What to do with treasure – a sermon on 2 Corinthians 4 by Rev. Dr. Phillip Scheepers.
We are all fascinated by the thought of finding a hidden treasure. Why? I don’t think it is only about the mystery and the thrill of discovery. Deep down we also know that treasure is deeply valuable and has the potential to profoundly change our lives. It is for this reason, I believe, that we see so many links between the person (and teaching) of Jesus and treasure in the Bible. Remarkably we see two instances, one at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly journey, and the other very close to the end, where people present Jesus with treasure in recognition of the fact that he Himself is incredibly precious.
The first is right at the beginning of his earthly life where we see the Magi presenting Jesus with ‘gold, frankincense, and myrrh’ (Matthew 2:11) The most valuable objects that people in the ancient world could conceive of. Then, just before his crucifixion his head is anointed with a very precious perfume (that Matthew tells us could have been sold for a ‘great deal of money’, Matthew 26:9) These incidents serve as a physical reminder of great spiritual truth: The person and message of Jesus is deeply precious and meeting him changes everything.
Let us now turn from this exalted theme to the rather more messy and mundane reality of Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians. Time does not permit me to analyze this in detail. Suffice it to say that he is one that was not without difficulties, and that the Corinthians were probably not in line to win any ‘church of the year’ awards. Paul constantly had to deal with relational difficulties, moral lapses, and mixed-up doctrines in the Corinthian church. To top it all, it is clear, that there were at least some people in the congregation who did not accept his authority, and by extension his teaching.
After a visit to try and address the situation Paul had to write the church a letter that caused him many tears and a troubled hear (2 Corinthians 2:4). He must have been worried about how this will be received. Great was his relief when the response was mostly positive, and part of the reason behind the writing of 2nd Corinthians was to express his relief and gratitude about this. While he does so, he spends some time discussing the nature of gospel ministry and, by implication, the gospel itself. Chapters 2-7 is sometimes called Paul’s ‘great digression’ and what a digression it is. We learn so much about the nature of ministry. There is, of course, something unique about his ministry as an apostle, but many of the principles also apply to our lives, and our ministries, as 21st century Christians.
Time will only permit us to focus on one chapter, Chapter 4. A chapter that it justly famous as one that cuts to the heart of what it means to serve the Lord amid great opportunities and significant challenges. At the heart of the chapter are several bedrock convictions about the nature of the gospel. I will, this morning, focus on four of these, and on their implications for our lives and the ministries to which we have been called.