A. We have been enjoying a walk through one of the most remarkable passages in all of Paul’s epistles.
B. 2Corinthians 4:7–12 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 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. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
C. Now in order to understand this passage, we have to understand why Jesus came to earth.
1. Jesus came to die for our sins. In a sense, He died our death in our place. He died so we might live. So now we live because He died. That’s why Christians celebrate the death of Christ. That’s why we decorate with crosses. It’s not because we’re morbidly into death. It’s because we love the life His death brought to us.
A. I was talking to a member of the congregation awhile ago who said something like this: “I don’t understand what’s happening in my life. I feel so weighed down with the burdens and struggles of life, I feel like I’m drowning. I’m barely hanging on by my fingertips.” I think a lot of Christians feel that way. I know I often do. And it’s easy to start feeling cheated by God.
B. This is the kind of thing Paul is talking about here. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”
1. We talked about that last week. But then in v.10-12 Paul explains this experience more deeply. He says we are “carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”
2. And then in v.11-12 Paul elaborates: “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. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
3. So, there are two dynamics at work in our lives: we are experiencing the death of Jesus and we are experiencing the life of Jesus.
4. It’s not just that we are experiencing both death and life. This is relational. Christ is in us, and as He’s in us, we experience His dying and we experience His coming to life.
5. That’s why “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed!”
C. But I thought Christ died once and for all. What’s this about His dying in us continuously?
1. The atoning part of Christ’s sufferings was once and for all. But His sufferings do continue in His people.
2. Colossians 1:24 “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
a. Not atoning, but still affliction
D. This tells us a lot about what it means to be a Christian.
1. Is it to adopt a certain worldview? To believe a certain group of doctrines? To follow a certain moral code? It is so much more than this!
2. Here we see what it means to be a Christian.
a. It means to relive the life of Jesus: to endure His sufferings, to be upheld, empowered and given life — all by His power. And the life and power He’s talking about here are not after this life but during this life. “We are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
E. This ought to be seen as wonderful news! But sadly, many Christians today don’t want to hear this.
1. They like the idea of “the life of Jesus being manifested in our bodies.” But not the idea of “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” and “always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.”
2. Their idea of the life of Jesus being manifested in our bodies means health and success upon success and victory upon victory. It doesn’t mean that we are not afflicted in every way, not perplexed, not struck down, not always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, not always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.
III. So, several important things for us to learn from these verses.
A. The normal Christian life is a life of affliction.
1. Three times he tells us that we are dying as we live.
a. 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus
b. 11 we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake
c. 12 So death is at work in us...
2. Last week we talked about how are afflicted in every way. But now we see that these afflictions are a common fact of life, we see that death is constant for the Christian.
a. Paul says this in v.10 and again in v.11: “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus... 11 ... always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.”
b. Arguing with these same Corinthians about the truth of the resurrection, Paul gets intense. He says, If the dead are not raised, why in the world am I in danger every hour? “I die every day.” (1Cor.15:31)
c. Jesus said that someone who wants to be His disciple must "take up his cross DAILY and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).
d. Suffering is not a rare, exceptional experience for a Christian. It is just a regular part of life.
e. God wants us to wake up each morning and remember that.
f. Often we think that someday we might be called upon to die for Jesus, but the fact is that He calls us to die for Him every day!
3. Now, we live in a society which idolizes safety.
a. Safety has its place. But it is not first. The kingdom is first.
b. The world says, Seek safety first. Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God.”
4. This isn’t Christian heroism. This isn’t Christian superheroism. Those things lead people to boast in their sufferings, to be motivated refer to do big and dangerous things for God in order to make themselves look heroic.
a. Paul only talked about the things he’d experienced when love required it, and then he was falling all over himself with embarrassment. And he boasted in his weaknesses.
b. They boast in their bravery and scoff at those who don’t do such great things for God.
B. In God’s economy, death brings life.
1. 4:10-11 We are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 FOR WE WHO LIVE ARE CONSTANTLY BEING DELIVERED OVER TO DEATH FOR JESUS’ SAKE, SO THAT THE LIFE OF JESUS ALSO MAY BE MANIFESTED IN OUR MORTAL FLESH."
2. We don’t spend our lives for others so that we can think highly of ourselves or get human praise. We do it because in the economy of God death produces life.
