“Treasure in Clay Jars”
Lesson Text: 2 Corinthians 4:1-15
Background Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:1-15
Devotional Reading: Jude 17-25
2 Corinthians 4:1-15 (KJV)
1 Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not;
2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.
6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
11 For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.
12 So then death worketh in us, but life in you.
13 We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak;
14 Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.
15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.
To teach that genuine proclamation of the gospel exalts Christ and not the messenger.
To show that the believer should reflect the message of the risen Christ, serve others and glorify God.
To daily reflect the gospel message, be committed to proclaim it in service to Christ, and ready to endure hardships so that God’s grace can reach others.
Can you tell the difference between an authentic product and an imitation? Although many imitations are sold with full disclosure to that effect, some very expensive “designer” brands of clothes, handbags, and watches are often imitated by dishonest manufacturers that use cheaper materials and processes. Then disreputable merchants sell these imitations as if they were authentic, but for much less money. In popular terms, the counterfeits are called knockoffs.
Most things that people value can be imitated with cheap, unsatisfying knockoffs. The message of God is one of those. Knockoff versions of Christianity pop up like weeds in the human landscape. Many people engage in bogus proclamations of cheap gospels that weakly imitate the real thing.
Of course, the true gospel is just that because it comes from God, and it depicts what actually happened. The gospel must be proclaimed by people whose lives reflect its truth, messengers whose lives have been changed by the gospel first. Only then can the real message have a real proclamation.
Time: A.D. 55
Place: from Macedonia
Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian church were, in part, responses to criticisms of his own ministry. Some (many?) in Corinth saw Paul as bold and powerful in his letters, but base and weak in person (2 Corinthians 10:1, 10). They preferred powerful, eloquent teachers (compare 11:6).
Paul responded to these criticisms, but he did more than just defend himself. He also explained the real nature of the gospel and what it means to follow Jesus. The power of the true gospel is not in the skill of the messenger, but in the message itself and in the messenger’s deep, personal commitment to the message.
That commitment will give the messenger a transformed character, one that reflects the message. That character reflects Christ’s lowliness in becoming human and giving His life. It reflects Christ’s loving persistence in enduring suffering for the sake of others. It reflects the honesty of those who know they stand before the all-knowing God.
The Light Brought by the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)
1. Why does the Apostle Paul address the need for honesty and integrity in ministry? (2 Corinthians 4:1-2)
Despite the distinction of Paul’s calling as an apostle of the new covenant, he never forgot about God’s “mercy” (4:1) that had reached out to him while he was persecuting the church (see Acts 8:3; 9:1; 22:4-5; 26:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:12-16). That said, the thought of the false teachers at Corinth and their charges against Paul was never far from the apostle’s mind. Perhaps the mention of his ministry caused the apostle to again defend himself against their baseless accusations. In contrast to them, he and his colleagues rejected underhanded and disgraceful methods to influence others. Moreover, they refused to be deceitful and to falsify God’s Word. Instead, they openly proclaimed the truth of the Gospel. In doing so, they gave others an opportunity to see and evaluate for themselves whether ministers such as Paul were characterized by honesty and virtue. Accordingly, if the believers in Corinth examined their conscience, they would realize that the apostle had declared to them the truth about the Savior. The Corinthians have more than Paul’s words as proof of his integrity. Paul had lived among them for many months (Acts 18:11). They had seen his life up close, for an extended period. They should be able to give their own testimony as to his honesty before God and people. Ultimately, Paul’s defense of his integrity was undertaken in the presence of God (2 Cor. 4:2).
2. What does Paul say about those who do not believe the gospel? (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
“Well,” Paul’s opponents might say, “if honest teaching is all that the gospel needs, why are there so many who do not believe?
Paul admitted that even though he and his colleagues openly stated the truth of the Gospel, it remained “hid” (4:3) to those who were headed to eternal destruction. This was a fitting outcome since, throughout their lives, they refused to put their faith in the Savior. Likewise, they renounced the truth that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross fulfilled the old covenant and inaugurated the new covenant.
