By Moses Marji
2 Corinthians 4:1-18
Key Verse 4: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Good morning. This morning I would like to briefly go over one point from last week’s passage, since today’s passage is a natural continuation in the flow of this letter. You remember that M. Mark taught us about the New covenant and the old covenant. I want to take you a bit to the Jewish mind before the coming of Christ. What were the Jews thinking about the covenant with God? What were they thinking about the Law of God? From checking resources, I realized that the most important act in the Jewish belief or faith is “Keeping the Law” which means keeping the ten commandments. This means the Jews completely believed that the law of God can possibly be kept. To them it was not impossible to keep the commandments. The word keeping refers to doing what is necessary to preserve. So, it is measured by the deeds the believer can do. With what a person does, he or she can keep the law. The more religious the person is the more deeds he or she does to keep the law. And from that mentality, the religious leaders came with many strict regulations and rules for the commandments to be kept. People came to the religious leaders to see if they kept the law. This was their path to heaven. So, when a young man came to Jesus asking what he can do to enter the kingdom of heaven, he was genuinely asking things to do to assure his path to heaven. This was the common understanding of the law.
Jesus is revolutionary, he turned every wrong understanding the Jews built for hundreds of years upside down. Now we understand that the law of God was impossible to be fulfilled by any man accept one Man. No one was able to fulfill the law. The law is very glorious. The Law at the same time brought death to all who chose to be judged by it because they fell short and were condemned.
God brought a temporary solution of animal sacrifice to wipe out one’s sins from year to year. And in this system the priest prayers to God in the holy of holies in behalf of the nation. So, the priest role was very important to intercede for people before God. This was not enough. The law had to be fulfilled by a man first to find a path to enter the kingdom of God. God sent Jesus Christ. Jesus was incarnate as a man. The Son of Man Jesus lived among us for 30 years before he started his ministry. I always wondered what the spiritual significance of the first 30 years of Jesus life on earth was before he started his ministry. But I realized that Jesus lived according to the law of God as a man, as one of us during that time and he fulfilled the Law completely. He did not fall short of the Law. He was the only man to fulfill the law. Now Jesus was ready to start the ministry of the spirit which is even more glorious than the ministry of the law. Jesus completely received that glory of the law and surpassed it by the glory of the spirit. Then Jesus and only Jesus can give us a new ministry. Measured by the law, we are not right with God. We did not fulfill God’s commandments. We needed a new ministry that brings righteousness. God is very merciful to us that he sent Jesus to fulfill the law and bring this new ministry.
Now we will understand more with today’s passage in chapter 4. I divided this passage to 4 parts, and we can slowly together go through each part to understand what St. Paul was relating to the Corinthians and to us.
First, we start with verses 1-6. Verses 1 and 2 read “Therefore since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” Do you know why the religious leaders fell in hypocrisy? Because they had the Law ministry. With the law ministry they needed to keep the law especially in front of the people. So, they did not show people their weaknesses, mistakes and sins as if they were gods walking on earth. In their hearts though they knew that they did not fulfill the law, they pretended to have lived a perfect life in front of others. Not just that but they put very difficult demands on people to keep the law. They automatically became hypocrites. According to Paul, he had the ministry through God’s mercy, so he was free from his sins. I am not talking about his past sins. He was free from his past, present and future sins. He was released from them by God’s mercy. Therefore, he did not have to hide his mistakes or his sins because of the ministry of mercy and repentance. This is the true follower of the new ministry. This ministry does not require us to look perfect in front of others like small Jesus walking around. This ministry requires us to express who we are and repent from our sins. The beauty of the mercy ministry that there is no calculation and just transparency. Paul was free from three things he mentioned: from secret and shameful ways, he presented himself as he was, a sinner who was saved by the grace of God. Having secret and shameful ways cripple the preacher and does not allow him or her do the work of God. And free from deception. Deceiving people means that the person knows the truth but convince the audience with something other than the truth. There are so many preachers who are so charismatic and eloquent. Their messages are not boring. They are funny and entertaining. When you listen to them as if you are attending a theater or a play. They act very well. But unfortunately, their message is empty. The veiled people love their message and enjoy it. Paul was straight forward and he just exposed Jesus in his message. He was also free from distortion of the word of God. And again, many preachers preach what they think people would like to hear in a way that they twist the word of God for their own benefit and the truth is lost. I can give you an example here. I might say I would not preach about tithing because this is something people would not like to hear. Or I might distort the word of God and say hey you can just do whatever you like regarding this subject. But I know for a fact and with a clear conviction and conscience that this is not the truth. I know that tithe is God’s money and is needed to be paid absolutely without hesitation. I know the truth of God in this regard and I cannot go around it. Jesus Christ never abolished the word of God in the old testament. In fact, he even emphasized on tithing, when a widow came and gave all she had which was a coin, he said she gave more than anyone because she gave 100% not even 10% like others. God bless us very greatly when we give to God what is God’s. We cannot distort the word of God so that we avoid giving God his tithe of our income. And tithing is different from serving like bringing food or hosting someone. God really blessed my family and always found a way for us because we give to God what is his, even when we had the most difficult financial situation. I never thought to rob God and become a thief against God. If I say other than that I would be distorting the word of God to please people which is something I pray to God that I will never do. Paul was free of all this, so he was able to set the truth plainly which speaks to everyone’s conscience.
