Lesson 46: "We Have This Treasure in Earthen Vessels" (II Corinthians 4:7)
II Corinthians 4:7--5:10
Paul's Missionary Journey Epistles. This is lesson #46. Welcome again to our study of Second Corinthians. Chapters 4-5-6 of Second Corinthians, I'm inclined to think, may very well carry some of the most valuable and some of the most practical lessons we can ever learn as Christians. It's a message that doesn't even come through to the world at large. As a matter of fact, the concepts recorded here seem silly to worldly minded people. You've got to be a spiritually minded person to even begin to understand this section. It's one of those sections in the Bible you can read right over the top of and never feel the impact. Once you identify with what the apostle is saying; your appetite and appreciation for spiritual things will be strengthened enormously. The fact that we cannot spend about ten lessons on this section saddens me a little; but, I'm going to try to cram it into two lessons. We're talking about roughly 60 verses, more textual volume than the whole book of II Thessalonians that we covered earlier in this course.
So, lefs get going. However, before we read; fasten your seat belt, take a look at your map and try to realize where we are. Paul was somewhere in Macedonia, with pencil and paper, shortly after Titus returned and after a long session and a serious discussion of the Corinthian brethren and conditions in that church. Paul was encouraged and comforted on the one hand by the recent trend of obedience Titus recounted; but, then the other side: Titus' report carried some strong negatives; the Judiazing teachers, others rejected Paul as an apostle and criticized him severely. So, as we have said, as the apostle wrote his letter (that you have a copy of in your hand); he began to address the obedient and the repentant first. He saluted them, he told them it comforted him to learn of their obedience. He told them about his near brush with death at Ephesus and how distraught he had been at Troas when Titus did not show up and Paul began to sorrow, fearing the Corinthian church had gone off on the deep end following the Judiazers and the Greek philosophers and those leaders blinded by worldly wisdom. Paul confided that as he wrote to them before; he did it with many tears. "I wrote, that I might know the proof of you..." he said (2:9). To those who had carried out Paul's instruction and disfellowshipped the incestuous man, Paul commended; but, encouraged them to accept the man back in full fellowship since the man had repented. Then, in our last lesson, Paul tore into letters of commendation and the philosophy of the Judiazers that asserted Paul did not have adequate credentials and thus concluded that Paul could not possibly be an apostle because he used plainness of speech (3:12). His bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible, they said (over hi 10:10). The weak and frail Paul did not fit their worldly concept of an apostle. Connected with these very thoughts and attitudes of criticism was also a strong demonstration of their worldly wisdom that Paul had pounded on at or near the end of I Cor. ch. 1. This attitude exposes their strong spiritual ignorance to the apostle. Thus, Paul concluded his discussion of spiritual thinking and spiritual understanding.
In our last lesson we covered the first six verses of chapter four. Glance at that just a moment. Paul talked about his ministry; how he had renounced the hidden thing of dishonesty, craftiness, deceitfulness (v.2). He attached life and death significance to the gospel (v.3). Paul considered himself a servant (v.5), a servant of God, that preached the gospel of Christ which was like a light that shone out of darkness to give a light of the knowledge of God (v.6) to them that are lost. That gospel has great power (dynamos is the Greek word in Rom. 1:16, meaning great force or miraculous strength). God's word carries the potential for spiritual life. Spiritual life that can be multiplied like the microscopic germ hi a wheat seed that can in three generations produce a million grains of wheat; I suppose bushels of wheat seed. There is power in God's word. The moral and spiritual power hi God's word is staggering to think about. When properly applied, it can cause a drunk to lay aside his bottle forever. It can cause a thief to return his plunder. And it can transform the potentials of hell and everlasting destruction into life eternal. You may calculate the megatons of TNT hi an atomic bomb or the calories hi one day's sunlight; but, you cannot calculate the power hi God's word. It's incalculable!
Move on to v.7, where we'll begin our reading. Paul said, "we have this treasure hi earthen vessels." What treasure Paul? The gospel of Christ, dynamos! That's the treasure. What is an earthen vessel? Just an old clay pot. It was by far the most common container used for cooking and storage hi Paul's day. Archeologist still dig them up every place. Paul here likens human beings (the frail, weak creatures that we are) to earthen vessels. Yet, the gospel of Christ, the power of God unto salvation resides hi the earthenware of human hearts. Paul pictures a contrast bigger than putting an atomic bomb in an old brown paper bag. The power that resides hi that old brown bag was not created by the brown bag. The power hi the brown bag is not controlled by the brown bag. What about the gospel of Christ residing hi men? Look at the end of v.7, "that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." What is Paul saying? Well, we would have said it back hi Carter County, where I came from, like this: That Paul's Judaizing friends (if we can call them his friends) were getting too big for their britches. Paul couldn't be an apostle! God wouldn't pick an old clay pot like Paul to entrust with the gospel. Some today think that a worship service must be as slick as a TV commercial to be acceptable to God. The preacher stammers. He preaches too long. That song leader always gets the pitch too high. Old elder Jones prays too low and too long. He prays for people that don't even attend here; people I never heard of. Surely God wants a preacher that looks like a movie star, reads like Alexander Scorby and speaks like Dan Rather. Now, I believe God expects us to do our best; but, "Shall the clay say to the potter...what hast thou brought forth" (Isa. ch. 45)? It has always been hard for us (earthen vessels) to forget the pot and consider the message. Do you remember old Samuel when he went to Jesse's house to anoint a king? Eliab was the oldest son, a Hollywood looking king if Samuel ever saw one. I can just see old Samuel getting his oil ready to pour it on; anoint Eliab, however, they did that. "But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him [Bang! that must have blown Samuel's mind]: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (I Sam. 16:7). It's the mail carrier's uniform that makes the letter worth reading, isn't it? Brethren, like I said: you're going to have to put a little effort into ch. 4-5-6 to get the rubber down to where it meets the road. It's hard for us to brush away the glitter, hang up our hang-ups, and say with the apostle Paul: "when I am weak, then am I strong." (That's over hi 12:10). The apostle said those Judiazers were reading the Old Testament with blinders on (3:14). Today we want to read the Bible with tinted sunglasses. You can find almost any shade out thsre: rose, green, yellow, or blue; some use two way mirrors so you can't tell what they are reading or where they are reading it. But, they know how to slick it up Hollywood style. And boy, that'll bring 'em hi. Well, if we don't get started reading; I may have to go for that, ten more lessons.
