Turning [Your] Eyes On The Invisible

April 11, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Second Corinthians 4:7-18

Jars Of Clay With Treasures Within

1. "We store such treasures in jars of clay," (Second Corinthians 4:7). That's how Paul put it. Referred to as "jars of clay, earthen vessels," we certainly are [like] clay pots. We are fragile, weak, easy-to-break vessels from the earth. We are vessels which will ultimately break apart for sure. No matter how tough we think we are, in the end, we're clay jars. Indeed, we are probably so frantic to make it look like we're tough and show ourselves strutting around precisely because we know we are [like fragile] clay pottery.

2. We are such vessels of clay indeed. It says though [we] are jars of clay, [we] are containers in which [God] stores treasure. There are treasures in the jars of clay. What does [this word] treasure mean? It stands for Jesus Christ, the one who has been proclaimed. Since verse thirteen has, "Since we have the same spirit of faith as that, we also believe and give this message precisely because of it," therefore, we can say that it is Jesus Christ the one who was proclaimed and the one who was believed on, or else we should simply say that it is the faith in which one believes in Jesus Christ.

3. It is the faith in which we believe in Jesus Christ, that he is our "treasure." We do not merely accept that as only an idea. We do not intellectually consent to the articles of the faith. Faith is not to be defined as a certain kind of "way the heart holds to [some construct]." The following is expressed just before the passage that we read for today. "God, who has commanded that 'Light shine from the darkness!,' is shining in our hearts and has given the light by which we perceive the glory of God that shines in the face of Jesus Christ," (verse six). This very light is the faith, it is "the treasure."

4. What Paul has in mind is obviously the narrative of the creation of the universe at the beginning of Genesis. There it says, "God said, 'Let there be light!,' and then there was light," (Genesis 1:3). The God who said "Let there be light!" has also said "Let there be light!" in our hearts. Thus, he has given us the light of the faith. Going by today's passage, God himself is shining in us and shining on us and has awakened us to believe in the crucified one as our savior. Why did Paul purposefully make mention of the story from Genesis? [He did so] because the act of faith being given to [someone] is a work of God equivalent to the creation of the universe. It is a work that comes from God's overwhelming compassion. God's "Let there be light" has arisen in us. Therefore, it is a treasure.

5. And so we do live as jars of clay in which treasure is stored by God. That means we are living as believers. By faith earthen vessels don't just up and disappear. Through thick and thin they are what they are, clay jars. The most likely times we feel ourselves as jars of clay are probably when we get into some hard times. When everything is going along smoothly, our weaknesses and frailties don't come up on our mental radar. But during hard times, our weaknesses and frailties do become an issue. So, in this text Paul pulls together a few words regarding the situations where being an earthen vessel becomes an issue. "Though made to suffer on every side." "Though perplexed." "Though oppressed." "Though knocked down." Paul must have experienced everyone of [these situations] during persecution.

6. And that's not all. One typical appearance of being "an earthen vessel" is "sickness," however, it is said that Paul himself was ill with several sicknesses. He expresses it later in chapter twelve as "a thorn," (12:7). We don't know what kind of suffering it was. But, it was probably something that caused an impediment to the work of Paul's mission. Thus, the expression of "earthen vessel" is also a phrase right out of Paul's own experience.

7. So I'd say a person really feels oneself an earthen vessel at those times when he or she is in hard times. But then on the other hand, it is when a person is in hard times that the treasure exhibits its real value as treasure. Thus, Paul says, "Even though we are afflicted on every side, we do not come to a dead end, even though we are perplexed, we do not lose hope, even though we are oppressed, we are not abandoned, and even though we are knocked down, we are not destroyed," (verses eight and nine). In addition, as I touched on just ago, he speaks in regard to "the thorn" that was given to him personally, but then he passes on the word of the Lord that he had heard for himself. The Lord told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you. [My] power is exhibited sufficiently in [your] weaknesses," (12:9).

So That The Life Of Jesus Is Manifested In The Body

8. In this way then, the inner treasure exhibits its true value precisely in that place that clearly shows that [someone] is an earthen vessel. This point is expressed in the passage that we read for today as follows. "We always wear the death of Jesus upon our bodies, in order that the life of Jesus be revealed in these bodies," (verse ten).

