Strength In Troubling Times
Translated by Dr. Ling Yun
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is
from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but
not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the
life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
Apostle Paul was recognized as a spiritual giant, and his brawny words were often a great encouragement and inspiration to people!
1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1Cor 11:1)
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is
ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me
heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phi 3:13-14)
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2Tim
As a result, Paul seems to be a high, unmatchable great figure. However, when you read Paul's epistles, especially 2 Corinthians, which is more or less an autobiography of Paul, and 2 Timothy, Paul's last epistle before his death, you will find that Paul was just as weak, lonely, and even weeping as we are.
29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly
burn? (2 Cor 11:29)
8 about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great
pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. (2
4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, (2
13 I still had no peace of mind (2 Cor 2:13)
5 we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside,
fears within. (2 Cor 7:5)
16 no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. (2 Tim 4:16)
These confessions of Paul show us that Paul had the same weakness, restlessness, tears, fear, loneliness, and feable as any other man.
What is, then, the secret of Paul's transition from weakness in the flesh to spiritual firmness?
I. Treasure in Jars
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is
from God and not from us. ( 2 Cor 4:7)
Jars of clay are vessels normally used by poor families in the countryside in the early years to store rice, flour, oil, water, etc.. They are made by potters from clay and burnt by fire. Thus, jars of clay are characterized as: inexpensive, rough, fragile and practical.
Most of the merchandise sold on the market today comes in fancy packaging that doesn't actually have too much useful value inside. Even people, such as celebrities, have to be wrapped up in a package that is often a shambles on the outside. However, the world likes fancy outside more than valuable inside.
Where there is a demand, there is a supply.
Paul never promotes himself; he deem himself as a piece of cheap, crude, fragile clay. But inside he was loaded with the precious gospel of Jesus Christ. Surprisingly, this inexpensive and insignificant jar of clay was used to store the most valuable treasure.
Paul uses a stark contrast: clay and treasure, apostle and Christ, messenger and message.
Paul was no more than an insignificant jar of clay, but what he carried inside was a treasure of great value; Paul was no more than a weak vessel, but the power of God was in him; Paul was merely a messenger of the gospel, but he preached the gospel that saves many people!
II. Great Power from God
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in
despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor
A. hard pressed on every side, but not crushed
Paul went through many troubles in his life, some of which were even predestined by Lord. Since the very beginning of Paul’s missionary life, Jesus instructed Ananias to say to Saul:” I will show him he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:16)
The 2nd book of Corinthians is considered as the autography of Paul. It contains many records of Paul’s sufferings.
4 in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;5 in beatings,
imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; (2 Cor 6:4-5)
In 2 Cor chapter 11 we can see a detailed list of Paul’s sufferings: 23 I have worked much
harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been
exposed to death again and again.24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty
lashes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with
stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open
sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in
danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in
danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from
false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I
have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold
and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all
the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do
not inwardly burn? (2 Cor 11:23-29)
Paul did not record these sufferings out of self‐pity or self‐boasting. He emphasized that it was the strength of the Lord that helped him to overcome them.
9 dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always
rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing
everything. (2 Cor 6:9-10)
Here Paul used the repeating pattern of sentences: the first half of the sentence describes the suffering, and the second half describes the victory by the power of the Lord. Paul's intention was not to emphasize the suffering, but to sing a triumphant song of deliverance in the midst of it.
The most graphic account in the Bible of Paul's escape from enemies is how he escaped from Damascus.
“32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes
guarded in order to arrest me.33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the
wall and slipped through his hands.” (2 Cor 11:32-33)
Hard pressed on every side, but not crushed. (2 Cor 4:8)
（“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.”）（2 Cor 4:8 NIV）
Many people were truly trapped inside or hard pressed on every side due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Many people lose their lives, many family lost their loved ones. It has become a global disaster.
Moreover, the economical aftermath of the pandemic will lead to great recession, cause high unemployment rate and drag many families and the societies into financial disasters.
The pandemic has also overloaded hospitals everywhere, killing countless patients before the eyes of doctors and nurses, causing many health care workers to become physically overburdened and nearly psychologically crashed. In Italy and Spain there were many reports of suicides of nurses.
