We have just seen that the power to create life and light is from God, not from us. This distinction is so vital and beyond any negotiation that God designed a way for us to constantly be reminded thereof. How does he do this? By revealing to us continuously that we are mere vessels containing the treasure, and very fragile ones at that.
In the following verses Paul provides us with examples of exactly how this message is driven home on a daily basis, and how we are constantly reminded of our own brokenness, mortality and dependence on God: We are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down, and in this way we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus. All of this takes place to remind us that it is God’s power, not ours, and that we merely reflect God’s glory.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, he emphasises the same principle: A thorn in the flesh was given to him to keep him from becoming conceited about his ministry. His conclusion in verse 10, “when I am weak I am strong”, is one that runs like a golden thread throughout the second letter to the Corinthians. We are only qualified to be carriers of God’s glory and to reflect it to the world when we realise exactly how weak and fragile we are. To the degree that we experience death in ourselves the life of God will be revealed through us.
We can summarise by saying that for the message of grace to be truly grace, it must be evident not only in the content of the message, but also in its delivery. It is therefore imperative that the one who brings God’s message should not do it in a boastful way, but “in fear and trembling”, as Paul did when he preached to the Corinthians (1 Cor 2:3). This will reveal the true source of the power behind the message, both to the preacher and the audience.
Paul concludes his teaching in verse 16 by repeating the same statement that he made in verse one: “Therefore we do not lose heart.” The principle is clear: When you understand that the success of the gospel does not depend on you or your efforts, then you will no longer be demotivated when you do not see the results that you would like to see.
The main reason why we lose heart is because we do not understand the glorious nature of the ministry, that this is something that we can only have through God’s mercy and that we cannot do anything to make the message more appealing to people who do not find it appealing enough. We simply do not understand that we do not have to despair when we do not see the visible results of our ministry.
As Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”