9. The way it puts it, "to wear the death [of Jesus] upon our bodies," is not a typical Japanese way of putting it. But we can come up with a picture in our minds of what that means, can't we? When suffering just goes on for a long time, we can picture it as if we're walking and wearing death upon us. Wherever we go, we can't get rid of it. This word "death" is not the state of being dead, but as they say, it stands for the process in which one is dying. We wear that process of death on ourselves wherever we are going. You could even say we are walking with it upon our shoulders. Whether persecution or sickness, I think what Paul is saying is that everyday is this state where we are walking with death on our shoulders. To a greater or lesser degree, we [can] not [say we] are not having this experience.

10. However, he does not simply say in regard to himself as he suffered that "he is wearing death upon his body," but says, "he is wearing the death of Jesus upon his body." We don't walk in isolation by ourselves carrying the suffering upon ourselves. What happened was that even though you would expect that he was experiencing at that time his own suffering, his own death, and his putting upon his own body his own death, he was at that time some how "putting upon his body the death of Jesus." You might say then, in suffering we become one with Jesus. Since Jesus is the one saying this, it means, "You are not suffering alone." "You are not in pain by yourself. You are wearing upon your body my death. In that body of yours which is suffering, you and I are one." I believe that's what Jesus is saying.

11. And then we know that after Jesus suffered and died on the cross that that wasn't the end. [We know] that he rose again from the dead. We celebrated that last week with the churches around the world. Beyond the cross was the resurrection. Therefore, when we become one with the crucified Jesus, we also become one with the resurrected Jesus. If we "put on our bodies the death of Jesus," the life of Jesus will also be revealed in our bodies. Paul even says, "The reason he always wears the death of Jesus on his body is so that the life of Jesus will be made manifest in his body." And in the end, we will have a share in the life of the resurrection perfectly in the kingdom [of God].

12. Please consider it with me. What do you become one with while suffering? Isn't it decisively important? A person could possibly even become one with the devil while suffering. But, by faith one can also become one with Jesus. If a person becomes one with Satan, then as death the death he or she is carrying upon oneself will have control over that person. But then on the other hand, suffering has the potential to be a time for a person to seek Christ and become more deeply and more strongly joined to Christ. And when that becomes true, then the life of Jesus will certainly become manifested at that time. A person will experience the life of the resurrection. In the church for generations, there have been those who have lived shinning in the life of the resurrection amid persecutions, or on the sickbed, or while having their lives reduced to nothing little by little for years in hard labor that seemed in vain. I myself can recall the figures of several persons who shone in the life of Christ, joined deeply to Christ, while truly in great suffering or on sickbeds. To live as a believer could be defined as living with this type of treasure. We should be jars of clay. The important thing is that we live as jars of clay which has inside them this type of treasure.

13. And so if I may go further with this, when we consider how that the life of Jesus is revealed in our bodies, it is not for our own benefit. What does Paul say? Please look at verse twelve. "So, it has been arranged that death is at work in us, but life is at work in you." The important thing to him was not merely that the life of Christ be revealed in him. No, that's not [what mattered, what mattered is] that the life [of Christ] be at work in "you," that is, the believers at Corinth. It was for the purpose of bringing to life the believers at Corinth. Also, it was for the purpose of the joy of many. It is given in the text like this, "All of these things were for you, so that many might receive grace abundantly, to redound to the glory of God as [you] were filled with a sense of thanksgiving," (verse fifteen). That's right. When we consider how that the life of Christ is revealed in us, then [we will see how] it is for giving life to somebody else.

14. Like Paul, we too should seek for the life of Christ to be revealed upon our persons, not for our benefit but for the benefit of giving life to somebody else. We should seek for the life of Christ to be at work in somebody. When we truly seek for this, we might be able to accept the sufferings we have undergone as sufferings for the benefit of giving life to somebody, as sufferings so that the life of Christ may be revealed. At that time, that suffering will be none other than the "wearing upon our bodies the death of Jesus."

15. At the end of today's passage Paul says the following. "We turn our eyes not on the visible things, but the invisible. What is visible will pass away, but what is invisible will last for ever," (verse eighteen). Those words also make the title of today's sermon. That we are earthen vessels is simply a fact that is visible to our eyes. The treasure that's on the inside is not visible to our eyes. When we only turn our eyes on the visible earthen vessel, then we will probably get discouraged. He was able to declare that "We will not be discouraged!" because he was turning his eyes on the treasure that was invisible to the eye. It is eternal.