Paul said: “Hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.” The secret of Paul’s perseverance under such harsh condition is that he had the precious promise of Jesus Christ’s inside him so that he was able to fix his eyes upon Christ not on the environment.
In the city of Philippi Paul and Silas were stripped and beaten with rods and then thrown into inner cell with feet fastened in the stocks and heavily guarded. By no means can Paul and Silas escape this time and everyone thought they were truly trapped. Yet,
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the
other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent
earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison
doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. (Acts 16:25-26)
The jailer was commanded to guard Paul carefully. However he and his family were saved through Paul’s suffering and praised the Lord with great joy!
In the book of “Screwtape Letters” by CS Lewis, there is a dialogue between Satan and Jesus:
Satan: “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places or worship, and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.”
Jesus: “I will bring together neighbors, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people to slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach My children to rely on Me and not on the world. I will teach My children to trust Me and not their money and material resources.”
B. Perplexed, but not in despair.
Perplexed, There are many things in life that confuse people and make them doubtful. There are also many questions that we don't have answers to, that we can't figure out by relying solely on our own logic, reason, and common sense. And even those great spiritual men of the Bible have experienced doubts and worries.
Moses was sent to see the Pharaoh to let Israel people leave Egypt. However, Pharaoh not only refused to let Israel people go but also increased the burden on Israel people. 22 Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? (Exod 5:22)
Job questioned God in the midst of extreme trials and said: “Does it please you to
oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the plans of the
wicked?” (Job 10:3)
Asaph was puzzled when he saw that the wicked often enjoyed comfort and increased wealth, he said:”
When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply.” (Psa 73:16)
When Habakkuk learned that God would use the Chaldeans to punish the Israel people, he asked God:”
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab 1:13)
When John the Baptist was locked up in prison, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus:” Are you the one who is to come?” (Mat 11:3)
Apostle Paul prayed that Lord open up opportunity for him to go to Rome, but he ended up going to Rome as a prisoner.
Even though all these saints and prophets had their doubts and questions, they never gave up their faith in God, nor did they doubt the righteousness, holiness, love and beauty of God. Just as Job said:”
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;” (Job 13:15)
When we go into troubles, we often ask God:” Why me, Lord?” We are more perplexed when we see a baby born with defects, we will ask:” Why did you allow this to happen, Lord?”
President Trump designated March 15, 2020 as the National Day of Prayer to pray to God for the outbreak of Coronavirus outbreak in the United States. But it turns out that, just as the headline of a domestic WeChat article says, "As soon as the US prayed, the stock market melted down." More than half a month after the National Day of Prayer, the number of people infected with coronavirus in the United States has soared to more than 200,000, making it the most infected country in the world and the most serious infected country. The United States is the only country that has called the nation to
prayer and is the number one country in the world for infection. The people looked up at the sky in confusion, "Lord, why is this happening?" Our hearts become heavier as we keep swiping your phone every day and watch the rising numbers of infections and deaths. "Lord, when will this end?”
Even though we do not have answers and we are perplexed, we will not lose our hope, because we know our God is still reigning! He has his reason and will.
Paul prayed that he might go to Rome in peace but he ended up going to Rome in chains. And yet Paul said:” 12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” (Phi 1:12-13)
Through a big trial that I went through, I learned how to have faith in God’s mercy regardless of what the situation is.
C. Persecuted, but not Abandoned.
Throughout Paul’s life he went through many persecutions. The Jews plot to murder him, the gentiles prisoned him, the false apostles slandered him, some real believers were jealous of him, Satan hated him, and Satan’s minions attacked him. All in one word, Paul withstood waves of attack and persecution from this world, from his own people and from the dark side of the spiritual realm.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles
we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond
our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had
received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on
ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor 1:8-9)
Paul was destined to be persecuted, because the world and the ruler of the world hate Jesus Christ and his disciples.
Jesus said:” ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will
persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”(Joh
Paul said:” In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be
persecuted,” (2 Tim 3:12)
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test
you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Pet 4:12)
Christians are persecuted everywhere in this world.
Christians are often killed in the Muslim world and are often targeted by extremist terrorists. Totalitarian dictatorships arrest preachers, imprison Christians, confiscate church property and close down and demolish Christian churches. In recent decades, Europe