There are people who reject the truth and since they did not accept Christ in their lives, they are perishing. Look at verse 4 “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Wow usually Paul refer to Satan as Satan, but here he called him “The god of this age” Satan is the god of this world and those who live in the world. I believe when you turn light on, the darkness disappears and you live in the light. Check at home, you go at night you cannot see anything, but once you turn the light on you can see. But the blind cannot see the light even when you turn the light on. Satan’s job is to blind people with the things of this world so that they cannot see the light even when the light is all around them. All what they see is what Satan wanted them to see in the darkness. The blind person can see only the things that are put in their minds inside that darkness. And what they see is very appealing, so they run behind it with all their strength. They cannot see the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ who is the image of God. So, what is Paul’s role? His role is to take them out of that darkness and the state of blindness to the light of Jesus Christ. Paul preached Jesus Christ; he only served the gospel message to the Corinthians. It is the light that shines out darkness and it is the light of the knowledge of God’s glory. In conclusion we realized in the first 6 verses that Paul explained the mercy ministry to the Corinthians and how that ministry is working in his heart and in the hearts of those who receive the message of truth. So, this message is inside us. And this leads us to part 2 of this passage in verses 7 to 12
Our Key verse 7 reads “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” We said that the message is inside us, the message of mercy ministry or the gospel is inside the believer in Christ. But what a mixture between our spiritual body that contains the message which is our treasure and our physical body that is so sinful and decaying. Paul referred to our bodies as jars of clay. I hope you know what is the jar of clay. In most of the world people used clay for many tools. It was very useful and is still useful in some parts of the world now. When we lived in Sudan, many people still used these jars for drinking water, and for some reason the water was very called and tastey in the middle of the heat. The beauty of clay is in the ease of making and using in multiple purposes, but at the same time it is a very weak and fragile material that can break at any time. But even when it breaks people used the pieces to write on them. Our body is just like that, very fragile, very weak and very decaying. Still God chose to put treasure in it. And this is a clear reference to God’s mercy. God is full of wisdom that we cannot fathom. God is showing us that we did not have anything to do with that treasure. We did not earn it, we did not build it, we did not work for it. We did not gain it because of our decaying and fragile jar of clay we have. It is all because of God’s mercy. We have no claim. Paul is explaining what we go through to protect this treasure with our weak bodies. But this weakness is the manifestation of God’s glory shining in us.
Let’s see how Paul explained our lives in this mixture of the treasure and the jar of clay. First, we are hard pressed but not crushed. We face pressure from everywhere for the sake of Jesus. Life is full of pressures but when we are in Christ it does not crush us. Second, we are perplexed but not in despair. We are confused and lost at times. Sometimes we don’t know what decision to make either way. Sometimes we make the wrong decision and other times we make mistakes, but all this does not lead us to despair, instead it strengthens us more to press on. Third, we are persecuted but not abandoned. Paul was even persecuted by his own disciples, his spiritual children in Corinth. At many points sometimes we feel that we are alone or lonely, but we know that Jesus is with us and we have the assurance that God does not abandon us, even when we see all people turned away from us and left us. Fourth, we are struck down but not destroyed. Paul faced death so many times in his mission journeys. He was even attacked in one city and thrown out of the city almost dead. Despite all that he knows that God was with him and had a mission for him to complete so he will not be destroyed. Even in this weak jar of clay body God express his glory and his mercy. God shows his power through our lives. What a beautiful mixture a believer has. With explaining that beautiful mixture in the previous verses, we also learn how to use the treasure inside us in verses 13-15
Verses 13-15 read “It is written: “I believed; therefore, I have spoken. “Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” When we have the treasure of the mercy ministry in our hearts, we cannot but reflect it to others. This comes naturally. We have that eagerness to spread and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to others. We have the eagerness to preach the truth of God and the glory of God to others. Paul preached the same to the Corinthians for their own benefits. With the deep understanding of God’s mercy every day as we are in a marvelous state of a treasure carried in a weak jar of clay. Seeing our limitations but seeing the power of God in us, we cannot but be full of thanksgiving to God through speaking out the truth. And this is reaching more people every day. Praise God who trusted every believer with this beautiful treasure. We now understand our role of carrying the treasure. With that role we receive hope as we will see in the final verses from 16 to 18 in this chapter.
Verses 16-18 read “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Paul repeated in verse 16 that we do not lose heart as he mentioned in verse one after explaining in detail why we don’t lose heart. We live fully and completely by the mercy of God and not by our own merit or deeds. This completely changed the way we carry our lives and the way we deal with others in this world. What we go through in this life is momentary, but by enduring with our treasure we reach eternal glory. So eternal glory outweighs momentary trouble. Our eyes are fixed on eternal life and the kingdom of God which is unseen compared to fixing our eyes on this seen world that is nothing and considered rubbish. May the Lord Lead each one of us to carry our treasure and live in the truth. May the Lord guides us to endure our decaying and weak jar of clay that we carry and live with it until our time comes to reach our eternal glory, Amen.