The Corinthian Correspondence, Part 39; 2 Corinthians 4:5-18; "Eternal Light in Temporary Vessels"
The Corinthian Correspondence • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 50:07
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The Corinthian Correspondence, Part 39 2 Corinthians 4.5-18 "Eternal Light in Temporal Vessels" Throughout this message today I want us to focus in on the heart of this passage, which is the treasure the Lord put in us if we are in the family of God through faith in Christ and repentance of sin-we who are "jars of clay." And this story brackets the point. The beautiful Sapsorrow, living life incognito as Scraggletag. Exquisite on the inside. And let's just say a little less than exquisite on the outside. But first, let me remind us of where we are in Paul's story. The Lord used him to plant a church in the most wicked of cities in all of the Roman Empire. From the get-go, there were massive problems. Problems of disunity. Of immorality. Of church disorder in the worship. Even a denial of certain central truths, like the resurrection. Paul left Corinth after laboring there about a year and a half, to continue planting churches in other parts of the Empire. Then he caught wind of some false, and in his words, satanically motivated workers who were trying to steal away the hearts and minds of his beloved, but troubled Corinthian believers. So, there was a little competition there in the church. Who would win out? Who would the Corinthians follow? The false teachers? Or Paul? And throughout this letter the true apostle lays out his case for why the Corinthians need to follow the truth as proclaimed by Paul and not that of the false teachers. Paul reminds them - and us - that the gospel he gave was and is a living relationship with the Living God. It is the New Covenant. Not mere religion. The New Covenant gives the worshiper open access to the God of the universe. The veil that separates sinners from Holy God is taken away in Christ. And that is just the beginning! Not only are we able to behold the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, by the Spirit of the Living God! The New Covenant includes complete forgiveness of our sin, abominations, transgressions, iniquities. The Lord by his Spirit writes his ways on our hearts. He so completely transforms us that we want to serve the Lord the rest of our days. And once a person experiences THAT kind of reality, the eyes of their hearts open. And they are changed, literally forever. This was Paul's heart. In his B.C. days, he a God fearing, law abiding Jew. He thought he was right with the Lord. Paul lived his life absolutely committed to his religious beliefs. Until the Lord encountered him on the Damascus road. And the glorified Christ said, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Saul asked him 2 questions: "Who are you Lord?" "What would you have me to do?" And Saul, who became known later as Paul was never the same. He never turned back to his old ways. Even as he told the Corinthians later on in this very letter, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away-it is dead-behold the new-as in new, eternal life-has come." As we get going in God's word this morning, let's make sure that we have encountered the Lord Jesus. Let's make sure that our walk with the Lord is a thing of life, not mere religion. Let's make sure that we serve him because we love him, because he loved us first. As we remember a couple of weeks ago Paul reminded us of the reality of the spiritual battle. And last week, we talked about one area of the battle-abortion and all that goes with it. I trust that you are continuing to pray regarding this scourge in our country, which is only going to get worse. But at this point anyway, we are not like China and other countries, where the government tells us how many children to have in our family. We still have a choice for the time being. Let's pray toward the end and work in the field of souls, on the battlefield of life to where every mother and father say yes to the little person in the womb and commits themselves to bring him or her into the world. Every person who emerges from the womb is a potential worshiper of God. And isn't that true today? Every person we encounter either is, or can become a true worshiper of God. But the only ones who are true worshipers of the True and Living God are those who come through Christ. Did he not say, "No one comes to the Father-God the Father, First Member of the Blessed Trinity-except through me"? And again this was Paul's ministry heartbeat. He was so profoundly changed; he gave his life to proclaim the gospel and to help others become more like Jesus. Today, in our passage, 2 Corinthians 4.5-18, we are going to see the lengths Paul and his friends went through to give the gospel, as he will tell us in in vv.5-7. In vv.8-15 we will see how Paul handles the fallout of his absolute passion to present the gospel of Christ. Because as Paul discovered, as does every true Christian then and now, proclaiming the gospel is really life and death. It's a thing of life. But because of sin and rebellion, the gospel that gives eternal life is something the vast majority of people on the planet oppose with every fiber of their being. How great is the opposition? We will catch just a glimpse of that today. Finally in vv.16-18, Paul reminds the Corinthians of his eternal perspective. Because his hope was in Christ, he was able to say with conviction "this life is not all there is." He was also able to face