”Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”2 Corinthians 1:3–4
I want to be an instrument for God to work. I suspect that is the desire and prayer of most Christians. We want to be people who not only follow Christ but who Christ is active and at work through. We want to be people of the King and forces by which the Kingdom breaks into the world. That seems to me to be a good and biblical thing to want and pray for. If it’s not something we long for, it would be a terrific desire for God to place within our hearts.
But how do we become instruments for God’s work, and how do we grow as people whom God uses for his glory? The answer, it seems to me, is the way to become people who demonstrate God’s grace is to be people who receive God’s grace. We are to need God’s goodness and find it before we can take that same goodness to others and invite them to taste it too.
As Christians we are both vehicles and vessels. We are vehicles for God’s grace, mercy and peace to be spread abroad to a needy world. We are vehicles by which the poor are clothed, the hungry fed and the prisoners set free. We are vehicles for the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to be seen and known.
We are also vessels for the gospel of Jesus Christ, jars of clay to be filled with the grace of God, containers for the love and life of the Holy Spirit, places where God’s goodness is to be found and at work. We are both vessels and vehicles.
But there is a particular way in which God works through his people. We are always vessels before we are vehicles. We are receivers of grace before we are transmitters of grace. We have love and life lavished upon us before we can go and tell of this lavish gift to others.
Paul puts it like this in the opening verses of his second letter to the Corinthians: “[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble…” God intends for us to be vehicles of his comfort to others. He calls us to be people looking to show the compassion and mercy of God to a needy world and a needy church. But this comfort that we have to show comes from the comfort we have ourselves received. We don’t generate that comfort within ourselves. It comes from the comfort that God has given to us, and overflows from us toward others.
We are vessels before we are vehicles. The way God has intended things to work is for us to be filled up with his goodness, grace, mercy, love and justice so that all these things spill over from us to others. Just as a glass filled to the brim overflows, so we are to overflow with the love and grace of the gospel. We are vessels before we are vehicles.
My confession is that I am too often trying to be a vehicle before I am a vessel. I’m trying to hold out God’s grace to others without first being filled up with grace myself. I try to reverse the way that God has intended and end up feeling empty and ineffective.
If any of us are to be useful for God’s kingdom, if we are to be effective instruments for the grace of the gospel, we first need to drink deeply from that grace ourselves. We need to continually be filled up by God so that his goodness shown to us spills out toward others. We need to be vessels before we are vehicles.