Strength In Troubling Times

Translated by Dr. Ling Yun

2Cor 4:7‐10

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

4:7)


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

Cor1:8)


4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, (2

Cor 2:4)


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

4:8-9)


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

15:20)


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, European and American countries have banned Christians and pushed for extreme liberalization and secularization, implementing "liberalization of abortion, legalization of same‐sex marriage, and normalization of LGBTQ." (Joseph) Political correctness has muted everybody, and no one dares to talk about prayers, the Bible, faith, or even say

"Merry Christmas", but only say "Happy Holiday".


Even though Paul was often under persecutions, the Lord had never abandoned him and left him alone but rather looked after him and protected him.


When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, The Jews plot to murder him. The Roman Commander learnt about the plot and immediately sent soldiers to protect Paul, in a security measure that even exceeds the specifications of the US president’s.


23 Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment

of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to

Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely

to Governor Felix.” (Acts 23:23-24)


A detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred

spearmen lead by two centurions, what a special protection God has implemented

for his servant.


God has saved Paul from all the persecutions he went through. He never forsakes his servants.


9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking,

do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you,

because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9-10)


When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, “11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also

testify in Rome.” (Acts 23:11)


Even right before Paul was about to be martyred, everyone left him, “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, “ (2 Tim 4:17)


During the Cultural Revolution, God protected many of his servants by keeping them inside of prisons, saving them from persecutions outside and conserving them as the seeds for the spiritual revival later.


It is often in the midst of these brutal persecutions and afflictions that God prepares a quality time for the children of God to remain in the closest relationship with the Him.


D. Struck down, but not destroyed.


struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor 4:9)


Paul was probably reflecting on his experience in Lystra when he wrote this verse. Paul and Barnabas was preaching in Lystra and Paul healed a person who was lame from birth. That man immediately jumped up and walked. The Lyconians worshiped Paul and Barnabas as gods.


“14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these

worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the

sea and everything in them.” (Acts 14:14-15)


The Lyconians were used to idol worshiping. When they saw Paul and Barnabas refused to be worshiped

and said that they were merely human beings, they wanted to struck them down with stones.


19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over.

They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was

dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went

back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples.

Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch,22 strengthening the

disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go

through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. (Acts

14:19-22)


Paul was stoned and dragged outside of the city, thought to be dead already. The disciples gathered around him, also though that he was already dead. However, Paul stood up suddenly and went back to city. And the very next day he went to preach in Derbe and then went back to Lystra to encourage the disciples there. Paul seemed to be an unbreakable man. Moreover, Paul did not have any self‐pity or resentment because he was nearly beaten to death, but comforted the disciples by saying:” We must


Paul’s enemies thought that they could get rid of him for good by throwing him into prison. However, Paul said:” that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” (Phi 1:12)


Today the secular governments also think that they can silence the Christians by locking them up. Yet they never know that the Christians “still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Heb 11:4)


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

4:8-9)


Let’s read this powerful message of Paul’s again. Paul did not focus on the sufferings themselves. He was rather proclaiming the victory over the sufferings by the grace of 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

4:8-9)

III. Resurrected Life


“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”


What is “the death of Jesus”? What is “the life of Jesus”?


Jesus’s death and life is “that Christ died for our sins according to the

Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to

the Scriptures,” this is the ultimate Gospel. “He was delivered over to death for our

sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom 4:25)


For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise,

we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with

you. (2 Cor 13:4)


Paul always carry around in his body the death of Jesus, which is to follow Jesus’ example of suffering.


Paul’s sufferings in flesh were necessary for his callings. He called it “fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, “ (Col 1:24)


The Lord once said to Paul, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)


Thus Paul's suffering in the flesh underscores the preciousness of the treasure hidden in his weak jar of clay.


Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that

Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in

weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am

weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)


Paul always carry around in his body the death of Jesus. Spiritually speaking it refers to Paul’s death to himself, to the flesh, to sins, and to the world, So that the holy, glorious, abundant, eternal life of Jesus Christ might be manifested in Paul.


I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life

I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave

himself for me. (Gal 2:20)


May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which[a]

the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal 6:14)


Because “Paul always carry around in his body the death of Jesus”, he was instrumented by God to spread out the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who heard the gospel, believed in the gospel and accepted the gospel.


May this powerful message of Paul’s give you strength during this hard time of coronavirus outbreak.


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you

may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:13)


Thanks to the Lord,

Amos

April 2, 2020


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