How often do we take things for granted? Many of us tend to dwell on things we don’t have and think little of what we do have. Today I want to remind us of some incredible privileges we have.
Let’s read this morning from 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 and see some astounding reasons to thank our God.
I want us to notice three great privileges for which we should be extremely grateful:
- THE GREATEST TREASURE IN US (v7)
The story is told of someone who went into a store and started changing price tags between the cheap and the expensive items. Things that were R10 were now R1000, and things that were R1000 were now R10. Could you imagine the chaos that would result? That’s a kind of prank I would not recommend! You could get into a lot of trouble.
Sadly, most people value the wrong things. Price tags are reversed to what God considers valuable. The majority value temporary earthly treasures over eternal and heavenly treasures. Jesus taught us to lay up treasures in heaven, why? Because are the only kind of treasure which are safe and will benefit us long term.
There are people today who are fascinated with hidden treasures. In SA probably the most famous is the so-called Kruger Millions – a hoard of gold hidden just over 100 years ago. It was hidden on behalf of President Paul Kruger to avoid it being captured by the British during the Boer War. This hidden treasure is believed to be worth about $500 million USD in todays terms.
But we know of treasures which are infinitely greater. The psalmist said:
Psalm 119:162 I rejoice at Your word as one who finds great treasure
As believers we have Christ dwelling in us. What a great treasure!
In 2 Corinthians 4:6 the apostle Paul said:
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Saul of Tarsus at one point in his life went about persecuting Christians, but he went on to become perhaps the greatest perpetrator of the gospel! How did this happen? It began when God shone his light into Paul's life. We too were dead in our sins. We were without hope, but God, our Creator, shone his spiritual light in us. He opened our eyes, we believed in Christ and He forgave us of our sins. Now we have Christ in us, the hope of glory. A n invaluable treasure!
But now in v7 Paul says: But we have this treasure in earthen vessels,
What is he referring to? In the context I believe he is referring to the treasure of the gospel of Christ. He is speaking of the message of salvation that God had given to Paul to go and preach. In v2 Paul spoke of those who were teaching a false message. They were handling the word of God deceitfully. Today we have those who do the same, for example those who teach the prosperity gospel or the Word of Faith movement. Paul says, that we on the other hand, teach the truth of the gospel. This is the message he has put in our hearts.
The amazing point that Paul is making here is that this treasure is found in earthen vessels!
Now, normally a great treasure is found in an appropriate container. For example, expensive perfume is normally marketed in a very special looking bottle. It is unlikely to be in a jam jar! Also, high quality chocolates are also sold in a very presentable box. Not usually a zip lock bag!
Paul makes a statement of shock when he says but we have this treasure in earthen vessels. A literal translation of an earthen vessel is a clay pot. This was a very cheap, common, breakable, and replaceable container. They were ten a penny. They were used for carrying and containing very ordinary things, even dirty things. Todays equivalent would be like a plastic bucket which you could buy for next to nothing at a grocery store.
We remember from last week that Paul’s enemies were challenging Paul’s credentials as an apostle. They were also insulting him saying that there was nothing special about him. He was nothing to look at, he was not a great orator, and even his arguments were not as smart as other philosophers of his day. How does Paul respond to this? He says, You are right? You are absolutely right! There is nothing to me. I am just a clay pot! I am like hard baked dirt!
In fact, this is part of the secret of the success of the gospel. God has more often than not chosen to use weak vessels for his purposes. Jesus chose twelve ordinary men to be his disciples. Paul had already explained to the Corinthians in his first letter the kind of people God has chosen to use. He does this when he says:
1 Corinthians 1:20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
1 Corinthians 1:26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. v27 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.
It is fundamental that we don’t make a bigger thing of the messenger than we do about the message. Paul tells us why in v7:
that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
Our message is to be all about God, and not about us. When people get saved and lives are changed the glory must always rest upon God.
Something is wrong when a picture frame robs the picture of its glory. Or when we make more of a fuss of a vase than the flowers in it. It is the treasure that is to be praised and not the clay pot!
We don’t want people to say, what an amazing preacher he is! Or, what an amazing person she is! But rather, what an amazing God that person serves! Our goal must always be to draw people to the treasure of Christ in us. We are clay pots, but He is the treasure.
