Tag Archive for 'earthen vessels'

Suffering 4

2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

In his commentary on 2 Corinthians Garland says, “He understands that through his suffering he shared Christ’s death and received new life (Philippians 3:10-11). Savage* captures Paul’s thought:

It is precisely because his outer man is decaying that his inner man is being revewed day by day (v. 16). His outer afflictions serve to multiply the glory of his inner man (v. 17). His critics fail to see this increasing weight of glory because it is accumulating in his heart (v. 6), a place hidden to their externally minded outlook.

Most cannot see this transformation because they only look at the outer surface of humans. From this vantage point, it looks like Paul is falling apart instead of being gloriously renewed. Caird** explains this process well and why God designed it so:

But it is a secret process, invisible both to the outsider and to the believer himself, known only to faith. To protect that faith from the encroachments of pride, which would turn spiritual renewal into a human achievement instead of accepting it as a gift of grace, God has provided that the process be concealed within an ‘earthenware vessel,’ a perishable body subject to pain and decay (2 Corinthians 4:7; cp. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Those whose eyes are not on the seen and transient, but on the unseen and eternal, can detect beneath the decay of the outer nature an inner life which is being daily renewed.

*Savage, Power through Weakness, 183.
**G.B. Caird, Paul’s Letters from Prison, New Clarendon Bible (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976)

Two things strike me.

One is how similar the Church is in the U.S. compared to the Corinthians and how we look at the “outer man” to determine how well they are doing spiritually. This can refer to outward appearance or outward actions. We judge people by how healthy they appear. If someone is afflicted we ask why this is. Do they lack faith? Are they doing something wrong? Why isn’t God blessing them? And yet the Bible speaks out against this time and again. (John 9:2-3)

The other is how He uses uses earthen vessels who can be hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down so that we cannot rely on ourselves and be able to say that we are being renewed because of our own efforts.

Although our afflictions can seem unbearable, the “weight of glory” will be so great in heaven that it is incomparable to our earthly suffering. Since we cannot imagine this now, we must believe this by faith. (see also Romans 8:18)