Knocked Down but Not Knocked Out -- Part Three

Knocked Down but Not Knocked Out
2 Corinthians 4:1-18
Theme: Treasures in jars of clay.
This week’s lessons teach us the importance of having an eternal outlook on life.

Sometimes people talk to me after the church service. Some people say to me, "You make it so simple, so easy to understand." I am pleased with that because we are not in the business of trying to sound profound. Our job is to make it as clear as we can. Some say, "Well, I read it, and it isn’t all that clear to me." That is true. These are God’s ways, not our ways. What we need to do is have the darkness in our minds dispelled, and the fog in our thinking removed, and then we will see things clearly as God presents them to us in his Word.

Some might say, "If Paul intended to do that, he didn’t do it very successfully, because when he went about speaking the truth plainly it was obviously rejected." Paul himself says later in this chapter that he was hard-pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, and even given over to death. That is true. But the difficulty was not in Paul or his message. The difficulty is in the hearts of men and women who do not want to submit themselves to the truth.

We have a great example of that in the case of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus certainly spoke plainly. When we read the Beatitudes we can see that they are not complex. They contain straightforward, clear teaching. In the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel the word plain is used. Jesus had been teaching, but the people of the day did not really like what he was teaching, so they raised this matter of his being the Messiah. They said to him, "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."

Of course, he had been speaking plainly all along. He said very clearly that he was the Christ. But they did not want to hear it. They said again, "Speak plainly," and so he did. The verses that follow contain some of the plainest teaching by Christ in all the Gospels. He teaches about the depravity of man, and about God’s electing grace and salvation, and God’s keeping power over his saints - how no one is ever going to be lost once God gives them to Jesus.

But at the end of that, after he had talked plainly to them, we find they took up stones to stone him. They tried to seize him, but he slipped away. This shows that the difficulty is not with the complexity of the Gospel; the Gospel is plain. People’s difficulty is not with their understanding of the Gospel. Rather, the difficulty is that people do not want the Gospel.

That is what Paul is talking about. He said, "Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing" (2 Cor. 4:3). And the reason is this: "the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (v. 4).

In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul began to write about the ministers. He used himself as the example, though he speaks in the plural. Paul is not saying, "This is my experience alone. Look how much I’ve suffered." He is speaking personally because he has a personal relationship with these Christians. But he explained that what was true of his own experience was the same as that of all the apostles. And to some extent, it is true of other people as well. At least it is true when they try to bear a witness for Christ.

Paul began with an image. He wrote, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2 Cor. 4:7). In the ancient world, people carried things in either wicker baskets or clay jars. Since clay jars were stronger, they were used for liquids and heavier items. So in the ancient Roman world when generals came back from victorious battles, they brought their treasure in clay vessels because that was the only way they had to carry it.

I think that is what Paul was saying. He was likening the glory of the Gospel to precious treasure. The Gospel is the way that matters and where real value lies. And, as carriers of the Gospel, the apostles were similar to those ancient clay jars. The vessels have no intrinsic value. Rather, what matters is what God puts into the vessel.

Study Questions

  • Why was Paul rejected?
  • According to Dr. Boice, how did Paul use the image of jars of clay to symbolize his ministry?

Further Study
Prayerfully read through Jesus’ plain and simple teaching in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12).

Key Point
The difficulty is in the hearts of men and women who do not want to submit themselves to the truth.