Calvary Road Baptist Church

“EARTHEN VESSELS”

Second Corinthians 4.7-15

 

How many of you are old enough to remember when the prisoners of war came back from the Korean War? Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when those few prisoners captured by the North Koreans and the Chinese started coming back? I must admit that I am too young for that. How many of you remember the Vietnam POW’s coming back from Hanoi? I am old enough to remember that. Do you remember where you were and exactly what you were doing when you saw that television camera focused on the transport plane that brought our men servicemen who had been prisoners for so many years back? I remember observing that when they exited that large Air Force transport plane they all wore bright new uniforms and each of them who was able walked to a microphone stand and said a few words before cars drove them away.

We now know that most of those POWs and many war veterans who never were prisoners developed a reaction to surviving the war, when their buddies died. It is called survivor’s syndrome. Those who survive hostage situations, when other hostages have been killed, oftentimes have survivor’s syndrome, as well. I am quite sure those who survived the Korean Airlines crash in San Francisco several years ago will experience this thing called survivor’s syndrome. Many of the New York City firemen and New York City police officers who survived September 11th, particularly those who were on vacation or for some reason off duty when the Trade Center was hit, are suffering from the effects of survivor’s syndrome.

What is survivor’s syndrome? “Survivor guilt (or survivor’s guilt; also called survivor syndrome or survivor’s syndrome) is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.”[1] Survivors actually feel guilty because they have made it through a horror that claimed the lives of others. It is actually part of a larger problem that everyone deals with from time to time of feeling a little bit guilty when someone else suffers and you are glad it is not you (but you feel badly that you that you feel a sense of relief for not having suffered or died). Do you ever wonder why extremely affluent people feel quite uncomfortable around people who are struggling financially? One reason is because some people who are not well off think affluent people ought to just give them money. They have a sense of entitlement, and actually expect to be taken care of. However, other than that slothful and sinful attitude, there is also the subtle feeling of guilt a wealthy man might have because he is “better off” than others.

Folks, let’s face it. When God has blessed you, either with extended life, or with minimal suffering, or with financial prosperity, or in some other way, Satan, the god of socialism and everyone being blessed exactly the same, will go to work on a person to condemn him and will try to make him feel guilty because God has blessed him. Did you work hard as a kid and save money to go to school? Did you work hard in school and enter a career in which you met with financial success? Did you do that without stealing or engaging in unethical practices? Then you should never feel guilty for what you have or feel that you have to give it to anyone who is unwilling to work as hard for it as you did. Satan even works among Christians to accomplish similar things to this. The Corinthians often felt very guilty because God in His infinite goodness and wisdom had spared them great persecution and hardship as believers, but did not spare the Apostle Paul any pain or hardship. That man went through it.

As a result of that some of them were living under condemnation because they saw this godly apostle suffering terribly for Christ and they not at all. So, to help them deal with their feelings and to explain why he and his co-laborers were subjected to such horrors his readers had not endured, Paul wrote the text we examine today. Stand with me as we read together Second Corinthians 4.7-15:

 

7      But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

8      We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;

9      Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

10    Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

11    For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

12    So then death worketh in us, but life in you.

13    We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak;

14    Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.

15    For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.

 

Three Rs explain much to us about Paul’s ministry from Paul’s perspective so that the Corinthians, and so that you, will be free to rejoice in God’s plan for your life.

 

First, THE REASON THE MINISTRY IS OURS

 

Verse 7:   “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”

 

Several things to notice in the paradox Paul gives to his readers in this verse, which also applied to them and to us:

The first things I want you to notice in this verse are the descriptions found in the first half of the verse. The two descriptions Paul provides deserve careful scrutiny: First, we see that which is valuable. We have this “treasure.” Any of you ever heard of a “thesaurus?” It is a type of book popular before personal computers which is chock full of words and helps you to look up synonyms and things like that when you are writing a term paper or building a sermon. The word “treasure” perfectly translates the Greek word thesaurus. Paul is referring to something of extreme value here. The question is what is the treasure? Some people think that the treasure Paul is referring to here is the gospel. Though the gospel is a valuable treasure, the context of this whole chapter pretty well denies us that option. Based upon 4.1, “Therefore seeing we have this ministry,” and supported by the context, I am persuaded this treasure Paul refers to is the gospel ministry which God had entrusted to him. When you think about it it makes sense. The gospel ministry is so valuable that angels would love to serve God in it, though that is not His plan for them. The second description we see is the phrase “earthen vessels.” The word “earthen” comes from a Greek word which refers to anything that is made from clay and fired to make it hard, all the while recognizing that it is still breakable.[2] Was that not a description of Paul’s life? Did he not pass through the fires of persecution on too many occasions to count? Yes, he did. “Vessels” refers to an object, vessel, jar of some kind, just a container in which something valuable was placed.[3] Understand, then, that as Paul prepares to explain why this gospel ministry was his, he first describes himself and his coworkers in ways far short of being complimentary. They are in one respect nothing more than fragile and rather inexpensive containers that are made out of clay. I am convinced that the beginning of greatness in your ministry for God is the realization that you will never be more than a clay container that is passed through the fire to make you stronger.

