What is it that keeps us going? What drives the Christian to keep at the work in front of them? After all, there are times it just does not go well. Of course, those of us peacefully reading this on our home computers probably haven’t had it go as bad as Paul did at various times.
Yet he speaks in 2 Corinthians 4:1 of not losing heart—because of the ministry he had been given. His opportunities to bring other people to Jesus kept him going in the work. Specifically, he cites the fruit of his work among the Corinthians and the methods he used there. His preaching and ministry was done clearly, without compromise.
He then expresses just how challenging the ministry can be: struck down, afflicted, persecuted. But these are not final or fatal for the work. And it is the work of spreading the Gospel that Paul speaks of here, and that he commends to the Corinthians. This is the purpose of his ministry, and of what the Corinthians should be celebrating and focusing on: the treasure of the Gospel.
That it is found in an earthen vessel, v. 7, does not negate the value of the treasure. Rather, it highlights the treasure over the container.
If we take 2 Corinthians 4:5 as our focus, let’s look at what Paul is saying. First of all, as the bringer of the Gospel to Corinth, Paul had a right to be considered highly by the Corinthians. The traditions of the time entitled him to claim superiority as their teacher and leader, but instead he speaks of himself as a bond-servant, or slave, of the people. The Gospel reverses our priorities, from ourselves on to others.
Second, we see Paul exalt Jesus over himself. He is not interested in the Corinthians praising him, but only in praising Christ. There is no room in Paul’s life for two masters, and he wants no room in the Corinthians’ life for 2 masters, either. Paul only reminds them of who he is, and what he should mean to them, for the purpose of pointing them more plainly to Jesus.
Today, I need this in practice: I am not the Lord of the Church. Jesus is. My responsibility and joy is to proclaim Him as the Master, and to remember that I am here to serve His Church, His work. Not my own.
On that vein, the church exists to serve one another for the same purpose. And the treasure we have of the Gospel should be focused on exalting Jesus before the lost. If you look at the rest of the chapter, there is much to be said about light shining in darkness and dealing with those who are blinded to the truth.
And the purpose is for us to proclaim the truth, to light the way for them. The earthen vessels that store such a treasure as the Gospel, weak though these vessels are, should be used only for that high purpose.
This chapter gives us music! The band Jars of Clay got their name here, and then the chorus of “Trading My Sorrows” comes from here as well.
Notice also how Paul contrasts verbs in vv. 8-9, where he uses softer terms for what has happened to him, and then the harsher terms for what could have happened.