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Treasure in clay pots ::

Here’s a useful word of encouragement for tired Christian workers from MICHAEL FISCHER, as he ponders on the ministry dynamics of death and resurrection…
Source: Perspective Vo6 No2 ©Perspective 1999

Last summer when I was retrieving my daughter’s ball from the roof, I found some dried moss sitting in the gutter. It was so dry you could powder it between your fingers. “Here’s something interesting to show a three-year-old,” I thought. So I clambered down the ladder, poured some water on the moss while Erin watched, and in a matter of seconds it had sprung back to life. You find life in the most unlikely looking things.

We mightn’t realise it at first, but our Christian work is a bit like dead-looking moss. Most of the time, testifying to Christ in word and deed can be a pretty dead-looking exercise – but according to Paul, our struggle in Christian work is really filled with the life of God himself. Look at how he puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

From one point of view, that’s hardly a good plug for Christian ministry, is it: jars of clay, pushed and pummelled, flogged and beaten, a dead sort of smell hanging in the air around us. As much as it might hurt us to admit it, sometimes our work as Christians isn’t the most wonderful-looking thing. But from God’s point of view, that’s not important, for there’s something much greater at stake. And that’s the question of who gets the credit. Our appearance of success isn’t important; what really matters is whether outsiders can see if our work is the work of God. And to this end, God fills our hard-pressed lives with his power and life.

And to hammer this idea home, Paul draws a comparison: he says that Christian work is sort of like the dead body of Jesus on the cross. Now that was something that looked like nothing more than a huge failure, a dead loss. But God was glorified when he raised Jesus from the dead. And in the same way, God fills our dead-looking work with his life and power, in order that he might get the credit.

But if all we see is a comparison, then we’ve missed the point. Because really, Paul is making a connection between our hard-pressed Christian work and Jesus’ dead body on the cross, between the vitality God pours into us and his raising of Jesus from the dead. In many ways it’s all a bit too profound for us wooden-headed Westerners, but the connection is this: God continues to be glorified through the resurrection of Jesus as his resurrection continues to be displayed in the lives and work of us as Jesus’ followers. The fact that we’re 2,000 years down the track and on the other side of globe is irrelevant. Because the fact is, in the great plan of God there’s a deep-seated link between the literal death and resurrection of the Son of God, and our dead-but-risen Christian lives and work. We don’t need to understand the metaphysics of it all, thankfully – all we need is faith in Christ.

And it’s all very encouraging, isn’t it! Are we feeling cod-ordinary and flogged-out in our task of bringing the gospel to bear on people’s lives? Well, with Paul, let’s not lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:1), because while we might be “hard pressed on every side”, that’s as things should be. God is making sure he gets the credit, not us – it’s an extension of the time he was glorified when he raised Christ from the dead. It’s encouraging to realise that it is God’s raising of the crucified Christ which undergirds the Christian worker – not in order that we might have comfortable work, but that our work might bring credit to God.

Like a crucified Nazarene, or a Christian worker… or even dried-up lump of moss in a gutter, appearances are deceptive.

Michael Fischer is the pastor of Australind Baptist Church in Western Australia

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