So, here we go! II Cor. 4:7, get your plow hi the ground. Put your mind hi low-gear. Here we go: "But we have this treasure hi earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not hi despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about hi the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest hi our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made namfest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh hi us, but iife hi you. 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 Knowing that he which raised up the ~ord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many rebound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is rene.ved day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which ate seen ate temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.' Alright, now, keep your plow hi the ground. Let's harvest about 10 rows over hi ch.5, v.l. "For we know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal hi the neavens. For hi this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being Clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are hi this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, / say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." O.K., we'll save some for our next lesson.
We began in v.7 of ch. 4 and we've already talked about v.7. In v.8, the apostle said in effect, he didn't find his servant job (v.5) very easy. He admitted he was troubled, perplexed and persecuted. The old earthen vessel was abused (true enough); but, that didn't mean he was not an apostle; that meant the life of Jesus was being made known in his body (v.10-11). The scars in Paul's body identified him as a soldier of the cross. It was on account of Jesus that Paul was exposed to danger. In other words, it was on behalf of Jesus and the gospel that Paul carried battle scars. As a soldier fights for his people; Paul had invested in the Corinthians (v.12). This goes back to v.2. Paul didn't handle God's word deceitfully, crafty or dishonestly. This rather implies, of course, that the Judiazers and those that looked upon Paul as too weak to be an apostle had fainted and fled the battle field of truth. Just as David had faith hi the O.T., Paul expected to triumph in the end: "Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you" (v.14). All the suffering Paul and his co-workers had done was for the benefit and good of the Corinthians and that it might bring glory to God (v.15). It was true (v.16), Paul's body was getting older and being racked more and more. The old earthen vessel of Paul's body was being chipped away day by day and slowly decaying, it would eventually perish; but, his inward man, the spiritual man was being developed and renewed day by day. Spiritually, Paul was growing younger and stronger every day. The old apostle had a true spiritual perspective. So many times we don't. Paul realized he was wasting away on the outside; but, he knew that when the old body he then dwelled hi collapsed, he would in effect be moved into a spiritual body or house. "There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." (I Cor. 15:44, do you remember that?) He did not want to just waste this old body; but, he realized it was slowly coming to an end. When he compared his afflictions to eternity (v.17-18), his afflictions and suffering were only momentary compared to an eternity in a better body and a better world for which he was preparing day by day.
My friends, this perspective and this attitude enables one to endure suffering, it causes our hope to grow and spirituality to increase from day to day. On the other hand, worldly people do not have this hope. Their life is filled with frustration moving toward desperation and despair. Their whole life is consumed by mentally concentrating on how to relieve the pain and how to extend their life a few more days. I'm not saying the pain is any more or any less. I'm simply saying spiritual people are better prepared to deal with it mentally. David Lipscomb in his commentary has this comment on v.18, (and I quote) "The Christian who neglects duties and shirks responsibilities will find himself unqualified for the honors and glories God has in reserve for his faithful servants" (Unquote). You might want to take a moment and think about the definition of faith in Heb. 11:1 in relation to v.18 here. In ch. 5, Paul compares our physical bodies to an earthly house and called it a "tabernacle" (v. 1). Some see in this an illusion to the tabernacle the children of Israel built per God's instruction as recorded in the book of Exodus; God's dwelling place among the Israelites. Later, at the time of Solomon, I trust you know, the tabernacle was replaced with a much fancier and more permanent structure called the temple. That tabernacle and that temple were of course made by the hands of men. Our spiritual house, Paul says will be far superior to the human body we now know; this is Paul's point and it will be "eternal in the heavens" (v.l). Then hi v.2-3, Paul switches to the figure of clothing and refers to the "spiritual body" (I Cor. 15:44) as being "clothed upon with our house which is from heaven." As you would suspect, this passage is used commonly in funeral services. The verses at the beginning of ch .5 are very revealing in this respect. The word "earnest" or "earnest of Spirit" at the end of ch .5 means literally a "down payment." In other words, when God raised Jesus from the dead; this was a sort of down payment of assurance, if you will; that we shall be raised from the dead also and receive a new body as Jesus arose from the dead in a new body. Understanding this, of course, is (v.7) "walking by faith." "At home in the body" (v.6) means the human body we know now. Then v.8 refers to the "spiritual body" as it is said in I Cor. 15:44. Then, in v.9, the thought is: it doesn't matter whether we're in this body or the new body from heaven after the resurrection of the dead; the important thing is to live and work in such a way as to please God. There will be a judgment day, v.10. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ..whether it be good or bad." built into this thought, Paul is saying to the Judiazers and others; be careful that it's not bad. I must say, have a good day.