Paul revealed that Satan, the evil “god” (v. 4) of this fallen world, had “blinded” the reasoning and comprehension of those who rejected the Good News. The devil’s purpose was to keep the unsaved in spiritual darkness and away from the light provided by the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. He alone was the perfect and complete “image of God” (see John 1:18; Col. 1:15). So, only He could renew and transform the minds of repentant sinners (see Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:I18; Eph. 4:23; Phil. 3:21; Col. 3:10; 1 John 3:2). Paul, in referring to Satan as the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), acknowledged that unbelievers had made the devil their deity. It is a blindness that they choose as they continue to follow a knockoff god, Satan, the great opponent (compare Ephesians 2:2). Resisting change, the unbeliever lets the devil have his way, and so the unbeliever becomes (or remains) blind to the truth. This remained the case regardless of whether they realized it.
When people reject the gospel, does that mean that the gospel is weak or that it has been wrongly presented? Not at all! It simply demonstrates the persistent power of the devil to tempt people to keep the blindness they choose to embrace. But the devil need not prevail in anyone’s life. The light of the gospel is clear, and Paul is proof that one can leave darkness and blindness for the light.
What Do You Think?
What approaches or techniques can we use to break through a person’s defenses so the gospel is not “hid” from him or her?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
- When the resistance is emotional in nature
- When the resistance is due to faulty thinking
3. As we proclaim the gospel, what should be the focus of the message? (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)
The awesome fact that Paul had received this ministry from Christ kept him also from being a self-promoter (2 Cor. 4:5-6). Unlike the false teachers in Corinth, Paul and his colleagues remained Christ centered in their preaching and sensitive to the pastoral needs of their audience in their evangelistic ministry. “We preach not ourselves!” (2 Cor. 4:5). Paul’s opponents enjoyed preaching about themselves and glorying in their achievements (2 Cor. 10:12-18). They were not servants who tried to help people; they were dictators who exploited people.
Paul was certainly a man who practiced genuine humility. He did not trust in himself (2 Cor. 1:9) or commend himself (2 Cor. 3:1-5) or preach himself (2 Cor. 4:5). He sought only to lead people to Jesus Christ and to build them up in the faith. It would have been easy for Paul to build a “fan club” for himself and take advantage of weak people who thrive on associating with great men. His opponents operated in that way, but Paul rejected that kind of ministry.
What happens when you share Jesus Christ with lost sinners? The light begins to shine! Paul compared conversion to Creation as described in Genesis 1:3. Like the earth of Genesis 1:2, the lost sinner is formless and empty; but when he trusts Christ, he becomes a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). God then begins to form and fill the life of the person who trusts Christ, and he begins to be fruitful for the Lord. God’s, “Let there be light!” makes everything new.
The Savior’s Life Manifested in Believers (2 Corinthians 4:7-15)
4. How does Paul use the imagery of “earthen vessels” (clay jars) to describe the gospel, as well as the messengers who proclaim it? (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)
Paul wanted to make it clear that the power of the Gospel is not diminished by the human frailties of those who preach it. This explains why he called a “treasure” (2 Cor. 4:7) the spiritual truth that he and others proclaimed. The apostle said that this treasure was kept in fragile “earthen vessels” (clay pots). The latter was a reference to himself and other messengers of the Gospel. The truth of salvation had entered the hearts of Jesus’ messengers, who, despite obstacles and adverse circumstances, continued to preach and live out the Good News of salvation. To the apostle it was amazing what God was able to do through His feeble servants. Paul’s weaknesses made him all the more aware of God’s extraordinary power working through him. In fact, his frailty proved to him that the results of his ministry were from God and not from himself.
In the first century A.D., it was common for people to hide their treasures in cheap pottery. Because of their plainness and commonness, these earthenware containers did not attract attention to themselves, and so neither did they attract attention to the wealth concealed within them. By referring to himself and other messengers of the Gospel as “earthen vessels” Paul was pointing out how unworthy they were to serve as representatives of God’s truth. What was important to the apostle was not the body of the messenger, but the priceless treasure housed within the messenger’s heart. So, Paul was not disparaging the human body, but was contrasting the surpassing value of the Gospel with the relative frailness of its vessels.
Paul used several illustrations to show how the Lord had delivered His bondservant out of desperate situations. The apostle’s language suggests that many of these conditions were still current at the time of writing. When hostile forces pressed in on Paul from all sides, they were never able to pulverize him. Instead, God always provided a way for the apostle to escape. There were times when he felt baffled and did not know which way to turn. Yet the Lord never left Paul feeling hopeless (v. 8). He also knew what it felt like to be hounded by his enemies. But even in those times, God did not forsake His bondservant or let his foes have their way with him. Indeed, God never deserted him (v. 9).
