II Corinthians is an interesting letter by Paul. It does not flow as smoothly as most of his other epistles, and we see a very emotional side of Paul throughout the book, particularly in chapter 2. He continually returns to the concepts of glory, of mercy, and of his own efforts as a minister in Christ. He spends much of the book defending his efforts, his motives, and his authority. In II Corinthians 2:17, he reminds his audience of his sincerity in teaching them.
We can see many discouraging things in Paul’s letter – opposition from the world, our family, and even brethren, those who would seek profit from Christianity, those who would challenge him at every turn. In chapter 4:1, however, Paul asserts he will not lose hope in his ministry from God. He contrasts himself with those who would tamper with, dilute, or peddle God’s word. He sees opposition all around, but he remains sincere.
When we dilute God’s word, we dim the glory of God. As Paul, we should so internalize the glory and joy of God’s word that we feel a personal attachment to it. Think of Paul’s use of “our gospel” and “my gospel,” not claiming ownership but demonstrating the personal attachment he has to that word.
Paul writes about the god of this world, in verse 4, blinding us to God’s word and crowding it out of our lives. The sins of this world, our physical desires and pursuits, can appear less bad than they are on the surface. Sin can look brighter than it really is, and this leads us to being blinded by that false light. Paul reminds us, though, in verse 6, that God’s light can bring us from that blindness.
Then, in verse 7, Paul refers to a treasure stored in jars of clay. In contrast to those Pharisees of Matthew 23, who Jesus described as being whitewashed tombs filled with death and bones, Paul says we may be clay pots, but the gospel stored within us is priceless treasure. We may be imperfect and fragile as those earthen vessels, but what is contained in our hearts is beyond value.
In verse 8-9 he speaks in generalities about the persecution that comes from carrying that treasure within him, but II Corinthians 6:4-10 and 11:23-33 go into more specific details. Any of us might lose heart at those obstacles, but Paul does not. Instead in II Corinthians 4:11, Paul says he endures so Jesus may be seen in him. Once, the Word became flesh and dwelt among man. Now, others should see Him in us by the way we reflect his glory in our lives.
In verse 13, Paul quotes from Psalm 116:10 about believing and speaking God’s word, about maintaining hope among discouragement and trials. He reassures them of the hope of resurrection, reminding them the more they reflect the treasure of Christ’s gospel, the more souls that will turn to Christ, the more God will be glorified in our earthen vessels.
Do Not Lose Heart
As in chapter 4:1, Paul repeats the refrain, “We do not lose heart,” in verse 16. Here, he puts his trials, his afflictions, his humiliations, and his pain in perspective to the treasure of eternity. Eternal life is his goal, so he does not lose heart. We have a lot to put up with, as did Paul in his life, and we may feel as fragile and ugly as jars of clay at times. We have a treasure, though, beyond value if our faith and hope are in the resurrection of Christ.
lesson by Tim Smelser