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; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 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. So death is at work in us, but life in you. | 2 Corinthians 4:7-12
Who are we? This is the question that all people have to deal with. While we can find answers in all sorts of places, the Bible gives us some clarity. The Bible continually refers to the dual character of the Christian:
- depraved sinner, struggling with the reality of brokenness
- temple of the Holy Spirit; the earthly manifestation of God’s glory
These two realities seem so at odds with one another that we wonder how they can both be true. How can the Bible tell us that we are both weaker and stronger than we imagine ourselves to be? Paul sums this up in 2 Corinthians 4, calling us jars of clay. The idea is that we are this weak vessel that holds a great power. Left on our own, the clay jar will break easily, but filled with the power of God, nothing can destroy it.
This dual character exists for a reason. As Paul says here: to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. Recognizing our weakness is necessary to acknowledging the presence of God. If we think that we are operating under our own strength, then we will never give God credit. The reason why the Bible continually reminds us of our limitations is not to ‘keep us down,’ but to assign value where it belongs, so that we know where to turn when we need strength.
This is important, because in the everyday ups and downs of life, we don’t hold paradoxes together very well. We don’t feel duality. In our humanness, the side we most often experience is our limitation. We feel pain, loss, and inability; we feel beat down and overwhelmed. EVERY PERSON FEELS THIS WAY. This life was not arranged for us to be on top of everything (despite what mommy blogs tell you). The questions is: what do you do when you get punched in the face? How do you respond when confronted with the reality of your own inadequacy? There are three common responses:
Despair is coming to the conclusion that our weakness is who we really are; it is to identify fully with our weakness. The best word to describe what this despair feels like is: TRAPPED. The situation has total control and you do not have the strength to do anything about it. Despair is all-consuming. All of life gets filtered through this lens of victim and God becomes a victimizer, the one who created the situation you suffer in.
Another response to the experience of human struggle is to conjure up strength from within. This is the argument that you are strong enough and that you just need to dig deep inside yourself to find it (thank you Oprah and most motivational speakers). The issue with this is that your strength is limited and you will find that limit eventually. It also pits God against you, because God requires us to not be self-centered; His vision for us in this world is vastly different from the survivalist mentality of individualism (it also pits us against Him for glory, which as we saw was the reason for weakness to exist in the first place).
The third response, and the one the Bible calls us to, is to rest in His strength. To be still and know that He is God. To place our hope on His shoulders. This does two three simultaneously:
- It connects us to a much deeper well of strength. To be carried by God means that we are not relying on our jars of clay to sustain the impact, but that we believe that a sovereign God can protect (and use) even a frail vessels like you or me.
- To trust God allows Him to reveal Himself to us and to build up our faith. I had a small view of God’s present strength until I needed it and found it. Now, I am more willing to risk and serve, believing that God will make up the difference. This allows: the life of Jesus [to] be manifested in our bodies.
- Depending on God’s strength turns our heart to worship. When we truly see and believe that God is sustaining us, we have no choice but to praise and honor Him. What we need as Christians is a deeper joy in being God’s children. This joy comes from recognizing that He is caring for us in all things, even when we don’t feel it.
Don’t be afraid of your weaknesses, for it is in weakness that we find our strength. As Paul says a bit later in the same letter:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. | 2 Corinthians 12:9-10