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4. Treasures in Jars of Clay
1Therefore seeing we have this ministry, even as we obtained mercy, we faint not: 2but we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish: 4in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them. 5For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6Seeing it is God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves; 8we are pressed on every side, yet not straitened; perplexed, yet not unto despair; 9pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed; 10always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body. 11For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So then death worketh in us, but life in you. 13But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed, and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and therefore also we speak; 14knowing that he that raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also with Jesus, and shall present us with you. 15For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound unto the glory of God. 16Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. 17For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; 18while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
7. But we have this treasure. Those that heard Paul glorying in such a magnificent strain as to the excellence of his ministry, and beheld, on the other hand, his person, contemptible and abject in the eyes of the world, might be apt to think that he was a silly and ridiculous person, and might look upon his boasting as childish, while forming their estimate of him from the meanness of his person. 464464 “Ils le iugeoyent selon l’apparence de sa personne, qui estoit petite et contemptible;” — “They judged of him according to the appearance of his person, which was small and contemptible.” The wicked, more particularly, caught hold of this pretext, when they wished to bring into contempt every thing that was in him. What, however, he saw to be most of all unfavorable to the honor of his Apostleship among the ignorant, he turns by an admirable contrivance into a means of advancing it. First of all, he employs the similitude of a treasure, which is not usually laid up in a splendid and elegantly adorned chest, but rather in some vessel that is mean and worthless; 465465 “The term σκεῦος (vessel), from σχέω to hold, has an allusion to the body’s being the depository of the soul. ́̓Οστρακον properly signifies a shell, (of which material, probably, the primitive vessels were formed,) and, 2dly, a vessel, of baked earth. And as that is proverbially brittle, ὀστράκιος denoted weak, fragile, both in a natural and a metaphorical sense; and therefore was very applicable to the human body, both as frail, and as mean.” — Bloomfield. — Ed. and then farther, he subjoins, that the power of God is, by that means, the more illustrated, and is the better seen. “Those, who allege the contemptible appearance of my person, with the view of detracting from the dignity of my ministry, are unfair and unreasonable judges, for a treasure is not the less valuable, that the vessel, in which it is deposited, is not a precious one. Nay more, it is usual for great treasures to be laid up in earthen pots. Farther, they do not consider, that it is ordered by the special Providence of God, that there should be in ministers no appearance of excellence, lest any thing of distinction should throw the power of God into the shade. As, therefore, the abasement of ministers, and the outward contempt of their persons give occasion for glory accruing to God, that man acts a wicked part, who measures the dignity of the gospel by the person of the minister.”
Paul, however, does not speak merely of the universal condition of mankind, but of his own condition in particular. It is true, indeed, that all mortal men are earthen vessels Hence, let the most eminent of them all be selected, and let him be one that is adorned to admiration with all ornaments of birth, intellect, and fortune, 466466 “De tous ornamens, de race, d’esprit, de richesses, et toutes autres choses semblables;” — “With all ornaments of birth, intellect, riches, and all other things of a like nature.” still, if he be a minister of the gospel, he will be a mean and merely earthen depository of an inestimable treasure Paul, however, has in view himself, and others like himself, his associates, who were held in contempt, because they had nothing of show.
8. While we are pressed on every side. This is added by way of explanation, for he shows, that his abject condition is so far from detracting from the glory of God, that it is the occasion of advancing it. “We are reduced,” says he, “to straits, but the Lord at length opens up for us an outlet; 467467 “We are troubled on every side. In respect of the nature of it, (the trouble,) it is plain it was external trouble. The very word there used, Θλιβόμενοι, signifies dashing a thing from without. As the beating and allision of the waves against a rock make no trouble in the rock, no commotion there, but a great deal of noise, clamor, and tumult round about it. That is the sort of trouble which that word in its primary signification holds forth to us, and which the circumstances of the text declare to be the signification of the thing here meant. [...] The word στενοχωρούμενοι expresseth such a kind of straitening as doth infer a difficulty of drawing breath; that a man is so compressed, that he cannot tell how to breathe. That is the native import of the word. As if he had said, ‘We are not reduced to that extremity by all the troubles that surround us, but we can breathe well enough for all that.’ Probably there are meant by this thing desired, two degrees or steps of inward trouble... Either it is a trouble that reacheth not the heart, or if it doth, it does not oppress or overwhelm it.” — Howe’s Works, (London, 1834), p. 706. — Ed. we are oppressed with poverty, but the Lord affords us help. Many enemies are in arms against us, but under God’s protection we are safe. In fine, though we are brought low, so that it might seem as if all were over with us, 468468 “There is an allusion,” says Dr. Bloomfield, “to an army so entirely surrounded and hemmed in στενοῖς, (in straits,) as the Roman army at the Caudinae Furc’, that there is left no hope of escape.” — Ed. still we do not perish.” The last is the severest of all. You see, how he turns to his own advantage every charge that the wicked bring against him. 469469 “Pour le rendre contemptible;” — “To render him contemptible.”
