(2 Corinthians 4:7-10 WEB (R)): “But we have this treasure in clay vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed; always carrying in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus (Christ, the Spirit of God) may also be revealed in our body.”
The writings of Paul and the other first apostles, such as the passage above, can be difficult to understand, for many reasons. In my opinion, the primary thing needed to understand these writings is to learn to abide and walk in the Spirit within, the same Spirit which inspired the writers of scripture themselves. It also helps to keep in mind that everything Paul did and wrote was ultimately aimed at seeing the Kingdom (the reign, the will) of God being manifested on earth, through the Body of Christ, the Church.
With that in mind, I’d like to look at the passage from 2 Corinthians 4 above, breaking it into segments to help explain each part better. There’s some really good stuff in it.
“But we have this treasure in clay vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves.” -The “treasure” Paul refers to is Christ, the Spirit of God, and the “clay vessels” are our physical bodies. What he is saying is that God has chosen this “exceedingly great” treasure (His own Spirit), to be put into rudimentary, flawed containers (our physical bodies), so that men would not value the container, but the treasure inside. For example, if you go to a jewelry shop and ask to see a certain watch, they probably won’t bring it out in a flashy container, but set on a plain background or in a plain box, so that the beauty of the piece stands out even more by contrast. While amazing, our physical bodies are like these plain backgrounds, meant to showpiece all the more the beauty of the actual treasure. This truth is easy to forget or ignore when one is guided by their own mind and their physical senses.
“We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed…” -Without a doubt, it can be difficult to live in these mortal bodies on an earth which still largely operates in fear, darkness and ignorance. For those who follow Christ, it is often even more difficult because the way of Christ is the way of love, of laying down one’s life for others, of blessing enemies and speaking truth to those who are devoted to lies. Yet, because the immortal and powerful Spirit of God resides within us, IF we are willing to sacrifice, suffer and learn to connect with and draw our life continually from this Spirit, we can be “pressed,” “perplexed,” “pursued,” and “struck down” outwardly, and yet not only survive, but continue to walk in peace, in power, and in sacrificial love toward those who oppress and hate us. The truth is, Life is nowhere to be found in the fear-based flesh, only in the Spirit.
“…always carrying in (or being carried in) the body the putting to death (literally: the “deadness”) of the Lord Jesus (the death of Adam/flesh), that the life of Jesus (Christ, the Spirit of God) may also be revealed in our body” (the Spirit of God revealed/manifested in the church).
-There is a lot in this last statement I could look at, but the primary thing Paul is communicating is the simple principle that in order to manifest the life of Jesus, we must embrace the death of Jesus. Now, this truth is often twisted into one of two errors: making it into a religion of do’s and dont’s, or some how rationalizing it away so as to avoid sacrifice and suffering. But as with all spiritual things, we can neither “do” it nor avoid it – it is a principal, something already “done,” which we must simply see, accept, and walk in. You can’t make your flesh dead, it already is. What you can do is seek the revelation of this, believe it, and walk in light of it. I believe all men will do so, in their time.
Scripture says many times that when Jesus died, we died too, that the death of Jesus was somehow also our death. So, when scripture says Jesus died “for all,” this doesn’t mean he died to somehow benefit all, but AS all, as a representative of all of Adam’s race. Therefore, in the Spirit, everything from and of Adam/flesh, which every human has inherited at birth, is dead, irrelevant, put away, useless, null and void, obsolete, undesirable, rotten, corrupt, etc. We must see and embrace this to walk as sons of God, which is why Paul wrote about it so extensively, most prominently in Romans 6-8.
In simple terms, what Paul was saying in this last statement was that he strove to always live according to the truth that his flesh and it’s nature was irrevocably dead in every spiritual regard, so that every word and action coming from him was never flesh imitating spirit, which is actually just death imitating life. The thing is, the dead flesh can outwardly appear very good and admirable, but it can never and has never helped build the kingdom of God or imparted spiritual life to another. What Paul desired, for himself and the body of Christ as a whole, was that they manifest only Christ/Life itself, with reconciliation and truth and love and power and glory and wisdom and peace. But Paul was painfully aware that to be an agent of life, he must embrace the truth that his flesh was dead, and leave it by the wayside forever.
Finally, Paul says he and the other apostles of God embraced this death so that: “the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” Notice the phrase “our body.” If you look closely, you’ll see something odd: “our” is plural, but “body” is singular. If Paul was talking about Jesus’ life being revealed in his own body, he would say “my body.” If he was talking about Jesus’ life being revealed in the individual bodies of every believer, he would say “our bodies.” But instead, he said “our body,” meaning one single body which is somehow shared or made up of many members. He is referring to the body of Christ, the church, which is one body made up of many members. For much more on this, you can read my posts here and here.
To conclude, here is a summary of the main points Paul was making in this passage:
Our bodies are simply containers for the spirit, which alone is eternal and valuable. Our bodies (while important and amazing) have been made frail and mortal so that we won’t focus on or value the container, but the treasure.
While dwelling in frail bodies in the midst of persecution and hardship due to the darkness and ignorance of men, we can still walk in love and power and peace if we are living from the Spirit within.
In the Spiritual realm, where believers are to dwell and where God resides, the Adamic/fleshly nature each of us was born with is dead, useless, unprofitable. Therefore, we must be sure that we never label or treat something dead as alive, or we will pursue a path that God is going to destroy. We must ensure that what is coming from us and what we are dwelling in is the life of Christ, the Spirit of God. Adam/flesh can do many good and impressive things, but it is only the Spirit which is able to displace darkness, impart life, and bring the Kingdom/Reign/Will of God on earth, which is the aim of the gospel (not us getting to heaven)!