In the fourth chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he describes God’s servant as those who carry Treasure in jars of clay (v.7). The treasure is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (v.6), which is the gospel. We ask, why is the treasure stored in jars of clay or as the KJV renders it, earthen vessel? This is the topic that Pastor Jeremy Walker of Maidenbower Baptist Church delivered on the first day of Cubao Reformed Baptist Church Pastors’ Conference 2021 with the theme: God’s servants in troubled times.
The messages that Pastor Jeremy shared testify to the reality of ministerial pressures which challenges us and the excellencies of the Treasure that keeps us going. They are week but strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). These messages are very much needed by all of the servants of God, especially in this troubled times, and I wanted to share my notes and what I learned from them (please note that the summary below contains Ptr. Jeremy’s words and points in verbatim or paraphrased) .
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.2 Corinthians 4:16
The Messengers as earthen vessels
The first message is about the weakness and weariness of God’s servants. Verses 4-6 remind us that we are in spiritual combat. Our duty, responsibility and privilege is to speak the gospel in the midst of the overwhelming darkness of this evil age.
In this chapter, Paul shows us what we have, the treasure (v.7). It is Treasure in earthen vessels, the gospel that we received from God. The outshining of God’s majestic beauty as seen in His Son, our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ. It is stored in earthen vessels, a fragile material, that is easily and quickly broken.
Pastor Jeremy rightly asked, why is it there? Why not in angels or men better than we are with phenomenal strength and intellectual ingenuity? The reason is to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (v.7). If God puts this treasure in something that would rival the treasure, the treasure’s glory will be eclipsed.
It is a painful reality
Paul here is not ashamed of what it is like to be a clay. It is a reminder not only that we are jars of clay but that we do not hide the cracks. Notice the words the Paul use here to describe the servants of God (v. 8-9). Hard pressed on every side. Hostile forces crushing down on you which refers to all sorts of trouble that we face. Perplexed. A hunting language. At a loss for what we are to say or do, everything is uncertain, a language of discouragement, a person who does not know which to take in order to move forward to bring glory to God. Persecuted. A hunter’s pray. Satan and his demons want to threaten and destroy the man of God, to prevent him from being effective in His duty. Their duty is to take them down. Struck down – it is an increasing intensity of assaults. The messengers are being destroyed that the message may not be carried. 2 Corinthians 11:23 says …with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. These are the language of being brought down repeatedly.
This is the reality of Gospel ministry in the midst of this battle. But we should not think that we are the only ones who are experiencing these things and we do not all experience all these things in the same degree, but there are experiences that are unique in the pastoral ministry. Sometimes it is a series of events, that we might say that we are about to lose heart. This is the weight of normal pastoral life taken into a higher degree.
Ptr. Jeremy listed events that cause weariness to the man of God. Here are some of them: our own sins. unbelief, irritability, material coveting, fear, panic either in us or around us; difficultly in shepherding when you cannot see them, evangelizing people who refuse to talk to you; accusations from the community, disdain for the gospel, big issues with high theologies, pressures to make best decisions, Christianity being politicized, governmental intrusion, etc. These are the things that cause perpetual weariness to the man of God.
It is under God’s sovereignty
We need to be honest about ourselves before God about the physical realities that we contend with. Confess our own sins, our members and unconverted man. Satan is taking advantage of what is taking place to distract and damage the church of the living of God. We are hard pressed, perplexed, forsaken and struck down, but these circumstances are God’s circumstances. These are not outside of the governance of God. God put the gospel in earthen vessel in His matchless wisdom according to His grace and mercy.
This reality is painful, normal, needful and hopeful. It hurts but we expect it. We don’t pretend to be super human. It is normal for God’s servants to crack under pressure. God has formed us for this purpose. It is normal for us to suffer under normal circumstances. The clay needs to crack in order for the treasure to show. It is necessary that the beauty and glory of God may shine in the gospel, to show that the power is in God and not in man. This is God’s work through us.
