The words from 2 Corinthians come from a letter, one of several, where St. Paul is defending himself to Christians who were converted under his preaching but who now have various doubts, concerns, and questions. While the specific questions and concerns that Paul faced leading up to the writing of 2 Corinthians are no doubt different than the situation we face today, there is an important parallel.
Faithful ministers ought to frequently find it necessary to defend themselves. And this is because Christian ministers are called to declare good news in the face of a world full of bad news. Pastors and ministers are tasked to tell people what Isaiah foretold has begun to come to pass. The one upon who the Spirit rested has come. He did preach good news, he did free the captives, he did bring healing and restoration to the world. And we must solemnly read and proclaim that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and anyone who believes in him will never die.
And then people die. Children get sick and die. Diseases and deformities and disorders wreak their havoc on the bodies of men, women, and children, and the question that ought to occur to us once in a while is, how is this possible? How can it be that in a world where Jesus has come to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord that we have so many who are slaves to wheel chairs and oxygen tanks? How is it possible that Jesus has come to heal the brokenhearted, to comfort those who mourn, and yet we are pummeled by heartache and hardship? And we really only have two options. We either turn the gospel into a fairytale, we moralize it, and we gently wave it away as a nice idea, a symbol of human hope; or the only other option is to turn on the people who keep saying this stuff. If we take these words seriously, if we take the gospel seriously, then Christian ministers should have a lot of answering to do.
Paul was a missionary who went from town to town convincing people of the gospel, and as life went on, as people suffered from sickness and persecution and death, they had questions for Paul. Wait who are you again? Can we see some proof of your apostleship? How do we know you’re really from God? Are you just trying to make a buck? Are you on some kind of power trip? Are you after glory and fame? And Paul has to respond to these questions and ultimately defend how he can keep preaching the gospel in spite of all appearances. How can he preach that the resurrection of Jesus has changed human history in the face of the way human history seems to be going?
And really every Christian has to do deal with these questions too. If you say you believe this gospel, someone ought to ask that simple question why? Cause it makes you feel good? Well there are all kinds of other options out there for that. Because it makes sense? What about all this death? What about wars? What about tragedy? What about disease and natural disasters? It should not be too difficult to identify with Paul’s need to defend himself.
And this is why earlier in 2 Corinthians Paul says that ministers (and really all Christians) are the aroma of life leading to life for those being saved, and they are the aroma of death leading to death for those who are perishing (2:15-16). Either this gospel is profoundly true and can answer these questions and it is the aroma of life or it’s a pack of lies and deception, piling on with more death and tragedy.
And Paul realizes this, and sets out to answer the questions, the doubts, the frustrations of the Corinthians. And to their request for some references for his apostleship, he says he doesn’t need a letter of commendation because the Corinthians are his letter, his epistle written by the Spirit of God (3:1-3). Paul turns the question around and says that the Corinthian church is proof that his gospel was authentic and true and without a doubt. The suffering, doubting, questioning church is Paul’s proof, his qualification for ministry.
Paul goes on to explain that the Old Covenant under Moses was in the form of letters and a ministry of death, and its glory was rendered ineffective as illustrated by Moses’ veil. Moses covered his face so that the people could not see the glory radiating off his face. But Paul says that the Spirit gives life, and the Spirit is a ministry of righteousness. He says that the glory of the Spirit is greater because we all with unveiled face behold the glory of the Lord as in a mirror. And through that glory, we are being transformed into the same image of Jesus Christ, from glory to glory (3:7ff). And Paul says that this light of the gospel of Christ, this image of God, this glory shines through preaching (4:3-4).
When Jesus is preached, the face of Jesus shines the glory of God into the darkness of human life (4:6). And this treasure is in earthen vessels so that we might carry around the life of Jesus in our bodies for one another (e.g. the apostles are doing this for the Corinthians) (4:12).
And this is where Paul says that this is why we don’t lose hope. We don’t lose hope because these afflictions are working in us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” What is that weight of glory? Paul says it’s the Spirit working the life of Jesus into our bodies.
And then Paul starts talking about houses: earthly houses compared to eternal houses not made with hands. Then he changes the metaphor and starts talking about clothes and being clothed. Paul starts talking about resurrection, the need for our bodies to be renewed. Paul says that we groan in these bodies looking forward to new ones. These ones are weak, mortal, and breakable. They die, and we need new ones.
And that’s the point. The fact that we live and experience constantly the need for new bodies is Paul’s proof that his ministry is valid, that the gospel is true. If we didn’t need resurrection then why would we need Jesus? Even in perfection there is glory that yields itself to further glory. Even God goes from glory to glory. And so must we.
The point seems to be this: When the gospel is declared and believed, God makes light shine into our situations, our circumstances, and we catch glimpses of Christ. And the mind blowing thing is that Paul says by the power of the Spirit, it’s actually like looking into a mirror and somehow seeing glory in our own faces. It’s the life of Jesus being manifested in our bodies through the working of the Spirit. And Paul says we have this treasure, the glory of Jesus, in earthen vessels. In our questions, in our doubts, in our heartache, the gospel comes to us and says this is why Jesus came, this is why Jesus was mocked, this is why Jesus suffered, this is why Jesus died. And in our weakness, in our suffering, and even in our death, we find the life of Jesus being worked out in us. And we come to know the need for Jesus, we taste the suffering, and the death, and we look for the resurrection. We groan with Jesus for new bodies, for new glory, for resurrection.
This is how God manifests his glory in us: by making us partakers of his glory, by making us partakers of the life of Jesus. He gives us the same Spirit who led Jesus into trial, into challenges, into Gethsemane, and finally into Jerusalem where he was crucified. We have been given that Spirit, and therefore the proof of the gospel is in us. When we know that we need deliverance. When we know that we need resurrection, then we know that we have the Spirit working the life of Jesus into us, and we can be fully assured that the end of his story will be the end our ours. His death yielded resurrection and glory. And there can be no doubt that our lives and the lives of all who trust in Him will result in the same. And so we do not lost hope, but we see this glory, this eternal weight of glory, hid in earthen vessels, awaiting the resurrection of the body. This is our garment of praise for our spirit of heaviness.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!