Join us as we study through 2 Corinthians verse by verse. Our discussion questions, teaching points, and applications can help you or your small group get the most out of this book as you grow in understanding and obedience.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 Inductive Bible Study – Treasure In Jars Of Clay

Suffering for The Gospel

Discussion Questions

  • What treasure is Paul referring to in verse 7?
  • How can the ministry of the New Covenant be stored in a jar of clay? Is it an actual jar or something else?
  • Why does Paul compare their own earthly bodies to jars of clay?
  • How were they afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down?
  • What point is Paul making in verses 8-9?
  • How could they endure through these difficulties?
  • Have you faced any of these challenges?
  • Share a testimony of how God sustained you through difficulty.
  • What does Paul mean that they are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus?”
  • How could the life of Jesus be manifest through them?
  • In what ways were Paul and his team being given over to death? How is this “for Jesus’ sake?”
  • How can you manifest the life of Jesus in your flesh?
  • Why did Paul say, “death is at work in us, but life in you?” Does Paul want their praise or gratitude? Is he seeking personal recognition?
  • How can you “die” that others may live?

Cross-References

Matthew 13:44 – The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

2 Timothy 3:12 – Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

1 Peter 4:12-14 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Romans 8:35-37 – Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Luke 9:23 – And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

John 12:24 – Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Teaching Points

1. We have this treasure – This treasure refers to the gospel, the new covenant of which they were ministers. Jesus described this treasure as the pearl of great price, a treasure so valuable that a person would be willing to sell everything he had in order to obtain it.

Salvation is the greatest treasure we have. And it is our job as ministers of this new covenant, to pass it on to others so that they can have it like we do.

Application: Do you treasure the gospel? Do you treasure Jesus? How does a person treat something he treasures? If we treasure Jesus, how will we treat our relationship to Him?

2. In jars of clay – Here Paul gives a surprising illustration. One would expect that a treasure should be stored in something beautiful, something valuable which will reflect the worth of what is inside. Treasure boxes themselves are often ornate. And treasure boxes are often very durable in order to preserve the riches within.

But here, Paul says that this treasure is kept in jars of clay. A clay jar is not durable. And its not valuable. It is the cheapest storage container you can get. And beyond this clay jars were often used to store trash or refuse.

It would be extremely odd and unexpected if a person chose to store valuable jewels or gold in a clay jar. The clay jar would seem to be inadequate.

Reflect: What is the clay jar in this illustration?

It refers to the lives/bodies of Paul and his team. In other words, they are weak. They don’t do justice to the gospel they are ministering for. They are inadequate for the task.

2 Corinthians 2:16 – And who is adequate for such a task as this?

And that is the whole point. There is no person who is sufficient for this task. Paul and his team looked weak. They were beaten and whipped. Thrown out of most towns they went to, they were often on the run. Sometimes they were in prison. Many were not the richest or the brightest.

But God chose to use them. Why? The answer is in the second part of verse 7.

3. To show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us – God could have chosen any method and any people to spread the gospel. But He chose people. Many of the people He chose are just common people. And to the world they look weak. A fruitful missionary is not the world’s prototype of success. Neither was Paul.

As we will see in the following verses, Paul was weak in the eyes of many in the world. He wasn’t successful as the world defines success. The disciples also were mostly fishermen and peasants.

This was no mistake. It was no coincidence. God intentionally used normal people as vessels to spread the gospel to show that it is His power which saves (Romans 1:16) and not ours. It is not wealth, status, worldly logic, or arguments which save. As we saw in verses 5-6, it is the light of Christ. He changes hearts. Because it is all Him, He gets all the glory.

A clay jar holding the most expensive diamond in the world would only serve to be a contrast of the common with the exquisite. When a person saw the diamond being drawn out of the jar they would gasp with surprise at the beauty being stored in such a cheap container. All of their focus would be on the beauty of the diamond and not on the container. That is the way it is with the gospel.

Reflect: How can we encourage people to focus on the gospel, Jesus, and the word and not us?

