The Spirit's Work Through Weak Vessels

Notes Outline


    1. 2 Corinthians 3-4

2:14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ (“the aroma of Christ to God” [LEB]; “a fragrant aroma, offered to God by the Messiah” [BHT]) among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 

4 Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 

7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?…

4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry (see above), we do not lose heart (“we do not give up” [CSB]). 2 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 every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 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 the glory of God in the face of Christ. 

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay (“in earthen vessels” [NASB]; “as weak instruments, like vessels made of clay” [BHT]) to show that this all-surpassing power (“the extraordinary power” [NET]) is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed (by the Spirit’s power); perplexed, but not in despair (by the Spirit’s power); 9 persecuted, but not abandoned (the Sprit with us); struck down, but not destroyed (by the Spirit’s power). 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus (“constantly displaying in our bodies the death of Jesus” [BHT]; pointing back to the cross), so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (“so that the life of Jesus, too, may itself be openly displayed in these weak and mortal bodies of ours” [BHT]; pointing forward to the age to come). 11 For we who are alive (i.e., experiencing new life through the Spirit) are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body (“so that the life of Jesus, too, may be openly displayed in these weak and mortal bodies of ours” [BHT]). 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (“So then, constant risk of death is what we ourselves face, yet life is the result for you” [BHT]). 

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead (the “firstfruits” [1 Cor. 15:20]) will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence (“knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus to life is going to raise us to life, too, just as he did Jesus, and bring us into his presence together with you” [BHT]). 15 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.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away (Gk. diaphtheirō; “being destroyed” [HCSB]; as a living sign pointing back to the cross), yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (as a living sign pointing ahead to the resurrection). 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen (“Thus we keep our eyes not on our present sufferings, but on the glories to come” [BHT]). For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (“Our present sufferings, you see, last only a short time. The glories to come, however, continue on forever” [ESV]). (2 Cor. 2:14-3:8, 4:1-18, NIV)


    1. Colossians 1-2

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death (the cross), in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (i.e., at the return of Jesus; cf., e.g., Php. 1:10; 1 Th. 3:13, 5:23), 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard (message), which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (“servant” [NET, NIV]). 

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake (following Jesus’ example; cf. 1 Cor. 11:1), and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking (Gk. antaplērō ta husterēmata)  in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church

  • “To ἀναπλ. the ὑστέρημα of one person means to make up for the person’s absence, represent the person in the person’s absence”
  • 17I was glad to see Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus. Having them here was like having you (lit. because your lack these men filled up; “although you couldn’t be here yourselves, I have at least gotten to see your faces in theirs” [BHT]). (1 Cor. 16:17, CEV)
  • as I serve on the Messiah’s behalf, his sufferings are represented in this weak and mortal body of mine for the sake of his body, the assembly (Col. 1:24, BHT; people see the Messiah’s sufferings through Paul’s)

 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you (i.e., the deposit of the Spirit; cf. Eph. 1:13-14), the hope of glory (cf. Rom. 5). 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me (ie., the Spirit’s power). 

1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 1:21-2:3, ESV)


    1. 2 Corinthians 11-12

22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I’m talking like a madman—I’m a better one: with far more labors (cross ), many more imprisonments (cross ), far worse beatings (cross ), many times near death (cross ). 

24 Five times I received the forty lashes minus one (cross ) from the Jews. 25 Three times I was beaten (cross ) with rods. Once I received a stoning (cross ). Three times I was shipwrecked (cross ). I have spent a night and a day in the open sea (cross ). 26 On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers (cross ), dangers from robbers (cross ), dangers from my own people (cross ), dangers from Gentiles (cross ), dangers in the city (cross ), dangers in the wilderness (cross ), dangers at sea (cross ), and dangers among false brothers (cross ); 27 toil and hardship (cross ), many sleepless nights (cross ), hunger and thirst (cross ), often without food (cross ), cold (cross ), and without clothing (cross ). 28 Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my concern for all the churches (cross ). 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?…

12:6 For if I want to boast, I wouldn’t be a fool, because I would be telling the truth. But I will spare you, so that no one can credit me with something beyond what he sees in me or hears from me, especially because of the extraordinary revelations. Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me (cross ) so that I would not exalt myself (cross ). Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it would leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power (through Holy Spirit) is perfected in weakness(“my power is greatest when you are weak” [TEV]; “it is in times of weakness that it [my power] is displayed in full strength” [BHT]).

Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power ( age to come) may reside in me. 10 So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties ( cross), for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak (suffering), then I am strong (by the Spirit’s power). (2 Cor. 11:22-12:10, CSB)

  • It is with the greatest of delight, therefore, that I will sing of my weaknesses, rather than praying for them to be taken away, so that the Messiah’s power can be a shelter over me. 10 That is why I gladly accept weaknesses, insults, hardships, and persecutions and pressures on behalf of the Messiah. When I am weak, you see, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10, BHT).