February 19th: “Open the Jar”

This Week’s Passage: 2 Corinthians 4:3-7

Highlights: How we live and preach illustrates not our lives, but the glory of Christ who shines through us. Hearers are inspired to let the light of the gospel shine through them.

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday, February 19thin Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

2 What “shameful things” did Paul hide? How did his opponents distort God’s word? When has/does the Church distort God word? Do we skew our presentation of the gospel to build up the visible church?

3-4 Vociferous anti-religious comments on news articles even tangentially related to faith testify to the failure of the church to clearly present God’s grace to those who are perishing and the veiling of God’s word by the god of this world.

5 Building up Christ reflects well on those unconcerned about personal or organizational success.

6 What is Paul quoting? Is this an allusion to a hymn also cited in John 1:5?

7 Did Paul want us associate a light in clay jars with Gideon’s hiding torches in clay jars when the LORD defeated the Midianites? Judges 7 clearly portrays the glory of God as delivering victory and not the power of Israel.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Preceding paragraph compares the veiling of the glory of God in the old law with freedom in Christ as illustrated by the veil that Moses wore to ally the fear of the Israelites.
  • Paul’s rhetoric is complicated! Limiting the pericope to verses 3-7 helps to focus and clarify the material. The preacher will need to provide background to the themes Paul has introduced.
  • Following this passage, Paul unpacks what he means by a treasure in clay jars, underscoring human frailty and the glory of Gods’ word.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • Does verse 6 end: “in the face of Christ” or “in the face of Jesus Christ” or “in the face of Christ Jesus”? If Paul had omitted the word “Jesus”, scribes may have added it either before or after the word “Christ” to emphasize the incarnation, which would be consistent with the rest of the paragraph.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • This letter follows a harsh letter that the Corinthians had received from Paul. It explains why Paul canceled a visit he had planned. It alludes to Paul’s fear that his presence would sadden the Corinthians and someone who was punished, but now should be forgiven.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • The veiling of the gospel alludes to Moses veiling his face (see Exodus 34:29-35). After speaking with God, Moses’ face shone brightly, creating fear among the people. Paul may have been accused of veiling the gospel. Paul does not deny the presence of a veil, but attributes it to the blindness of unbelievers.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Any opacity of the preaching the gospel comes from the blindness of unbelievers.
  • Emotional Center: The brilliance of God’s word transcends the frailty of those entrusted to carry it.
  • Music: “Arise Your Light Has Come”, “Lift High the Cross”, “Holy Spirit, Truth Divine”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Foolishness of entrusting treasure to clay jars rather than a safe.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • The rhetoric of verses 1-6 is too convoluted for modern ears, but it is essential to unpacking verse 7.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

J. Paul Sampley (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Second Letter to the Corinthians”. Abingdon, 2000.) treats all of chapter 3 and the first 6 verses of chapter 4 as one pericope. He comments that Paul freely interlaces from the story of Moses and the law chiseled onto stone tablets (Exodus 34:29-35) and Jeremiah’s prophecy of God writing a new covenant upon human hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Similarly, Sampley sees in 4:1-6 Paul contrasting his use of the gospel with the preaching of his opponents.

Ralph Martin (Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Corinthians. Word, 1986.) dismisses the idea that the treasure in clay jars has any dependencies on Judges 7:16-20 and favors relating the fragility of clay vessels, especially clay lamps, to human fragility. He offers an illustration that wine cannot “be stored in golden or sliver vessels, but only in the least among vessels, an earthenware one, so also the Torah can be kept only with one who is humble in his own eyes.”

William Baird (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Corinthians | 2 Corinthians. JKP, 1980.) sees Paul paraphrasing Genesis 1:3-4 when he says “It is God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness.’”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

How we live and preach illustrates not our lives, but the glory of Christ who shines through us.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Hearers are inspired to let the light of the gospel shine through them.

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