What an amazing thing God has done! Whenever God enters anything, there is a stark contrast...light to darkness, goodness vs. evil, life vs. death, corruption vs. incorruption. God chose these vessels of clay, made out of the dust of the earth, to shine His light in, to dwell in, to abide in, and to reveal His glory through. In His presence, how often we feel the contrast! We feel just what we are - earthen vessels. In His presence we see all is from Him, and dependent on Him. We look at the world then, and we see how foolish it is when these earthen vessels think to be their own gods and to have their own opinions on anything. God alone has that right. We, as earthen vessels need to learn of Him, to know Him, and to seek His wisdom, His mind, His heart, and partake of His life and His glory.
Too often we let ourselves get involved in human arguments, stemming from human opinion, that comes from human passions and strife and no personal, intimate knowledge of God through a surrender of faith in His Word, seeking to know and understand His very heart and conform to Him. So we find ourselves "troubled on every side," "perplexed," "persecuted," "cast down," always facing the same death of our Lord Jesus, and having to pick up our cross and follow Him, knowing that in that alone, will His life be made manifest in us and life working through us for others to grasp, and to see.
How are we to conduct ourselves in this fallen world that is under the persuasion of the powers of darkness? Those persuasions are having their sway on the world more and more in our day, and the contrast has become more stark. We are being forced to make a choice of going with the flow, not offending, walking as the world does, or continuing on standing on God's Word, walking close to Him, trusting in Him, standing firm even as we are troubled, perplexed, persecuted, and cast down, in His eternal Word. Even so as we stand on His solid Word, in faith in Him, we are not distressed, left to despair, forsaken, or destroyed. Even those who have everything taken from them, left with no place in this world to lay their heads, imprisoned, or even put to death, we are victors in Christ as we stand firm in His Word, and trust and obey Him.
Adam Clarke describes the allusion Paul makes in these verses to the public games which were celebrated every fifth year at the Isthmus of Corinth...
We are troubled on every side - We have already seen, in the notes on the ninth chapter of the preceding epistle, that St. Paul has made several allusions to those public games which were celebrated every fifth year at the Isthmus of Corinth; and those games have been in that place particularly described. In this and the three following verses the apostle makes allusion to the contests at those games; and the terms which he employs in these verses cannot be understood but in reference to those agonistical exercises to which he alludes. Dr. Hammond has explained the whole on this ground; and I shall here borrow his help. There are four pairs of expressions taken from the customs of the agones.
1. Troubled on every side, yet not distressed.
2. Perplexed, but not in despair.
3. Persecuted, but not forsaken. Cast down, but not destroyed.
Three of these pairs belong to the customs of wrestling; the fourth, to that of running in the race.
Troubled on every side, etc. - … The word θλιβεσθαι, belongs clearly to… wrestling. …“He that can gripe his adversary, and take him up, is a good wrestler;” there being two dexterities in that exercise:
1. to gripe, and
2. to throw down… to be brought to distress, as when one cannot get out of his antagonist’s hands, nor make any resistance against him.…So in Isaiah...we are brought to such extremities that we can fight no longer.
Perplexed, but not in despair…to be in perplexity…is fit for the wrestler, who being puzzled by his antagonist’s skill knows not what to do…they that are not able to do or attempt any thing… they miscarry not finally… stand after all upright… despair not, nor are they overcome, but find a happy issue out of all, being at last conquerors.
Persecuted, but not forsaken… when one being foremost others pursue, and get up close after him, endeavoring to outstrip him, but cannot succeed: this is the meaning… not outstripped, or outgone, as the word implies…they do not crown them that are distanced or left behind. So says the apostle, 1Co_9:24 : All run, but only One receiveth the Prize.
Cast down, but not destroyed… This also belongs to wrestlers, where he that throws the other first is conqueror…to cast down is to overcome, to throw. And then, the being not destroyed signifies that, although they were thrown down-cast into troubles and difficulties, yet they rose again, and surmounted them all.
Each of these things reminds us again and again that we are merely "earthen vessels" and our strength, our life, our hope and our victory is all in our Maker, our Savior, and our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He Who created these vessels also fills them with a power and glory that is not earthly. His own presence fills these vessels and it is for that reason alone we are not cast down, destroyed, left in despair, or defeated. We need not fear what will happen to these vessels that are so subject to weakness, sickness, harm of all kinds, no matter what we are threatened with, because we have a glory and a power living in these vessels that will never forsake us and a promise of being glorified one day with Him forever, if we have trusted Christ to be our Savior. More and more lately, I am feeling strongly the need to keep my eyes off what is around me and to look at what is "unseen" rather than what is seen.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
Many are taking sides on issues right now, all over the world. Friends and families are being divided. There is only one "side" that matters right now and that is God's. There is no confusion when we are honest with His Word. We need to come to Him with "truth in our inner beings" - being truthful with our own selves in laying our hearts before Him, allowing His Word to speak to us and convict us and change us from our own thinking to His. Our opinions mean nothing at all when we stand before Him and all is laid bare. We may validate ourselves before men, but before God all is open and nothing will be hidden. "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me." (1 Corinthians 4:3-4). " To me for my part (though capable of being found faithful) it is a very small matter that I should be approved of by man’s judgment; yea, I do not even assume the right of judgment and approving myself - but He that has the right, and is able to judge on my case (the Dijudicator), is the Lord." - J, F, B
We must trust in Him alone, and have the kind of humility that says "I am nothing and my thoughts are nothing, teach me Your ways Oh Lord!" It's not about winning arguments, or about getting the last word, or about showing who is better, it's about showing in these earthen vessels that true glory of Christ and His life in contrast to our nothingness. It's not about crucifying your opponent, it's about bringing His life to your opponent and convincing Him of the truth of God's salvation through the true Gospel. It's not about helping people feel good about their sin, and accepting or agreeing with it, but exposing it for what it is and how it is their very death and hopelessness in order that they can find life through Jesus Christ. Life only comes to those who are humble enough to see themselves sinners in need of grace.
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (James 4:4-6)
The "humble" are those who see themselves for what they really are before a just and holy God. They admit they are sinners, and do not justify themselves. They give up their self-righteousness and turn to Him to be made righteous through the blood of Christ alone. These are the ones who receive anything from God, not those who try to please the world, to find validation from the world, or try to justify their sinful passions or those of others. Those who love the world or the ways of the world, think they walk in "love" and claim those who try to warn them and tell them of God's salvation from sin are hateful. They can't understand because their minds are blinded by the powers of darkness in this world. They see only through their own passions…
"…in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Ephesians 2:2-3)
As we walk in these earthen vessels, our contrast with the light that is in us through Christ, by faith alone in His living Word and promise of salvation, that light will be more and more evident to the world, which will have to choose the light, or the darkness. To us it means we will be hated as Christ was hated in this world. He was the light, after all, and we cannot think to have His light in us and hide it. God is bringing this world to see it all the more.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." (John 3:19-21)
Father in Heaven, I come to Your light, and ask You to examine my heart and mind through Your Word, and cleanse me of all that comes from the darkness of my own flesh and this world, and enable me to let it go and seek Your will in this world alone. Enable me to stand firm in this world of uncertainty and darkness letting Your light shine through me. In Jesus name, amen.
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