the reality that living in this life is not easy, even in the best of times, let alone the suffering that comes along with the opposition because of his absolute commitment to follow Jesus. For Paul, following Jesus was his life. Nothing else mattered. Paul tasted of the good things of the life to come. And that spoiled everything and anything this world had to offer. Paul was waiting for heaven. But he served the Lord with all he had and was while he waited to get to the other side. So, let's take a look at 2 Corinthians 4.5-7: 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. The first thing Paul tells us here is his position toward the Corinthians as a true apostle. He is not trying to amass a following. He was not trying to make a name for himself-as the false teachers were trying to do. What did Paul say? We are servants. Of God? It is true that they were servants of God. But not in this verse. They were servants of the Corinthians. They were those who spiritually took out the trash. Washed their feet. Cared for them without a thank you. He was so committed to serving them that he preached the gospel for free. He even went around to other churches, asking them for support-just so he would not be a burden on the Corinthians. And his servant attitude toward them was a badge of honor for Paul. And for the sophisticated, self-made put together people in Corinth, and the false teachers, that was such a despised thing. Paul was willing do the most menial of things, just to gain a hearing. But remember his conviction. He was absolutely certain that the true gospel would not be accepted. For both Jews and gentiles "Jesus Christ and him crucified" was a message to be avoided at all costs. Paul's attitude was that if anybody would come to Christ it would be because of the power of God. He would not change his message. And neither would he use clever means to soften it. No, because Paul was so taken up with the servanthood of Jesus, he discovered that was how to gain a hearing for the gospel. And for us as well. Some call it servanthood evangelism. Relationship evangelism. Evangelism by servanthood. One thing we all know. The human heart has not changed. Naturally, we are all, by nature, servant averse. We really don't want to serve others. Now we might be saying, "you don't know me. I love to serve others." Yes, that is true-in our own way. When we can call the shots and choose how serve others, we are glad and willing to do so. But when an act of service requires something we are unwilling to part with, that is a bit more difficult. Some love to give money. But don't dare tell them they have to give a lot of time after work during the week. For others, they can give time, but don't ask them for money. Other say, "I can give you these things, but don't dare ask me to loan you my new vehicle." Ask me how I know about that! The point is very few of us give a blank check when it comes to servanthood. But Christ's ultimate act of servanthood consumed Paul. He was willing to do anything to be like Jesus. He said, "we are your servants"-to make you happy? No. "We are your servants"-so you will do what I want you to do, like come to church? No. Paul said, "We are your servants-for Jesus' sake." My challenge for all of us-have you given others a blank check to serve them for Jesus' sake? Christ gave Paul and his friends the light of life. And it profoundly affected him and them. Paul described it this way, "God has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of glory of God in face of Jesus Christ." And this light, this gospel, this profound eternal dynamic is what Paul called treasure. Indeed, the treasure of God, eternal light, the light of life, has been placed into the very center of the life of every true follower of Jesus. But how does Paul describe us? We are jars of clay. Human beings. It is very instructive for us to know how Adam got his name. Scripture refers to him as Adam. When God made him, he formed him form the dust of Adamah-the ground, for Adamah is Hebrew for ground. Hence, the reason Paul why refers to every true Christian as merely a jar of clay. Ordinary. Flesh and blood. Made from the Adamah-the ground. And it's just like the Lord to do this. Because there could not be any more of a contrast than eternal light and temporal jars of clay. The point Paul is making is simply: regardless of how great a person is on the human level, he or she is nothing more than a jar of clay. But those of us who have been born again, God has taken us and installed his eternal light-the very power of God. And what God does in these clay jars, is to show every other clay jar his almighty power to transform an ordinary man, ordinary woman, ordinary young person to reflect his divine image. No religion, no self-help project, no guru can come close. All are doomed to fail. It takes divine power to transform an ordinary life to that of Christlikness. And when a jar of clay without divine light gets close enough, he or she can see that light. The power of God is displayed. But where the power of God is present in one clay jar, there will be opposition-fallout from other clay jars and even the fallen world itself. Let's read vv.8-15 to see this. