This Treasure In Earthen Vessels

Written on: June 1, 2024

Article by: Brian Thompson

2 Corinthians 4:7–18

Have you ever wondered what kept the apostle Paul fuelled during his Christian ministry? After all, considering the hardships and difficulties mentioned in II Corinthians 11:23–33, one would think that surely he would feel at some point that “Enough is enough!” Yet he remained true and loyal to being chosen by God for the task set before him. With such an attitude he was able to endure any hardship in his marathon Christian race of service.

I believe Paul would say that the reason for his dedication and “no quit” attitude was, that it was such an honour to be chosen by Christ for such a ministry (I Timothy 1:12–17). He certainly wasn’t doing it for the money or for the glory of men. Frankly, he loved God with all his heart and he loved the lost souls of mankind enough to suffer for them, as His Saviour had for him.

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I am always amazed at the depth of love that Moses had for the children of Israel considering how little they loved him in return or God. After they had sinned against God by making and worshipping a golden calf, God wanted to destroy them (Exodus 32:1–10). Yet we find Moses pleading with God to blot out his name from the book of life in order to spare the children of Israel (Exodus 32:30–35). The apostle Paul had that same kind of love for God’s people and he expressed it when he wrote: “For I could wish myself accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites,…” (Romans 9:3–4).

For forty years Moses led that rebellious and stubborn people through the wilderness. More than once they wanted to kill him. You would think that this would just have to sour any relationship that Moses had with them. Yet we have no indication that he renounced his offer to God. I believe that he remained willing to suffer an eternity away from God if that meant that Israel could be saved. What a love Moses and Paul had for God’s people!

I believe that Moses and Paul fulfilled their ministry for two reasons. They did it for God’s sake and for the sake of His people. They were so focused on those two reasons that they were willing to undergo any degree of hardship to accomplish such.

Paul considered it the highest privilege to serve God, for he had been called as a minister of the Gospel to the Gentiles; for the Gospel was and is a treasure (II Corinthians 4:7). To think that God would reveal such a treasure through an earthen vessel, a frail human being such as himself, amazed Paul (Vs 7, 16). Regarding this salvation, the prophets of old who prophesied of God’s grace that would come to mankind longed to know more about it and the Christ of whom it spoke. Even the angels of God longed to know more about it (I Peter 1:10–12). The mystery of God’s grace had been hidden for ages and was now, through Paul and others, brought to light. Concerning such Paul writes, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:8–10).

The way that God accomplishes things is truly amazing. The Saviour of the world, the King of kings, was born in a manger. What a start for the King of kings. According to Isaiah 52:13–15; 53:1–12; Acts 8:26–35 Jesus was not a good looking man. In fact He was the very opposite. His appearance and form was marred more than any other, yet through Him salvation came to earth and God’s will was accomplished. Similarly, Paul states that the riches of God’s grace is preached and declared to the world through frail human beings, delicate in nature and described as ‘earthen vessels’. Yet, through human frailty, God is able to reach the souls of men and women with the saving message. God is truly awesome!

Although frail and weak in many ways Paul declares that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all mankind (Romans 1:16). The focus and attention is on God and not on those proclaiming the truth. The power is in the message; not the messengers.

With that in mind Paul describes how Satan aggressively tried to hinder them from proclaiming such a powerful message. It was through every imaginable kind of affliction, through times of perplexity, persecution, and being struck down (Vs 8–11). Yet, with God’s help, they were not crushed, nor did they lose heart, nor did they feel forsaken by God but whenever they got knocked down then they just got back up again (Vs 8–11). Whenever others saw the spiritual stamina and confidence of such faithful, committed individuals it reminded them of the One who always died daily in order to accomplish God’s will. Luke speaks of this in Acts 4:13 where he states, “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marvelling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”

The goal of the apostles was two-fold. At all costs they were willing to die to self and daily risk dying in order to please God and bring the saving Gospel to lost souls. Paul puts it this way, “So death works in us, but life in you” (Vs 12). Like Jeremiah the prophet the apostles felt such a zeal to speak God’s word to others even when it would not be received well. Jeremiah states, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember God or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).

Jesus states in Matthew 6:19-21 that “where one’s treasure is, there will their heart be also.” The heart of Peter and John was so focused on sharing the gospel of Christ that nothing could stop them. The scriptures tell us this, “And when they had summoned Peter and John, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard'” (Acts 4:18–20). If one truly believes then one will truly speak to others of the Christ. Paul did this knowing that his life might be taken but his assurance lay in the fact that if he died sharing the gospel he knew that he would be raised up with Christ by the One who raised Christ up from the dead and this assurance was for all who believed and shared Christ with others (Vs 13–14). In this regard Paul shared the faith of the Psalmist who declared, “I believed, therefore I spoke” (Psalms 116:10). Like God, Paul loved all people, Jew or Gentile. In John 3:16 we are told that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. Likewise, Paul so loved the world that He gave his life in service to the needs of the lost so that they would not perish. In so doing, God’s grace spread everywhere and when people were converted to Christ much thanksgiving to God occurred (Vs 15).

When someone is converted to Christ they have so much to look forward to. The blessings of God in this life and in the life to come are unsurpassed by anything on earth. Paul lived for the life yet to come. Regardless of his age and the brand-marks he received in suffering for Christ (Galatians 6:17) he looked forward to the time when he would be in the presence of God for eternity. No longer in an old, frail body but in an immortal one. No longer experiencing affliction but sharing glory far beyond comparison (Vs 17). That was his focus in life…up to and including his last days (Philemon 9). And as long as he was alive he would, with God’s help, continue to share the gospel of Christ with the world. Concerning this Luke writes, And Paul stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (Acts 28:30-31).

The key to Paul’s success in life was in how he looked at things. He knew his life would end one day so he looked at the life promised to him by God – a life without end. So he never quit talking about it in his conversations with others. His focus in life reminds me of the same focus found in the words of the Psalmist who stated, “O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth; and I still declare Thy wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come (Psalms 71:17–18).

What is it then that fuels your Christian life?

Do you regard the gospel message as a treasure that God has entrusted you to share? May we, regardless of age or affliction, believe as Paul did and speak as Paul spoke.

Owen Sound, ON