Living with our eyes wide open

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By Bruce Green

The glorious spiritual truth tucked behind the ragged realities of Paul’s ministry was that they always carried “around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body” (v. 10). The “death of Jesus” refers to them “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake” (v. 11).So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (v. 12).
In their ministry as jars of clay, their regular brushes with destructive forces enabled the treasure (the message about Jesus) to shine through.
How exactly did this work?
It had to do with what people heard about Paul and what they heard from Paul.
They heard about (and perhaps even witnessed some of) the life-threatening situations Paul was in and how he was constantly being delivered from them.
The stories of what looked like his death for Jesus became stories of life through Jesus.
This is exactly what Paul bore witness to (see 1:8-10). When people get to the limit of their earthly resources, you find out what they are about—what is at their core. For some people, it is exactly what they are in normal circumstances, but for others, it is something else entirely. Either way, tough times reveal our true character. Paul’s setbacks and sufferings provided a window for people to hear about and see his dependence upon the living Christ in a way that confirmed everything he said. People with unveiled faces were able to see such things.
They also heard from Paul himself. He calls in Psalm 116—a psalm of thanksgiving where the psalmist offers praise to God for delivering him when “the cords of death entangled me” (v. 3, see also v. 8).  The psalmist’s faith caused him to speak out even in the midst of his affliction (v. 10). This is the spirit that Paul possessed as well, so he used his hardships as an opportunity to point people to Jesus. He knew a death story for any disciple was ultimately a life story (2 Corinthians 4:14) and that the Corinthians would benefit, and God would be glorified (v. 15).
He finishes with a flourish. Despite the hardships that were his, he repeats his earlier conclusion that “we do not lose heart” (v. 1, 16). In the bigger arc that Paul sees, the ministry is part of God’s overall mercy toward them.
Furthermore, as he has shown, God sustains them in their sufferings and reveals Jesus through them. Rather than losing heart at his diminishing outward state, Paul was inwardly renewed on a daily basis by understanding the work of God around Him and through him. The difficulties they had which some argued were grounds for disqualifying them as true messengers of Christ were actually working for him to “achieve an eternal glory” (v. 17; Romans 8:18). Paul’s unveiled face meant that he looked at things in a decidedly different way. He refused to fixate on appearances but rather stayed focused on unseen eternal realities.
It’s amazing what you can see when you remove your veil.
Green has written a two-volume work on the prophets called Known Intimately Loved Ultimately. They are available through 21st Century Christian.

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