[Oct 07]—Diamonds in Paper Bags

            Something that American Christians sometimes have a hard time accepting is the biblical truth that there’s a physical realm and a spiritual realm which interact with each other on a regular basis. Of course, most of the time, the spiritual realm influences the physical world “behind the scenes,” so to speak, at least in the Western world. People outside the West, however, usually would have no problem with this.
            As Evangelicals—everyone who take the Bible seriously—we believe in the spiritual realm interacting with the physical realm in theory.  But do we act upon this?
            In our defense, part of the problem is that we’re reacting to excesses on the other side. Some Christians go way overboard and blame Satan for everything bad that happens in their lives. If my car breaks down, then it’s because of a demon. If I’m sick, then it’s because I’m under an assault from Satan’s minions.
            But just because some well-meaning people go overboard doesn't negate what the Bible says about this.
            From today’s passage, I’d like to point out some things:

·         If someone is presented with the Good News of Christ, it’s a battle on many fronts. Yes, you want to engage their brain and their heart. But the battle has to won on the spiritual front as well. Paul specifically says that their minds can be “veiled.” If something is veiled, then that means that something else (or in this case, someone) is blocking access to it. Paul specifically says that “The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ.” If you’re shining light in a dark place, there’s no real “battle” between light and darkness. No, if the light’s not blocked somehow, it wins.

·         Appearances are really deceiving. You’ve probably seen or heard of a “book safe,” right? You take your valuables and place them inside what looks like a book and place it on your shelf. That way if a burglar breaks into your home and is looking for something to steal, he’s likely to bypass the ordinary “book” on your shelf. In Paul’s day they had something similar: clay pots. They’d hide treasure in jars of clay so as to not draw attention to what was inside. Well, we have something analogous here, but the purpose is the opposite. If you look at most Christians, we appear pretty ordinary. You’d likely pass us on the street and not look twice. But every follower of Jesus. . . has the Treasure to end all treasures inside him. The Message of salvation in Christ is more valuable than Bill Gates’s, Warren Buffett’s, and George Soros’s bank accounts put together. It’s more precious than all the gold and cash that any man ever dreamed of.  But what I meant as to a difference in purpose is that people of the world hide valuable treasure inside something innocuous in order to draw attention away from the treasure towards the outside shell and keep people from taking what’s inside. In our case, God’s placed this Treasure inside each of us to draw attention away from the outside (us) and towards what’s inside. And he’s not doing this to keep anything from anyone; quite the opposite. No, the Gift of Salvation is not meant to be hoarded but to be cast out and shared with as many people as possible.

·         Our triumph is in Christ, not despite our Enemy’s best efforts, but because of them. Despite the Treasure within us, we’re still jars of clay: Nothing much to look at, seemingly cheap, and frail. Yes, very frail. And our Enemy takes every opportunity to destroy us. To the degree that he gets our Father’s permission, he might press hard on us, perplex us, persecute us, or even strike us down. But he can go as far as our Father’s leash on him allows, and not one inch further. Not one millimeter. No one picometer. And even if he presses hard, he won’t crush us. If he perplexes us, he can’t drive us to despair. He can persecute us, but no, we will never ever EVER be abandoned. He can strike us down, but he can’t destroy us.  And the only reason why our Father would let him near us, much less strike us, is only to give him enough rope to hang himself on. He let Satan strike down his own Son, and look how that turned out. And in our case, when we let the death of Jesus be expressed in us, then the life of Jesus will shine through (vss. 10-11).

            Of course, we don’t go looking for death, and most of us (in America, at least) aren’t going to be physically persecuted anytime soon. But when I deny myself, when I count myself as being dead to sin and alive to God, when in the Spirit’s power I say “No” to my own way of doing things and “Yes” to doing things his way, that’s when it happens. To the degree I do that, that’s the degree to which I’m going to see the life of Jesus “revealed in [my] mortal body.”
            And why does he place this Treasure inside us, why does he place this flawless diamond in paper bags? Simple enough: “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” With us being the screw-ups we are, if any real progress is made on expanding the Kingdom, then you know it’s from him and from us.
            So take heart, all you “paper bags” and “clay jars.” You’re prime candidates!

Lord Jesus, in and of myself I’m not much. In fact, I’m nothing outside you. But whatever I am, I’m yours. If you want me as your hands, if you want me as your mouth, the answer’s “Yes.” 

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