The word of the day is “abound.” Our relationships with others reflect the state of our souls. If we have peace in our hearts, we will relate to others in peace. But if anger, worry, or confusion churn in our hearts, we will project this turmoil on others. In today’s reading of 2 Corinthians 4:6-15, Paul writes, “For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (OSB vs. 15). Do grace and thanksgiving abound in our hearts? Today we consider that we might become a haven of abounding grace and thanksgiving for those around us. In this way, they will spread to all those we meet and know.
The Gospel in Earthenware Jars
In today’s passage, Paul compares himself to an earthenware jar. It contained the treasure of the knowledge of Christ on the inside. But outside the vessel, the trials of his ministry had chipped, stained, and marred the container. Indeed, Paul endured incredible suffering for his ministry. He bore in his body the marks of torment like those of Christ’s passion. He had been whipped with 39 lashes five times, beaten with rods three times, and even stoned and left for dead (2 Corinthians 11:25).
The Sufferings of Christ Abound in Paul
Thus, Paul writes that the “sufferings of Christ abound in us” (2 Corinthians 1:5). The apostle compares his ordeals to his opponents, “Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often” (2 Cor. 11:23). He even counts these sufferings as “little deaths” (vs. 10). Indeed, he is constantly in danger of being put to death as Christ was (vs. 11). We might say that he believes that he is “as good as dead.”
Yet Paul prevails. He writes that he endures all this suffering for “your sakes,” disobedient and rebellious as the Corinthians are. Through his ordeals, he wants grace to spread and thanksgiving to “abound.” Both words “spread” and “abound” have the sense of abundance. The Greek word “spread” means to produce a surplus (Strong’s #4052). And the word “abound” means to “make increase” (Strong’s #4121). Whatever abounds is present in overflowing quantities.
How Does Grace Spread and Thanksgiving Abound?
But how is it that grace spreads and thanksgiving abounds? In the light of our reading, we can conclude that it is despite, or even because of, the way Paul treats his afflictions. Though hard-pressed, he is not crushed. Though perplexed, he is not in despair. Though persecuted, he is not forsaken. Though struck down, he is not destroyed. And though, like Jesus, he is subject to death in the body, he manifests the life of Christ in his body (OSB vs. 8-10).
Imagine meeting someone who is so strong, resolute, full of conviction, and filled with zeal. The qualities of his or her undaunted faith could not help but have a powerful impact on you. Those with such confidence in the face of adversity create an aura around them. Their presence is a refuge of grace amid the storms of our life, a shelter of thanksgiving amid the worries and cares of life.
But what if we could be that sort of faithful person for our friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances around us? Paul believes that we can, writing more than once, “Imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1). The result is that faith in God’s grace and thanksgiving for His mercy would indeed increase and reach more and more people to the Glory of God.