What Do You Think?
What one thing most keeps you going for Christ in your darkest hours? Does your answer change as the years pass? Why?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
A promise of God | An example of a Bible character
An example of someone in church history | Strength from fellow Christians | Other
5. How should believers conform to the pattern of Jesus’ life? (2 Corinthians 4:10-12)
Paul expresses the foundational paradox directly. Jesus is Lord, the author of life. Yet Jesus surrendered to death. But thereby He rose from the dead and granted resurrection life to us. Despite the suffering Paul endured, he said the life of the Son was manifested in his own life (4:10). Just as the apostle felt Jesus’ sufferings to be a part of his own (see Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 1:5; Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:24), Paul also felt the Savior’s resurrection power in his many escapes from death. The experiences of dying and living occurred simultaneously in the life of the apostle as God transformed his ordeals.
Paul’s credentials for the ministry consisted of the manifestation of Jesus’ life and power in the midst of the apostle’s afflictions (2 Cor. 4: 11). The benefit Paul saw for his readers in all his adversities is a theme that occurs many times in 2 Corinthians. The life of the Son that manifested itself in the midst of His dying was also a source of life for Paul’s converts (v. 12). The deeper the apostle’s experiences of suffering, the more Jesus’ life was able to show itself in Paul’s ministry. One of the ways the apostle endured in his work was by thinking about how everything that happened to him in some way furthered the proclamation of the Gospel. Now we are to live the same way, experiencing all the world’s troubles while showing Christ-given life as we endure and overcome.
What Do You Think?
What words of testimony do you speak because of what you believe?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding God’s protection | Regarding God’s comfort
Regarding hope sustained | Regarding victories observed
6. What confidence does the Apostle Paul express regarding the resurrection of Jesus? (2 Corinthians 4:13-15)
Despite all the suffering Paul endured as an apostle, his faith remained strong. In fact, because of his travails, he actually felt more compelled to speak about his belief in the resurrected Lord. Paul, like the psalmist, could not be silent about his undaunted hope in God (see Psalm 116:8-10). However, the apostle’s hope went beyond deliverance from temporal dangers. He knew that after he had finally faced death, the Lord would certainly raise him and all other believers from the dead (2 Cor. 4:14). Just as the Father had resurrected the Son (see Acts 2:24), the Father will also resurrect all those who believe in His Son (see Rom. 8: 11; 1 Cor. 15:20). Paul’s phrase “by Jesus” does not refer to a resurrection occurring simultaneously with that of the Savior, but to the fact that our new life will result from our spiritual union with Him.
Paul was assured that that glorious event would someday arrive, and he never stopped longing for it. Of course, his thankfulness and praise for that hope were directed toward the Savior. His death and resurrection had made it possible for Paul, his converts, and all other believers throughout the ages to stand face-to-face with the Lord. For this reason, the apostle could endure so much on behalf of the believers in Corinth and put so much energy into building them up in their faith (v. 15). Paul knew that their steadfastness in the faith would ultimately bring glory to God both during their lifetime on earth and when they stood together before the Lord. So, Paul confidently looked forward to the day when he and the believers in the faith were finally in the presence of their Savior.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. God has entrusted His people with a ministry. The way you look at your ministry helps to determine how you will fulfill it. If you look on serving Christ as a burden instead of a privilege, you will be a drudge and do only what is required of you. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)
2. The important thing about a vessel is that it be clean, empty, and available for service. Each of us must seek to become “a vessel unto honor, sanctified [set apart], and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). We are vessels so that God might use us. We are earthen vessels so that we might depend on God’s power and not our own. (2 Cor. 4:7)
3. Sometimes God permits our vessels to be jarred so that some of the treasure will spill out and enrich others. Suffering reveals not only the weakness of man but also the glory of God. (2 Cor. 4:8-15)
Hardship with Hope
The authentic life of a Christ-follower is a lowly life of honest, persistent service. By living for and sharing the gospel, Christians experience hardship but ultimately share the eternal life of God as well. Is there a better, more meaningful life that one can live?
Gracious God and heavenly Father, You have bought us at great cost: the life of Your Son. We give You our lives to be conformed to His image. Focus our goals and dreams on Your purposes. Make us Your earthen vessels R-NIV jars of clay and fill us with Your treasure, in the name of Jesus, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Hardship for Christ is worth it!