Paul refutes the claims that he has been guilty of flattery in person, but harshness in his letters. This two-faced persona would have been reprehensible. To Paul, his gentility comes from his stature as servant to the church, rather than lord over it.
Further, Paul describes his mission to be proclaiming Christ, rather than self. The good news of the risen Christ is a “treasure” that has been stored in “clay jars” – breakable, delicate, flawed. If we are clay jars, then the power of God has been bestowed to breakable, delicate, and flawed human beings. Not only would God’s light have the power to break out of these jars, in keeping with the uncontainable nature of God’s light, but it speaks to the tender love with which God holds us. Although we are delicate and breakable, God sees value enough to share God’s light, love, and truth with us. We need not be perfect in order to earn God’s grace; we simply need to be who and what we are – imperfect, flawed, and yet lovable.
When I was young, it drove me crazy any time something new of mine got blemished. It was as if that perfect thing was irreparably damaged, and therefore utterly useless. To combat the sinking feeling I would get whenever something I owned became damaged, I became proactive. Every time I got a new book, I immediately wrote in the margins so it wasn’t perfect anymore. After that, I didn’t worry about spine creases or dog-eared pages because the book was already beautifully flawed, and uniquely mine. I have carried that metaphor into my life, and now see myself as beautifully flawed, not as irreparably damaged or utterly useless. It is as though God relishes the thought of using cracked, flawed vessels for God’s word, for the flaws make the vessels unique and fully God’s own.
2 Corinthians 4:1-15
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke” —we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.