Before the SBS year begins, our school leader, Tamara, asks the rest of the staff what books we’d like to teach. 2 Corinthians was not on my list. It’s not that I didn’t want to teach this book, it simply wasn’t on my radar. When I think about which books I’d like to teach, I usually list the books I loved studying on my SBS (like 1 Thessalonians, which I got to teach last year), or the books that challenged me in SBS (like James, which I also taught last year). 2 Corinthians really wasn’t on either of these lists. It didn’t stand out to me a great deal. That being said, I am so incredibly glad I had the opportunity to teach this book this year. I would say that of all the books I’ve taught, 2 Corinthians has impacted me the most personally.
Paul wrote 2 Corinthians largely as a defence of his ministry. Paul had had a long and somewhat difficult relationship with the Corinthians. Although we only have 1 & 2 Corinthians in our Bibles, it is likely that Paul wrote four letters to the Corinthians, one prior to 1 Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 5:9), 1 Corinthians, one after 1 Corinthians (see 2 Corinthians 7:5-13), and then 2 Corinthians. By the time he penned 2 Corinthians, I think it’s safe to say that he may have been slightly on the exasperated side. He had spent eighteen months with the Corinthians (Acts 18) when he first preached the Gospel in the city of Corinth, had visited them since then (see 2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:14 and 13:1), and had written them three letters, yet problems were continually arising. The latest problem was the presence of the “super-apostles” in the church. These “super-apostles,” so-called by Paul because of their love for eloquent speech and boastfulness, were not true apostles, and were challenging Paul’s apostleship.
What stands out to me is that Paul defends his apostleship not out of a desire to defend himself, or to compare himself with the super-apostles; he defends his apostleship because it is the ministry he has been given by God. To defend his ministry is to defend the Gospel that God has equipped him to preach. While Paul could have boasted in the churches he had planted, the hardships he had endured, or the revelations he received for his own sake, he writes of these things to point to the way in which God has empowered him to walk through things. While the super-apostles point to themselves, calling the Corinthians to admire and applaud them, Paul points to Jesus, calling the Corinthians to see that the surpassing power belongs to Christ, and not to him (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Paul likens himself and his co-workers to jars of clay. Jars of clay are temporary, easily broken, fragile vessels. There is nothing strong about them. Despite this, and even, perhaps, because of this, God has chosen to shine “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) through the cracks in these jars. The strength is His, and He works through Paul’s weakness, through the weakness of His co-workers, and through those who worship Him and live for Him today.
2 Corinthians has affected me more deeply than any of the other books I have taught. The reason for this is that unlike Paul, I cannot always say that my actions have the sole intention of bringing glory and honour to the Lord. Paul always boasted in his God, never in himself. This causes me to ask major questions of myself, especially in the context of the ministry I have been given by God – teaching the Bible. When I teach, is it my sole desire that God would be glorified? While of course I do want Him to be exalted, to be honest, I want to be exalted also. I want our students to think I’m a great teacher. I want my lectures to be memorable. I want to impress my fellow staff. While I hope that God will be glorified in my teaching, too often this is something on the sidelines of wanting myself to be glorified. As I read 2 Corinthians and consider how Paul is always pointing to his own weaknesses, and to God’s amazing strength and His ability to work in Paul despite his identity as a “jar of clay,” I am tremendously convicted.
As we read the Bible and as God works on our hearts, it is not enough just to “think” about what God has shown us. We must act on it. How do I act on the recognition of my pride in the ministry that God has given me? Of course, I repent, I ask God to help me to change, and I ask that my desire would truly be for His name to be glorified, no matter what that looks like for my reputation. But where do I go from here? I can’t say I have the answer. All I can do is trust in the God who chooses to shine through me, though at times I feel that I am not just a chipped, but shattered jar of clay.