Thursday, May 18, 2017

Earthen Vessels

There are several passages of Scripture that give a succinct summary of the Christian life. Philippians 3:3 is one, 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 is another, Galatians 2:20 too. I find myself thinking about a lot about another, 2 Corinthians 4:6–7.

In 2 Corinthians 3:7–18, Christ is contrasted to Moses. We remember the story of Moses speaking with God – when he came back down from the mountain, his face shone and he didn't realize it (Exodus 34:29–35). The children of Israel had Moses cover his face with a veil so that they could look at him. Now the glory of God is shining in the face of Jesus Christ. Unlike Moses, we are to look on Him without a veil. And when we do, His glory transforms us.

In 2 Corinthians 4:6–12, we have something Exodus didn't talk about: when we've been gazing at the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, then God shines that same glory out of our hearts. It's the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness – the God who needs nothing to work with – who does this. He shines the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" out of our hearts.

Paul does that a lot, he talks about "the God who..." I've learned to pay attention to those small phrases, because they reveal an awful lot about the point the passage is making. Here it's the God who doesn't need any raw materials: He brought light out of darkness.

It's not mentioned in these verses, but we might pause a moment and consider that the first time God commanded light to shine out of darkness it didn't cost Him anything. He is God, He spoke and it was done. But in shining the light out of darkness in our hearts, the cost to Him was tremendous. It cost His Son.

2 Corinthians 4:7 goes on to say that God has deliberately put this treasure – the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ – in earthen vessels. He has chosen an entirely inappropriate vessel for His treasure. Why? Because He wants to be sure that we realize it's of God and not of us.

The passage doesn't actually mention the story of Gideon (Judges 7:16–21), but there are some striking parallels. First, we find that God carefully reduced the number of Gideon's men until they were down to 300 (Judges 7:1–7). We find, too, that God explicitly told Gideon why: He wanted there to be no question that it was He who brought victory, not strength of arms (Judges 7:2). Second, the weapons in the hands of Gideon's men were trumpets and torches (lights) hidden in earthen vessels (Judges 7:16).

We realize Gideon's plan was to reveal the torches not by lifting the vessels off the torches, but by breaking the earthen vessels. This is precisely what 2 Corinthians 4:10–12 goes on to talk about. As death works in us, the life of Jesus (notice here it's not "Christ Jesus" nor "Jesus Christ", but "Jesus") is revealed in our mortal bodies.

Susan has pointed out (quite correctly) that we don't cease to exist. Christianity is not Buddhism: we are not striving to become nothing. I'm afraid sometimes it sounds like that's what I'm saying – it's not. 2 Corinthians 4:16 makes it clear: there is an outward man that is broken down as death works in us, but there is an inward man that is renewed by this same process.

We saw this same contrast in Romans 7:22–23. There is an inward man delighting in the Law of God, but there is a law of sin in my members. What's the conclusion to the conflict in Romans 7? There the man cries out, "Who shall deliver me out of this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). Romans 8 picks up this theme in v. 10, where we find that the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit life because of righteousness. Romans 8 goes on to resolve this conflict in v. 23: we groan now, awaiting the redemption of the body. The Son of God is coming to change our bodies to be like His body (Philippians 3:21).

If I may pause here a minute: our hope as Christians is the resurrection of our mortal bodies to immortality. Someone once quoted 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to me about a man who is now asleep in Christ, "he is ever with the Lord." Of course that's entirely wrong – that phrase is clearly talking about those who shall have been raised into immortality. The dead in Christ haven't been made perfect without us: they await the resurrection just like we do. Our hope is, in a sense, physical: we await the resurrection of our mortal bodies. We might actually make it to that resurrection without dying, but all who are in Christ will be raised in what the Lord Jesus called the "resurrection of life" (John 5:29).

But our bodies haven't been raised to immortality yet. In a sense, that's really what the Christian life is – it's the life of Jesus manifested in mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11). It's all about treasure in earthen vessels. It's about God's power seen in bodies that have yet to be redeemed.

It's true that the old man has died and the new man doesn't have to. At the same time, we recognize that death is the tool God has chosen to reveal Christ in us (2 Corinthians 4:10–12). We see the same truth in Colossians 3:1–5, because we have died with Christ, we are called to put to death our members on the earth. It's not that we are called to die, but we all carry about with us things that need to be put to death (Romans 8:12–14).

When the Son of God comes to change our mortal bodies, we won't have those things any more: there'll be no need to put to death the deeds of the body. But until then, death works in us.


HandWrittenWord said...

As usual, a great offering, Mark.

