Is there a theology of weakness?

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I’ll never forget a meeting I had a few years ago with a student life administrator at a local Christian university. He was young and had a PhD, which I thought was a little over-qualification for a campus pastoral job. I was looking for an opportunity to speak on campus and he was the one in charge of chapel speakers. After a career of lecturing in the chapels of over 85 different colleges and universities around the country, most of them making numerous appearances, I always wondered why I had never been to this university in my own back yard. It soon became evident that as long as he was in the position to invite me, I would most likely continue to be “a prophet without honor” in my own town. 

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Life at work in you

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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 also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 2 Corinthians 4:10-11

Things happen. They happen to us all. Good and bad. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. There doesn’t appear to be any discrimination. What the new covenant tells us is that it doesn’t matter. The biopsy can come back positive or it can come back negative. Neither one says anything about God’s love for us or His promises to watch over us, or His intent to use us as His ambassadors in the world in the middle of whatever we are going through.

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The fine print of the Christian life

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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. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

We are now turning to a portion of the new covenant that I like to call the fine print of the Christian life. The fine print is a fitting metaphor because the fine print is usually the part of a contract you never saw because it was tiny and purposely tucked away somewhere you couldn’t see it or you might not have signed the bloody thing. Not that God is sneaky and trying to pull one over on us. We miss the fine print more due to our own misunderstanding about Christianity than God’s trickery. Somewhere we got the idea that the American Dream was a blessing from God we all deserve. Many preachers teach that becoming a Christian will make you healthy, wealthy and wise. Well, the wisdom part, maybe, but certainly not the other two. In fact, a case could be made from the scriptures that becoming a Christian could make you’re life worse. That’s certainly the case for what Paul is saying here.

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Jars of clay

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But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

There’s that “But” again. Remember 2 Corinthians 2:14, “But thanks be to God…”? As it was there, the “But” is the key. It sets up the whole thing. It indicates that this verse is much more than just a statement about you and me being vessels that contain the Lord. Yes, that’s true, but there is so much more here that we might miss except for the “But.” The “But” says that there is something contrary about this verse. Something is not as it should be, or at least not as you would expect.

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The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ

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For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:5-6

We do not preach ourselves. We commend ourselves, but we do not preach ourselves. What’s the difference? To commend ourselves is to suggest you get to know us. To be in relationship with us. To walk alongside us and test what we say and how we live. To come and see Christ in us, and in spite of us, as we go along.

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Why doesn’t everyone get it?

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And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4

No wonder it’s so hard to get some people to see. We’ve come to another veil. First we had the veil over the face of Moses to keep the people from seeing that the glow on his face from being with God did not last (2 Corinthians 3:13). Then we found out that same veil remains over the hearts of those who hear the law whenever Moses is read (3:15). Now we find out about another veil — a veil over the mind of the unbeliever. One veil over the face of the man who brought the law; one veil over the hearts of those who try to follow it; and now another veil over the minds of those who won’t believe. Veils everywhere. Truth shrouded. People unable to see, hearts unable to respond, minds unable to believe. Religion veils, and no religion veils.

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Commending ourselves

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 4:1-2

We need a new word for “ministry.” Ministry makes you think of formalized training and a pastor’s role. It was the right word for Paul in this letter because he is trying to establish his leadership role in the church in Corinth. But the truths he is laying out here don’t only apply to those in the professional ministry. They apply to all believers everywhere. We’re not talking about someone’s job description in the pastorate, we’re talking about the effect we have on people as believers and followers of Christ, wherever we are — all of us, everywhere.

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Living without a veil

What’s is it like living without a veil? It’s freeing … liberating. You don’t have to be something you’re not. You don’t have to make up anything. You don’t have to impress. You don’t have to follow the rules. (There are no rules.) You don’t have to hide anything, because you don’t have anything to hide. You don’t have to worry about your reputation. You are free to be who you are, because who you are is loved and accepted completely, unconditionally, and God is fully in charge of who you are becoming.

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