Tools of the Trade #3
2 Cor. 4:7 - "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."
This passage, 2 Cor. 4:1-12, is a fascinating passage on failure. Paul is writing from the perspective of persecution, but the heart of the passage is about who ultimately gets the glory. He speaks at length about how they (Paul and his friends) are preaching Christ and not their own ability to save people. Speaking to the Corinthians, he says in vs. 5: "For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake." Later he says that they "carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." Then, in verse 12, "So, then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you."
So, what is all this business about death in us and life in others? Aren't we the Christians? Aren't we supposed to be the ones that have it all together, preaching salvation to a sinful world? Aren't we supposed to show by our perfect behavior how Christ has changed us and what a difference he can make in someone's life? That's exactly what Paul is trying to avoid. He says that God put a treasure (salvation through Christ) in us, jars of clay (something weak, breakable, and imperfect), so that God would be the one to whom others look. If we did have it all together, folks would follow us. If I had a perfect diet plan, everyone could do as I did and succeed. The fact is, God is the manager of our lives and my failure actually facilitates others' faith in a power greater than me. That's how death can be at work in me while life is at work in you (vs. 12).
The point is that some failure is guaranteed. Some persecution is guaranteed. It's the way God made the program. The issue is whether we give up in the face of failure or whether we look to it as an opportunity to reveal our imperfections to others. Let's face it, we like to see other people fail. It relieves us of a certain amount of guilt for our own failures. We also like to see other people get up and keep going. We like to see them succeed and then give credit where credit is due (not to themselves). When we go to a movie, we don't want it to end with the main character failing miserably and giving up. What do you think others want to see in us? They love our transparency, but they also love our persistence. It teaches them about God, who never gives up on us and who helps us even in our failures.
The tool for today is persistence. Failure is a given. It's built in. What we do after that is up to us.