Setting

Paul has expounded on the exceedingly glorious nature of his ministry. Unlike the ministry under the old covenant, which brought condemnation and death, the ministry of the new covenant brings righteousness and life. Therefore, Paul is able to be so bold as preachers of the Lord Jesus Christ and servants to believers. Nevertheless, ministers of the gospel must face the often oppressive surroundings and cope with their own human limitations in their ministry. In the present passage, Paul ponders on the stark contrast between the surpassing power of God’s work and the frailty of the ministers. But Paul speaks triumphantly of the life of Jesus Christ that manifests itself through our lowliness and mortality.

Key Verse

(4:7)

Did You Know...?

  1. I believed, and so I spoke” (4:13): These words are taken from Psalm 116:10.
  2. Guarantee (5:5): The word is a commercial term that signifies 1) a “pledge” which is later returned; 2) a “deposit” which pays part of the total debt and gives a legal claim; or 3) “earnest-money” ratifying a compact. It always implies an act which engages to something bigger. [ref]
    This word is also used in 2 Corinthians 1:22.
  3. Judgment seat (5:10): the tribunal bench in the Roman courtroom where the governor sat while rendering judicial verdicts. [ref]

Outline

  • Treasure in Jars of Clay
    (4:7–12)
  • Faith in God’s Power
    (4:13–15)
  • Eternal Weight of Glory
    (4:16–18)
  • Eternal Heavenly Building
    (5:1–5)
  • Aiming to Please the Lord
    (5:6–10)

Keywords/Phrases

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Segment Analysis

  • 4:7–12

    1.

    Identify the contrasts in this segment.

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    Treasures vs. jars of clay; God vs. us; afflicted vs. crushed; perplexed vs. driven to despair; persecuted vs. forsaken; struck down vs. destroyed; death vs. life

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  • 2.

    What are “treasure” and “jars of clay” metaphors of (v. 7)?

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    From the context of the previous segments, we may infer that “treasure” is a metaphor for the ministry of the gospel. The ministry is of such great value because it brings people life and gives the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. “Jars of clay,” on the other hand, allude to the ministers of the gospel. Paul has mentioned a few times the limitations and lowliness of the ministers of Christ, and he will continue this theme going forward (cf. 2 Cor 2:16; 3:5; 4:5, 7–12). The imagery of jars of clay refers especially to the mortal flesh Paul speaks of in this segment—the body that is frail and constantly oppressed.

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  • 3.

    Explain what it means to carry in the body the death of Jesus (v. 10).

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    The term “the death of Jesus” embodies Jesus’ sacrificial death for us as well as the sufferings He endured. Thus, to carry in the body the death of Jesus is to endure reproach, persecution, false accusations, etc, in the name of Jesus. Just as Christ suffered for righteousness, we as His servants will likewise suffer for carrying out His commission (cf. Jn 15:18–21; 1 Pet 4:1–4, 12–16).

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  • 4:7-12

    4.

    Recall an experience in which you felt keenly the life of Jesus at work even as you were carrying the death of Jesus.

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  • 4:13–15

    5.

    Read the entire Psalm 116. How is the context of “I believed, and so I spoke” (Ps 116:10) in that psalm similar to the context of this passage?

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    The sentence that Paul quotes in Psalm 116:10 is followed by the words “I am greatly afflicted.” What the psalmist speaks about through faith is his great affliction. In this psalm, we see repeated mention of death and distress. Paul has aptly adapted the words of the psalmist to his discussion of the hardship ministers of the gospel endure for Christ. Just as the psalmist is able to speak boldly through faith even as he experiences the threat of death, Paul is likewise able to speak triumphantly through faith despite the great sufferings he endures.

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  • 6.

    What enables you to remain steadfast in faith when faced with hardship?

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    If we bear in mind the immeasurable value of the ministry the Lord has entrusted us, we will continue to trust in the Lord in the face of hardship. Despite the difficulties we endure, we know how that our ministry is bringing the life of Jesus and a glorious hope to others.

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  • 7.

    Why does Paul mention the resurrection in this segment?

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    Our resurrection in the future will be Christ’s final triumph over sin and death (1 Cor 15:54–57). This hope motivates us to serve with steadfastness and diligence (1 Cor 15:58). We believe that since God has raised Jesus from the dead, God will likewise raise us with Jesus. With such faith in God’s power, we are also confident that God will deliver us from the deadly perils that may oppress us as we carry out His will.

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  • 4:16–18

    8.

    Record the contrasting pairs in this segment.

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    Light momentary vs. eternal weight; affliction vs. glory; seen vs. unseen; transient vs. eternal

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  • 9.

    What are the things that are seen and the things that are unseen?  

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    The things that are seen refer to life in this physical realm. They include our bodily comfort and pleasure, secular accomplishments, and material wealth. Things that are unseen include the spiritual dimension such as the glorious gospel and God’s promises such as our future resurrection and reward (cf. Rom 8:24–25).

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  • 10.

    How does this segment help you in your affliction?

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    Our present affliction, however painful it may be, becomes “light” and “momentary” in view of the incomparable glory that awaits us. Not only so, our affliction is actually preparing us for glory (4:17). In other words, our labor for the Lord is not in vain, for the Lord Himself will reward us when He comes.

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  • 5:1–5

    11.

    Explain the metaphors of tent and building.

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    Paul’s words “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (5:4; cf. 1 Cor 15:54) give us a clue to the meaning of the metaphors. Paul is using the tent, which is temporary, as a metaphor for our present existence in this mortal body. Building, which is permanent, represents our eternal life with God.

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  • 12.

    What is the role of the Spirit with respect to the current topic?

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    The Holy Spirit serves as a guarantee of our eternal glorious life in the future (cf. Eph 1:11–14). Receiving the Holy Spirit is a tangible experience because it is accompanied by the sign of speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4, 33; 10:45, 46; 19:6). As such, the Holy Spirit who dwells us is a concrete evidence from God of the promise that is yet to be fulfilled.

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  • 5:6–10

    13.

    Cite an example from daily life that illustrates how we walk by faith rather than by sight.

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  • 14.

    What earnest wish is Paul speaking about in verse 8?

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    Paul eagerly looks forward to freedom from the bondage of corruption of our mortal body and being with the Lord Jesus in glory (cf. Rom 8:20–23; Phil 1:21–23).

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  • 15.

    How do we make it our aim to please the Lord?

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    We should make a determination to always obey the Lord’s commandments in the choices we make in daily life and in our long-term goals. Rather than living for our own comfort and ambitions, we need to walk worthy of the Lord’s calling even if it means hardships along the way (cf. 2 Cor 5:14; Eph 4:1; Col 1:10).

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  • 16.

    How does the future judgment factor into our goals and choices?

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    We all have to give an account to the Lord for what we have done (Rom 14:12; Heb 4:13). Choosing to do what pleases others or ourselves may offer some temporary gratification, but in view of the final judgment, pleasing our Lord is ultimately what matters (cf. 1 Cor 4:1–5).

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