Crackpots for Christ

Lesson Four, 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10

Do you think of yourself

  • as a clay jar, ordinary and utilitarian?
  • as a crackpot, a bit crazy?
  • as a cracked pot, a bit broken?
  • as a vessel carrying a treasure?

Paul writes to the Corinthian church that we are ordinary clay jars who carry the treasure of God shining in our hearts — “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6).

To both ancient and modern cultures, status and accomplishments matter. We fill our children’s heads with doing well, being all that we can be, making something of ourselves. A video of being a vessel for God’s message, a servant of Jesus, or suffering for Christ is not likely to go viral on YouTube.

Paul and his co-workers have gone through a lot of suffering — not to better themselves, but for the sake of Jesus. They have been called crackpots and have been maligned, falsely accused, beaten, run out of town and jailed. Paul has been ridiculed for being less than articulate.

It is mind-boggling to see how Paul frames his suffering. We are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (4:11). This is such a difficult concept.

Paul carries the death of Jesus quite literally. He and his companions face hardships and death, as did Jesus, to share the good news of God’s inclusive, grace-filled love to the world. When he and his companions face persecution, he learns that he has to depend more on God. When people criticize his lack of eloquence as an orator, he says that his inabilities make God’s power more evident. “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (4:7).

We don’t face persecution or death threats for being followers of Jesus, as Paul and his cohorts did. How do we carry “in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies”?

A couple of things come to mind.

We remember that Jesus suffered the very worst of human cruelty and humiliation to break the power of sin in our lives. We live seeking to trust that God’s power is greater than anything the world can throw at us. Though we, at times, may doubt that Jesus is to be at work to bring life out of death and light out of darkness, we live as if we do believe it.

We can then voluntarily enter into the pain of others so that they will know the wonderful life that Jesus brings. We, of course, hate this. We try to dodge our own pain and duck away from the suffering of others near and far. C.S. Lewis said, “I’d swim through sewers to avoid pain.”

What Paul experienced in terrible circumstances was that Jesus was with them in amazing ways they could not have imagined. They were given the power to persevere, even to live with joy. Through the strength of the Holy Spirit, they were “afflicted but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (4:8).

As the body of Christ, the church, we can engage with a hurting world knowing Christ is already there. We don’t seek to “fix” people, give them advice or do for them what they can do for themselves. We stand with them as they face the grave. We can listen, just listen, to their grief and pain. We grow in acceptance of others as they are, not as we wish they were. We pray with and for others. We bring the light of Christ into an inner-city school, an abused woman’s life, help felons coming out of prison or work to change policies and laws that hurt people.

I served on a non-profit board of a small ministry that helped homeless women. As an organization that encouraged prayer and the ongoing support through a community of faith, we were not eligible for federal and city funding. Raising money was an endless and difficult job. Yet, without serving Christ in this way, I would never have seen how powerfully Jesus can heal people. One graduate of the program stopped me in a grocery store and said, “I recognize you. I finished the program last year. I wanted to thank you. I am working two jobs now, and my daughter and I have an apartment.”

The world may view us as crackpots, a bit crazy, for following Jesus, but it is wonderful way to live.

rosalind-banburyROSALIND BANBURY is associate pastor for adult ministries at First Church in Richmond, Virginia.