Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:1-18
[This is Week 3 of a 5-week preaching series on 2 Corinthians.]
Week 3 (July 26, 2020)
Preaching text: 2 Corinthians 4:1-18; accompanying text: Matt 5:13
Theme: Treasure in Clay Jars
In the section immediately following this introductory narrative, Paul maintains that his ministry is not about letters of judgement — whether they be letters of rebuke, the letters of recommendation the Corinthians are now demanding from Paul, or even the tablets of stone associated with Moses. Rather, it is a ministry of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 2:14-3:18). And where the Spirit is, there is the freedom that comes from “seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror” in Christ’s face and “being transformed into the same image” (3:18; 4:1-5).
Because his ministry is grounded in God’s mercy — not letters of judgment — Paul’s commends himself. His life embodies an open manifestation of truth to everyone’s conscience before God. Yet he makes clear, “we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Christ as Lord and ourselves your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
We have all this treasure in clay jars — a metaphor for our human vulnerability — so that it can be clear that all this excess of power belongs to God and does not come from us (2 Corinthians 4:7). Indeed, it takes shape in our paradoxical experiences of being afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (4:8-9). It becomes manifest in our bodies as we give ourselves up to death for Jesus’ sake — as we die to the distorted patterns that harm us and others and take on the suffering that comes with embodying God’s mercy and consolation amid forces that contradict it. This is how the life of Jesus becomes manifest in our bodies. This is how death in us becomes life for others (4:10-11).
Paul’s trust and speech amid all this is grounded not in a set of ideas — an ideology — that he can use to control others. Rather, it is grounded in the one who raised the Lord Jesus, who will not only raise him but also bring him along with the Corinthians into Jesus’ presence. This is why he can say that everything is for their sake — because grace, as it extends to more and more people, is always about an overflow of thanksgiving, to God’s glory (2 Corinthians 4:12-15).