2 Corinthians 4:1-18 – When we lose our focus (Treasure in heaven)
Let us Pray
Have you enjoyed the Hutton report this week? Maybe ‘enjoyed’ is not the proper way of putting it. Perhaps you have to have a slightly perverse sense of humour to have enjoyed it.
Listening to Lord Hutton read his report certainly made compelling listening. I was in the car on my way back down from a conference in Staffordshire, and we turned on the radio just a few minutes after the report started. So there we were, sitting in the car on the M6 listening to Lord Hutton read his summary of the report – for the next hour – as he went piece by piece through the evidence.
Did Tony Blair or Alastair Campbell deceive the British public? Was Dr Kelly the source? Did Andrew Gilligan embellish his story? Should the BBC have done something about the complaint? Was there a conspiracy to reveal Dr Kelly’s name? And point by point we listened to lord Hutton as he gave his considered opinion on who did what when.
Lord Hutton set himself five questions to answer – and he answered them. He remained focussed on the task in hand.
But at the same time, are we satisfied with the Hutton report? The BBC certainly aren’t. But what about everybody else? Are we any closer to finding out what when wrong – if anything did – with the intelligence over Weapons of Mass destruction? Do we know why we went to war? Has the Hutton report distracted us from the main issue? And why didn’t we realise until now?
It is so easy to be distracted and to lose our focus. The phone rings. The email needs checking, a text arrives, some one calls round. The kids need picking up or taking back or both. We have work to do. We have house work to do – we have homework to do.
We want to focus on one thing – and five other things pop into our minds. If I ever need to remember all the little things I’ve forgotten to do in a week, all I need to do is do some work on a sermon – because sure as anything, they’ll come nagging at my door.
It is so easy to lose our focus and become distracted.
We live in an age of information overload. Every time I log onto the internet I dip my toe into a sea of information which will happily swallow me. This is a new thing – never before have there been so many things that we do not need to know – but distraction is not a new thing. We have more little things to distract us – but life has always been full of big things to distract us – from the big things – from what’s really important.
Tonight as we look at 2 Corinthians 4, - its on page 1160 of the bibles in the chairs - we’re thinking about when we lose focus. We’re thinking really about what our focus is on – and what might cause us to lose focus, to take our eyes of the ball. Paul takes us through his ministry – and shares with the Corinthians, and with us, how he keeps his eye on the ball.
Let’s look at what Paul says to us tonight.
1. Don’t lose heart when you are rejected (v1-6)
Look at verse 1.
2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.
Notice the therefore here. Paul wants us to keep in mind what he has already said – particularly the stuff we were talking about last week, the glory of the New covenant compared to the Old – and how the new covenant transforms people by the Spirit of God.
Paul has a great gospel to proclaim – that is his ministry – and that is what he is staying focussed on – preaching Christ to everyone he can, based on God’s mercy, and for God’s glory.
So how does Paul, and how should we, stay focussed on this ministry?
a. We need to know how we behave (v2)
This isn’t about knowing how to behave – this is about being comfortable – having a clear conscience – about how we do behave. Look at verse 2.
2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
Paul’s preaching is principled. He won’t deceive people – he won’t distort God’s word. Positively, he makes truth plain – and that commends him to everyone’s conscience. Why does Paul bother to say that he doesn’t distort or deceive? After all, you wouldn’t expect anything less from an apostle. Why does he tell us that he sets the truth forth plainly? Again – what else is he going to do?
Why? Because Paul wants to draw a distinction between what he is doing, and what the super-apostles were doing – those who set themselves up over the Corinthian church. But more than that. Paul also knows how tempting it is to tweak something here or there, to make it that little bit more popular or palatable. What about if I’m preaching on hell? Or if I’m preaching about a sin that I’m particularly prone to – will I not be tempted to tweak the message slightly?
(Which is one of the reasons why, incidentally we encourage people to have their bibles open during the sermon – I want you to tell me if I’m saying something different to what the bible says.)
What about those figures that don’t quite say what we’d like them to say? Or this piece of information here.
