Why does Christian ministry often look so unimpressive? We pray for the transformation of many lives, which surely is the will of God. However, so often we feel beaten down by the lack of response from others, and sometimes even by the lack of transformation in ourselves. We have such a wonderful calling, but all too often, it can feel so mundane.
Understandably, we long for greater power, greater impact, and greater results. Maybe we pray for big breakthroughs as confirmation that God is still at work in our ministry. But perhaps our frustrating experiences are confirmation that our ministry is actually going according to plan.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul continues to defend his ministry against accusation and criticism from some in Corinth. In doing so, he offers a glorious consideration of New Covenant ministry.
In chapter 3 he shows how, even though the Old Covenant was out-of-this-world wonderful, it is as nothing in comparison to all that is ours in Christ. In chapter 4, Paul addresses two potential discouragements in ministry: the lack of response from the lost, and the unimpressive person we see in the mirror each day. Paul does not want his readers to lose heart, but instead to look forward to all that is to come in the future (chapter 5).
The image Paul paints is treasure in jars of clay. The treasure? That is the wonder of intimate fellowship with God by the Spirit, who unites us to Christ. The New Covenant blessings of sins forgiven, a new heart, and the indwelling Spirit are the greatest treasure. And yet it is stored in jars of clay. That would be us. Fragile, easily broken, unimpressive, almost disposable.
When we come to chapter 6, Paul is urging the Corinthians to be responsive to his ministry. He doesn’t want them to receive God’s grace, but then not allow it to work in their lives (6:1-2). He is concerned that their affections seem to be restricted, that they are holding back their hearts in some way (6:11-13). In between, Paul presents a long list of the factors commending his ministry for them to consider.
At first glance, the list of commending factors seems overwhelming. It begins with ten negative things, followed by nine positive things, and then a set of nine paradoxes (positive and negative, simultaneously true). It feels like a long list to read, and a real challenge to preach. But keep in mind the jars of clay imagery from chapter 4. New Covenant ministry will be New Covenant shaped. That is, there will be the unimpressive and mundane jars of clay, but also the real treasure within.
Paul’s life and ministry was shaped like that. I suspect the same could be said of those who preached the gospel to you in the past, or led your youth group, or were your parents. Very normal, unimpressive people in many ways. And yet, there was a treasure there.
A New Covenant ministry person may seem so normal, even weak on the outside. But within there is patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, and genuine love. They seem to be dying physically, and yet strangely alive spiritually. They are often poor, but others are so enriched through them. They may not have much, but they seem to possess everything. The Clay-Treasure ministry that Paul lived and described in this passage is not a contradiction of the New Covenant, it is a confirmation of it.
So, when you are discouraged by the lack of response in others, or even the unimpressiveness you see in yourself and your circumstances, remember that the treasure comes in a clay jar. This will be true for you if your ministry is a New Covenant ministry. It was true for those that brought the gospel to you. It was true for the Apostle Paul himself. And, ultimately, it was true for Jesus!
Just take a moment to reflect on the list in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10. Maybe you can relate to some of the negatives. Maybe you are aware of some of the positives in your life. But don’t spend too long looking at yourself there. Instead, let your hearts gaze on Jesus Christ himself. Consider how he suffered. Ponder what perfect treasure he carried within. Find your motivation in the ultimate New Covenant minister. Celebrate Jesus. Worship Jesus. And then, take a deep breath, stand up, and press on in your service for Jesus.