As summer is coming to an end, I can’t wait to begin so many opportunities for ministry that being on a college campus provides. However, my time in 2 Corinthians reminded me of something vital to remember: “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. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).
God has shown in my heart what I would have been blinded to unless He removed the veil covering the light of the gospel. Just as God spoke into the formless, void earth covered with darkness, “Let there be light,” He does the same in our hearts to allow us to see His glory in the face of His son (Genesis 1:3). But, He didn’t stop there. God chose to use us as fragile, humble, weak vessels in order to show all the power is His. We must remember God’s design for our reliance on Him as we minister to others.
Calling all clay pots
God’s design for ministry is much different from the world’s. Imagine applying for a job and seeing under the necessary requirements section: “must be supremely unqualified, powerless, and fragile.” It would be shocking. But, this is precisely how the ministry of God glorifies Him best. God uses the weak to most clearly display His power at work within them.
God is “calling all clay pots,” as John Piper says. “We have this treasure in clay pots to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. Notice how utterly different God’s concept of ministry is from the world’s. The world is very interested in shiny containers but not in the glory of God who manifests Himself in human weakness.”
God doesn’t require a perfect past, résumé, status, appearance, or personality. He requires that the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is our supreme treasure. We are a pitiful vessel, but if you just peer over the edge of that clay jar, the light that shines in our life, hearts, and minds radiates out of the gospel truth we have clung to like life itself. That reality is only made possible by God’s power and sovereign will, and this is how He has decided to display His glory.
Paul as an example
It is no accident Paul was inspired to write these words because he lived them. “I am the least of the apostles,” he says, “unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).
Paul’s conversion was nothing less than the radical interference of an all-powerful God who “has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:18). It was only by God’s grace that He chose to utilize the former Christian persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, as the humble vessel for His gospel message.
We know that God’s grace was not in vain because Paul’s conversion brought glory to God two thousand years ago and continues to have a profound impact on Christianity today. God’s use of a broken vessel like Paul, “who used to persecute [Christians]” was “now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” This news had to have spread like wildfire as people “glorified God because of [him]” (Galatians 1:23-24).
The same man who watched and approved of Stephen getting stoned for proclaiming the Gospel was now willing to be afflicted, perplexed, struck down, and given over to death for Jesus’ sake (Acts 7-8, 2 Corinthians 4:8-12). This is God’s work, His will, and His glory on display.
God’s Will affects our way
This better understanding Paul gives us in 2 Corinthians of God’s purposes in ministry should affect our view of how we are to minister to others. We are not perfect or extraordinary people impervious to afflictions, hardships, and calamities. We are fragile and weak vessels equipped with the power of God and the weapons of righteousness for a mission that will be wholly accomplished by God’s utilization of us.
If we do not depend solely on the Lord to equip us for ministry, we are leaning on the hollow shell of a clay pot rather than the potter Himself. Why is it this way? Because everything we do on this earth should wholly reflect the greatness, glory, worth, and honor of a God who said, “Let there be light.” When gospel work gets tough, take heart, because “there was light” in the world and in our hearts, and “this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (Genesis 1:3, 2 Corinthians 4:17).
“March we forth in the strength of God,
with the banner of Christ unfurled,
that the light of the glorious gospel of truth
may shine throughout the world;
fight we the fight with sorrow and sin,
to set their captives free,
that the earth may be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.”
– Arthur Campbell Ainger