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Treasures in Jars of Clay December 14, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 4.

Summary: Paul begins by noting that as he is serving – by God’s grace – in the context of the Gospel, he does not neglect his responsibilities in that regard. In particular, he refuses to:

  • use secrecy and concealment when preaching the Gospel
  • use cunning methods to achieve his ends
  • corrupt the Gospel.

Instead, he declares the Gospel using pure methods so that all who hear it must acknowledge its truthfulness – as God is watching him. Yet there are those who fail to recognize the divine origin of the Gospel; they will be eternally condemned. This stems from the fact that Satan has hindered them in this regard, keeping them from seeing the radiance of the Gospel, which is the glory of Christ; the glory of the Father is in Him. Indeed, Paul does not preach the Gospel to glorify himself; instead, he wants his audience to know that Jesus is the Messiah, and he does this for the Corinthians’ benefit – out of his love for Christ. He wants his audience to know that Jesus is the Messiah, since God – who brought light out of darkness in His supreme act of creation – has illuminated the (formerly darkened) hearts of believers so that they can understand His glory as revealed in Christ Himself.

Now Paul is able to serve in the context of the Gospel – although he is weak and suffering – as this shows that the power of the Gospel comes from God. Indeed, he must constantly deal with the following difficulties:

  • being pressed for room
  • having no idea how to proceed – yet always finding a way forward
  • being persecuted – yet never being deserted by God
  • being (seemingly) defeated by his enemies – yet always being delivered from their grasp by God.

Wherever Paul goes, he endures the external sufferings (and eventual death) of Jesus, as this proves that Jesus lives. While he is alive, he constantly expects his death, as this repeatedly shows the power of Christ’s life in him. Thus, the Corinthians benefit from Christ working through Paul’s sufferings.

Now Paul quotes from Psalm 116:10 – where David, in the midst of his difficulties, praises God; similarly, the Holy Spirit moves Paul to preach the Gospel in the midst of his difficulties. Indeed, he knows that just as God has raised Jesus from the dead, He will also raise him from the dead; moreover, all believers will stand before the throne of God with great joy. He reiterates that all of his actions – and his suffering – are for the Corinthians’ benefit, as his repeated deliverance from the grasp of his enemies causes those who pray for him to rejoice; they then give thanks to God.

Given the preceding discussion, Paul does not become discouraged – although he is breaking down physically – as he is being constantly refreshed spiritually. In fact, his suffering is actually insignificant in light of the eternal blessings that he will receive in heaven. Paul concludes by asserting that his focus is not on worldly things – which are merely temporary – but on heavenly things, which are eternal.

Thoughts: In verse 3, Paul states that those who refuse to accept the divine origin of the Gospel will be eternally condemned. Hodge offers some rather incendiary thoughts on this point:

Worldly people cry out against this doctrine. They insist that people are not accountable for their opinions. However, they are accountable for the character by which those opinions are determined. If they have the sort of character, the sort of inner spiritual state, that permits them to believe there is no God, that murder, adultery, theft, and violence are right and good, then that inner state that constitutes their character, and for which they are responsible…is reprobate.

This is a rather difficult quote to stomach. I find it hard to believe that all non-believers would assert that “murder, adultery, theft, and violence are right and good,” so I’m wondering if Hodge is trying to make a different point. In particular, when non-believers such as Brad Pitt are helping to rebuild homes and lives in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina while many Christians refuse to engage in any social concerns-related work, it is difficult to see how all “worldly people” can be characterized as being internally “reprobate.” I suppose the issue here is that even when non-believers do good works, they do not give glory to God; thus, the challenge is for Christians to give glory to God in their deeds.

Verse 7 inspired the name of the Christian band Jars of Clay, and they have played a major role in the contemporary Christian music scene since the mid-1990s. The band’s Wikipedia article cites an NPR interview where it is noted that their later work consciously downplays their faith. Now this is interesting in light of Hodge’s above-mentioned commentary on verse 3. Some Christian critics would undoubtedly assert that Jars of Clay “lost their way” after achieving their initial successes. My take on this is that music speaks in different ways to different people; if some have been led to a saving faith in Christ as a result of hearing the band’s later work, then their strategy has been successful.

This passage drives home the point that Paul is convinced of the certainty of the eternal blessings that await him for his faithfulness. Hodge puts it quite nicely in his commentary on verse 18:

He was sustained by the assurance that the life of Christ secured his life; that if Jesus rose, he would rise too; and by the firm conviction that the more he suffered for the sake of Christ or in such a way as to honor his divine master, the more glorious he would be through all eternity. Suffering, therefore, became not just endurable for him, but a ground of great joy.

After thinking about this, I concluded that Paul had a long-term perspective – on his ministry as an apostle – since he was constantly faced with dangers and regularly suffered for the sake of the Gospel. Our human nature is such that when we are allowed to enjoy the pleasures of this life, we forget about God and focus on our immediate “needs.” Now this raises the question of whether Christians should voluntarily suffer more often in order to truly please God. Indeed, how much suffering is appropriate for a given Christian? Is there a proper ratio of “suffering” to “happiness” that Christians should strive for in their daily lives?

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