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. A little bit to unpack here. But notice first how real Paul is. The apostle is not a "big fish in a small pond", untouched by life's difficulties. His writings contain some of the most powerful things ever written by a human being. But Paul was not sequestered away in some ivory tower. Here are some realities of Paul's world. Affliction of every kind. He encounters being perplexed-not always knowing what to do in a given situation. Persecution-a given. Being struck down-his experience of being stoned and left for dead comes to mind here. How about getting the lash-the flagellum-not once, not twice but 5 times? Beaten with rods. And on and on. But in the reality of his pain, what does Paul say? Afflicted-not crushed. Perplexed-not in despair. Persecuted-not forsaken. Cast down-not destroyed. The fearlessness of this man! Nothing could stop him. No affliction, no persecution. But all of this reflected Paul's painful reality. We might ask, "how could God allow, or even cause, his choice servant to suffer so much?" Let's look at it this way. When a light is put inside a newly made clay jar, how many can see the light? And what does a person have to do to see it? Stand directly overhead. But what happens if that clay jar with the light in it has cracks in it? Or holes in it? How about big cracks? Gaping holes? How much of that light can be seen now? How many people can see it? And if there are enough cracks and holes in the jar, and the light is bright enough, what would capture the attention of the one seeing it? Would it be the jar? Or the light? The light of course. It might be, at first, the person seeing this jar might ask, "who or what is holding thing together?" "It's ugly. Beat up." "Worth less and less." But the light is worth everything-especially when one is in the dark. Think of the many huge cracks and gaping holes in the clay jar called Paul. Later on in this letter we will see how much he suffered. But Paul seemed to have a "Bring it on" mentality. Now, I don't think Paul was a masochist-one who loves pain. But for him, he resigned himself to this fact-when God works through a person, it will be opposed by others. Affliction, persecution and all the rest just comes with the territory. But for Paul, the greater the hardship, the brighter the light would shine from him! And that is all that mattered to him. What about your life and mine? In our world, we spend so much time avoiding any inconvenience, any discomfort that we find it almost impossible to conceive of the Lord allowing us to experience hardship. And we often conclude that if we have hardship, then it must not be of God. But Paul fully embraced it. Let's think for a moment of our past-for all of us has one. How many of us can remember the pain? And we spend so much time pushing it away. Pushing it down. Let me encourage all of us. Instead of pushing it away, let's embrace the painful memory. Let's allow it to be part of our story. Let's allow it to produce in us, as it were cracks and holes in our clay jar. As we do, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ will shine forth ever brighter. The truth is, if there are no cracks in our lives, very little of God's life can be seen. And that is what fellowship is for. What if we were painfully honest about our stuff as we seek to embrace our hard times rather than pushing them away? What would our relationships here look like? I would venture to say that we would all be more authentic and even healthier in the life of Grace United. But now, Paul goes on to say that his hardships are like death-the death of Jesus. How so? A simple but important thing here. Paul is making an honest admission and it goes like this, "If it wasn't for the Lord, I would not suffer as I do." In other words, Paul could have lived a nice, comfortable life. He was at the top of his game. He had tremendous political and spiritual power. He was well respected by so many. And probably had all the perks that went along with being an influential spiritual leader. But all that changed when he met Jesus. From the day Paul received his first smack. His first insult. The first lash or the first time he was thrown in jail for the cause of Christ, he realized that persecution, hardship, affliction naturally came along with the territory. His hardship was a display of death-death to himself and the cost involved for following Jesus. But for Paul it was absolutely worth it. Because it was not a death thing. It was a death and life thing. Every bit of hardship opened Paul's clay jar up just a little more. And the brighter the light in him became. And the more noticeable it became to all those around him. And the more noticeable the light, the more people would sit up and notice-not Paul-he was an ugly, broken, full of cracks and holes, clay jar. But what was inside was the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. And all who saw this light blazing in Paul, through his many hardships, then had a choice to make. They could scoff and make fun of him. "Why in the world, Paul would you suffer so much?" Paul would answer, "For the sake of Jesus." I would imagine many saying this, "Good luck with that" and walk away. But sometimes the response would be, "Paul, what you have is worth giving your life for. I want me some of that." Conclusion? Through Paul's "ugly", shot full of holes, cracked, clay jar, the treasure of God shines ever so brightly. That's why Paul was able to conclude, "death is at work in us, life is at work in you." But now, again in vv.13-15, let's look at Paul's amazing vision for his Corinthian brothers and sisters. The apostle suffered greatly to bring them eternal light in his clay jar. And there were 2 glorious reasons. First, Paul was looking forward to the resurrection-and he wanted them there with him. Paul had hope that God was