Summary: The gospel we have to share is a message of both warning and of great hope. It’s a message that proclaims Jesus Christ, the promise of Glory.
There’s a paradox here. The message we proclaim as Christians is a glorious message. It’s a message that shines like a bright light in the darkness. It’s a message that Paul describes in Romans 1 as the power of God for salvation. Yet the means by which this message is presented is so often compromised, weak, flawed. As the bumper sticker says, ’Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.’ In fact we’re often far from perfect. Even those who are the leaders of the church, even those who are most vocal in proclaiming the values of the gospel, let us down. Isn’t it sad that the mess the church is in at the moment with child sex abuse cases has come about largely through men who started out wanting to share the gospel with those same children. We’re greatly saddened by each new case as it’s revealed. But we probably shouldn’t be so surprised by it. You see the explanation, if that’s what it is, is here in this passage today. We have this treasure in jars of clay. God, in his graciousness, chooses to use weak human beings to tell the world about Christ and sometimes they let us down.
But it’s worse than that. Not only do we see the bearers of the message letting us down; not only do we ourselves feel inadequate to the task; but we’re immersed in a culture that tells us the Christian message is irrelevant. It may be the idea that Christianity has been outmoded by science and technology, or the new sciences of psychology and sociology, or it could be the arbiters of political correctness telling us that in this multicultural, multi-faith world we have no right to tell others what we believe to be true. And so we feel like we should keep quiet, not tell others the truth about Christ and about their future prospects with God.
But here’s the question: When we see our leaders acting as sinful human beings, or just as frail human beings, do we lose heart? Do we equate their weakness with God and the gospel? When we hear people suggesting that Christianity is irrelevant, that it has no place in the modern world do we keep quiet?
The Glory and Power of the Gospel
Well, no! Because the gospel presents the glory of God in the face of Christ. The gospel is the power of God for salvation. Every time someone comes to know Christ as Lord and saviour it results in thanksgiving, to the glory of God. In fact, as we discover, as we read through this passage, it’s our very weakness as messengers that shows the power and the glory of God.
But we need to begin at the end of last week’s passage, at 3:18: "And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." The result of coming to know Jesus Christ as our Lord is that the Spirit enters our lives and begins to change us. As sinful as we may be to begin with, he begins the difficult task of remaking us in God’s image. And as far from completion as that task may be, we do get glimpses of what the finished product will be like, from time to time. And that’s particularly true when we look at other people. I think we probably find it harder to see this in ourselves, because we’re so conscious of our own failings. But as we look around at others we see the way the Spirit is changing them.
And so, he says, we don’t lose heart. In fact, every time we see someone come to faith or growing in their faith we’re encouraged to keep on going, to persevere in the proclamation of the gospel, in the growing of disciples of Christ.
The Plain Truth of the Gospel
But also it encourages us to see that even we weak human beings can be used by God, that we don’t need to use underhand ways, deception, manipulation, to get the message across.
There’s no doubt that psychologists and sociologists have made some impressive advances in understanding human behaviour over the past 100 years. Of course the advertising and media industries have taken great advantage of this new found knowledge. So advertising campaigns are specifically targeted for a particular audience. Sample surveys are done to see how effective the campaign is and changes are made accordingly.
Political parties employ image consultants to modify the way their politicians present to the media. If you ever watched something like ’The West Wing’ you’ll have seen the way press releases are doctored to put the right spin on current events.