Satan sometimes tempts us with self-elevation. He whispers in your ear, you are the best. There is no one like you. Or else, he tempts with an inverted pride and whispers. You know, you can’t do much. That person yes. But you, no. You’ve got nothing to offer the church. But God tells us in His word that we all have spiritual gifts, and God wants all to be involved in building up the Body of Christ. So don’t sit back and say you have nothing to offer. God will use whoever is available.
Yes, we are all earthen vessels. We are just clay pots. But O how thankful we should be, that although we are such ordinary, feeble, frail and expendable vessels that God would choose to love us, to shine in us, to give us the treasure of the gospel of Christ and to use us for His glory. What a gracious God!
A second privilege we have as the children of God is that we have:
- GOD’S SUSTAINING GRACE (2 Corinthians 4 v8-9)
Probably all of us have at times thought: This is it, I can’t cope with anything more. I am at the end of my tether. I don’t know what else to do? I don’t know where else to go from here.
When overwhelmed we can have feelings of hopelessness, and drift towards despair.
Paul's problems were probably far greater than any of those we experience. Listen to his description of his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27.
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—
Paul was not just a clay pot, he was also a broken pot! If anyone had reason to despair, Paul did.
Now in v8 and 9 he gives us four contrasting pictures showing his endurance and God’s sustaining grace. He says:
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.
He was saying that though he was pushed to the edge, he was never pushed over the edge. The Lord gave him the courage and the strength to endure and to keep going.
We too can endure many punches without being knocked out. By God’s grace when can get up again and again. We can rise from the ashes. God is our strength and ever present help in time of need.
Paul's constant struggle is expressed in v10 when he says: always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord
He was attacked left, right and center. Every day he woke up there were new battles and each day could have been his last. Why did people hate him so much? Jesus tells us. It is because they hate Christ Himself, and so people take it out on His followers:
Jesus said: John 15:18 If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.
Peter adds: 2 Peter 3:3 - knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,
The Lord also enlightened Paul when he says to Titus[sic]: 2 Timothy 3:1-4 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, v4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
Times will get really hard for us. But we don’t need to be overwhelmed because our Shepherd will always lead us. Our Saviour will always be near to us. Our Father will watch over us. And when he has done the work he has planned for us He will take us to our eternal home. Philippians 1:6 says He who has begun a good work in you will complete it. Nothing will ever separate us from His love.
Recent events have made life hard year for so many. You may feel exhausted and even at the end of your rope. Like Paul, you may feel hard pressed on every side. But how we can be so grateful for God’s sustaining grace. Wait on Him, He will renew your strength.
A third privilege we have is that God has called us to be:
- LIFE GIVING INSTRUMENTS (2 Corinthians 4:10-12)
I was once in Florida in the USA when I visited a town full of many affluent people who had retired young after making their fortune. I really was out of place?. But in this town a typical day for many would involved playing golf and eating out at lovely restaurants. Life for most was a comfortable hedonism. But I detected one core problem. Purpose.
Romans 8:20 explains why. Here Paul tells us that the whole of creation has been subjected to futility.
We see this practically when: A dream is fulfilled but there is still little joy. You succeed at something but you are still not satisfied. You make a lot of money but it is never enough. We struggle to be happy in the workplace. We are always having to maintain things. There is sickness, pain and heartache.
Solomon (a man who had everything) experienced this first hand and concludes: Ecclesiastes 1:14 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.
“Everything under the sun” is an expression which speaks about living your life without God at the center. The end result is futility.
But listen now to Paul’s purpose statements. He tells us why he willingly suffered as a witness for Christ: v10 that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
His goal is that people would see Christ in him. In his clay pot he wanted people to see the treasure of Christ in Him. Again, in v 12 he says: So then death is working in us, but life in you.
What a valuable purpose, a life lived in such a way that dead sinners would come to have eternal life through Christ. There was no price too high for Paul, if it meant that the unsaved would come to know Christ. Even if it meant death for himself.
As children and servants of Christ how thankful we should be for the valuable purpose He gives us of representing Christ at home, at work or wherever He takes us. What a privilege it is to be instruments in the hands of our Redeemer! To be a channel to bring spiritual life to those who don’t know Christ.
How are you doing at being an instrument in His hands? Do other see Christ in you? Are you serving in some way? If not, why not do something about that?
The apostle Paul was so thankful for the treasure in him. Later in this book in 2 Corinthians 9:15 in a burst of praise he says: Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! What a beautiful dilemma we have. A gift. A treasure who is so precious and beautiful. He is indescribable. Surely that is something to be thankful for!