Paul used the metaphor of treasure in jars of clay to portray His surpassing power and glory through limited and frail human beings. Pondering on the afflictions that beset our mortal bodies, Paul reminded his readers of the transience of our suffering and the eternal glory that awaits those who live to please the Lord. In this present passage, Paul appeals to the Corinthians to understand the magnificence of the ministry to which he has been called and not be influenced by those who measure others by fleshly standards.
Did You Know...?
- “Beside ourselves… in our right mind” (5:13): The Greeks applied these terms to the skills of an orator. For example, Aristotle used the word existēmi, ἐξίστημι (translated here as “beside oneself”) to describe an orator who wanders from his subject and whose speech is confusing. On the other hand sōphroneō, σωφρονέω (translated here as “be in one’s right mind”) was defined as “fitness and propriety in speech and action.” [ref] In this sentence, Paul uses the aorist tense for “we were beside ourselves,” indicating an action in the past, and the present tense for “we are in our right mind.” As such, by being “beside themselves,” Paul may be alluding to his manner of speaking when he was present among the Corinthians. On the other hand, “in our right mind” may be a reference to the letter he is currently writing with Timothy. See 2 Cor 10:10 for the criticism that some has laid against Paul, i.e., his letters are weighty and strong but his bodily presence is weak and his speech of no account.
- “In a favorable time I listened to you…” (6:2): Paul is quoting from Isaiah 49:8.
- Controlled by the Love of Christ (5:11–15)
- Ministry of Reconciliation (5:1–21)
- Commendation of Servants of God (6:1–10)
Observe and record mentions of what Christ has done for us in this passage.Hide Answer
Christ loved us and died for us (5:14). He is the means by which we are reconciled to God (5:18). Although He was without sin, he was made sin for our sake (5:21).
How does “the fear of the Lord” relate to the previous segment?Hide Answer
In chapter 5 verses 9 and 10, Paul speaks about making it our aim to please Christ because we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and receive what is due for what we have done. The current segment (5:11–15) continues this idea. The fear of the Lord comes from a keen awareness that we must answer to Christ in our ministry and in our lives.
What characterize the nature and motivation of Paul’s ministry?Hide Answer
1.Serving to please Christ and being accountable to God (5:9–11)
2.Serving with the heart rather than with outward appearance (5:12)
3.Being unreserved toward God while mindful of the needs of the believers (5:13)
4.Living for Christ, being controlled by His love (5:14–15)
How do the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ serve as your driving force?
In what sense have we all died (v. 14)?Hide Answer
We who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death. The concrete expression of baptism into the death of Christ is renouncing sin and walking in newness of life (Rom 6:1–4). The old person that used to live for ourselves has died. Now it is no longer we who live, but Christ who live in us (Gal 2:20).
What does it mean to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ?Hide Answer
Whereas we used to obey our own desires and wishes, we now seek Christ’s will in our lives in all that we do. Our goals, ambitions, commitments, and choices in life ought to center on Christ. Christ’s commands must always take first place. We should also strive to manifest His righteousness, love, and compassion in our speech and conduct.
Taking into account the context of this passage, explain the meaning of regarding someone according to the flesh.Hide Answer
Some people take pride in outward appearance rather than what is in the heart (cf. 5:12). They measure others or themselves by the standards of this world, such as one’s looks, wealth, education, status, or eloquence. This was how some people judged and criticized Paul’s ministry.
Before we believed in Christ, we regarded Christ according to the flesh. From a secular perspective, there is little about Jesus that is attractive (cf. Isa 53:2–3). To those who count on worldly wisdom, Christ’s death on the cross is foolish and weak (1 Cor 1:18, 22). But for us who are being saved, the cross is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18). That is a completely different view of Christ. As believers, we now have a new perspective and a new set of values. We measure our worth and the worth of our work by what is pleasing in the eyes of God.
