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During this four-week period, Epistle readings from the Revised Common Lectionary are from a section of the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians sometimes referred to as the “great digression”. In chapter 2 verse 14, the Apostle digressed from travel plans to praise God for calling him to preach the Lord Jesus Christ. His Epistle returns to addressing his travel plans in chapter 7 verse 5.
Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians 4: 5-12 (NIV)
5 For what we preach is not 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 God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 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. 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 also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
The Apostle Paul knew that the church in Corinth had received visitors who claimed to be apostles but who preached a message very different from the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to Paul. He referred to this in 12: 4:
For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
He was alluding to these visitors, these false teachers, critically when he wrote (4: 5) that “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”. That message is a warning to all preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the ages and especially at the present time.
Those who preach the word of God are called to do so for the sake of the Gospel, not for the sake of their own reputations. The same applies to teachers of the word (see James 3: 1) and those who lead children’s ministries. The servant is required always to point to the master for it is to the Master alone that the glory belongs. Yet the human heart is fickle. Every one of us desires some kind of recognition, acceptance, respect. We all desire to be well-regarded; some of us, regrettably, will do anything to be admired, esteemed, idolised.
Paul has rightly written that “this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”. That statement applies not only to preachers but also to those with gifts that could be described as “spectacular”, the “miracle-healers”, the renowned musicians and celebrities of stage or screen and those regarded as heroes in their chosen sports.
The light that shines in the hearts of believers is “his light”; it is not from any human source. The light of the knowledge of God’s glory, displayed in the face of Christ (verse 6), gives cause for rejoicing not only in the life of the one who receives it but also in the life of the one who passes on the message of salvation. Rightly did Paul claim that “this all-surpassing power is from God”. Let us never forget that!