Have we renounced secret and shameful ways – do we have a clear conscience, so that we can be confident in how we conduct ourselves in the world, and particularly what we say to others about Jesus Christ. What do we say to others about Christ? Is it what he would say about himself? If we want to keep our focus, we need to have a clean conscience, we need to be comfortable with our behaviour, otherwise we’re always going to think that we’re the problem.
b. Know how others see us (v3-4)
Then we need to recognise that how others react to us, is as much about them as it is about us. Look at verses 3 and 4.
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Paul talks about the gospel being veiled – that people cannot see the good news about Jesus Christ. If something is veiled, then you can’t see it fully – and we have already seen that the gospel is veiled until Christ removes the veil. Those who are veiled are those who are perishing – there heading to death, away from Christ – and they can’t see where they are going. Verse 4 – they are blinded by the devil – they can’t see the gospel of Christ.
When we share the gospel, we shouldn’t use secret and shameful ways – we shouldn’t be taken up with technique at the expense of a clear presentation of the gospel – we should have a clear conscience about what we say. But also, when we share the good news about Jesus Christ, we need to recognise that people won’t always react positively, even when we get everything ‘right’.
Which can be a bit discouraging. We don’t always start off with a level playing field, where people come in with an open mind to hear about Jesus – the bible tell us that those who are perishing, those who don’t know Jesus as Lord and Saviour are blinded, and a blind man cannot make himself see.
But it should also encourage us, as it causes us to rely on God. We can’t make people see again – but God can. We need to be focussed on saying what God wants us to say, keeping the focus on Jesus. Which brings us to Paul’s next point.
c. Know what you’re doing (v5-6)
Verses 5 and 6:
5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
If we want to keep our focus on what’s important, we need to know what it is we’re doing. Paul faced rejection – people didn’t want to listen to what he had to say. But he didn’t turn to deceit and dishonesty to get his message across – he didn’t change it to make it easier for people to hear. And he recognised why people don’t listen and hear – he recognised that he was dealing with spiritual blindness. And so he focussed his preaching on Jesus Christ as Lord – with himself as Jesus’ servant – or more properly, slave.
Jesus is the master – Paul is his servant. A servant – a slave - strives to do what the master wants him to do. He recognises who is in control – the master. Look at verse 6 – God – the creator God, who made the light in the beginning – is the one who enlightened our hearts.
Without God, our hearts were dark places. We were deceived by the devil, and blind to the light. But God made us shine with his light – he enlightened us. We did not do this ourselves – God did it. We don’t make people come to Christ. God does that. We are his servants – and he wants his servants to faithfully speak and preach his message, whether people are willing to listen or not.
Paul is focussed on telling people about Jesus – and he wants us to be focussed on that as well. But he doesn’t want us to lose our focus because people aren’t listening. He wants us to stay firm to the original message of salvation – not to turn to secret and shameful ways. He wants us to recognise the spiritual blindness of the world, so that we won’t rely on ourselves but on him, And most of all he wants us to see the power and majesty of God at work in people’s lives, turning them to him, enlightening them, bringing them to know him as saviour and Lord. So even when people don’t listen, even when we are rejected, we do not lose heart – we rely more on God and keep our eyes focussed on him.
2. Don’t lose heart when you are suffering (v7-15)
Paul moves in verse 7 from just thinking about rejection of the gospel, to thinking and writing about suffering for the gospel. He wants us to get the big picture perspective on suffering
a. Know the Big Picture (v7-9)
Suffering, whether physical, mental or emotional, is one of the biggest questions we face in the Christian life. Why does God allow suffering? Why am I suffering now – why am I suffering this? Why are some people starving whilst others suffer from having too much food? We cannot answer on some of these questions. We simply do not always know why, at the individual level, people suffer what they do – why them not anybody else. But Paul does here give us a perspective on suffering which is very important. Look at verse 7.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
Treasure in jars of clay. The treasure is the gospel, the light which shines in our hearts from Jesus Christ as the spirit is at work in us. And we are the jar of clay – perishable, breakable, and yet the place where God chooses to put his light, and the people God chooses to share that light with others. So that God’s power would be seen. So that the glory would be given to God.