3. This is why we’re willing to die every day: because it leads to life! We are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake SO THAT the life of Jesus may be manifested in us. We can taste of His resurrection power because we first drink of His crucifixion suffering. We can enter into His triumph unless because we first participate in His torment. The cross leads to the crown. The pain leads to the gain.
4. It’s like life-saving surgery. It’s unpleasant, but hopefully it yields something positive, something healthy, something full of life.
5. The example of Jesus saving us through His death on the cross shows us that with God, death can be turned into life. That’s how we can face afflictions and not despair.
6. We don’t just bear sufferings because we have no choice. We don’t just bear sufferings because eventually they will end and we’ll live in joy and peace.
7. We bear sufferings because they produce life in us! We bear sufferings because God’s power works through us in our weakness. We bear sufferings because the thing that holds us up and gives us joy is not a lack of suffering, but the grace of God.
8. My friends, all the best and most precious things God has done in my life. All of the sweetest and most life-changing fruit God has brought forth from my life has come through suffering.
9. And I am so grateful to have a heavenly Father who loves me enough to use His heavenly scalpel — with perfect precision and tender care.
10. The trouble is, I love my life on this earth. I don’t always believe that the path of humility and self-denial leads to glory, joy and abundant life.
a. And this is my battle every single day. Which path am I going to take?
b. The easy one which leads to death or the hard one which leads to life?
c. In my flesh I want to do the easy things. But the easy path leads to death.
d. I rarely feel like doing the hard things. But the hard path leads to life.
e. Here’s the point: the question I must ask myself must not be, Do I feel like easy or do I feel like hard? The question must be, Do I want life or do I want death?
C. The Christian life is a life of ministry to others.
1. 4:12 “So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
2. Here in verse 12 Paul takes it a step further. Our sufferings are not only for Jesus’ sake. They are for others. “So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
3. Does that sound familiar? Who else said that? Not the exact words, but the concept?
4. Jesus: Death works in Me, but life in you. That’s what the cross was all about!
5. Our Savior achieved the glory of resurrection life by traveling the path of humiliation and suffering. But it wasn’t merely for glory that He died. He died so that others might live. His death brings us to life.
6. Up until v.12 Paul has focused on dying as a means of coming to life (both now and in eternity). But now he shifts to speaking of death as a means of bringing OTHERS to life (and in particular, the Corinthians): “So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
7. Paul in essence is saying here, "I am happy to die so that you may live." He sends the same message again in
a. 12:15: "I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls."
b. 13:9: "We rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong."
8. The way Paul is dying for the Corinthians is different than the way Jesus died for them, of course.
a. His is not an atoning death that takes upon itself the sin of others. Rather, Paul is embracing the constant death of self-denial, risk, rejection, danger, maltreatment, humiliation, physical abuse, etc. in order that the Corinthians may enjoy the life of living in the light of Christ, in wholeness and in hope. He is dying in order that he might proclaim the gospel which brings life to others.
D. This is what it means to walk in love. It means being happy to die so that others can live: "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (1John 3:16)
E. This isn’t something which happens to certain people. If Christ is in us, then we will be living for others, even suffering for others, because Christ is living His life in us, and that’s what He does.
F. The spirit of Christ’s love says:
1. “I am happy to be inconvenienced if that will help you.”
2. “I am happy to give up what is mine in order to benefit you.”
3. “I am happy to go out of my way in order to bring you a blessing.”
4. “I am happy to die in order that you may live.”
5. This is why we’re here! Why was Paul’s life extended? Phil.1:21-25
a. What’s best for me is if I die and go to be with Jesus.
b. The reason I remain here is for Christ within me to live His life through me to bless/benefit others.
c. Our lives are not for ourselves. They are for Christ. And Christ in us wants to pour them out for others – gladly.
6. One of the things pastors talk with each other about a lot these days is the enormous number of Christians who’ve given up on church, who feel like they’ve been burned by their church experience, and have lost their appetite for church.
a. Aren’t you glad that our salvation was dependent on the perseverance of our faithful Savior and not the perseverance of the modern Christian?
b. Suffering and struggle is a part of ministry. It’s a part of church life.
c. Church isn’t about us! The Christian life is a life of ministry to others.
d. When we think about church, we should think about how we can bless and serve others according to the gifts, resources and opportunities God has given us.
e. Christ is in us — loving others through us, spending our lives for others.
f. Here’s how Paul puts it in Phil.2:17: "Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all."