Another way of expressing, I believe, what you are saying regarding the "treasure in earthen vessels" is that Jesus our Lord desires to (and will) perfectly express and reveal His NATURE through a unique personality named "Mark", or "Susan", or "HWW", etc., etc.. Indeed, through as many as there are members of His body. This is ultimately, it seems to me, a significant part of what it means to be a member of the body of which Jesus is the Head. The time will come when He will express Himself perfectly and uniquely in each of us. This is an absolute certainty. We are growing in this regard now, learning to yield to Him more and more, so that His perfect NATURE can be expressed in the vessel called "Mark", or "Susan"... Just as He perfectly expressed (and expresses) the NATURE of His Father.

Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son does in like manner." (John 5:19)

"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in Him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) -- (This verse, by the way, is also a profound expression of the Christian life, like the ones Mark cited.)

He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:6)

Indeed, "For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:11)

clumsy ox said...

HWW, I think your comment does sum up what I'm thinking. I was going to mention John 15, but ran out of time and space.

There is a brother in the small assembly where I remember the Lord who reminds us we're not trying to change the way God made us. We're looking for moral and spiritual transformation, not a change in personality. Spiritual maturity might not look exactly the same in you as in me. But we should both be bearing the image of Christ, and His life is to be manifested in our mortal bodies.

My wife loves the sea coast, I've had my fill. I grew up within sight of the ocean, and I've had enough ocean views to last three lifetimes. That doesn't mean she's wrong to love it, nor that I'm wrong to prefer rolling hills. It's not a sign of moral failure in her to like the water, nor a sign of spiritual immaturity in me to think big sky is better.

HandWrittenWord said...

Mark -

"We're looking for moral and spiritual transformation, not a change in personality. Spiritual maturity might not look exactly the same in you as in me. But we should both be bearing the image of Christ, and His life is to be manifested in our mortal bodies."

That is exactly right. Your comment made me think of the persons through whom the Lord chose to reveal Truth in written form. Spiritual maturity does not look the same in Peter as it did in John, or Paul, or James, for example, either in their lives as recorded in Scripture, or in their writings. And that illustrates your point, I believe --- the Epistles of Peter are quite different in style and content than those of John or Paul or James, but a perfect revelation of a particular aspect of the Truth (Jesus Himself, ultimately) is set forth by each of them.

Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
(Proverbs 30:5)

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
(John 6:63)

Robert said...

The light has shone in so that it might shine out. However the only way for the light to shine out is to accept that the earthen vessel will be broken. We have Paul's doctrine but most do not want his broken-ness. Beatings, imprisonments, ship wrecks, perils and so on are not descriptive of the 21st century believer. So then if the vessel is not broken, the light of Gods glory is not seen and man get some the credit for whatever 'Christian work' is done.

For the believer alive today, death is only an 'if'! - 'For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.' 2 Corinthians 5:1

I am not sure I would have described our hope as waiting for resurrection to immortality though. Surely the change of 1 Corinthians 15:52 implies a chnage from mortal to immortal without the need for resurrection? 'And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.' John 11:26

clumsy ox said...

Certainly we won't all sleep, but we'll all be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51–52). In the sense that someone who hasn't died can hardly be raised from among the dead, I understand your objection. But those who don't sleep will be changed in exactly the same way as those who will be raised.

It seems to me when the Lord Jesus talked about recompense in "the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:14), He wasn't excluding those who shall have been changed without dying. While not strictly raised, they have a part in the resurrection.

I absolutely agree it's not our hope to die and then be raised. Our hope is that the Son of God will come from heaven to transform our bodies to be like His (Philippians 3:20–21). We are waiting for the Son of God from heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10), not for our death and eventual resurrection.

HandWrittenWord said...

Whether we sleep, or whether we are still in our mortal bodies at His coming:

...the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
(Titus 2:11-14)

Robert said...


Thanks for your reply. I am not trying to be difficult or picky. I had never thought of believers who are alive and remain at the coming of the Lord in the way that you describe.

My thoughts are that the truth of the rapture is unknown, because unrevealed, in the synoptic gospels and therefore, in Luke 14, the Lord is speaking to people who had no other hope than that they would be raised after death.

In the early chapters of John's gospel similar thoughts are expressed to those who expected their lives to end at the grave:

John 5:28,29 "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."

John 11 is a monumental turning point in Divine revelation. It began with the Lord speaking to Martha about what she had previously been taught:

John 11:23,24 "Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." This is to my way of thinking is a similar expression to the one in Luke 14:14.