Think about this for a moment. Now Michael Schumacher is, without doubt a great racing driver. He’s won many world titles, he’s won huge numbers of grand pries, he rarely seems to make a mistake. But do you ever wonder where Michael Schumacher would be without his red Ferrari? What about if Michael Schumacher had to drive a Minardi, or an arrows, or a BAR – would he win then? There is no doubt that Schumacher is a great driver – but he drives a great car. The glory of victory is not his alone – his Ferrari has something to do with it. Schumacher’s Ferrari is hardly a jar of clay.
But we are jars of clay – carrying treasure, so that the glory goes to the right person, to God. God receives the glory. And God sustains us. Look onto verses 8 and 9:
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
Whatever situation Paul faced, he knew that God was with him, and that God would sustain him. Paul may be hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down – but none of these things cause him to give up. He is not crushed, or despairing, abandoned or destroyed. Paul knows that God will sustain him. He knows that he can rely on God.
We have treasure in jars of clay. We have God’s treasure – the glory is his, and he sustains us. In whatever situation, God sustains us. God does not cause us to suffer more than we can bear, and he is there to bear us up. And Paul goes on. He knows that God will sustain him – but he also knows that there is a purpose to his suffering.
b. Know the purpose (v10-15)
Paul knows that his suffering is not without purpose. Look at verses 10 and 11:
10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.
We need to work to understand what Paul is saying here. He is contrasting life and death.
There is death. Paul talks about carrying around the death of Jesus, and being given over to death for Jesus sake. These two phrases describe the same thing. Just as Jesus was persecuted and died, so to can his followers expect to be persecuted for his sake, for following him. We are Jesus followers. We are marked as his – and part of that mark is the fact that he suffered death.
And there is life. We reveal the true life that is in us by being given over to death for Jesus sake. When we are willing to suffer for following Christ – whether that means people at school won’t talk to us, or we don’t get invited to the best parties, or we don’t get promoted at work – or we’re shunned in the office as a do gooder, or we’re attacked in the street and ridiculed in public – when we’re willing to suffer for Christ, we show the life which is in us.
The early Christian martyrs
who faced the lions in
12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Paul contrasts his suffering with the life that is at work in the Corinthians – and knows that his ministry to them was worth the pain it caused him. And what else could he have done – verses 13 and 14:
13 It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.
It’s a simple equation for Paul. I believe – so I spoke. Given the truth about eternal life – given the fact that Christ was raised for m the dead, and so will his followers be raised – Paul speaks. He shares the gospel – despite suffering. And again, in verse 15, Paul makes sure that we keep the big picture in mind:
15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
His ministry benefits the Corinthians – just as it benefits us today, as we hear from God’s word. And Paul spreads the word of God – so that more and more people may come to know God, and praise him for who he is. Suffering for the gospel reveals the life of Jesus Christ, the one who was raised from the dead, in our lives. And suffering as we spread the gospel means that the gospel is still being spread – and what else are we going to do? We believe – therefore we speak.
And finally, in verses 16 to 18, Paul tells us to keep our eyes fixed on the future.
3. Keep your eyes fixed on the future (v16-18)
Paul begins verse 16 with therefore – because of what he has already said. Paul wants to apply what us to apply what he has said. In verse 1 he said he did not lose heart. He does not lose heart even when people reject the gospel – because he knows how he should act, he knows who they are, and he know he God is. He does not lose heart when he suffers for the sake of the Good news of Jesus Christ – because he knows God sustains him, and he knows that his suffering reveals the glory of God. And here, in verses 16 to 18, he does not lose heart because he keeps his eyes on the future.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
Every day we are closer to death. Every day we are closer to glory. Day by day we die. Day by day we are being renewed, and will live forever
17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Our light and momentary troubles – which meant of course for Paul, stonings, beatings, desperate escapes, slanders, imprisonment - are anything but light at the time, but when we set them against eternal glory, they are so far outweighed that they are light and momentary in comparison.
18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
This is our focus as God’s people. We keep our focus on the future, on eternal glory with Christ Jesus for all those who know and love him as saviour and Lord. Some will reject the good news about Jesus. Some will persecute us for being true to Jesus. But we keep our eyes fixed on the future – we keep going, and we do not lose our focus. And we do not lose heart.
Let us pray.