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By Christopher L. Scott

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Second Corinthians is Paul’s most personal and intimate letter. In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, he describes the pain of his ministry. He starts with a general statement in verse 7, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (NASB). God could have revealed himself through angels, visions, dreams, or personally speaking directly to people. But He didn’t do that. He decided to reveal it through fragile, fallen, and frail human beings like Paul, you, and me!

The New American Standard Bible’s (NASB) translation of “earthen vessels” can also be translated as the New International Version (NIV) does, “jars of clay.” In Corinth, you could easily buy cheap fragile clay pots. Paul’s image of the “clay pot” or “jar of clay” describes his ministry and our ministry.

Paul continues with a specific explanation. “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:8-11, NASB). This describes both physical and emotional suffering. It’s the first of four lists of Paul’s suffering He shares in 2 Corinthians (see 6:4b-5, 8-10; 11:23-28; 12:10).

When we read this we feel empathy for Paul’s hardships. If we have lived any length of time as a Christian we also can relate to those hardships and pain which we too have experienced. Paul’s not just describing his experience; he’s describing our experience in ministry.

But notice after the descriptions of his afflictions in vv. 8-11a he wraps up with this, “so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11b). This shows purpose. Those afflictions made Jesus known to others. Our affliction and our troubles are how we make Christ known to others.

Paul then wraps up with a general statement. “So death works in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:12). This is Paul’s personal sacrifice for others. God demands it and heaven rewards it. The “death works in us” is our ministry. Not physical death; but physical sufferings that felt like death. “Paul’s physical sufferings (death works in us) are the means by which spiritual life comes to the Corinthians.” The “life in you” is salvation.

Paul makes it clear that we work through our afflictions. This is hard! But, it’s not just through our afflictions that we work. I would venture to say that it is because of our afflictions that we work and do ministry. It is in the afflictions of life that we affect others with our lives.

I pray we too—like the apostle Paul—do ministry through and because of our afflictions.


Christopher L. Scott, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, is a pastor and freelance writer. Christopher L. Scott writes from Exeter, CA. Learn more about his writing ministry at

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