It's Not the Container, It's the Contents
Dear Heavenly Father, I cannot thank You enough for letting Your light to shine into my dark heart and revealing to me the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Enable me to share this good news with others and to let this light of Christ shine forth in my life! Amen.
2 Corinthians 4:3-7 (ESV)
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
IT’S NOT THE CONTAINER, IT’S THE CONTENTS
Dear Friends in Christ, Fellow Redeemed!
I still use my old hunting bag. Its strap is wearing out and the adjustment doesn’t work anymore. I had to replace the zipper with a twist-tie. But I still take it with me whenever I go hunting. Inside are all of my hunting treasures – a rattle bag, a pair of binoculars, the knife I got from my grandpa. You may wonder why I don’t buy a new one. The truth is that I may have to soon, but it has a special value to me. And besides it’s not the container, but the contents that count.
Have you ever wondered why God would put the treasures of His salvation into our hands? Surely, He could have found something much more suitable for such precious contents. That is the mystery that the Apostle Paul is wondering about in the text before us this morning.
May God bless our study as we also consider this marvel, that God would put His powerful Gospel into us--into jars of clay.
IT’S NOT THE CONTAINER, IT’S THE CONTENTS
In order to fully understand what Paul is talking about in these verses we need to go back into chapter 3 and trace the Holy Spirit’s train of thought as He leads into the section before us. Verse 3 begins with the words, “even if our gospel is veiled…” This veiling is a theme of this whole section. We can trace it back to where Paul is contrasting the law of Moses and the gospel of Jesus Christ. He calls the law, “the ministry of condemnation,” because that’s what the law does. It shows us our sin. He calls the gospel, “the ministry of righteousness,” because that is how we receive righteousness, through the gospel of Jesus. Let us read these verses.
9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. 12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed (2 Corinthians 3:9-16 ESV).
What is it that can veil the gospel? Well, what is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died once and for all on the cross in order to free all people from the curse of sin. So, what can veil that from peoples’ minds? It can be only one thing: work-righteousness.
Work-righteousness is the idea that we need to do something in order to help achieve our salvation. It is the idea that there is something inside you and me that makes us better than the unbelievers in this world. Now on the surface, that may not seem like such a big deal. So, what if you think you can do a little bit to help with your salvation. But really think about it.
If you need to be good enough to earn salvation, if Jesus didn’t actually take away the sins of the entire world, then you can never actually be sure of your salvation. You can never know whether you have done enough good works. You can never know if Jesus took away your worst sins--you know the ones that no one knows about, that you think are sufficiently swept under the rug or hidden in the closet.
And worst of all, work-righteousness devalues the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made. The work-righteous people who believe they are helping Jesus win their salvation are actually taking away the glory that He deserves for the work and price that He paid.
This is the veil that covers the eyes of those who are perishing. It covered the eyes of those at the time of Moses who believed they could fulfill God’s Law. It covered the eyes of the Pharisees at the time of Christ who believed they could appease God through their keeping His Law. It covered the eyes of those who followed the Catholic church at the time of Martin Luther who believed they could purchase their salvation through indulgences. It continues to cover the eyes of anyone who does not trust in Jesus Christ alone as the only way to salvation.
And who has blinded the minds of all of these who are perishing? Paul tells us that it is “the god of this world.” That is Satan, who is called in John’s gospel, “the prince of this world” (John 14:30). The devil has great interest in this world. The devil wants to drag as many of the jewels of God’s beautiful creation to hell with him as he possibly can. And sadly, the devil does rule in the hearts and minds of many people in this world and as the prince of darkness and ruler of the darkness of this world, he darkens the understandings of men. He blinds their minds with ignorance and error so that they do not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is in the image of God.
Have you ever wandered around in the basement of the church with all of the lights turned off? The other night I thought I could make it from the stairs by Harold’s room over to the school entrance. After banging into several chairs and almost tripping over a table, I retreated and turned the light on in order to make my way safely across.
As dark as the basement is, the darkness of sin is far denser. The fog of unbelief is far more impenetrable. We would all still be stumbling down the sin-darkened slope to hell if it weren’t for the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. With the power of His gospel, He lights up our dark hearts. He dispels unbelief’s darkness and does away with sin’s fog. Now that glorious light of Christ floods our hearts. We know that Jesus is the Light of the world. We see His cross as the beacon lighting the road to heaven. We follow His Word as the bright light for our paths in this world. God’s marvelous light of salvation shines all the way ahead of us to heaven.
This glorious light is the content, it is the true treasure that is stored in us jars of clay. That is what the apostle Paul knew when he wrote verse 5, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” The container, the packaging is not what is important. So, we do not preach ourselves. We do not preach the container. We do not preach the packaging. We preach Christ crucified!
You and I--we believers are containers. We are servants as Paul says. We are just like Christmas wrapping. We are to emphasize the content, not the container. And why? Verse 6 answers, “For God, who said. 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
When did God say, “Let light shine out of darkness?” Way back on the first day of creation! God’s first recorded words are “Let there be light!” Think of all of the wonders and marvels of God’s wondrous creation--from the largest stars and galaxies to the smallest protons and electrons. God certainly deserves all of our praise and glory for His marvelous creation.
What is your glory? What is anyone’s glory? Your glory is something that you do exceptionally well with the gifts and talents with which God has blessed you. Maybe it is your job. Maybe it is your ability to cook. Maybe it is your athletic talents. Maybe it is your ability to raise children.
Yet in this verse where does God say His glory is found? It is found in the face of Jesus Christ. Of all of the great, wonderful, mighty, fantastic works of our God--the greatest thing God ever did… His glory… is the life and death of Jesus Christ who lived that you might live, who died that you might never die, and who lives forever that you may too.
God deserves praise and glory for His creation, but God ultimately deserves our praise for shining the good news of the gospel into our hearts. He deserves our praise for filling us, these lousy jars of clay with the light of His glory, with the light of His Son.
Do we pause often enough to thank God for bringing His light in Christ to me? There are many mornings that I wake up to the light God created in this world and forget to thank Him for it. Let that not be true of the light He has created in my heart.
Ever wonder why God put the treasures of His salvation into our hands? Surely, He could have found a much more suitable container for such precious contents. I know how often I didn’t tell my neighbors about their only Savior. Or if I tried, how often I seemed to botch the job. I know how often I passed by the opportunity to teach my children about Jesus. I know how often as a pastor I could have done better. So why in the world did God put the priceless message of His salvation into my rusty, dented hands?
Could it be that He wanted to remind me where the power behind His message lies? Not in the one telling it but in the One of whom it tells. Not in the one preaching but in the One who is the central message of all preaching. It is God’s message. It’s His message about His Son, the only Savior from sin. And it is God’s power that makes the message work in the hearts of people. I’m only a rusty, dented container, but the contents God entrusted to me are more than precious.
Pastor Joe Naumann