In September 2016, I took a mission trip to the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana. As this was a trip with the Christian Veterinary Mission, it was centered on animals. One of the things I most remember was the use of the chute for large animal procedures—painful procedures.
Ranch assistants would drive the animal into the chute, where the boards for the chute would press in on the body of the steer or calf—preventing the animal from moving or leaving until the surgeries were finished.
The animal was pressed but not crushed.
That is the image I have when I read 2 Corinthians 4:8, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.”
Although that is the image I have to correspond with this verse, it seldom is how I feel when the burdens, pains, and sorrows of life are pressing in on me.
Rather, when most of us feel squeezed in by sorrow and suffering, we think we are going to be crushed like a vat of grapes. Broken, bloodied, and trampled into nothing.
Death in us but life in others
Paul goes on to say that they are “perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (vv.8-10).
These are hard things.
Perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. So much death of Jesus written all over their physical bodies. But also carried within the emotional and psychological aspects of the body.
Not all pain is physical. And these examples that Paul gives also contain a mental element.
“So death is at work in us, but life in you” (v. 12).
Yes, we feel death working in us. We feel the effects of death in our physical bodies, as we experience disease, decay, or abuse. But we also feel it in our minds, as the questions swirl, as we are confused and overwhelmed by what is happening to us or those we love. And we feel it in our emotions, as the darkness of death exudes tears and sobbing.
We feel death at work in us.
But that is not all Paul wants his readers to know.
He also wants us to know that although death is at work in us, it is working life in others.
Why would he say this? How could death bring life in others?
More grace, more gratefulness, more glory
“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (v. 15)
These persecutions and sufferings are worth it, because the grace of God is reaching more and more people. The grace of God in the gospel, at work in hearts and lives, is expected to cause thanksgiving to increase. God is glorified in grateful hearts.
It feels like death, but it is working life. Outwardly, we may be fading away, but inwardly, we are being renewed and restored because of what God is doing in others (v. 16). If God receives more glory from more people, than all suffering for the sake of Jesus is not meaningless or wasted.
The weight of coming glory is worth the temporary pain
“He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (v. 14)
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (vv.16-18).
Paul speaks of their affliction as “light” and “momentary.” But the words he used to describe it earlier are not lightweight words. Nor are the descriptions elsewhere of the persecutions he endured light, simple, or easy.
But, Paul is looking at the present through the eyes of eternity. He is not held back by the present pain, questions, or suffering. He knows that it is going to seem like just a drop of rain in the ocean when he sees the face of Jesus. And he also knows that all of it is going to be more than worth it, when the Lamb receives the reward of his suffering, as billions of worshippers echo the song of Revelation 5:12-13:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and
wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!
To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power
for ever and ever!”
Treasure in fragility
In closing, I want to go back to verse 7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
This. This is how we suffer well in the time before we slip into eternity and the presence of God forever. This is how we endure mental anguish, dark questions, and every form of pain.
We let our weakness shine forth the power of God. We let the cracks of our brokenness be windows for others to see Jesus. We carry Jesus in our feeble, fleeting flesh. Wrapped in our weakness is the strength of Christ. People will not look at us and see how strong we are for enduring hard things. No, they will see our fragility swallowed up in the strength of Jesus.
Some of the dearest people in my life have experienced some of the hardest that life has to offer. And while I see them in their sufferings, griefs, and pain, I see a whole lot of Jesus.
From the outside, their suffering looks like various forms of death in them, but it is working life in me and others. I see so much grace in their lives, hear so much of Jesus in their words that it is impossible for me to not be encouraged by God in them.
From their suffering, they are pouring out Jesus. They are giving themselves away, in the middle of their own pain. In spite of all they are experiencing, they are still extending themselves in self-giving ways. Still caring, loving, and serving.
I am in awe of the strength of Jesus in them. And amazed at their deep love for Jesus and others. Yes, these people endure these afflictions through the power of God, for Jesus and for us, for God to receive more glory.
May this be true in us as well.