going to raise him-and them-and they together were going to celebrate the resurrection of the righteous. Time fails us to see this in any detail. But let me encourage you to take some time to read John 5 this week. In here, the Lord Jesus declared that it was he who would call every one out of their graves, some to a resurrection of the righteous and some to a resurrection of the unrighteous. This is the awesome, absolute power of the Lord Jesus! Just like Jesus called out Lazarus from the grave after he had been dead for 4 days, so the Lord will do the same with all humanity. One day he will call all of us out of the grave. We're not going to get into the issue of the rapture of the church-but even that only accounts for the tiny fraction of all who ever lived anyway. But for the rest of humanity, one day, there will be no one in their graves. And why would Paul want the Corinthian members of God's family to be called at the resurrection? Glad to have had them escape hell? Let's look again at v.15 for the answer. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. What is the bottom line then? So that the Corinthian Christians, and all those who would become Christians through their ministry, can give the Lord thanks on that day. Now this is incredible for me. And very instructive. What was Paul's motive in giving the gospel? That there would be more people to give God thanks on that day. Worship around his throne. To the glory of God! Paul's motive for witnessing is so that more people would worship around the throne. Not going to hell is a great side benefit! But our primary motive in giving people the gospel is not to keep people from hell. It is so that people will give glory, honor and thanks to God in heaven! I wish we had more time to cover this. But we need to leave it there. My challenge though is to think it through and to make Paul's motive for giving the gospel your own. Yes, hell avoidance is a worthy motive in sharing the gospel. But isn't it much better to give people gospel in hopes so that they can worship the God who made them? Finally, in vv.16-18 we see Paul's eternal perspective on his own suffering. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. Remember what Paul went through! He calls all those trials light, momentary affliction. Stoning? The lash? Beaten with rods? The loss of all things? Yes to all of it. How could he see things this way? Well, what is in his clay jar? The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. All the hardship is so worth it in Paul's estimation. The things in this life - everything he could see, could only drag him down. Hinder him from the eternal weight of glory that far outweighs anything this world can offer. And that goes even for the reality of our day to day living. I don't think any of us have escaped bodily injury and just plain wearing out especially, the older we get. You young people don't quite get that yet. In my younger days, I could do a whole lot more with this body. Even though I was a boxer and cross country runner, I still had limitations. I wasn't all that fast. I did have a winning boxing record though: 13 and 12! Now with a replaced hip over 10 years old, I can forget about running. Or boxing! And all of us are wearing out. But the other side is waiting for us! Jesus said he will make all things new. And the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ is just a foretaste of glory divine! How this encouragement from Paul and his friends ought to motivate us to put aside lesser things. To get ready for heaven. And to effectively serve the Lord while we wait for him to take us there. We do live in this life. In this world. We are in it, but not of it. Since the day Paul first tasted true heavenly things, nothing could satisfy him. Several years after Paul wrote this letter he was able to say, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." But whatever happened to Sapsorrow, aka Scraggletag? The prince made his choice. Somehow he saw through the very ugly, good-for-nothing in his estimation, Scraggletag. And when he did he discovered to his unspeakable delight, everything he could ever want. His princess. Sapsorrow. You know, for all the affliction and hardship and extreme pushback against the temporal jars of clay containing eternal light, it is that light that people really do want. But they have hardened their hearts. They are blinded by satan. And all the while, those without the eternal light are desperate to find cheap substitutes to fill their clay jars. They will try any light to light their way. But to their dismay, every light will go out. But God created us-every one of us-for a purpose. And it is summed up so well in this statement found in the Westminster Catechism. We have said it before but it definitely is worth repeating-and even better-worth living out. What is the chief end of man? The Catechism asks. The answer? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. And that, my brothers and sisters, is why we soldier on, in giving people the gospel. That is why we ourselves overcome all hardships, considering that every difficulty, every affliction, every persecution as preparing for us an eternal weight of glory that makes the very best in this life pale into absolute and total insignificance. We are to look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, are temporary, but the things that are seen are eternal. May we live as the Lord created us, to truly glorify him and to make it a point to enjoy him. Forever. May forever begin today.