We now come to the second thing to notice in this verse, which is the design such vessels are used to accomplish:

 

“...that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”

 

Make an observation. Make an observation from this text akin to the observation the Corinthians and others made first hand when they saw the ministry of Paul and his company. What do you observe? You observe a wretched looking little guy with scars on his body and a squint to his eye. Then, if you continue observing him, you observe with him a ministry of excellency. You observe a ministry of power. My goodness, the lives changed and the demonstration of power that accompanied Paul and those other men. Such was plain for anyone to see and not deny. Hang with Paul and his companions for long and your life would definitely show dramatic changes. What was the origin of such excellency? What was the origin of such power as was demonstrated? “...that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” No credit to Paul here, is there? The reason God uses men in the ministry, lumps of fire-hardened clay formed into simple containers, is so that when onlookers observe the obvious demonstration of excellence and power of a God-blessed ministry they will say, “This must be of God. That guy could never produce such results in their lives himself.” This just makes sense, does it not? Did not God say, “My glory will I not give to another”?[4] That is the reason the glorious gospel ministry is ours, though we are really quite pathetic in and of ourselves. You see, what Paul wrote about himself certainly applies to those of us who seek to convey the gospel message to the lost who are around us.

 

Second, THE RESULT OF THE MINISTRY BEING OURS

 

Three things show us what is the result of the ministry being his, being theirs, and being ours:

First, the experiences. The specifics are detailed in verses 8-9:

 

8      We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;

9      Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.

 

These are four snapshots, if you will, detailing Paul’s experiences, along with his colleagues. Picture adversaries trying to narrow you, but you won’t squeeze. Picture doubting some things, but not despairing. Picture being persecuted, but never forsaken by God. Picture being literally smashed to the ground, but not killed. Or maybe you are killed, but you go to heaven. These are the things Paul and his companions lived with constantly. The enemies of the gospel were always trying to persuade him to lower his profile, but he refused. Though there were times when he had personal doubts and reservations, he did not despair. Persecuted? Yes, but he knew that God never forsook him. He doesn’t do that. Thrown down to the ground? Too many times to number, but they never finished him off until it was God’s time for him to go. Picture a nightmare in which you are chased into a narrow alley in the middle off the night by thugs. You should hide behind the box, but you don’t. You wonder if the door to the building is unlocked or if you could make it over the fence, but you do not despair. They have surrounded you and are getting ready to thrash you, and although you are all alone you know the Lord has not forsaken you. You see, He doesn’t do that. Then they fly at you and hit and kick and beat you to the ground. You are being pummeled, but they have not succeeded in killing you. So, you lost that one, eh? No, you won that one. Whenever you suffer for Christ’s sake you win. The summation is given in verse 10:

 

“Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”

 

Paul is saying that, in essence, they continually suffered the kind of physical attacks that the Lord Jesus Christ had been subjected to, but while that was happening they manifested the life of Christ in those same bodies. That was their experience, and the experiences of many other Christians since then.

Second, the explanation. (4.11)

 

“For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”

 

When you, as a comfortable Christian at home in Corinth, see Paul and others in the ministry suffering unspeakable tragedies, you might ask yourself, “Why? Why is Paul being delivered unto death for Jesus Christ’s sake?” The design behind this unimaginable suffering is so “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” That is why Richard Wurmbrandt suffered so much in a communist prison. That is why Saleema suffered so in a Pakistani jail. Ever hear of Paul belly-aching or crying about his plight or his lot in life? Not one time. Ever hear of him feeling sorry for himself? Never. Why? Because he knew the explanation behind his suffering. He knew what God was accomplishing through him, as should we: “. . . that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”

Third, the evaluation. What conclusions could Paul and those with him come to regarding the course God had set before them? Second Corinthians 4.12:

 

“So then death worketh in us, but life in you.”

 

It was a trade that Paul had considered, had weighed, and was more than willing to make. Death working in the gospel minister, but life in the lives of those he ministers to, he explains. Sure we suffer as Christians, but the result is that through the suffering of others you came to know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. So what if you suffer so that others might eventually come to Christ? It’s a good tradeoff. Therefore, when you are suffering the loss of a loved one, the suffering from a disease, an injury, or some other type of affliction, or perhaps suffering persecution, do not waste the pain and heartache on feeling sorry for yourself. Recognize that the death working in you is for the purpose of working life in those who observe your suffering. Therefore, do not waste the pain on self-pity. Make use of your experience to glorify God, exalt the Savior, and reach out to the lost.

 

THE REASON THE MINISTRY IS OURS. THE RESULT OF THE MINISTRY BEING OURS. AND NOW, THE RESOURCE IN THIS MINISTRY OF OURS.

 

How in the world do you do it, Paul? Second Corinthians 4.13-15:

 

13    We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak;

14    Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.

