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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” - 2 Corinthians 4:7

It could be said that much of the Christian faith is rife with paradox, irony, and surprising plot twists.  The prostitute, Rahab, who was spared in the conquering of Jericho? She ends up in the lineage of the Christ, as did Tamar (of Genesis) and Bathsheba, two women notable for their sexual sin.  The disciple who said he would never deny that he knew Jesus -- and then did just that? He’s the rock that Jesus said He would build His church on, and He did.  Do you value your life above all things?  You’ll quickly lose it. If you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, you’ll save it. The list of surprising twists goes on, of course, considering that the very messiah-ruler Himself ended up crucified by those to whom He was sent. I would argue these all have in common the mind-blowing reality of how God chooses to work in this world: the weakest, simplest, most humble vessels are the one through which He works the mightiest; all so the glory might be His alone.

This premise appears throughout the Bible, but perhaps nowhere is it repeated most emphatically than throughout Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. In the present instance (2 Cor. 4:7), the juxtaposition of the new covenant glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (v. 6) with the jarring assertion in the following verse that this “treasure” will be housed in jars of clay is the prime example of God working through weakness. We are reminded that the value is not in the earthen vessel but in the contents.

God’s purpose for this paradox, using weakness as the source for strength, is given in the remainder of the verse. It is to show that the credit for the power within us belongs to God, as evidenced by the apparent banality of the vessel. We are not the powerhouse -- just the place where the power is housed. If repetition is any indication, God seems insistent that man not be able to boast of his part in the matter (cf. Judges 7:2, Ephesians 2:9).  This is, in part, because our present mess started with a well-endowed man who thought too much of himself, and even he wasn’t the first creature to think such a thing. God deserves the glory for His works; He will not yield His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8).

Paul ends the paragraph that verse 7 begins with another surprising turn.  Though he has associated himself with his audience through use of the corporate “we” and “us” throughout, in verse 12 he disrupts this pattern, concluding that the march of death produces life not in “us,” as his parallelism would dictate, but “in you”, i.e. the Corinthians particularly.  Paul dies in order to give life to the Corinthians. His death does not have the same monumental implications as the death of the man, Jesus Christ, but as the Master died for others so, too, will the bondservant. This communal effect is implied in Jesus’ statement, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24, emphasis mine).

Lest the value of fasting be construed as self-flagellation, fasting should be primarily, if not entirely, other-centered.  Through fasting we emphasize our frailty by withholding the very substance that gives our bodies earthly energy, so that God’s power, and subsequent glory, might be “made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9b).  We put to death this earthly desire for food so that desires for God and His people might be paramount.  We acknowledge what God already knows: in our frame, we are dust (cf. Psalm 104:14), being no more than simple, earthen vessels. Yet, in the paradox that only God could orchestrate, this priceless treasure, in a fragile clay jar, has the surpassing power to restore not only us but also the entire world.

Justin Mills
Ministry Director at Penn
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