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Summary: God had entrusted to Paul and his fellow evangelists this treasure of great worth—the gospel of Christ—but why would He do this? Because He delights in empowering the weak in order to confound the strong.

May 15, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

Lesson II.B.4: The Suffering in His Ministry. (4:7-12)

2nd Corinthians 4:7-12 (NKJV)

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 alway 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.

Commentary

7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

The light of the knowledge of the glory of God was a “treasure.” It was an infinitely precious thing Paul had been given to pass on through his life and his message. The light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the living Lord, has led Paul not only into the Christian life, but also into unselfish ministry for the Corinthians and others. But the credit for this does not belong to Paul. Perhaps the apostle wanted to crush any temptation on his part for personal pride, and especially to keep his readers from misunderstanding, he confesses that “we have this treasure” of the glorious gospel in “earthen vessels,” a figure of speech perhaps suggested by Genesis 2:7{14], and used to show how humble, fragile, temporary, and weak mortal bodies are.

God had entrusted to Paul and his fellow evangelists this treasure of great worth—the gospel of Christ—but why would He do this? Because He delights in empowering the weak in order to confound the strong. The Lord loves to answer the prayers of the needy and bring down those who take pride in themselves (Luke 1:51-55{8]). God works through the weak and powerless so that it is clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from people (1 Co. 2:3-4{9]). The supremely valuable message of salvation in Jesus Christ has been entrusted by God to frail and fallible human beings (“clay jars”). Paul’s focus, however, was not on the perishable container but on the priceless contents—God’s powerful presence indwelling His people. Though His people are weak, God uses them to spread His Good News, and He gives them the power to do His work. Knowing that the power is His should keep believers from pride and motivate them to keep daily contact with God, their power source. Believer’s responsibility is to let people see God through their lives.

The image of “earthen vessels” takes us back to an incident in the life of Gideon. In Judges 7 we learn that Gideon took only three hundred men with him to free their land from a multitude of Midianite invaders. Each man had a trumpet, and a torch and a pitcher or an “earthen vessel.” They carried their torches in the earthen vessels so that the light couldn’t be seen from a distance. Then when they got among the Midianites, they broke the earthen vessels. It wasn’t until the earthen vessel was broken that the light could shine out.

My friend, that is the thing which we need today. We need the vessel to be broken. The apostle Paul was a man who knew what it was to suffer for Jesus’ sake. That vessel had to be broken. The trouble to day is that we don’t have very many who are willing to do that. I am saying that the earthen vessel must be broken. We cannot have our way and His way in our lives. We need to make up our minds whether we are going to follow Him or not.

This and the verses which follow contain a frank acknowledgment of his weakness. Paul’s physical disabilities were obvious to all. They had been flung in his teeth by his Judaizing opponents, with the probable suggestion that they were clear marks of God’s contempt. His bodily presence was “weak and his speech was of no account” (2 Co. 10:10). He was subject to a recurrent malady, “a thorn in the flesh” (12:7)—which disturbed him, and which remained despite his earnest prayer that it would be removed. A second-century letter gives this picture of the great apostle: “A man of moderate stature, with curly [or crisp] hair and scanty; crooked legs, with blue eyes; and large knit eyebrows; long nose; and he was full of the grace and pity of the Lord, sometimes having the appearance of a man, but sometimes looking like an angel.” From what we know of his life, it is obvious that no man, however physically strong he might be, could have come through all he had suffered without their health breaking down. Paul lists many of the trials he faced in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28: “I am. . . in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” It is an impressive list, and added to it was the mental anxiety due to his concern for the welfare of the churches he has founded. He must have been a tough individual to endure such trials and still faithfully carry on his mission. As Paul wrote this he may have been thinking of his recent narrow escape from deadly peril in Asia (1:8{1]); but 10:10 and 12:7 show that more than one experience had made the point clear to him.

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