2 Corinthians: Strength in weakness

I am working with Celia Kellett at BBC Radio Nottingham on an idea to present most of the books of the Bible, one a week, during 2011 as part of the celebrations of the King James Bible.The plan is to read some verses from the book, to give a one-and-a-half minute summary, to hear a human interest story which relates, and then include a short discussion making the connections.

Here are the key verses and summary for Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians to be broadcast this Sunday 3rd April from around 7.45 am:

Verses: 2 Cor 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 also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Most people’s image of Saint Paul is of a powerful, energetic and effective missionary, confident, articulate and perhaps rather intolerant—overall, probably not an easy person to live with! But the picture we get in his second letter to the Corinthians could not be more different.

Here we have honest reflections of the reality of Christian ministry, and frank revelations of the personal cost. The transformation that Jesus brings is like a treasure—for us and those we share it with. But we are like fragile jars holding this—and it is when the cracks are evident in our lives that this treasure can shine through. Or, to put it another way, the new life Jesus brings is like God starting his act of creation in our lives all over again. But we still live the realities of the old life, and long to see the new life in all its fullness.

His well-known language of having a ‘thorn in the flesh’ is most likely close to our expression ‘a pain in the neck’—not so much some thing causing a problem as some one. And God’s response to the problem for Paul is not to take it away, but to give him strength to bear it: ‘My grace is sufficient for you,’ he hears God saying, ‘for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

Whatever the heights of our spiritual experience, whatever the wonders we have seen, the strength and grace of God is made known—both to us and to others—most clearly in our weakness and failure.


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