I was at a doctor’s appointment. At the end of our conversation, the significantly younger doctor said in reference to circulation, “You have to consider your age.” – I was floored. No one had ever said that to me. But, I was well aware of what he meant. It’s one of those things about getting older. For some of us, it can definitely be a challenge.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he must have been thinking along these lines as well when he writes that “our outward man is perishing” (2 Corinthians 4:16). We understand. The decline has begun. We are heading downhill. Let us dare to address this fact.
A bit earlier in the same chapter, Paul draws a comparison and, referring to human beings, calls us “earthen vessels” (verse 7). The Greek word used in this passage speaks of fired clay, or earthenware vessels, which were inexpensive, fragile, and easily replaceable at that time. Clay jars were used in the household or for storing valuable objects such as precious scrolls. If you looked at the outside of such a jar, all you saw was the worthless clay jar, slightly scraped, perhaps already cracked. The treasure, however, was found inside.
Paul then refers to his ministry in the kingdom of God – the treasure of the glorious gospel, the preaching ministry which God has entrusted to earthly vessels; indeed, He has entrusted to men. In this picture of the clay jar, Paul envisions his own life. On the surface, it is pathetic, without great significance, powerless, insignificant, and unimposing. There is no evidence of “glory.” He describes himself as suffering, weak, constantly harassed, and dealing with hardships. But it is not about the vessel; it is about the contents, the fruition of the Gospel, and the glory of God. And because he had these goals in mind, he was able to add, “Therefore we do not lose heart,” we do not give up (verse 16).
Have you perhaps ever marveled at Paul, not only at what he encountered but also at the extent to which God was able to use him, how he was a guide to eternal life for many people? An extremely far-reaching influence emanated from him. He also has an explanation for this. On the one hand, he was dealing with a physical body that had been subjected to various circumstances and was declining. On the other hand, he was connected to the divine source of power, which continually renewed his inner man. He always received new strength to serve, and not only occasionally but day after day. “Therefore we do not lose heart; but, though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (verse 16).
Reflecting on Paul’s words, we begin to understand him better. He was not working in his own strength, not focused on himself, but in continual dependence on the Lord. The daily supply of strength kept him going. What profound words these are, “new strength every day!” Can we experience this as well? Don’t we need this strength, this strength which lets us say, “Therefore we do not lose heart?”
With aging, the “outer man,” our body, slowly degenerates. There’s no doubt about it. “You have to consider your age.” That’s what my doctor said. One could sing a dirge here and list all the things that make life difficult. We could come up with several verses…. It would certainly please the adversary if he heard us constantly singing laments. But we will not participate. It does not help us, and it does not help others. And above all, it does not change the fact. Wouldn’t it be far better to deal with the reality that inwardly we are being renewed day by day?
What does this actually mean, and what does God’s Word want to tell us through this? While the body is gradually degenerating, the inner person is being renewed every day, strengthened, encouraged, finding security in God, and receiving grace to not to give up. And this is ongoing, new every day, until we enter the final port and reach our destination. In a song, it is so aptly said, “There’s not an hour that He is not near us, no not one… No night so dark, but His love can cheer us, no, not one!” (Worship Hymnal of the Church of God, #341)
I’m sure you feel the same way I do. The thought of this daily renewal becomes increasingly more important to us. We realize that we cannot do it alone. The challenge of growing older is simply too great for us. What Paul describes here from his experience, this renewal of the inner person, is what I wish to experience too. Daily. How does this renewal happen? It happens when we pray, when we cast our cares upon Him. It also happens when we read His Word. The Psalmist knew this and prayed, “Revive me according to Your word” (Psalm 119:154). Reflecting on the many promises of God also has a strengthening effect on the inner person. What could we add? Attending church services is also part of it. Uplifting spiritual songs bring cheer. Encouragement from dear brothers and sisters also lifts us up. These points are best summed up by the prophet Isaiah: “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall uttery fall, but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
Then, one day, we will hear God’s call to come Home, when “our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed” (2 Corinthians 5:1), when we die, and our body is laid to rest. Then, Paul adds, we will have “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” That will be glorious indeed! There we will rejoice forever – with Jesus. In heaven, we are free from all the frailties of old age. The resurrection body is an eternal one. Hallelujah!