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"Treasure in Clay Jars"
2 Corinthians 4:7-15
Wednesday AM Bible Study
July 9, 2008
In the wisdom of God, the greatest message in all the universe has been entrusted to the weakest of messengers. God could have delivered the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to mankind through the agency of mighty angels. Or, He could have even thundered it from heaven by His own voice. But instead, He has chosen to deliver it to the people who most need it through vessels that seem least worthy of it. But in all of it, He gets the glory!
The apostle Paul, in this morning's passage, not only exalts in God's great grace in allowing this great message to be proclaimed through frail instruments such as himself; but he also praises God that, in entrusting the message to weak vessels, He demonstrates the greatness of His own power and causes His own glory to abound.
I. THE WEAKNESS OF THE MESSENGERS (vv. 7-10).
A. Paul speaks here of a "treasure"; that is to say, a precious deposit (v. 7). The "treasure" he speaks of is the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ (vv. 1-6). And when he says that "we have this treasure", he speaks of the ministry we share together in proclaiming this message to the world. "We have this treasure"; and that fact, itself, IS a great treasure! It's through the proclamation of this marvelous treasure that has been entrusted to us that God transforms men and women (3:18). What a privilege we have—to be entrusted with the only message from God to this world that saves the souls of men and women! We should never get over what a great thing it is that has been entrusted to us!
B. But neither should we forget how weak and insufficient in ourselves we are for this great task! Paul also affirms that we have this unspeakably great treasure in "earthen vessels" (v. 7)—literally, clay containers. You wouldn't ordinarily place precious jewelry in a peanut-butter jar. You wouldn't put your finest egg-shell china in a lunch sack. Such "containers" are to weak and humble for something so precious. And yet, that's what God has done with this precious treasure—the gospel message. And He has done so in order to show that the message is from Him and not from the men and women who bear it (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
1. He shows this through a series of couplets—comparing the weakness of the messengers with the greatness of God's power (vv. 8-9).
a. He shows that we are "hard-pressed on every side". Yet, though we are "pressed in", we're not "crushed". It feels at times as if we would be crushed; but God demonstrates His power in us by the fact that we are not.
b. He shows that we are "perplexed"—that is, literally, "without means" or "without a way". It wouldn't appear, just from looking at us, that there is any hope for the gospel through us. And yet, God demonstrates that He is working through us by the fact that we are "not in despair", or "not in the utmost perplexity".
c. He shows that we are "persecuted". The whole world seems to be against us. It not only doesn't accept our message; but often pursues us to death for proclaiming it. And yet, God demonstrates again the greatness of His power by the fact that we are "not forsaken". Though we may be driven to the remotest parts of the earth, our Lord says, "Lo, I am with you always".
d. He shows that we are "struck down". Sometimes, it seems as if the Lord's cause is given the death-blow. Many times in history, the world has thought that it was rid of the church once and for all. And yet, God demonstrates the greatness of His power by the fact that we are "not destroyed".
2. Paul sums this up by saying that we "always carry about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus" (v. 10a). One reason that God has entrusted the message to weak vessels like us is because it's an appropriate vessel to carry about the message of a crucified Savior. But God entrusts this message to vessels appropriate for a message of "death" in order to also demonstrate that it's a message of resurrection; "that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body" (v. 10b).
II. THE MANIFESTATION OF THE LIFE OF JESUS (vv. 11-12).
A. The apostle uses a form of the verb that conveys a continual, ongoing action—that "we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake". We are constantly called upon to lay down our lives for Him at every level. But this is "that the life of Christ may be manifest in our mortal flesh".
B. And this is purposeful. Paul affirms that, in his case—as he is constantly given over to death for the sake of the Lord, it is for the benefit of those that God is reaching through Him (v. 12). Paul affirmed this as the reason why he first preached to them as he did in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
III. THE CONFIDENCE IN GOD'S POWER (vv. 13-14).
A. And even if he suffered greatly—even ultimately—for the sake of Jesus, he had no fear of ultimate loss. He quotes from Psalm 116:10 (see verse 13)—a psalm that particularly stresses the hope of resurrection. Just as the psalmist believed in this hope, and therefore confidently spoke, so also the apostle believed and confidently spoke.
B. He knew that, the same God who raised Jesus from the dead was also able to raise up those vessels He uses to convey the message of Christ. In fact, he uses the present tense of the verb in the original language—as if to say that "He who raised up the Lord Jesus also raises us up". Even if they must speak at the cost of their own lives, they may confidently do so; knowing that the One who raised Jesus also keeps them and will ultimately raise them up with Him (v. 14). Not only does Paul have this hope for himself, but also for those who hear the message; knowing that God will "present" him with them in glory.
IV. THE RESULTING THANKS TO GOD (v. 15).
A. The thing that Paul kept his eyes on in all this is the benefit it would bring to those God sent him to reach. "All things", he wrote, "are for your sakes" (v. 15). He knew that the ministry God had entrusted to him—weak and insufficient in and of himself as he may be for it—was resulting in something eternal in those whom God had chosen for Himself.
B. And the result is glorious! It is so "that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God" (v. 15). It will all be to His praise— because He redeemed lost men and women and brought them to eternal glory in Jesus Christ through weak "jars of clay" like us!
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Never despise the apparent low condition of the church! It seems weak and frail—even woefully ineffective at times. And yet, it is through such weak things as us that God will demonstrate the greatness of His glory in eternity!
But knowing this, let's also rise up and serve with confidence in the assured victory of the gospel!
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