What does it mean to be “in Christ” (v. 17)Hide Answer
Being in Christ starts with faith in Christ and baptism into Christ (Gal 3:25–29). The expression is used of all those who belong to Christ and are members of Christ’s body. They have received redemption and have been sanctified (cf. Rom 3:24; 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 2:13). Furthermore, being in Christ is to be lived out in our lives by walking according to the Spirit (Rom 8:1–4).
How are we a new creation in Christ?Hide Answer
Being a new creation means being a new person created in Christ Jesus (cf. Eph 2:10). Through baptism into Christ we have a new identity as children of God. Beyond a change in identity is a new way of life and a new way of thinking. As a new creation, we have the likeness of God, with true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24–5:11). Such a new lifestyle begins with the renewal of the spirit of our minds (Eph 4:23; cf Rom 12:1–2). Instead of seeking what the flesh desires, we are to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ. In the present context, to have a new mind encompasses valuing what God values rather than what this world deems as important.
Why is the gospel we preach a message of reconciliation?Hide Answer
As sinners, we were enemies of God in our minds and in our conduct. But Christ died for us and saved us from the wrath of God. As such, by the death of Christ, the Son of God, we were reconciled to God (Rom 5:6–11; Col 1:21–22). The gospel is the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. By sharing this good news with others, we offer them the opportunity to forsake their enmity towards God and become at peace with God.
What is our job as ambassadors for Christ?Hide Answer
As ambassadors for Christ, we represent Christ. Our duty is to let the world know the forgiveness of sins and salvation that Christ offers. Since we represent Christ, we need to also carry the righteousness and love of Christ with us wherever we go so others may see Christ in us.
Explain what it means to receive the grace of God in vain.Hide Answer
The grace of God denotes all that God has given us freely in Jesus Christ, including His salvation and the ministry He has enabled us to serve in (cf. Gal 1:15; Eph 1:7; 2:8; 4:7; Php 1:7; Tit 2:11). Since God’s purpose in redemption is that we may become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21; cf. Tit 2:11–14), we would be receiving God’s grace in vain if we continue to walk in sin (cf. Rom 6:1–2). Furthermore, failure to make use of the gifts God has given us to do His good works is also receiving God’s grace in vain, since God has called us to do good works (cf Eph 2:10; 1 Pet 2:9). If we do not bear good fruits as our Lord expects us to, we would be like a barren tree that only occupies the soil but serves no purpose (cf. Lk 13:6–8; Jn 15:8).
Paul, who considers it God’s grace to have been chosen to proclaim the gospel, did not receive this grace in vain. He labored faithfully and diligently by God’s grace to fulfill his commission (1 Cor 15:10).
Why does Paul quote Isa 49:8 here?Hide Answer
The ministry of reconciliation God has entrusted to Paul is for the purpose of bringing God’s favor and salvation to the world. By citing the words of Isaiah, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they have already received the wonderful grace of God’s favor and salvation via ambassadors like Paul. They must not keep their hearts closed to the grace that God has given them but open their hearts to God’s work through the ministers of the gospel (cf. 2 Cor 6:11–13).
How do we ensure that we put no obstacle in anyone’s way when we serve?Hide Answer
When we consider only our own interests or put our personal agenda above the needs of others, we become an obstacle to others (cf. 1 Cor 8:9–13; 9:12; Gal 4:17; 6:13).
Read the descriptions of Paul’s ministry in verses 4 to 10 and think about in which areas you can grow in your ministry.
What point is Paul making by the paradoxes in verses 8 to 10?Hide Answer
As ministers and ambassadors for Christ we will meet all kinds of people and circumstances. Sometimes our message is welcomed but other times we are rejected. Sometimes we are praised but other times we are maligned. We may be misunderstood, and we may even reach the brink of despair because of the hardships in our ministry. But God’s grace carries us through and continues to unleash its surpassing power despite our vulnerability and frailty. (See similar paradoxes in the imagery of the treasure in jars of clay in 4:7–12).