For an introduction to this series, click here.
Paul talks about his ministry and the overall purpose of ministry for all Christians:
"But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only 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 what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (4:2-6)
Notice the contrast here. The god of this world, Satan, has blinded the minds of unbelievers, but the true God is able to break through that veil and let the light of the Gospel shine in their hearts. Also notice what the essence of the Gospel is: it is Jesus Christ, not man's ideas or persuasive arguments.
Paul expands upon the idea that Jesus is the essence of the Gospel:
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to 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 manifested in our bodies." (4:7-10)
The "jars of clay," of course, are our earthly bodies. I know that I have not suffered nearly as badly as Paul did, but it is good to know that whatever we have to endure for the cause of Christ is just a little bit of what the Lord Jesus suffered for us, and anything we have to bear is just a little bit of sharing in that.
"Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, 'I believed, and so I spoke,' we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (4:13-18, ESV)
This is one of the most important lessons we can ever learn. It is so easy to get caught up in the things we can see, the things of this life. But it is more important to remember that the things we can't see, the things of God, are those that are truly eternal. That is why a lot of these religious trinkets you see peddled around are wrong. I'm not talking about "Jesus Loves You" stickers or things like that, but I am talking about little figurines or holy handkerchiefs and stuff like that. Our faith is not wrapped up in things we can see or handle. Christianity is a life of faith. We must have faith to look beyond this life and see the things in the next life that are eternal.