But then the Lord revealed for the first time the truth of the rapture, which involves two classes of believers:

"v.25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

v.26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?"

Therefore, the phrase 'shall never die' precludes any thought of resurrection for those who are 'alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord Jesus'.

How we get from earth to heaven is then reveleaed in John 14:2,3:

"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also".

Forgive me, if we are both saying the same thing but in different ways. We have to remember that we are two nations divided by the one language!

I would also be interested in your view of the idea that I hold, which is that resurrection only takes us from the grave to earth. The people who will be rewarded in the resurrection of the just in Luke 14 are those who will be raised to enter the millenial kingdom and live on earth under the reign of Christ. They will not be in the Father's house

clumsy ox said...

Forgive my tardy reply: I've been all tied up the last few days. I saw your post and have been mulling it over, but haven't had a real opportunity to respond to it.

It seems to me our disagreement (probably too strong a word) comes from my attempting to describe the Lord's redeeming our bodies as "resurrection without dying." I didn't actually mean those who haven't yet died will be raised from the dead – that would be absurd. But those who are alive and remain will experience exactly the same change in their – our – mortal bodies as those who sleep. We will be given resurrection bodies, although we won't have been raised from the dead. We won't all sleep, but we'll all be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51–53).

I admit my wording is awkward, and not really accurate. But I do stand by the point I was trying to make: our hope is the Lord coming from heaven to change our mortal bodies (Philippians 3:21). Those who are asleep in Christ are waiting for the very same thing: they have not been made perfect without us. They will be raised incorruptible. We who are alive and remain will also be changed in the same way, at the same time, and will meet Him in the air.

I've heard you speak about John 11 before; it was very helpful. The more I've pondered the Lord's words there, the more I've become convinced of your view of it.

It seems to me John 5:28–29 introduces a new idea too: two distinct resurrections. Sadly, this has been lost to a lot of believers who can't distinguish between the resurrection of life and the resurrection of judgment. Revelation 20:5–6 sheds more light on it, showing that those two events are separated by 1,000 years.

Revelation 20 makes it clear that the millennium will start with resurrection. I take Revelation 20:5 not to mean that this is exclusively the first resurrection, but to mean that this resurrection is also part of the first. The first resurrection started with Christ, and includes those who are His at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:23). I am sure there are other ways that could be understood.

Darby, Kelly, et al. claimed that the resurrection of Daniel 12:2 is not literal, but a reference to Ezekiel 37. I confess I don't see that. It seems to me Daniel 12:2 is speaking of a literal, personal resurrection.

I think you're right the resurrection takes us from the grave to the earth. I think Revelation 20 makes that clear: there is a resurrection to judgment. But I would hasten to add that 1 Corinthians 15 makes it very clear that we're raised incorruptible. We're not raised in these same fallen bodies that we currently have. Certainly Lazarus was raised, but not resurrected. He had the same mortal body after he was raised that he had before he died.

I confess I see these things too abstractly. It should be my hope, not merely a point of doctrine. It ought to be an exercise of spirit, not merely an exercise of intellect.

Robert said...


Thanks for this - very helpful, especially the phrase 'Certainly Lazarus was raised, but not resurrected'. That sums it up really. I am off to Toronto tomorrow and then onto Mitchell and Portage so will likely not be reading the blog for the next few weeks. Thanks again for your ministry.


Susan said...

It is so good to be back at Assembly Quest after a time of "broken-ness".

Speaking of resurrection, this is from notes of a sermon by Darby concerning our spiritual resurrection:
"The great principle upon which a Christian stands is as to what is his life, and from whence it flows. The Christian is said to be raised from the dead - to have risen with Christ; and whatever is not thus quickened and risen is not of Christ. "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." All blessing and comfort is associated with this life in resurrection. There is the entering on a new position, and the setting aside for ever all previous and natural situation.

The apostle alludes to this in the preceding chapter where he says, "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses." And again, in chapter 3:1: "If ye then be risen with Christ." The principle of life flows then from this: that he is dead, dead with Christ, quickened with Christ, risen with Christ; thus manifesting his practical identification with Christ in all things.

In Ephesians 2 it is said, "You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins," to manifest "what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead." The same power which wrought in Christ's resurrection is effectual for the spiritual resurrection of His people. "God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ . . . and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."

The Christian then, being quickened with Christ, has the resurrection-life of Christ, and is privileged to sit in Him in heavenly places, unto eternal life, as Christ is now sitting at the right hand of God; and the consequence of this position, when made known to the soul, is to bring in a rich revenue of joy and comfort, even "joy and peace in believing."