We should rejoice in this weak tent, the God of the gospel draws near to bless us. It is in the hardest moment that we see the gospel shines in us. It is in the death of this misery that we particularly know God’s power in the gospel. When we are cracking the excellencies of God’s power is shining in us. God is in control, he directs all things that we might be conformed in His So. God knows and God directs every pain and sorrow. This is the way of God’s servant in the troubled world. Why, because it was the way of our Master on earth.
The secret of ministerial strength is our weakness as a man, that Christ’s greatness may be revealed in us as our LORD.Tweet
The Message as the supreme Treasure
The second message is about the strength and song of God’s servants. We concluded that while it is painful, it is also hopeful, because it is the platform upon which the divine strength is displayed. Our weakness and God’s strength are not in the same level.
Praise God for the BUTs
Notice here again that the four words are followed by …but not (v. 8-9). We tend to suck down in the storm. Paul reminds us of what is also true at the very same time that we are weak and weary. We should not be swallowed up by what is taking place.
Hard pressed but not crushed. We feel the pressure but they are not design to utterly destroy us. Perplexed but not in despair. The situation is not hopeless, we are perplexed but we are not utterly perplexed. Persecuted but not forsaken. We are surrounded by enemies but not abandoned to them. God promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5, Matthew 28:20). The LORD is the one who never deserts us in our persecutions. Struck down but not destroyed. In spite of being beaten repeatedly, we are not utterly cast down (Psalm 37:23).
The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the LORD upholds his hand.Psalm 37:23
It may be hard to imagine how can the man of God rise again in these circumstances? How is it that despite we are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down, we can still rise again?
Hail Christ for His life
In verse 10 Paul unveils the reality of pastoral ministry, the hidden spiritual dimension. Paul is explaining to us that we are united to Christ as servants in His dying. There is death working in us in a distinct way, we are constantly dying in ministry in relation to Jesus Christ. Paul describes himself as a crucified man, standing in jeopardy every hour (Galatians 6:14, 1 Corinthians 15:30). Paul is pressing it home that the life of Jesus is being manifested in his utter weakness. The secret of ministerial strength is our weakness as a man, that Christ’s greatness may be revealed in us as our LORD. We are dying and yet we live. The more we die the more of the glory of God is seen (Luke 9:23). We are being conformed to his death (Philippians 3:8). In our dying, we know and experience His life in us. We are always dying in Christ and always living through Christ. This is a distinctly Christ-like path.
There is life in us and life by us. As servants of Christ, in the midst of this battering experiences, we keep getting back up because there is life at work in us (2 Corinthians 4:12-14) . We rise up again and again. It is a marvel of grace, despite the death working in us, the life of Jesus Christ is working in us. This does not mean that our suffering saves anybody, only the saving death of Christ can do that. Our dying is the living of God’s people. The more battered we are, the more the treasure shines. Despite our frailties, we are still God’s messengers to make known the glory of the gospel.
die living and live dying
This is the reality of gospel ministry. We have signed up to die. We are being poured out, our life is not ours to protect. Our entire life will be a dying in, with and for Jesus Christ.
Our life in Christ is not pointless but purposeful (2 Corinthians 4:13). We cling to God whose promises we trust and whose name we know. Grace abounds not because we are great, but because God is. All of our tears, pains and trials are for the sake of the saints. When we are dying, by God’s grace, they are living; and all of it will abound to the glory of God. The good of God’s people and the glory of God is secured by the fact that you are a dying man always and that Christ’s life is revealed in you.
Yes we are jars of clay, but in us are gospel light and gospel life. We live not to protect ourselves but to live for others, to give as Christ gave. This is a great privilege to be a gospel ministers at such a time as this. To show in our weakness, the strength of the God that we serve. We have faith, sustained by hope in love. Our sufferings are real and painful, but they cannot bear comparison to the coming glory. We are weak and weary but God is our strength and our song.
Do we love God enough? Do we love God’s people enough, to die living and to live dying? The truth is we are sustained by the same power that raised Christ from the dead till the day of His return. Are we serving in love? Are we serving in hope? Are we serving in faith?
SOLI DEO GLORIA!