Application: As ministers of the new covenant our job is to draw attention to Jesus, not to ourselves. We want to help people behold the beauty of Christ. We want to glorify Him and not get credit for ourselves. John the Baptist understood this when he said, “he must increase and I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

When people praise you, give God the glory. Do that not just with a cliché like a muttered “praise God” while we soak in the glory. No, our entire mindset should be that we are humble servants drawing attention to Jesus. We should minister in such a way as to not get recognition for ourselves. How might some preachers seek recognition?

Reflect: What are some specific ways you can deflect praise from yourself to God?

4. Verses 8-9 – Paul describes some of their weaknesses and difficulties. But each of these four metaphors show us that no matter how many challenges ministers of the gospel go through, God will give them strength to get through and still reach people for Christ.

By itself a clay jar is weak. You would think that at the first heavy impact it would be shattered. And that is true of actual clay jars. But for evangelists the impacts do not shatter them. God gives supernatural and sustaining strength. A person who depends on his own strength would be shattered by these things, but they can do “all things through Christ who strengthens” them.

Romans 8:35-37 – Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Believers can be overwhelming conquerors in the face of all these things “through him who loved us.”

Share: Share a testimony of how God sustained you through difficulty.

Application: Know that God will give you the victory when you face suffering and persecution. He will not abandon you. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. He will not let you be crushed. He will not let you be driven to despair. He will not forsake you. But I believe these are conditional upon you continuing to fix your eyes on Jesus and trust come to Him for strength and comfort. If you fall away in faithlessness these things no longer hold true. So fix your eyes on Jesus and know with certainty that He will be beside you each step of the way.

5. Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus – Paul has been speaking in metaphors again and again and this is another one. It means that Paul and his team as ministers of the new covenant are facing the same types of attacks that Jesus did, which resulted in His death. It refers to the persecution that genuine believers face when they tell people about Jesus.

John 15:18-20 – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

People endlessly attacked Paul and the other disciples because they were followers of Jesus. Just as the world hated Jesus so they hated His followers who continued in His teachings.

Application: Expect persecution. Do not be surprised when the world hates you. Neither should you respond in kind to their rhetoric. The world is full of professing believers who aggressively defend themselves and return insult for insult with the world that hates them. That is not what Jesus called us to do. He called us to love our neighbors. We should “give a blessing instead” and “overcome evil with good.”

6. So that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies – When believers respond to persecution with humility, love, and grace Christ shines through. All the vehement arguments in the world will not change hearts. Neither does retaliation exalt our Lord who did not retaliate.

The life of Jesus is manifest when we respond to unfair treatment how He wants us to respond.

Reflect: How does this manifest the life of Jesus?

When we follow Jesus’ model, then we point to Jesus’ life. We show through action what Jesus is like. And that light attracts people to Him.

7. We who live are always being given over to death – There are few such powerful testimonies as saints who are martyred responding with peace, hope, and love. Stephen’s request for God to forgive his murders was a strong witness for the Lord.

Many other martyrs throughout history have witnessed for the Lord even in death including John Huss and William Tyndale.

Huss’ last words – Huss was about to burned at the stake as a heretic. His executioner asked him to recant. He answered, “God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.”

And his last words, “Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on us!”

Tyndale’s was strangled and then burned at the stake. His last words were “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”

8. Death is at work in us, but life in you – When Paul and his fellow evangelists faced persecution and death it was to bring life to those whom they served. They could have remained silent and gained their own lives. But it would have meant spiritual and eternal death to others who would have no chance to hear the word. Or they could open their mouths and share and incur the wrath of this world and for many finally martyrdom. And in facing physical death, they helped bring spiritual and eternal life to others who heard the gospel and believed.

Application: Many times we have to choose between convenience and serving God. It might be more comfortable if we remain silent. Perhaps we will be more popular. Sometimes speaking the truth and standing on God’s word may be costly. It could cost us our jobs, friends, promotions, freedom, or even death. But the cost is worth it when compared to the eternal life we are sharing.

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