Why does the biblical counselor do it? Why do we continue to pour our lives into those who are suffering and sinning? What is the point of it all when those who claim to be believers, continue in sin?
2 Corinthians 4 explains it well. The chapter opens with the words “Therefore, having this ministry…” What does this ministry refer to? It points back to chapter 3 and is the ministry of the new covenant. We do not minister under the Law but our confidence is through Christ (2 Corinthians 3:4) and our sufficiency is from God (2 Corinthians 3:5). We minister by the spirit (3:8) and it is a ministry of righteousness (2 Corinthians 3:9). And because of these things, we do not lose heart in the task of the cure and care of souls (2 Corinthians 4:1, 16). How does this play out in the life of the counselor from 2 Corinthians 4:7-18.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 1-6 and 2 Corinthians 16-18 are the top and tail of a parallel structure in this section. The focus of the structure is in 2 Corinthians 8-14 where Paul reminds us that we are being given up to death for the sake of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in us.
Paul understood this very well. In dealing with the Corinthians he certainly had every reason to be discouraged and even despondent over their sin and his constant correction of their doctrine and practice within the church. Paul suffered both publicly and privately from the sin of this church. But it is clear here that Paul will not quit. And neither should we. Paul could be confident as he continued because of his emphasis here on the glory of Christ in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4, and, specifically in this text, on the life of Jesus in us. So, while the blindness and sin of the counselee is rebellious and persistent, Jesus is supreme, and the glory of the sovereign God is good news.
The discouragement of the counselor is found in the fact that our counselees are clay pots that are failing and frail (while at the same time rejoicing in God’s sufficient power). The counselor must understand that there is no other way. The frailty of the vessel is there to show the surpassing power belongs to God and comes from God (2 Corinthians 4:7). God’s way is to place the treasure in the clay pot and then proceed to shatter the pot. This shattering is the pain that the counselee is experiencing (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). These three verses are the shared experiences between Paul’s suffering and the counselee. Circumstances, fear, and misunderstanding have all been brought into the life of the counselee. This is the reality of the affliction that the counselor must pity, empathize, and help. Pastor Russ Kennedy, in a sermon on this text writes,
Here is the reality of what is actually going on in the trials (V10). In these things we are always carrying about in us the dying of Jesus with the objective that Jesus life might be shown in our body. Now here is the way I understand this. In order for the power of God to be shown in the vessel, the vessel must be being broken so that life can be poured out. So, when we suffer, we are to understand [interpret] that suffering as life releasing.
Further, the reason these circumstances, is that we are handed over to death so that Jesus’ life may be revealed. What an unfathomable mystery this is. The outward difficulties and pressures on the vessel are essential to the release of the treasure: that is, to the display of light and the giving of life.
So the result is that we are sharing the fullest expression of body life. We are entrusted with death so that life may flow to others. Here is the fundamental meaning of the cross for power in ministry. Just as Jesus sacrifice brings life to the church, so our sacrifice brings life to others. This is not some mystical unreality, but is the painful, wearying, sacrificial toil and trouble of pouring out our lives for others. And so the simple question. Will you? We love the beautiful imagery of being treasure filled vessels; do we embrace the brutal reality of being broken for the sake of others?
Paul continues on in 2 Corinthians 4:13-15 to remind us while these counselees and their issues may sometimes be discouraging, because of the resurrection we have great hope and can give great hope. Thus, with thanksgiving, we give all to the glory of God. We believe God and therefore we speak (2 Corinthians 4:13). And we do it all for the sake of the counselee (2 Corinthians 4:15). This is the perspective through which we filter and believe, not only the counselee, but their suffering. And though we are wasting away day by day, our inner self is being renewed (2 Corinthians 4:16). It is no surprise that there is an accumulating weight that the counselor bears after years of bringing the Word to bear in the lives of God’s suffering people. Yet Paul reminds us that we do not lose heart and that even in the lives of those suffering and sinning, compared to the substance of the glory of heaven this is a “light momentary affliction.” Paul is in no way saying that the affliction and suffering of the counselee is light and to be minimized. He is simply saying that the glory of heaven and the suffering of the counselee do not even belong on the same scale.
As we read through this text and its encouragement to the counselor, we also think of Old Testament jars of clay. In Judges 7 we recall the account of Gideon and his dwindling army. Holding in their hands jars of clay concealing lit torches, they stormed the Midianite camp. Breaking the jars that were in their hands the torch lights became present in that same way we have seen in our text, the good news shining brightly through the broken pots of our lives.