6/4/2018 9:22:43 AM
Paul Speaks For Us All - June 3, 2018
Text: 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Dear Friends in Christ, if you’ve ever been put in the position of having to defend your words or actions because of people who have either misunderstood or purposely misconstrued them, then you know what the Apostle Paul was going through when he wrote 2 Corinthians. Let’s set the stage: By his own definition in our lesson for today (and elsewhere), the Apostle Paul was first and foremost a “servant of Christ.” Jesus Christ himself commissioned Paul as a missionary to the Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) world. In the process he made four extensive missionary journeys. The Lord used his work, and Christian congregations sprung up throughout Asia and Europe. Anyone with even the slightest familiarity with the divinely inspired letters Paul wrote in the New Testament will quickly determine that he loved both his Lord and the work he was called to do. Paul’s letters are punctuated with expressions of praise, and the ministry is always held up as being a high privilege.
But this was not to say his work was easy. Because it wasn’t. During his ministry on earth Jesus certainly had his detractors; from that time forward to this very day the same is true for anyone who represents him. And Paul passionately represented Jesus Christ.
Take the case of the Greek city of Corinth. The Holy Spirit worked through Paul’s efforts and established a Christian congregation in what was considered in its day to be an especially wide-open and immoral city. But shortly after Paul left for other mission opportunities, some false teachers moved in and tried to fill the void. They taught a form of performance-based salvation which was diametrically opposed to the wonderful message Paul had brought them: that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
Not only did they slander the message; they also slandered the messenger. They openly questioned Paul’s personal integrity and his morals and his motives for coming to them. They tried to persuade the Corinthian Christians to believe that Paul was preaching his own ideas to them and that his word was not to be trusted; that he was caught up in being self-important and was somehow using them for his own ego needs and financial gain.
Throughout the letter we know as 2 Corinthians Paul responds to these charges. Part of that response is found in the words we will now consider. Paul has some very important things to say about himself personally, but beneath the surface are general truths that apply to the lives of Christians in every day and age. In that sense,
PAUL SPEAKS FOR US ALL
5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Paul was a preacher. What does a preacher do? Behind the word Paul uses here is the idea of one who proclaims a message; one who delivers important announcements. There’s an interesting picture from the Reformation age that shows a side view of a preacher in the pulpit on one end of the picture and the congregation on the other end. In the middle of the picture is a cross. What the artist is conveying is that the primary focus and basis of preaching in Lutheran churches (including this pulpit!) is to be the cross of Jesus Christ. Because in the end, that’s all that matters. Because Christ is the difference between eternal life and eternal death.
That’s what Paul did. He did not proclaim or wish to draw attention to himself (as these false teachers accused him of doing); rather he proclaimed and drew attention to the important message of Jesus Christ.
Paul goes on to say the reason he proclaims this so strenuously is because this message was not something he himself came up with; it was given to him. He compares God’s miraculous creation of light from darkness on the first day of creation with the light of the knowledge of Jesus Christ that God shines into the hearts of believers.
We are reminded how God has enlightened us, as well, and what that means. The Pentecost hymn comes to mind:
Holy Spirit, Light Divine, shine upon this heart of mine;
Chase the gloom of night away; Turn the darkness into day.
That’s what God the Holy Spirit has done for us. In his grace, working through the message of Jesus Christ who lived, died and rose again to take away our sins; working through the blessing of baptism through which the work of Jesus Christ is applied to our lives, he has enlightened us. We who were once in darkness, as the Apostle Peter tells us, now reside in his marvelous light.
And light chases away darkness. Even for Christians, sometimes the darkness of fear and doubt and anxiousness and worry and shame and guilt will descend upon us and at times may seem to envelop us. Then the cross of Jesus Christ illuminates our hearts and proves that we are loved and cared for. It is true that God may ask us to endure difficulties that are big and heavy at the time; it is equally true that in reality they are light and momentary compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.
Paul continues with these thoughts as our lesson continues.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
There are many places in Scripture where knowing Jesus is equated with having a treasure. This is an appropriate illustration, because treasure makes a person rich. And we are rich in the blessings showered upon us as believers. Just a few examples . . .
We are rich in the knowledge of our forgiveness and eternal life. We know, as Paul would express in another of his letters, “chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me.”
We are rich in the fact we have a Heavenly Father who asks us to come to him in prayer and promises to hear and act on them. And while all our prayers may not be answered in the way we would like, or think they should, we bow before the wisdom of One who loves us with an everlasting love.
We are rich in the fact that we are never alone, never abandoned, never unwatched, never unmonitored.
We are rich in that we know we have a purpose in life; that our existence is not an unplanned, chaotic result of randomly converging atoms and molecules, but that we are fearfully and wonderfully made for the purpose of bringing glory to God and representing Jesus Christ well before a watching world.
Our riches far surpass worldly wealth, because they can never be taken away by a plunging stock market or a financial setback. The fact is, our riches will last throughout eternity – which, in the world of wealth management, is a pretty solid retirement plan.
We possess this treasure even though we are but frail, fragile human beings; “jars of clay,” as Paul describes us. Yet, our weakness is the conduit that brings God’s strength to us. Residing within these imperfect vessels is power for living, poured into us by God himself. And we need that, because of the world we live in.
Paul makes clear our need for God’s help in a series of four short statements. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
Paul’s honesty here is helpful for any Christian who has ever bought into the idea that struggles or despondency or sadness or any other kind of negative emotional reactions to personal circumstances, or the world in general, are somehow evidence of a defective or weak faith.
Paul states as a reality that negative things, which can then lead to negative feelings, happen. The fact that we may struggle to handle them appropriately when they first come doesn’t mean we are losing our faith or even that our faith is necessarily weak. It’s simply part of being the imperfect human beings that we are.
Even more helpful are the four “but not’s.” To paraphrase the words of Paul, Christians in their weakness may be down, but God through his Word and through his promise and through his power sees to that we’re never out. In fact, we come to appreciate how powerful God is only when we acknowledge our own inability to somehow “will” our way out of every difficulty or trouble.
This idea of strength through weakness is one of the key themes in this letter of Paul. Later in 2 Corinthians Paul talks about having “a thorn in his flesh.” We don’t know what it was, but we do know that whatever it was Paul wanted it gone and thought God could get a lot more mileage through him if he took it away.
Paul says that three specific times he pleaded with the Lord to take it away. Each time the Lord said, “No.” The answer he gave Paul was this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Which led Paul to accept God’s will and come to the paradoxical conclusion: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Meaning, “God will give me what I need when I need it. I trust him. And I am at peace with that.”
Life lesson: the more we understand Paul’s perspective, and the more we apply it to our lives, like Paul, we also will be at peace.
Final verses: 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
What is Paul saying here? He’s talking about the risks involved in being a first century missionary and the sustaining power of Jesus Christ. Though in his occupation he risks death, the message he brings imparts life.
That’s what the Gospel does for us. It gives us life eternal in a new and glorious way after we die, and a purposeful, victorious life until that time.
So, what have we learned today? What lessons from Paul’s life transfer to our lives?
We rejoice that the Gospel is not man-made, and therefore complete reliable because it comes from God.
We praise God the Holy Spirit for enlightening us to the truth of the Gospel and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which we know is our greatest treasure. We are rich.
Finally, “jars of clay” that we are, we thank him for the power for living that God provides, knowing that with God on our side and in our corner, we may be down, but we’re never out.
Paul knew those things. He wasn’t alone. By the grace of God, so do we. Amen.