Text: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15
This morning we’re going to continue our series entitled, “Ministry Matters” by looking at the Apostle Paul’s perspective of his ministry.
Normally, I don’t like checklists, but I think the one we’re going to have this morning is going to be helpful. All I really want us to do is walk through the text and see what Paul says about his own ministry that he’s been given and I want us to apply that to the ministry that we’ve been given.
Ministry isn’t just for the pastor, it’s not just for those that have been ordained as elders. Ministry is for every single person that has been born again. Paul goes on to explain this later in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.
“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NKJV
The word ‘reconciliation’ means ‘to bring together’ so our job is to go out and let people know that God has come down to where we are in Christ for the purpose of closing the gap that stands between God and man.
- And according to what we just read, God has committed this task to us. So, God volunteered you for this work.
- Don’t you just love it when people volunteer you for stuff? “I told [so and so] you’d be more than happy to so that for them.” Well, this is what God did when he saved you. He volunteered you for a work. He put you where you are (the neighborhood you live in, the job where you work, the people you interact with), God put you where you are so that you can improve the lives of others by telling and living out the word of reconciliation.
And I think our text this morning in 2 Corinthians 4 tells us how we should view that task.
Be Realistic About Who You Are, But Optimistic About Who God is (v. 7)
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7, NKJV
Listen, you are not that great… but God is.
You are weak, but He’s strong.
You are frail, He’s mighty.
In the places where you fail, God shows His power.
That’s what Paul is getting at.
“The pottery lamps which could be bought for a copper or two in the Corinthian market-place provided a sufficient analogy; it did not matter how cheap or fragile they were so long as they showed the light.” – F. F. Bruce
“The marvel of Paul’s statement is not to be overlooked. The gospel minister is a vessel made of common, run-of-the-mill clay—fragile and easily broken. And yet God has entrusted the treasure of the gospel to such a vessel… Why does God do this? According to Paul, he does it to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. God uses what is fragile and yet serviceable so that there might be no mistaking the origin of the gospel minister’s power.”
– The IVP New Testament Commentary
One of the most striking things to me about the commentary is where the author says, “God uses what is fragile yet serviceable.”
- Other than God, no one knows your brokenness like you do.
- You’re the one that has to live with your own dark thoughts.
- You’re the one that really knows all the pain that you’re feeling.
- You’re the one that knows your struggles with your own sinful nature, and even more so, God knows all of that too, and as long as you’re serviceable, God will use you, and He will use you to pour that treasure that’s in you into another broken and fragile vessel.
It’s okay to be honest about who you are. Paul was even honest about who he was. In Romans 7, he kept saying over and over again that the good that he wanted to do, he couldn’t do, and the evil he wanted to refrain from doing, he did anyway. And he didn’t understand it, but he finally broke down and said, “but thank God I have victory because there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ.” (Romans 7:25-8:1)
So, you have to be honest about who you are, but you also have to be optimistic about who God is. Paul says that the whole reason God puts His treasure in broken and fragile vessels is so that people don’t get confused about which is more valuable – the vessel or the content.
This is why John says, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
If you were to read and follow Paul’s logic, you would see that the treasure that Paul specifically says is inside of us is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” mentioned in verse 6.
That’s what it all comes down to. God has given us the light of the knowledge of the Gospel and that’s what makes us valuable.
Last week when we looked at Nicodemus in John 3, he didn’t have this kind of knowledge that Paul talks about. He has his own knowledge based only off of what he could see. Remember, he said, “We know you are a teacher sent from God,” but what he didn’t know is that Jesus was the Son of the Living God, and that kind of knowledge can’t be seen by simply observing Jesus’ miracles, it has to be given to someone by the Father. That’s why when Peter gives his confession, Jesus tells him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)
Peter had seen the miracles, but that’s not what convinced him, it was knowledge and faith that had been imparted to him by the Father.
And that’s the treasure that God puts inside of us, and that’s more valuable than anything this world can offer us.
Not only should we be realistic about who we are and optimistic about who God is, but we should also be realistic about our circsumstances and optimistic about the outcome.
Be Realistic About Your Circumstances, but Optimistic About the Outcome (v. 8-9)
Notice the things that Paul says, “We are hard-pressed… we are perplexed… we are persecuted…. Struck down.”
That’s real. He’s being honest. And I feel like sometimes we’re afraid to be this honest because if we do, we’ll have some prosperity-preaching evanjellyfish say, “Now, you can’t say that, your words have power and you have to speak life and think happy thoughts.”
Paul really was in trouble, he shipwrecked several times, people were out to kill him, he was imprisoned several times. But throughout everything, he could still say that he wasn’t crushed, he wasn’t in despair, he wasn’t forsaken, and he wasn’t destroyed.
It’s okay. We can be honest and say that we live in a post-Christian society. This might have been a predominantly Christian nation at one time, but it’s not now. We can admit there are Christians dying overseas for their faith, but we have to have hope and believe that it’s not always going to be that way.
