Studies in Second Corinthians
The Paradox Of The Gospel Ministry
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. (We are) hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; (we are) perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:7-12).
In the Old Testament God whittled the army of Gideon down from 33,000 to 300 men. The reason God did this is so that Israel would not boast of itself or in its military might. This battle belonged to the Lord. In chapter one the apostle Paul spoke of Jesus and the cross as foolishness and a stumbling block. Paul also spoke of those whom God called to be His own: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Cor. 1:27-29).
Jars Of Clay
The paradox of the Gospel ministry is that this glorious treasure of the Gospel is contained in jars of clay. The contrast between the gospel of Christ and the person of those who preach Christ could not be any more emphatic. One reason that God chose us to serve as ministers of the Gospel is so that the emphasis would always be on Christ and the power of God.
God chose real sinners with real weaknesses to be ambassadors for Christ. The lowliness of the Gospel ministry is obvious. In an age which stresses style over substance and equates numbers and growth with success, our ministry stands out as one of lowliness and humbleness.
As believers and a church body we are jars of clay. The box that contains the diamond is unimportant. Often treasures were kept in the most common of carriers (clay pots) so that thieves would not be alerted to the real value of the treasure. You are a fragile container for the treasure of the Gospel. Every true Christian should be acutely aware of his personal sinfulness and unworthiness. The believer stands in his personal corner and without lifting up his eyes cries out, “Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner.” Every child of God confesses his personal sinfulness and his sins of commission and omission to God. God has chosen forgiven sinners to proclaim the forgiveness of sins. Only a forgiven sinner could convey the joy of the gospel in word and in his personal life.
Every pastor because of his human weakness and fragileness is a jar of clay. Sometimes our own perceived inabilities cause us to despair and wonder. A young pastor is at first surprised when in marriage counseling, people do not seem to do what he clearly tells them to do. Membership losses within a congregation can cause a period of painful self-examination. I am convinced that when things are going well within a congregation, a pastor gets too much credit; and when things go badly, a pastor receives a disproportionate share of the blame. Each of us needs to recognize our own areas of weakness, whether it is in preaching clearly or whether it is a difficulty in getting along with people. Some of us have physical weaknesses that cause us problems in the ministry.
Glory In The Lord
Paul describes the jar of clay that is our ministry: we are hard pressed on every side, crushed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. All of this is so that the attention of lost sinners is not directed toward us but is always centered on Jesus Christ. It would be a depressing contradiction to center people’s attention on our religious experience and life, as the evangelical movement does. The Lutheran pastor is not a super-star that attracts people to the gospel. All of this is for the purposes of showing that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We add nothing to the power of the gospel. If anyone in the ministry glories, let him glory in the Lord.
Our ministry and its weakness constantly focus the attention of the people on Jesus and the power of His cross. It is a blessed comfort to realize that whatever good is accomplished in our ministry is accomplished by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This needs to be realized by every pastor and then communicated to those who hear the message we proclaim. The message of the gospel is more important that the person of the messenger.
We need to emphasize the preaching of Christ and His cross in our ministry. The paradox of the Gospel is that God has given us this glorious treasure of forgiveness and life in jars of clay. Therefore we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
“We have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our suffciency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:4-5).
Preserve this ministry
While harvest-days are keeping;
And since the fields are white
And hands are few for reaping,
Send workers forth, O Lord,
The sheaves to gather in
That not a soul be lost
Which Thou art come to win.
— Pastor John Schierenbeck