2 Corinthians 4:7-12
Greetings, everyone! Welcome to Friday’s edition of EDiBS, where today we come to the end of our week together, but never the end of the promises of God. It’s always a great comfort for me to remember that God never goes on vacation and never takes the weekend off, but is always at work on our behalf, always watching over us, and always serving us with His grace and mercy. You are dearly loved by the Lord — and as He loves you, so He is with you this very moment! Rest in that assurance today! I’m gald you’re here; let’s pray as we go to our Bibles one more time before the weekend.
Father, thank you again for this week that you’ve led us through. You have kept us close to you, have protected us, and have blessed us in more ways than we are even aware of. Help us, Lord, to be aware of your presence, and help us to consciously place ourselves into your gracious, outstretched, all-powerful hand as we walk through this life. Today we ask that you would continue to teach us through your Word, and we ask this for Jesus’ sake and in His name, amen.
As we get started today, we’ll be moving into a collection of verses that speaks of the greatness of the gospel in our lives and the reminder of how it is that God keeps us in times of difficulty. Our focus: treasure in jars of clay.
2 Corinthians 4:7-12
7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
If you’ve been with me here at EDiBS for any length of time, then you know how much I’ve loved putzing around the garden through the years, and you probably also remember how much I enjoyed my menagerie of animals on the hobby farm back in Missouri. I had a lot of fun with my goats and pigs, and I especially loved my turkeys, chickens, and ducks. I did not, however, enjoy my guinea fowl so much, and one reason for that is that they never seemed to cooperate with my aforementioned horticultural putzing. Each spring I’d get excited about finally getting some flowers onto the porch after a long winter. Each spring I’d anticipate the tranquility of going out and watering my pots in the morning as I enjoyed my first cup of coffee. I’d so look forward to enjoying petunias and verbena and dianthus…maybe even a few strawberries just outside the front door. Unfortunately, it turned out that I wasn’t the only one with an affinity for the front porch. Those guineas of mine would dig in the pots, uproot the flowers, spread dirt all over the place, and chip and crack the terra cotta with their beaks. They’d do it with impunity and impertinence because they knew I wouldn’t hurt them. It got frustrating enough that one day I told my kids (only half in jest) that I was going to look up some guinea recipes online, and that if my pots and the growing treasures within them weren’t left alone, those birds just might find themselves in a pot of another kind!
In our reading from God’s Word today, Paul speaks about another kind of treasure in another kind of clay pot – both of which are far more significant than anything sitting on my front porch. The treasure is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is deposited within the earthen vessels of our bodies. The treasure is precious, and that which holds it, while certainly having an element of value, is nothing in comparison. Paul says there’s a great reason for that paradox. When we were together last time, Paul’s closing description of the gospel and its impact on our lives was really quite profound: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” That, in fact, is the treasure of which he now speaks in verses 7 and following: the treasure of the greatness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the glory of God made evident through that gospel. It is the very light of God, and the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, reflected in the face of Jesus Christ. It is the greatest treasure in all of creation!
How interesting, then, that such a great treasure would be placed in such common holding containers. When Paul considers us as earthen vessels or jars of clay, he isn’t disparaging the body or calling it a mere receptacle for the soul. Instead, Paul is simply comparing the “value” of God’s light and glory to the “value” of that into which He has chosen to put that light and glory. Earthenware vessels in the first century were common in every home. They weren’t very durable and they were useless once they were broken. They were practical, but they had little value other than for regular, everyday use. And yet this is the illustration Paul uses as he talks to us about the gospel in our lives: God chose to put His light and glory into the everyday dishes, not the fine china. Why? As the apostle says, “To show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” And indeed, when you look at the plight of Paul and his companions and what they suffered almost continually because of the gospel, you quickly come to the conclusion that the power of God through the Word of Christ and the ministry of the Spirit was the only thing that kept them from being obliterated.
Just glance over their hardships in verses 8 and following and it takes your breath away. But though Paul describes the experiences in his life as hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down, look at the triumph of Jesus in Paul’s life in the midst of it all: he is not crushed, not in despair, not forsaken, and not destroyed! Paul knows the power and victory of Jesus in his life because he is continually in situations where only the power and victory of Jesus can meet his need — and I think we can also say here that though Paul, like any Christian, wants the life of Jesus evident in him, he knows better than most that sometimes this can only happen as he also carries about in himself the death of the Lord Jesus. Indeed, there are some aspects of God’s great work in our lives that only happen through trials and suffering.
As we wrap up for the day, that point is actually the other critical component of the passage that we need to address, and it comes in great irony. Paul finishes out the text by talking about the fact that death is at work in him and his companions, but life is at work in the folks of the church at Corinth. What’s going on here is that some of the Corinthian Christians had despised Paul because of his great sufferings, and took them as evidence of the illegitimacy of his ministry. They compared his lowly estate to their ideas of what it meant to walk in victory, and they found him lacking when put up against their own Christian experience. But what they didn’t see and didn’t understand was that their lives of victory were only made possible because God had made Paul such an effective minister of the gospel among them – and that through his suffering, not through the world’s idea of success. Their short-sightedness is brought out here in a subtle way, but it’s enough, I think, to cause you and me to think about our own preconceived notions regarding those who serve among us.
As a person who pastored congregations for over 20 years and had mostly excellent relationships with my parishioners, I’ll say nonetheless that where I was most hard-pressed and maligned by people through the years was usually over perceptions that I just wasn’t the total package that was necessary for successful ministry. I didn’t have a savvy business mind, they would say, or good enough administrative gifts, or the ability to increase giving that people thought I should have. Some people said I was too heavy and that I didn’t dress well enough or that I was naive when it came to understanding how things really worked in the world. One time a church member accused me of spending too much time in the homes of the people in our congregation and not enough time in the office doing church business, though he never articulated just what kind of church business I should be tending to.
At the end of the day, perhaps all of those things were true, I don’t know. But here’s what I do know: I know that my main focus wherever I served and my primary calling — if need be to the exclusion of everything else — was to proclaim Christ and Him crucified for the sins of the world. It was to minimize myself as the earthen vessel, the jar of clay, and point to the treasure of the gospel carried within. It was to bring people to Jesus and share the hope that exists in Him and in Him alone. I know I did a lot of things far less than perfectly in my years of congregational ministry. Sometimes I was just plain wrong. Every pastor experiences the personal grief and regret that goes along with those times. But I also know that in my preaching and in my teaching — and I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that in his heart of hearts it’s the same for your pastor today — I never stopped striving to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing. It’s all about the promise, birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and soon and coming return of the Savior of the world…for you.
Most pastors know that regardless of how they’re being judged on any given day with respect to externals, their most essential task is to give themselves over to the gospel-sharing work they’ve been called to do as Christ’s servants. Most pastors are also willing to take a back seat to the so-called success syndrome in their own lives for the sake of the spiritual welfare of those they’ve been called to shepherd. And yes, most pastors, at various times, feel the weight of judgment when their people don’t see or understand the true nature of the office of the ministry and all that goes — and doesn’t go — with it.
Perhaps you might take a moment and encourage your pastor this weekend as he seeks to be a faithful minister of Christ to the local body of believers you’re part of. As he endeavors to hold out the glorious treasure of the gospel of grace to you via the common, fragile, not-very-special earthen vessel of his hands and feet and lips, be cognizant of the fact that in a very powerful manner, you can extend that same glorious gospel of grace to him in the very same way.
Come Monday, we’ll pick this back up and continue where we’ve left off for the day, and there’s good stuff to come, so do stay tuned! God’s peace, everybody – you are such a joy to me, and I do pray God’s rich blessings on you until we meet again. Take care!