- We already believe that one day God will make everything new, but do we believe that God is already in the process of doing that? We should.
- The end times didn’t begin when John Darby came up with that dispensationalism stuff, the end times began with the resurrection of Jesus because the resurrection of Jesus is God’s promise that everything will be made new, and death will not have the final word, but resurrection will.
“The resurrection of the Lord Jesus was no isolated event. His return from the dead brought with it, in principle, the resurrection of all things from the dead. The power of death, which had held the entire world in thrall, was reversed at that point, two millennia ago, and the power of His new life has since then been working through the world, the way yeast works through a loaf of bread. For this reason, we are children of hope.” – Douglas Wilson, Heaven Misplaced
And so we are children of hope, and we are (or at least we should be) optimistic about the outcome of God’s work through us in the world, but in the meantime it looks dark, but the darkness is only temporary, and if you’re a Christian then things are already looking brighter.
It’s easy to see all the things that are wrong with the world, but if you can’t see that God is at work then you’re not trying to look hard enough.
- One of the oldest abortion clinics in Ohio shut down this week, and it looks like more in that state may close down soon too. 
Clearly, we see God at work, and we don’t have to wait until the return of Christ to see things turn around. We can experience renewal now. It all starts with God opening our eyes to see the kingdom at work, and to see that we are the workers of the kingdom.
Be Realistic About Death, but Optimistic About Life. (v. 10-15)
Notice, what Paul says right after he says that we are struck down, but not destroyed.
“always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So then death is working in us, but life in you.
13And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, 14knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:10-15, NKJV
Paul says that as we work for the Lord under these circumstances, then death works in us, but not only does death work in us, life is at work in those around us because as I mentioned earlier, death doesn’t have the final word, resurrection does.
Simply put: our suffering gives life to others.
Think about the suffering of Job. We just studied Elijah on Wednesday nights. Think about all the of the Apostles being slaughtered for the Gospel. I mentioned Paul’s sufferings earlier.
Why is it they suffered the things that they did? It’s so that we could recall their personal pain and glean life from it.
And since you’re a witness to Christ, your suffering can be a conduit of life for someone else.
- But I’m going to add this as a caveat – If you’re going to suffer then do so for the right reasons. Suffer over the things that matter, and here’s what I mean by that.
- I’m thinking of 1 Peter 2:18-20, and Peter is addressing people who are employed as bondservants.
- “You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. 19For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. 20Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.” – 1 Peter 2:18-20, NLT
To show you the modern application, imagine Peter is talking to you as an employee, and imagine the master mentioned here is your employer, and since your employer can’t beat you like a master could beat a bond-servant, imagine that he reprimands you.
So, Peter says, “If you’re suffering because you’re doing the right thing, then God is pleased, but if you’re suffering because you’re being stupid then you deserve it.”
With that caveat in mind, make sure that you’re suffering for something that’s important because that’s the only kind of suffering that people can glean life from.
On my bookshelf, I have a two volume set of books about martyrs. It’s called, “Jesus Freaks.” And one of my favorite stories is about Saint Maria of Paris.
- Mary Skobtsova (a.k.a. Saint Maria of Paris) made a rented house in Paris her “convent.” It was a place with open doors for people who were escaping from Nazi Germany and other refugees. It was also the center for service to the poor and needy, and theological discussion. In Saint Maria’s eyes theology and service went hand in hand.
After the fall of France in 1940, many Jews came asking to receive baptismal certificates, but she and Fr. Dimitri Klepinin were eventually caught and arrested by the Gestapo. She was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. On Holy Saturday, 1945, she failed a selection and was sent to the gas chamber to die.
One of her last prayers was, “Lord, I am your messenger. Throw me like a blazing torch into the night.” That’s the kind of determination we need if we’re going to lights in the world.
I realize that it hasn’t been very long this morning, but I feel like we’ve been equipped. We’ve been fed by Jesus at His table, and we have read God’s Word. We’re ready to face the world until we meet again next week.
I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to sing one more hymn.
Heavenly Father, You are so kind to us. We are cracked earthen vessels and you fill us treasure from Your storehouse and then you tells us to out and pour into other earthen vessels the gift You’ve freely given to us. We ask You to make pliable before You so that You can use us to bring life to others and bring glory to Your name. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
 Bruce, F. F. New Century Bible Commentary. Wm B Eerdmans, 1980.
 The IVP New Testament Commentary. InterVarsity Press, 1994.
 Heaven misplaced: Christ’s kingdom on earth Douglas Wilson – Canon Press – 2011
 “Ohio’s First Abortion Company Closing Columbus Facility After Long Sordid History – Standard Newswire.” Was Dorothy Day a ‘Dissenting Catholic?’ – Standard Newswire, standardnewswire.com/news/95261