2 Corinthians 4:1–10
A person I admire sent me an email this week. He said that when he was a young Christian he dreamed about having a great impact on the world. Then he grew up. Now his goal is to have a great relationship with God.
I can understand that. I have often been confused about my purposes and goals in this life. I thought that if I am struggling then maybe others are too.
Jeremiah 17:9 – “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”
Jeremiah puts his finger on part of my problem. I was conflicted. My heart was telling me one thing, and my mind another. That was confusing.
As Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians, I was “perplexed”.
Why was I perplexed? I was internally divided. I felt as though I were two people in one body. One person would talk about holiness. The other person wanted fun, fame and fortune. The two people inside myself were in conflict. When we realise that Satan is real, then this makes sense. Satan is the source of the division. God is not a God of confusion.
It’s not only that my heart was in the wrong place. That is a problem, but so is the mind. I didn’t understand God and his purposes.
1 Corinthians 13:12 – “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”
Do you see the depths of my problem. Not only did I have a conflict between my heart and my mind, but neither of them were right. Has anyone told you to follow your heart? I have been given that advice. I realised much later not to trust either of these blind guides, but instead to trust the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples who to listen to.
John 14:26 – “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”
Is this why Paul opens up chapter four of our reading today by saying, “God in his mercy has given us this new way.”
We rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us, not on our own understanding.
What do you want to achieve in your life? Do you have goals and dreams? Do you want to be like one of the great Christian heroes. My hero used to be Francis of Assisi, who as a youth desired only fame and glory and honour. Francis was called by God, and after many struggles he was ordained a deacon. I admired Deacon Francis for the way he struggled to overcome the desires of his heart and follow God.
Most us are not called to live such lives. There was only one Apostle Paul and only one Francis of Assisi. God did not call me to that. I believe God called me to live a life of faith. That’s all. It isn’t grand and it won’t bring fame.
One of things that happen when we have a grand goal that’s also a false goal is that we have a feeling of failure. So for example, we want to be a Christian who has a great impact on our society. I did, and found that I didn’t seem to have any impact on anyone. It made me feel worthless.
As Paul says in verse seven, we are “fragile jars of clay”.
What brought on this thinking was not in fact the email, but the topic of the last few sermons. We’ve been looking at how the chosen people were divided and exiled and returned over the course of centuries. Among them were a few great people who were used by God. There were also thousands of ordinary people who seemed not to do anything except live, eat and die.
How did they feel? How did the ordinary people feel in the gaps between the moments of great drama? Most of life is comprised of these gaps. Most of us do most of our living in the gaps. It seems at those times that God is silent and often he is. It seems that evil is winning and we are having no impact for good. We are just fragile jars of clay. We are not precious or beautiful vessels of fine gold.
There were workers who for most of their lives had only worked. They were not special in any way that the world could see. You would measure their lives as worthless if you had met them. They just worked and loved their families from one sunrise to the next. They didn’t start churches or preach sermons or write books. Their sons grew up to be workers just like them. Then in middle age they spent some time hanging around with their friends and following aimlessly in the footsteps of a homeless man. But because the homeless man was Jesus, they became the people who changed the world.
This is why Paul says about these fragile jars of clay, that they contain a great treasure. “God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts.”
I’m not so young any more. I’m not thinking any more about a career. These days I’m thinking about retirement. What will I have achieved with my life when I retire?
You see, that is a common question. What have you achieved with your life, or what do you want to achieve in your life? It is the wrong question. Please don’t get led astray by this question. Ask not what you achieved in your life, but what God has achieved.
At this time in my life, I don’t want to achieve anything. I don’t desire to have an impact.
I don’t seek meaning in my life. I have learned that life with God is not like that.
I have learned that I am a fragile jar of clay filled with the light of heaven. God’s light is shining in our hearts, Paul says. I’m not special, but what shines within me is incredibly special. It is God’s own light. I’m not special, and I don’t do anything special. As Paul says, “our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”
Yes, look at those words from verse seven. I have great power. You have great power. We have great power. The reason for this power is the light of God within us. The purpose of this power is so that we are not crushed or driven to despair.
What’s that? The purpose of the power isn’t for you to make a great impact on the world for Christ. It’s not for you to change the world for God. It’s so that when life is hard we are not defeated. Because life is hard. Life doesn’t get easy.
2 Corinthians 4:8 – “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”
At this time in my life, my goal is to be a fragile jar of clay filled with God’s light. My goal is to be a tabernacle in which God’s glory shines. As part of this life of God’s power and light, all I do is “preach that Jesus Christ is Lord” and I am his servant.
There is no marketing trick about this. No special technique. It is just a matter of honestly being a fragile jar of clay and speaking simply the truth. We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.
We fragile jars of clay cannot make or force anyone to believe. We cannot argue people into the kingdom of heaven. We cannot force them to be filled with God’s glorious light. Satan won’t allow it.
“Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” (verse 4)
I am no longer confused about who I am. I am no longer perplexed by my purpose in this world. God’s plan works out when I am filled with his light and allow him to do the work. Any impact will be a result of God’s power. It is God’s work. My duty is to live humbly and be filled with his light. My duty is to be honest in all my words and only speak the truth in love.
Does this seem too simple? Does this seem unworthy?
No, not at all. It is the greatest calling of our lives.
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.