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2 CorINTHIANS 3:18; 4:7-18

Q. What would you do when you come across a bottle with a label – ‘unbreakable’? Don’t simply believe, but test to make sure the claim is true. Buy only products with SIRIM label – “tested and found reliable.”

Got no SIRIM label for Christians when they testify that God’s grace leads to a better life-fulfilment, even for ordinary people whom the Bible describes as earthen vessels.

Cannot test but can observe how Christians hold themselves when they face life difficulties.

We are earthen vessels alright, not metallic glass stronger than steel. We remain very much victims to forces beyond our control – harassed mothers when kids grow up –victimized by overbearing bosses – sudden sickness of family members. Even feel being overwhelmed, especially when we are down?

But there is a positive side to our experience of difficulties //Testing/tough times impress upon us that we are mere clay. Nevertheless the marvel is that God’s treasure is in earthen vessels.

I. Testing Opens Our Lives for Renewal

Important not to dwell on the clay but on the skillful hands of the potter – working to bring out the treasure.

1. Discipline à Preparation

God’s disciplinary action to strengthen us for his service. If we want to be in the ministry of reconciliation, changing lives. We must first experience God’s grace working in our lives,

2 Tim. 2:21 – As we allow God to cleanse us, we are transformed into vessels of honor.

-- The iron bar must be hammered red hot, plunged into cold water, beaten flat and put to the grinder before it becomes a sharp instrument.

2 Cor. 2:14 Triumphal procession

We are not lost but captives led by Christus Victor, the mighty conqueror. We are his trophies. But instead of oppressing &exploiting his trophies he helps them flourish in unexpected ways.

2 Cor. 2:15. We are the aroma of Christ

-- flower—crushed & broken to give the full fragrance.

-- Incense – put into the fire.

*Our effectiveness is not proportional to our skills or knowledge but proportional to the glory and grace of God shining through our lives

2 Cor. 3:18 – Secret of perseverance: As we fix our eyes on Christ, the great Shepherd (not our talents, training or experience) we will be transformed from glory to glory

2. We must see God’s sovereign work in the lives of others. Easy for the tough to look down at the lesser/weaker brethren.

Our impatience reflects our spiritual pride. Why doesn’t he respond to MY counsel, MY prayer, MY sermon and become what I think is best for him?

Paul’s example. I planted, watered, yes

BUT God gives the growth.

God has better things for him. More than what we expect.

Bonhoeffer: Christian who judges his brethren with his ‘Vision’ rather than enter into humble fellowship with them.

Look at the ‘black’ sheep – marred clay, but God will shape him for his purpose. God does not give up on him. God is patient (tho’ he does not compromise on his demands for holiness and faithful obedience).

Rom. 14:4. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Good Antidote

Realization – If God has worked so graciously in my life, surely he has much in store for my brother.

How true – He who has been forgiven much will also love much.

Tough times open our lives to the healing touch of God, then we become able to recognize the work of God’s grace in the other brother.

Not pretending that tough times any less tough or that we are any less clay (mere).

Call for spiritual honesty, not pretensions

II. Tough Times Confirms the Sufficiency of God’s Grace

YET God’s grace is ever sufficient. (He will not break a bruised reed)

vv. 9-10. Four Antitheses – Perfected in Weakness

a. Hard pressed but not crushed – despite problems coming in bundles and a sense of exhaustion.

b. Perplexed (wit’s end) but not in despair (hopes end)

c. Persecuted but not abandoned (by God or men)

Self-pity like Job?

d. Knocked down but destroyed (knocked out).

vv. 10-11. The old self must die so that the grace of Christ may be evident.

Sin – Thy miserable omnipresence.

Assurance – At limits’ end – at the end of one’s tethers, BUT marvel is that I have not gone under

Surprising resilience – Going through trials? My encouragement – God’s grace is sufficient for you.

v. 16. We are been renewed day by day

Renewal >>> Receiving blessings

Internal External

Lasting & daily Ad hoc

Griffiths 120

I asked God for strength, that I might do greater things,

I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things,

I was given infirmity, that I might do better things …

I asked for riches, that I might be happy,

I was given poverty that I might be wise. . .

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,

I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. . .

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,

I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. . .

I got nothing that I asked for – but everything I hoped for,

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered,

I am among all men, most richly blessed.

God invariably tests and strengthens all the good workers I know. No forcing, grit your teeth and go in. Come out with no regrets.

v. 12. Goal of renewal, not self-fulfillment, but to become a better channel of God’s grace in the ministry of reconciliation.

III. Tough Times/Testings Leads Us to Look Beyond Circumstances to the Glory of Christ

4:18 and 3:18

Fix our eyes on what is unseen = eternal

Behold Christ – transformed into ever increasing glory of Christ.

Law of life – Story of teacher colleague, pregnant mother looking at pictures of beautiful nice babies -> give birth to nice baby

We become like the people we gaze at. Become like our heroes and role models.

Contemplate Christ -> we become like him and reflect his glory

Christlikeness >>>Spirit filled

Imitation of Christ – concrete relationships >> ethereal, tend to be abstract, compartmentalized and dichotomized from the demands of obedience.

Fruit of HS = Christlikeness

The kind of Christians who attract me, not the flamboyant kind, but the ones who display quite confidence in the transforming qualities of Christ which bring encouragement to younger Christians.

Let’s reclaim the promise of God…