Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:1-15
Last week we looked at 2 Corinthians 2 and we heard what Paul wrote to the church about a particular problem they were experiencing. It seems there was some sort of division in the church which Paul passionately asked them to rectify by reaching out to one another in love. Unity in the church was important for Paul, and the unity was to be in Christ Jesus and shown by love for one another.
This week we skipped over chapter 3 and moved into chapter 4. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul writes how ministry has changed from one which, like in the Old Testament, was fulfilled by following the rules. In particular, Paul refers to the Ten Commandments written on the stone tablets. Paul writes in response to the people asking for letters of reference.
“Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 2:1-3)
Paul says to his friends that you are your own reference letters. They are representatives of Jesus Christ, which Paul helped prepare. And it is the Spirit of God within them which is their ink, their visible sign for the world to see. And this Spirit is not found on stone tablets, but rather on their hearts.
So instead of following what is written in stone, Paul is telling them to follow what is written on their heats. The Spirit of God is in them, and they need no further external confirmation of their faithfulness because they have the Spirit of God in their hearts.
Paul goes on to encourage them to be bold in their witness. Where Moses hid his face from the people because God shone so brightly through him, Paul is telling the Corinthians to show their faces, show their faith for the whole world to see.
Paul finishes chapter 2 with these beautiful words,
“Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 2:15-18)
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
What a powerful thing to say to people who are struggling with what it means to be followers of Jesus. Facing trial and division these words should be a great encouragement to the people of Corinth, and also to us.
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Kind of hard to argue with Paul on this point.
Which leads us into our reading from this morning. Paul’s focus on the need for people to be set free by the Spirit of the Lord leads us to what he shares this morning.
It is this same Spirit Paul speaks about when he says they are engaged in their ministry. It’s this same Spirit which has led them to renounce the things in their lives which are considered shameful.
Paul gives us something to think about here.
The Spirit convicted Paul enough to cause him to reconsider what is most important in his life. And he makes a good point. What are the things in our life which can cause us shame, and can impact our ability to be faithful followers and witnesses of Jesus Christ?
A good indicator would be the things we hide from others. If we feel shameful about something in our life, enough to make us hide it, then it’s probably sinful and we shouldn’t be doing it, period!
What are the things we do when we’re alone because for others to see it would bring us great shame? If there is something, then bring it before God and let Him help you get rid of it. In God’s grace He will help you with your shame and sin.
Let’s go back to what Paul said earlier, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
In God’s mercy He will set us free from our sinfulness, and He will give us the Holy Spirit to heal and guide us into a better life.
By being set free by the Holy Spirit we can be firmly grounded in God’s mercy and able to do so much more God is calling us to do.
Paul goes on to say, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
We live in a world which Paul would say is “veiled” or “blinded” from seeing God. We have so many other things going on our lives it’s hard to make time for, much less pay any attention to, God.
I hear it all the time.
People struggle to set priorities in their lives. And it’s not really all their fault. The world demands a lot from us.
It expects us to have all sorts of treasures in our homes. Which means we need to work so much harder in order to be able to afford them.
The world expects us to make sure our kids have all the opportunities they can in sports, or dance, or music, or many other things. So it means we need to have practices, or games, or recitals, or something else on Sunday mornings.
Or the world expects so much from us all week long, Sunday morning is the only time we can get a little extra sleep before we do it all again starting on that dreaded Monday morning.
All of which means people have ample reason to skip church.
The world has many other priorities than learning about or serving Jesus Christ. So people are forced to make a choice. The problem is if they miss the practices, or skip work, or don’t get enough rest, the impact on their immediate lives is greater than missing church.
See the problem?
So those of us who do make it out to church have to show the world why it’s so important for us to have church as a top priority in our lives.
We have to do as Paul says and let the light shine in the darkness. God who lights our hearts wants us to share that light, that passion we feel with others so they may experience God’s grace and mercy too.
But we as people are fragile creatures.
Paul says, “But we have this treasure in clay jars…”
He’s reminding us we are fragile beings, we can be broken. We can be chipped. We can be smashed.
But if we continue to let the light of God shine through us, through our brokenness, then we show the power of God within us, and how it is His power, not our’s.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
The world may try to break us, but it is the power of God, God’s grace and mercy, which keeps us together, keeps us from being completely broken. He has given us the life of Christ to share with others. Which means the resurrected Christ. The Christ who’s death was overcome when the grave could not hold him. The Christ who’s death was overcome when God moved the stone and Jesus walked alive out of the tomb.
The Christ who walked out of death into life so the world would know God’s grace and mercy, not as a distant memory, but as a personal experience when the Holy Spirit comes into us and we give ourselves to God as His precious child.
We are fragile people. We can be hurt easily. Our hopes can be crushed. Our dreams can be stolen. Our hearts can be broken.
We truly are jars of clay.
In Jeremiah 18, the prophet writes this,
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand… (Jeremiah 18:1-6)
Even when we are broken God can work us into something great. It goes on to say that if we turn from evil God will restore us.
What a promise we have received. In God’s hands we are formed into beautiful vessels capable to holding all God wishes to pour into our lives.
And we are also able to share these blessings, this joy we experience in knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, with others as well.
We may be fragile, but in God we have strength because He is the potter who forms us, and He will put us back together when we fall apart and seek His grace and mercy which will restore us.
When Paul writes to the churches, he writes passionately and people are changed. Just by writing letters! How is he able to do this?
He does it because he writes with a passion not from his own authority, but by the authority which comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Paul is so incredibly grounded in his faith, he is so sure of his salvation through Jesus Christ, it comes out in his writing in a powerful way. His words invoke feelings in others who also seek to deepen their faith and ground themselves in Jesus as well.
Paul wants the people of Corinth to know the grace of God in their lives, especially since they are going through a rough time in dealing with feelings of ill-well between members of their church.
Paul assures them that in Jesus, all things are for their benefit. The grace of God is extended to them as they seek to build and unify their church. A job which will require plenty of grace and mercy and also the power of God Himself to provide the healing they need.
This grace Paul writes about is not just for the Corinthians, it’s for us as well.
When we put our trust in God in the name of Jesus, God takes our broken bodies, our clay jars, and puts us back together. And in putting us back together, we become carriers of his grace which can then be extended to others as well.
We can help others come into relationship with God so He can take their broken bodies, their clay jars, and put them back together as well.
We all need repairs. Some of us may be lying on the floor in pieces, others may have chips in our finish here and there… none of us are perfect. Only Jesus is perfect because he is the true Son of our Father in heaven.
But we can always be better. We can always be open to the healing presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we allow God to put us back together.
Our sin, our shame, the things we hide because we know others will react negatively if they knew we did these things… give it all to God.
We need His grace and mercy in our lives each and every day. And the way to experience it is to give up our sin and commit ourselves to following Jesus each and every day.
Paul knew this. He wanted the church in Corinth to know this. He wants us to know this today.
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
We are set free by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us all be set free and know the grace and mercy of our God. Amen and amen.