Wednesday Writings

Heaven’s Treasure in Earthly Vessels, Part 1

A couple of months ago, the pastor of my church preached a sermon from II Corinthians 4:7-18 that really encouraged me in my chronic illness struggles. With his permission, I’m sharing his outline and both our notes in hopes the message will encourage you too. The message was titled “Humbly Ministering for His Glory.”

I. God identifies you as precious vessels.

A. Your body is for His ministry.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels . . . 

“This treasure” is our salvation, the eternal life God has given us in Christ, and the gospel ministry He has entrusted to us (ministry that all of us can carry out whether or not we’re in full-time ministry or missions work).

“Earthen vessels” refers to our human bodies. At the time of the early church, it was a common practice to store valuable items in ordinary clay jars. Corinthian pottery was actually well known and no doubt would have been used for this purpose.

Interestingly enough, in this example the container itself has no value. It’s common and rather fragile. Unremarkable. Very much like today’s cardboard box.

We’re like plain, flimsy cardboard boxes containing the beautiful, precious treasure of Christ’s gospel and the ministry of sharing this gospel. (I don’t know about you, but I can certainly relate to the “flimsy” part. Thankfully it’s not about us or our abilities!)

B. Your ability is by His might.

. . . that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

The word “power” here comes from the Greek term dynamis meaning ability, might, or the force that makes something happen. Think battery power, electricity, or whatever energy source you want to use.

What Paul is saying is that the ability to minister this gospel of Christ, to serve others, to bear fruit in the Kingdom of God doesn’t come from us but from God. We’re just the tools, inanimate and useless until His power fills us. Any value lies not in our physical bodies but in the gospel ministry of Jesus Christ.

Despite our physical limitations, however, God has uses for us, places for us to use the talents and abilities He’s given us.

II. God encourages you as suffering servants.

A. Your hardship is for His sake.

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

vv 8-9

Any difficulty you encounter in ministry is no cause to doubt or quit.

These verses describe a dichotomy of realities that all believers experience in their service for Christ: the external situation (physical reality) and the internal condition (spiritual reality):

Physical RealitySpiritual Reality
“hard pressed” — in tribulation, squeezed“yet not crushed” — never hopeless
“perplexed” — at a loss, uncertain, without understanding“but not in despair” — never exasperated
“persecuted” — hunted like prey“but not forsaken” — never abandoned
“struck down” — thrown aside, thrown about“but not destroyed” — never defeated

No matter what storms batter us, what enemies attack us, what hardships trip us up, our spiritual reality–victory in Christ–never changes.

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.

Proverbs 24:16, ESV

Every difficulty you experience in ministry reflects life in Christ.

Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

vs 10

Our Christian lives are spent not only in identification with our suffering Savior but also in imitation of Him, day in and day out.

Paul sums it up well in Galatians 1:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

B. Your adversity is for His purpose.

God saved us not just to rescue us from Hell but also so that we would minister–and suffer–for Him. As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10, “That I may know Him . . . and the fellowship of His sufferings.”

This suffering continually shows the transformed life that only comes from Christ, to unbelievers as well as to fellow believers. You never know how your suffering might serve as an example and encouragement to someone else.

Have you embraced the beauty of God’s salvation and the gospel-sharing, others-impacting ministry He expects of you? Are you relying on His power to accomplish His goals for His glory? Do you recognize the truth–and the hope–of your spiritual condition in spite of your physical situation?

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