10. The mortification of Jesus 470470 “Mortificationem.” — Such is Calvin’s rendering of the original term νέκρωσιν, and it is evidently employed to convey the idea of putting to death, the main idea intended to be expressed being, as our author shows, that the apostles were, for the sake of Christ, subjected to humiliating and painful sufferings, which gave them, in a manner, an outward conformity to their Divine Master in the violent death inflicted upon him. The term mortification, when taken in strict accordance with its etymology, in the sense of putting to death, appears to bring out more fully the apostle’s meaning, than the word “dying,” made use of in our authorized version. Beza, who gives the same rendering as Calvin, subjoins the following valuable observations: — “Mortificationem τὴν νέκρωσιν — Sic vocat Paulus miseram illam conditionem fidelium, ac pr’sertim ministrorum (de his enim proprie agitur) qui quotidie (ut ait David) occiduntur, quasi destinationem ad coedem dicas: additurque Domini Iesu, vel, (ut legit vetus interpres) Iesu Christi, tum ut declaretur causa propter quam mundus illos ita persequitur; tum etiam quia hac quoque in parte Christo capiti sunt conformes, Christusque adeo ipse quodammodo in iis morte afficitur. Ambrosius maluit mortem interpretari, nempe quia in altero membro sit mentio vitoe Christi. At ego, si libuisset a Pauli verbis discedere, coedem potius exposuissem: quia non temere Paulus ςέκρωσιν maluit scribere quam θάνατον, quoniam etiam Christus hic considerandus nobis est non ut simpliciter mortuus, sed ut interemptus. Verum ut modo dixi νέκρωσις nec mortem nec coedem hic significat, sed conditionem illam quotidianis mortibus obnoxiam, qualis etiam fuit Christi ad tempus;” — “Mortification τὴν νέκρωσιν This term Paul makes use of to denote that miserable condition of believers, and more especially of ministers, (for it is of them properly that he speaks,) who are, as David says, killed every day — as though you should say a setting apart for slaughter; and it is added — of the Lord Jesus, or (as the old interpreter renders it) of Jesus Christ, partly with the view of explaining the reason why the world thus persecutes them, and partly because in this respect also they are conformed to Christ, the Head, and even Christ himself is, in them, in a manner put to death. Ambrose has preferred to render it death, for this reason, that in the other clause mention is made of the life of Christ. For my own part, however, were I to depart from Paul’s words, I would rather render it slaughter, inasmuch as Paul did not rashly make use of νέκρωσιν rather than θάνατον, since Christ also is to be viewed by us here, not simply as having died, but as having been put to death. But, as I said a little ago, νέκρωσις here does not mean death nor slaughter, but a condition which exposed every day to deaths, such as Christ’s, also, was for a time.” — Ed. He says more than he had done previously, for he shows, that the very thing that the false apostles used as a pretext for despising the gospel, was so far from bringing any degree of contempt upon the gospel, that it tended even to render it glorious. For he employs the expression — the mortification of Jesus Christ — to denote everything that rendered him contemptible in the eyes of the world, with the view of preparing him for participating in a blessed resurrection. In the first place, the sufferings of Christ, 471471 By the “sufferings of Christ,” here, Calvin obviously means — not the sufferings of our Redeemer personally, but sufferings endured for Christ in the persons of his members, as in Colossians 1:24. — Ed. however ignominious they may be in the eyes of men, have, nevertheless, more of honor in the sight of God, than all the triumphs of emperors, and all the pomp of kings. The end, however, must also be kept in view, that we suffer with him, that we may be glorified together with him. (Romans 8:17.) Hence he elegantly reproves the madness of those, who made his peculiar fellowship with Christ a matter of reproach. At the same time, the Corinthians are admonished to take heed, lest they should, while haughtily despising Paul’s mean and abject appearance, do an injury to Christ himself, by seeking an occasion of reproach 472472 “Matiere d’opprobre et deshonneur;” — “Matter of reproach and dishonor.” in his sufferings, which it becomes us to hold in the highest honor.
