How to Persevere Through the Trials of Life (2 Corinthians 4)

prison_1565169c“We do not lose heart!… Therefore we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:1, 16). Why does Paul repeat himself in the opening and end of this chapter? Because Paul had plenty of reasons for being discouraged, but he was not about to quit and he encourages the believers in Corinth to persevere also. What was it that kept Paul from quitting? What stopped him from giving up, or giving in? Paul rejoiced in knowing Jesus. And whatever your week as been like, you can too. Please turn with me to 2 Corinthians 4. Lets see what we have in Christ.

  1. We Have a Glorious Ministry

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry” (2 Corinthians 4:1). What kind of ministry? The kind described in the previous chapter:

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

We share in a glorious ministry that brings new life, salvation, and transformation to people’s lives. This ministry is a gift given to us because of God’s mercy. The way we look at our ministry will shape how we will fulfill it. If you look on serving Christ as a burden instead of a privilege, you will not have the energy or motivation to serve joyfully and in the long term. When Paul considered the fact that he had been called to be a minister of Jesus Christ, he was overwhelmed by the grace and mercy of God. What were the practical consequences in his life?

1.1 He Would Not Lose Heart

Paul confessed to the Corinthians that his trials in Asia had almost brought him to despair of life itself.

“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8)

In spite of his great gifts and vast experience, Paul was human and vulnerable. But he did not give up because he was sustained by the grace and mercy of God who had called him, and empowered him to serve the church. With the divine calling came the divine enabling; he knew that God would see him through.

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1).

A discouraged minister once wrote to the well-known preacher, Alexander Whyte, to ask his counsel. Should he leave the ministry? “Never think of giving up preaching!” Whyte wrote to him. “The angels around the throne envy your great work!” Likewise, Paul would not lose heart.

1.2 He Renounced Secret and Shameful Ways

“Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2-4)

 Paul insists he had nothing to hide, either in his personal life or in his preaching of the Word. Everything was open and honest; there was no deception or distortion of the Word. Paul’s critics twisted the Scriptures to fit their own preconceived interpretations, and ignorant people were willing to follow them. If Paul was such a faithful teacher of the Word, then why did not more people believe his message? Why were the false teachers so successful in winning converts? Because Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers, it is easier to believe lies than to believe the truth. That is why Paul renounced secret and shameful ways.

1.3 He Preached Jesus Christ as Lord

“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

 The awesome fact that Paul had received this ministry from Christ kept him from being a quitter and a deceiver; but it also kept him from being a self-promoter as well. “We preach not ourselves!” (2 Cor. 4:5) His critics talked about themselves and their achievements (2 Cor. 10:12–18). Paul knew he was fallible, he was tempted which is why he says, he did not trust in himself (2 Cor. 1:9) or commend himself (2 Cor. 3:1–5) or preach himself (2 Cor. 4:5). He sought only to lead people to Jesus Christ and to build them up in the faith.

What happens when you magnify Jesus Christ? The light begins to shine! Paul compares the work of conversion to the work of creation in Genesis 1:3. Like the earth of Genesis 1:2, without Christ we are formless and empty; but when we trust in Christ, God breathes his life into us and we become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). “Let there be light!” makes everything new. We have indeed a glorious ministry. Therefore we do not lose heart, we renounce secret and shameful ways and we preach Jesus Christ. We not only have a glorious ministry. We also:

  1. We Have a Valuable Treasure in Jars of Clay

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

From the glory of the new creation, Paul moves to the frailty of our minds and bodies. We are likened to a jar – a “jar of clay”. This is a vivid image because jars made of clay are functional and they are expendable. What they contain determines their value. The image of the vessel is a recurring one in Scripture, and from it we can learn many lessons. God has made us the way we are so that we can do the work He wants us to do. God said of Paul,

“This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15).

We should never complain to God because of our lack of gifts or abilities, or because of limitations or handicaps. The important thing about a vessel is that it be clean, empty, and available. We should desire to become: “instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”
(2 Timothy 2:21)

We are jars so that God might use us. We are jars of clay so that we might depend on God’s power and not our own. Paul was not afraid of suffering, because he knew that God would guard the vessel so long as Paul was guarding the treasure (see 1 Tim. 1:11; 6:20).

God permits trials, God controls trials, and God uses trials for His own glory. Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission used to say, “All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on Him being with them.” Sometimes God permits our vessels to be crack under pressure so that some of the treasure will spill out and enrich others. Suffering reveals not only our weakness but also the glory of God.

Warren Wiersbe says, he and a friend once heard a young man preach an eloquent sermon, but it lacked something. “There was something missing,” I said to my friend; and he replied, “Yes, and it won’t be there until his heart is broken. After he has suffered awhile, he will have a message worth listening to.” How can we keep from giving up? By remembering that we have a glorious ministry and we have a valuable treasure. There is one more motivation for not losing heart?

  1. We Fix our Eyes on the Eternal  

Of what was Paul so confident? That he had nothing to fear from life or death! He had just listed some of the trials that were a part of his life, but now he affirms that his faith gave him victory over all of them. Note the assurances that he had.

Of what was Paul so confident? That he had nothing to fear from life or death! He had just listed some of the trials that were a part of his life, but now he affirms that his faith gave him victory over all of them. Note the assurances that he had.

3.1 The Assurance of Ultimate Victory

“because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.” (2 Corinthians 4:14)

If Jesus Christ has conquered death, the last enemy, then why fear anything else? We will do everything to avoid it, yet the world has no answer to death.

Until a person is prepared to die, he is not really prepared to live. The Easter message is one long shout of joy. Paul had the assurance of ultimate victory.

3.2 The Assurance that God would be Glorified

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:15)

This verse parallels Romans 8:28 and gives us the assurance that our sufferings are not wasted: God uses them to minister to others and also to bring glory to His name. How is God glorified in our trials? By giving us the grace we need to maintain joy and strength when the going gets difficult. Whatever begins with grace, will lead to glory. He was sure of ultimate victory. He was sure God would be glorified.

3.3 The Assurance of Daily Renewal 

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

Although outwardly we may be wearing out, growing old, wearing out and slowly perishing, inwardly believers experience daily renewal. Paul was not suggesting that the body is not important, or that we should ignore its warnings and needs. Since our bodies are the temples of God, we must care for them; but we cannot control the natural deterioration of human nature.

We can only live one day at a time. Someone once said, “Yard by yard, life is hard! Inch by inch, life’s a cinch!” Note the impact of a heavenly perspective presented in 2 Corinthians 4:17: light affliction—weight of glory; momentary—eternal; working against us—working for us. When we weighed them, he had the assurance of ultimate victory, the assurance that God would be glorified, the assurance of daily renewal:

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

The invisible world described in the Bible is the only “real world” there is. If we would only see the visible world the way God wants us to see it, we would never be attracted by what it offers (1 John 2:15–17). The men and women of faith, listed in Hebrews 11, never received all that God had promised them in this life. They achieved what they did because they “saw the invisible” and focused on the eternal (Heb. 11:10, 13–14, 27).

The things of this world may seem so real because we can see them and feel them; but they are all destined to pass away. Only the eternal will last. What do we have in Jesus? We have a glorious ministry. We have a valuable treasure. We fix our eyes on the eternal. Therefore… therefore… therefore we do not lose heart.

Lets pray.


With sincere and grateful thanks, this sermon draws inspiration and content (but not errors) from Warren Wiersbe’s wonderful little commentary “Be Encouraged: 2 Corinthians” The Bible Exposition Commentary.