose he needs men who make the best use of everything. I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to help us to resist in all time of distress. But he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone. A faith such as this should allay all our fears for the future.

Our response to the comfort of God’s presence is to endure the suffering that comes our way.

"Endurance" is not some kind Stoic self-discipline. It is not the "power of positive thinking," Nothing can be farther than the "new age" conviction that all we have to do is to get in touch with "the god within us."

"Endurance" means that trust in God’s power and purposes in the midst of adversity expresses a steady not giving up. 1 Cor 10.13: We endure in faith because of our confidence that "God is faithful," so that "he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." God provides a "way out" in order that we might persevere, not escape!

When suffering strikes, God will either deliver us from it to show himself powerful and teach us faith, or, as our faith grows, will give us the strength to endure In order in show himself even more powerful, as he did for Paul in regard to his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7-10). In either case, God will not allow us to suffer beyond what we can handle.

The priority Paul places on endurance as our response to God’s sovereign power points to two important implications:

1.  On the one hand, we must resist "accepting" affliction and "welcoming" death as merely a normal part of life. Death is still "the last enemy" (1 C or 15:26) and the result of sin in the world (Rom. 5.12).

2.  On the other hand, we must also resist the "health and wealth gospel" The message of the cross is the power of God.

Hanging in there with God in the midst of intense suffering, as Christ hung on the cross, magnifies the worth of God as the one who sustains us. God’s goal in suffering, therefore, is to teach us that in life and in death, as in all eternity, he himself is all we ultimately need.

God never intends to destroy his people, nor will he allow anyone or anything else to do so. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:31-39). In placing us in a situation in which we despaired even of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8), the only thing God destroys is our self-confidence. In return, we receive God himself.

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