Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Jars of Clay


2 Corinthians Chapter 4

In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul speaks of the area of service which had been given him by God. Like all realms of spiritual service, it came with many responsibilities, yet Paul did not resent any of these obligations. He understands that he is only able to serve, because of God’s mercy (4:1). Thus, the service that would involve so much suffering and hardship was actually an undeserved gift and amazing opportunity.

We do not Lose Heart: 4:1

“Having a ministry of such splendor (as detailed in chapter three), there is no place for faint-heartedness or concealment, but only for boldness and outspokenness. However severe the opposition, and however intense the conflict, Paul is ever urged forward by the stimulus an exhilaration of the task committed to him of making known Christ. For him who ministers the eternal riches of the gospel there can be no question of abandoning the struggle. This great theme is developed more fully from verse 7 onwards, leading up to verse 16 where Paul repeats his affirmation ‘therefore we faint not’, and from there on into chapter 5 where, with eye fixed on the future consummation, he confidently proclaims that he is always of good courage (5:6), which is the opposite of being faint” (2 Corinthians, Hughes, p. 121).

Preaching Christ: A Dedication to Absolute Honesty: 4:2

In preaching Christ and His truth we have abandoned all human schemes and methods of manipulation, and are completely open with our motivation and methods. We do not water down the message, downplay the commitment required or make false promises, rather we openly set forth the truth, and teach the same thing in public that we teach in private.

The Veiled Gospel: 4:3-4

“At this point Paul turns to the objection that the gospel, for which he claims so unique a power, has patently been ineffective in the case of many, no doubt the majority, of those to whom he proclaimed it. This Paul concedes. The fault, however, is not in the gospel, but in those who have failed to discern its glory” (Hughes, pp. 124-125). In being “open” Paul acknowledges that many have rejected the gospel message, but this lack of success is not do to any inadequacy or lack of power in the message, rather the problem is with the blindness and hardness found in the hearts of some. In other words, darkness and obscurity is not covering the Biblical text, rather it is over the human heart. “Selfish ambition can not be removed by rules of interpretation. Sound exegesis can have but little effect on such conditions of the heart” (Hermeneutics, Dungan, p. 6).

The Focus: 4:5

The reason that Paul does not give up, the reason why Paul preaches the gospel so honestly and openly, is because he is not preaching himself, or his own ideas, rather he is trying to impress people with Christ. And he is nothing more or less than Jesus’ servant. Paul could serve the Corinthians who had caused him so much pain because the Lord who gave Himself for Paul, commanded it. We will have an easier time serving others, when we realize that the important thing about such service is that it brings glory to God.

The Light: 4:6

Paul did not preach himself, but rather preached the gospel revealed unto him, because the gospel message is just as powerful as the word spoken to bring light into the universe in the beginning (Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12). The God who spoke the universe into existence is the same God who revealed the gospel message. When a person submits to the gospel they are choosing to bring light into their lives, and this light includes the right knowledge about the Christ so that we will be impressed with God’s glory instead of our own.

The Jars of Clay: 4:7

The “earthen vessel” was very familiar to the Corinthians and the first century world, “it was a cheap, everyday, disposable container. Its nearest modern equivalent is the plastic bag” (The Message of Heaven and Hell, Bruce Milne, p. 260). The truly amazing thing is that God has committed such a precious and glorious message to mere mortals and has given us the charge to spread it to the world. “To know the glory of God and to be called to spread this knowledge is the most treasured of all possessions” (Tasker, p. 72). What a contrast, the most valuable possession on the face of the earth, the knowledge of God, entrusted to mere men to spread and proclaim (Jeremiah 9:23-24). “This striking paradox makes it clear that the gospel is no product of human ingenuity, no clever discovery of the human intellect, no bright idea of some outstanding genius, but a revelation of the power of the sovereign God. He may choose learned or unlearned men to be ministers of this gospel” (Tasker, p. 72). The apostles (as are all Christians) were expendable (12:15), the gospel message is indestructible (1 Peter 1:23-25). Paul’s accusers had hoped that their attacks on his personal appearance would discredit him in the eyes of the Corinthians. (10:10) “But it is one of the main purposes of this epistle to show that this immense discrepancy between the treasure and the vessel serves simply to attest that human weakness presents no barrier to the purposes of God, indeed, that God’s power is made perfect in weakness (12:9), as the brilliance of a treasure is enhanced and magnified by comparison with a common container in which it is placed” (Hughes, p. 135). “We talk a great deal about the power of man, and about the vast forces which he now controls. But the real characteristic of man is not his power but his weakness. As Pascal said, ‘A drop of water or a breath of air can kill him’” (Barclay, p. 221). We must never make the mistake of rejecting a message because of what the speaker personally looks like. Earthen vessels preach this glorious message of salvation, and some of those earthen vessels are very unimpressive (1 Timothy 4:12).

The Rigors of Serving: 4:8-11

  • “Afflicted in every way”:

Spreading the gospel, living the Christian life, serving means “living under pressure”.

  • “Perplexed”:

Elders often experience this. It speaks of uncertainty, of being doubtful about which way to take, which decision to make, and the Christian life will be filled, not with doubt about what is true, but about many judgment calls. “The idealistic dream of a walk with God in which every decision is automatically and unerringly directed was clearly not what Paul experienced; nor it is likely to be true for those who step into the hard places on the front lines of ministry today”(Milne, p. 259).

  • “Persecuted”:

We are personally targeted for attacks by unbelievers, we find ourselves the objects of ridicule.

  • “Struck down”:

“We could render this ‘punched to the ground’. In the service of God there are moments when we too find ourselves lying on our backs, with the referee counting out the seconds somewhere near our heads” (Milne, p. 260).

  • Follow Me: 4:10-12

We lay it on the line everyday. Yes, each day will bring new challenges, more opposition, and no, life will not suddenly hit a smooth stretch. We are always in danger – just like Jesus was.

  • Our Inner Resources: 4:13-14

So why does Paul keep preaching when there is no much opposition and resistance?

  • People are being saved: 4:12 “life in you”
  • Like believers in the past, he walks by faith: 4:13
    Like believers in the past, he must speak the truth, he has to talk about God (Jeremiah 20).
  • Suffering and death has no power over Paul, both are temporary and can only touch the body. A glorious reward with all believers awaits him (4:14).

Reality: 4:15-18

  • The gospel is spreading, many people are hearing about it, grace is spreading to more and more (4:15).
  • More and more people are seeing how great God is, He is being glorified by my efforts (4:15).
  • We are losing nothing, even aging takes nothing from us, we are not getting weaker, we are getting stronger (4:16). The church is not aging, it is getting younger. Each day, I find myself “renewed”.
  • The present is “light”, the future is “weighty”
  • The present is “troublesome”, the future is “glorious”
  • The present is “momentary”, the future is “eternal”
  • The present is “seen”, the future is “unseen”