By Thomas Brown on Jul 27, 2017
"He has not chosen the strong, but the weak. He has not recruited the mighty, but the frail. He has not selected those who think themselves capable and worthy, but those who know themselves deficient and disqualified apart from his cleansing, preserving, and empowering grace."
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
–2 Corinthians 4:5-7
As I have reflected over the teaching of 2 Corinthians 4:7, I have often marveled at God’s peculiar design for the fulfillment of his ministry. He has not chosen the strong, but the weak. He has not recruited the mighty, but the frail. He has not selected those who think themselves capable and worthy, but those who know themselves deficient and disqualified apart from his cleansing, preserving, and empowering grace. The marvel is this: the priceless treasure of the Gospel has been entrusted to simple, lowly, and undeserving men; and the perpetual weakness of his ministers is intentionally designed to reveal to all that the surpassing power belongs to God alone.
In our present days of seeker-sensitive ideals and the unrestrained incorporation of all forms of business practice and secular leadership strategies into the life of the Church, these fundamental truths regarding the ministry of the gospel are essential for us to remember. And even though we are barely scratching the surface of this important subject, I want to offer three loving observations from 2 Corinthians 4:7 which I hope serve to challenge and encourage your heart as you continue to strive after faithfulness in the service of Christ.
1. The gospel is priceless.
“But we have this treasure…”
Too often we are caught up in the competitive rivalry of seeking to be the most popular preacher or to build the biggest church or to have the most entertaining service, and all the while the priceless treasure of the gospel becomes skewed and contorted by our own ambitions. Sometimes it even becomes outright neglected and hidden from view, being replaced by the latest trend or the next big idea our church is going to undertake. Instead of calling the eyes of the world around us to behold the glory of God which has been revealed "in the face of Jesus Christ," we spend our time polishing our jars and the various shelves they sit on–touting our own ideas, philosophies, advice, and achievements–as if we are the central focus. We end up distorting the message of God as it is clearly laid out in the Scriptures and instead adapt it to whatever our human reason and cultural savvy deem most probable to achieve popular appeal.
Brothers, the gospel is priceless. The gospel is the treasure. It is the precious message of God’s grace that deserves center-stage in everything that we do. It is the saving work of Christ that should be paramountly displayed through the ministries of his people. Whatever you do, point the people to Jesus, not yourself. He alone offers life to the sinner and knows how to shepherd our eternal soul. The fact is, apart from him, we’re just an empty jar with nothing to give.
2. We are supposed to be weak.
“in jars of clay…”
When we pretend to be better than we know in our soul we actually are and encourage others around us to think of us as some kind of hero because of the gifts and roles the Lord has granted (i.e. Senior Pastor, Elder, etc.), we strive against God’s design for the ministry of his gospel. When we attempt to project a persona of arrival and superiority because of our position, education, or eloquence, we strive against his will that we be known as we truly are, perpetually dependent and weak, like jars of clay.
Brothers, we are supposed to be weak. The shortfalls of our giftedness, maturity, and wisdom, (which are inevitably revealed along the path of faithful effort in ministry), are not blemishes meant to be hidden behind a mask of pseudo-perfection and strength. When we promote the idea that we have it all together–that we can accomplish the work before us through our own expertise and cunning, and that the success of the ministry is somehow related to our exceptional giftedness–we draw attention to ourselves and rob God of the glory he alone deserves.
I know what you are probably thinking, “I don’t do that. I would never say those kinds of things.” But I ask you, are you at least willing to be honest that these self-centered and self-exalting thoughts at times exist in your heart? Maybe you haven’t gone off the deep-end yet, maybe you haven’t crafted a church body that centers around your personality and gifts, but every fallen heart struggles with the deceitful lure of seeking our own fame over-against the fame of the God who created and sustains our soul. Even if you would never say these kinds of things out loud, each of our actions speak with great volume as to who we are really aiming to glorify. I don’t think there is a pastor alive who doesn’t need to give regular contemplation to this struggle and repent at some point on this issue.
Remember, the seeds you plant in the garden may indeed begin small, but they will grow and manifest themselves eventually. So I encourage you, be content in God’s sovereign design of weakness. Be content to carry the treasure of the gospel in an ordinary jar of clay. Our inadequacy and dependency is part of the proclamation we are privileged to make. Uproot the wicked thoughts of being sufficient in yourself. Let your frailty in the ministry of the gospel shout to the world of the matchless mercy, glory, and power of God.
3. The power belongs to God.
“…to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
Do you ever find yourself overly stressed if the service doesn’t flow just right? Are you bothered when a team member drops the ball or a volunteer studders in the announcements and suddenly what would have been a streamlined Sunday gathering becomes a bit choppy, awkward or flat? Are you afraid people won’t come back to your church if your coffee table runs dry, or if the band misses a few notes? Are you afraid to share the whole counsel of God because you don’t want to offend the people?
We fear these things, (and many others like them), because deep down we still think that the power belongs to us. We think the success of our calling in ministry is based on our own giftedness, our eloquence, our smooth event planning, our relational savvy, our exceptional leadership strategies, our shmoozing of the wealthy in our midst… you name it. Even though in our theology we would passionately uphold the truth that the ministry of the gospel is a ministry of God’s power through his Word and Spirit, we then go and live as though the power depends on us.
Brothers, the power belongs to God, not to us. Throughout the ages, our Savior has delighted to use ordinary and unschooled men, men of low station, men of poor speech, men who are timid and afraid, men who run at the first sign of trouble… He has delighted to use the foolish to confound the wise, the weak to overtake the strong, the simple to reveal the infinite wisdom of his eternal purpose now realized in Christ. He who upholds the Universe by the Word of his power is not waiting for you and me to lend him a hand. He who governs the stars and sustains every beating heart is not in any way depending on our gifts, effort, or skills. No. The power belongs solely to him; it always has and it always will.
Our place is merely to be vessels for his use, jars carrying his treasure, hands and feet expressing his mind and heart to the world. We ourselves are quite frail and ordinary, we have no great power or wisdom of our own. But what we carry is priceless, and our Lord has designed that we should carry it unto every corner of this world in a weakness that displays his strength. This is so that it may be clearly seen by every watching eye that all power, all glory, all dominion, all majesty, all fame and honor, and praise belongs only to One: The King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, our Savior Jesus Christ.
As ministers of God’s gospel, we are called to walk humbly by faith in everything that we do. So I urge you as a fellow servant, (1) keep the gospel first, (2) point others to Christ, and (3) rely wholly upon the Lord. His strength will never fail.
Below is a short poem I scribbled on a napkin some years ago, as I was sitting in a coffee shop studying the Bible. While it is very simple in form, it has nevertheless been meaningful to my journey. I hope it encourages you as well.
Jars of Clay
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” -2 Corinthians 4:7
We are but jars of clay,
Quite plain and quite dull;
Yet filled with priceless treasure
Who’s worth surpasses all.
We are but jars of clay,
Inconsequential and meek,
Yet called as heralds of salvation
to all the hungry who seek.
We are but jars of clay,
Wholly weak and frail;
Yet upheld by the hands of the Potter,
In his strength, we will prevail.