15    For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.

 

Paul provides four meaningful bridges to our understanding:

First, there is a basis. Verse 13 begins with the profoundly important declaration, “We having the same Spirit of faith.” Folks, consider underlining this phrase and capitalizing the S in the word “spirit.” Paul is referring to the Spirit of God, here, the Author of each person’s faith. Want to know what undergirded Paul and his fellows during their difficulties and trials? It was the Spirit of the living God. And that aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry that Paul wants to call attention to can be seen in his reference to “the Spirit of faith.” You might think, “Pastor, I thought that faith came by hearing the Word of God.” It most certainly does, but Who wrote the Word of God? The Spirit of God, Second Timothy 3.16. So you see, the Spirit of God, ultimately, is the source of faith through the ministry of scripture. Want faith? I suggest you listen carefully to preaching and attend diligently to reading God’s Word. Want more faith? Listen more and read more, for these are means the Spirit of God uses to impart faith and to strengthen faith.

Next, there is belief. Paul refers in verse 13 to David’s 116th Psalm, in which David says that he believed.[5] Paul indicates that he and his also believe. Then, in verse 14, he points out that he “knows” Christ was raised and that the same One who raised up Jesus Christ will raise up believers by Jesus. This amounts to a considerable number of references to faith in just these two verses. Do you suppose Paul is trying to impress upon his readers how very dependent upon faith he and his men were to get them through the lifestyle God had mapped out for them? I think so. Four times elsewhere in the Bible we read that the just shall live by faith.[6] In our text we see a practical example of that truth. Paul and his men could not possibly have lived the lives they lived any other way. They were in a most dependent position in which they absolutely had to live by the faith supplied to them by the precious Holy Spirit Who indwelt them. How important to their faith it was that they, therefore, neither quenched nor grieved the Holy Spirit who supplied their faith.

Third, there is behavior. I disconnect behavior from belief for the purpose of analysis, but I want you to notice as I read verses 13 and 14 again that belief and behavior are intertwined together and cannot rightly be treated as separate entities:

 

13    We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak;

14    Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.

 

Notice the reference to David’s behavior in Psalm 116.10, the verse Paul quotes in verse 13:

 

“As it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken.”

 

I mentioned before that David believed. Notice now how faith is tied to works. See how right belief results in right behavior? Paul then says about himself that “we also believe and therefore speak.” The principle applied to Paul, as well. The principle also applies to you and me. What you believe will determine how you behave. How do you behave, Christian? The fundamental truth that Paul believed which so powerfully moved and motivated him was his knowledge that “He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.” Paul was utterly convinced he had nothing to lose and everything to gain by serving God. I suppose you might conclude that those who do not behave properly do not really believe properly. If you concluded that you would be absolutely correct. Therefore, it is very possible that those who will not faithfully serve God are also those who are not quite convinced they have everything to gain and nothing to lose by serving Him.

Finally, and with this I conclude, there are beneficiaries. (4.15)

 

“For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.”

 

Paul ministered so that folks might be saved. He went through what he went through so that you and I might eventually come to know Christ. Thus, we are real beneficiaries of his ministry and real beneficiaries of that resource Who was the basis for Paul’s ministry, Who is the Holy Spirit. Who else is a beneficiary? God is a beneficiary. We see in this verse that God is glorified through the life and the ministry of Paul and men like Paul. This should be no surprise to us. It is only reasonable to see that the Spirit of God, Who is the resource behind this kind of ministry, the power, the grace, the wisdom, the faith, the tenacity, and everything else which is needed, comes from Him.

 

Have you ever observed the life and ministry of a choice servant of God and become aware of great suffering and persecution that God has put him through? If you did, then you possibly also felt a twinge of guilt that he, being a very spiritual servant of God, had it hard and you, being less spiritual, had it so easy.

Let me walk you through this for a moment or two so you will see things from God’s point of view: First, if the person suffers because of wrongdoing, he deserves what he gets by way of chastisement. God is not unjust in disciplining His children. Amen? If the person suffers because he has done right there is nothing to feel sorry about, either. God has just chosen someone to suffer for Christ’s sake and receive abundant rewards in heaven, and He will certainly supply the grace and the faith that person needs to do His will. We have seen that very thing explained in today’s text. Therefore, don’t you allow Satan to influence your thought life. Don’t you feel sorry for those who are getting a spanking from a loving heavenly Father. Their spanking is good for them and springs forth from a heart of love. Don’t you feel sorry for someone like Paul, either. Why feel sorry for someone who is exactly where God wants him to be and who has been entrusted by God to do such a great work? Heart ache for them? Yes. Empathize with their suffering? Yes. Feel sorry for them? No.

Finally, remember that those God has placed in the ministry, the glorious ministry, are merely earthen vessels. Nothing more than fire-hardened clay utensils. Flawed? Sure. Plain and ordinary? Sure. But for that precise reason when a soul is saved and a life is changed the credit, the adoration, and the praise will be God’s and God’s alone.

We should be thrilled to simply have a part in the great thing God is doing called the gospel ministry.



[2] Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle To The Corinthians - NIGTC, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), page 340.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Isaiah 42.8; 48.11

[5] Psalm 116.10

[6] Habakkuk 2.4; Romans 1.17; Galatians 3.11; Hebrews 10.38


Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org