The word rendered mortification, 473473 Wiclif (1380) renders the expression as follows: “euermore we beren aboute the sleyng of Ihesus in oure bodi.” — Ed. is taken here in a different sense from what it bears in many passages of Scripture. For it often means self-denial, when we renounce the lusts of the flesh, and are renewed unto obedience to God. Here, however, it means the afflictions by which we are stirred up to meditate on the termination of the present life. To make the matter more plain, let us call the former the inward mortification, and the latter the outward. Both make us conformed to Christ, the one directly, the other indirectly, so to speak. Paul speaks of the former in Colossians 3:5, and in Romans 6:6, where he teaches that
our old man is crucified, that we may walk in newness of life
He treats of the second in Romans 8:29, where he teaches, that we were predestinated by God to this end — that we might be conformed to the image of his Son. It is called, however, a mortification of Christ only in the case of believers, because the wicked, in the endurance of the afflictions of this present life, share with Adam, but the elect have participation with the Son of God, so that all those miseries that are in their own nature accursed, are helpful to their salvation. All the sons of God, it is true, have this in common, that they bear about the mortification, of Christ; 474474 “Here we have a strong mode of expressing the mortal peril to which he was continually exposed; (as in 1 Corinthians 15:31, καθ ᾿ ἡμέραν ἀποθνήσκω, I die daily,) together with an indirect comparison of the sufferings endured by himself and the other apostles, with those endured by the Lord Jesus even unto death. The genitive τοῦ Κυριου (of the Lord,) is, as Grotius remarks, a genitive of likeness. The sense is — ‘bearing about — continually sustaining, perils and sufferings, like those of the Lord Jesus.’” — Bloomfield, — Ed. but, according as any one is distinguished by a larger measure of gifts, he, in that proportion, comes so much the nearer to conformity with Christ in this respect.
That the life of Jesus. Here is the best antidote to adversity — that as Christ’s death is the gate of life, so we know that a blessed resurrection will be to us the termination of all miseries, 475475 “La fin et l’issue de toutes miseres et calamitez;” — “The end and issue of all miseries and calamities.” inasmuch as Christ has associated us with himself on this condition, that we shall be partakers of his life, if in this world we submit to die with him.
The sentence that immediately follows may be explained in two ways. If you understand the expression delivered unto death as meaning to be incessantly harassed with persecutions and exposed to dangers, this would be more particularly applicable to Paul, and those like him, who were openly assailed by the fury of the wicked. And thus the expression, for Jesus’ sake, will be equivalent to for the testimony of Christ. (Revelation 1:9.) As, however, the expression to be daily delivered unto death, means otherwise — to have death constantly before our eyes, and to live in such a manner, that our life is rather a shadow of death, 476476 Calvin manifestly alludes to the expression which occurs in Psalms 23:4, the valley of the shadow of death, which he explains in a metaphorical sense, as denoting deep afflication. — See Calvin on the Psalms, vol. 1, pp. 394-396. — Ed. I have no objection, that this passage, also, should be expounded in such a way as to be applicable to all believers, and that, too, to every one in his order. Paul himself, in Romans 8:36, explains in this manner Psalm 44:22. In this way for Christ’s sake would mean — because this condition is imposed upon all his members. Erasmus, however, has rendered it, with not. so much propriety, we who live. The rendering that I have given is more suitable — while we live. For Paul means that, so long as we are in the world, we resemble the dead rather than the living.
12. Hence death indeed. This is said ironically, because it was unseemly that the Corinthians should live happily, and in accordance with their desire, and that they should, free from anxiety, take their ease, while in the mean time Paul was struggling with incessant hardships. 477477 “Eust ... combatre contre tant de miseres et calamitez;” — “Had to struggle against so many miseries and calamities.” Such an allotment would certainly have been exceedingly unreasonable. It was also necessary that the folly of the Corinthians should be reproved, inasmuch as they contrived to themselves a Christianity without the cross, and, not content with this, held in contempt the servants of Christ, because they were not so effeminate. 478478 “Comme eux;” — “As they.” Now as death denotes all afflictions, or a life full of vexations, so also life denotes a condition that is prosperous and agreeable; agreeably to the maxim: “Life is — not to live, but to be well.” 479479 “Non est vivere, sed valere, vita.” — Martial. Ep. 6:70. — Ed.