II Corinthians 4:1-12
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Those who attempt to serve God in any age will face discouragement: human limitations, the indifference of people, or the aggressiveness of evil. But Paul gives us some reasons for encouragement from this passage.
First, we have a glorious ministry (1-6). Paul states “we have this ministry” (1a). He is referring to the ministry described in chapter three of bringing men to salvation in Christ. The way we look at our ministry determines how we will fulfill it. It is glorious, not odious; a privilege, not a burden. Having a right view of the ministry will prevent three specific problems. It will keep you from being a quitter (1). Paul was subject to discouragement like everyone else. He admitted the trials he experienced in Asia almost brought him to despair (1:8). But with divine calling, there is divine enablement. Great achievements are often reached by those who missed many times before. Failures are temporary tests preparing us for future victories.
Then, a right view of ministry will keep you from being a deceiver (2-4). Paul was alluding to the false teachers who would twist the scriptures. To be understood properly, Biblical literature must be interpreted correctly. Paul’s life was an open book and his preaching was straightforward. Some preachers’ lives are characterized by hypocrisy and their preaching is full of unbiblical blather. Paul never manipulated or deceived people to gather a crowd or make money. So why didn’t he have more converts? Because of man’s fallen nature. It is easier for a lost man to believe a lie than the truth! The Jew’s minds were veiled to the truth, and the Gentiles followed the gods of this world (4).
A right view of ministry will also keep you from being a self-promoter (5-6). Paul was not a dictator exploiting people but a servant helping people. We preach “Christ Jesus the Lord,” not a church or religion. That is simple evangelism, introducing people to the person of Christ. It would have been easy for Paul to build a fan club, capturing followers who wanted to be associated with a persuasive and powerful man. No, it was only Christ who would be lifted up.
Secondly, we see that we have a valuable treasure (4:7-12). Most of us have read a story or seen a show involving a harrowing race to discover some hidden treasure. When it is finally found, we realize it was stored in an ordinary vessel and a public place. That is what we learn in these verses.
Look at the construction of the vessel (7-9). We came from the dirt! Nothing flattering about that description of us! Clay pots were some of the cheapest and ordinary items in the ancient world. Our lives are compared to these earthen pots because we must depend upon God’s power to carry the glorious message of the Gospel. We need to be empty vessels so God can fill us with His truth. The most important characteristics of a Christian vessel are that we are cleansed from sin, empty of self, and available to God.
My parents had an old tea kettle that always sat on the stove. The whistle was broken, the handle was duct-taped together, it was burnt on the bottom from years of use, and it was lined with minerals from the well water on our farm – but it still made the coffee! That pot is not unlike many of us; scarred, chipped, repaired, a little burned around the edges, and maybe even a little clogged. But the treasure we bear is not diminished by vessel, in fact, the vessel is made valuable by its contents.
We were made to be durable (8-9). Paul used metaphors from the Roman arena to describe the demands of the ministry, contrasting human helplessness with divine enablement. There is almost a note of celebration because without God’s intervention these troubles would have broken Paul. Most of us don’t like to talk about our past failures, human weaknesses, and personal frailties. But God is glorified in weak and common vessels. Paul was not afraid of suffering and trials because he knew God would guard the vessel if he guarded the treasure.
Look also at the content of the vessels (10-12). “Always carrying about in our bodies” Paul continues using the picture of a vessel filled with contents. The contents are the message of Christ’s death on Calvary for the sins of mankind. We should spend our lives bringing this life-giving message to others.
At a narrow place in the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River is stopped by the Hoover Dam, creating two huge artificial lakes. Lake Powell is in Utah and Lake Mead, on the Arizona/Nevada border, is the largest reservoir in the United States. Before the dam, this area of the Mojave Desert in northwest Arizona was largely unvisited due to the harsh terrain, the lack of roads, and the extreme summer temperatures. Now, the lake forms the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, covering 1.5 million acres. This project brought fertility to the desert southwest. During its construction over 100 men lost their lives building this massive 726-foot-high dam. Upon its completion, a great plaque was set into the concrete stating: “These men died that the desert might rejoice and blossom as the rose.”