But we have this treasure in earthen vessels… 2 Corinthians 4:7a
Jars of Clay often held a treasure far more valuable than themselves. Even today, a treasure is usually far more valuable than the container that holds it. What treasure did Paul have in mind when he wrote these words? Is the treasure our salvation, or is the treasure something else? We look back one verse to discover the treasure. Consider Paul’s words: For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6
The treasure is something given. It is something our lives contain. So what is it? It is the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God that has been revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ! This is the treasure these clay jars carry. Would you not agree that this is a glorious treasure to be contained in something so fragile? But there is purpose in God’s choice of these containers.
The containers God has chosen are not meant to conceal this treasure. They are meant to display it. How is it then, that these clay jar lives of ours are meant to display the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God revealed in the face, the person of the Lord Jesus Christ? What does God know that we don’t know? How will people come to see what He has placed inside us? How will His glory be revealed?
The discussion Paul offers is really an explanation of what happens when clay jars crack. It is a Christian perspective of difficulty. Time and use cause these fragile containers to reveal the secret they contain.
7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Corinthians 4:7-11
Paul uses the following words to describe his own life experience: Afflicted in every way; perplexed; persecuted; struck down; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus. He also describes his life as constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake. Opposite each one of these, is a rather unusual result. The result is to display that the surpassing greatness of the power belongs to God and comes from God and not from us.
Paul’s perspective has much light to shed on our own experience. Why is it that God allows these clay jars, containing the Light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ, to be so roughly treated? What is Paul is saying to us about his own experience that can help us as we face difficulty?
First, consider the mystery of affliction.
Affliction is not once and done. It isn’t an experience that comes never to return. It may leave us for a time, but it returns again and again. It comes at us from every direction. It is an ongoing struggle. Each affliction wears on the integrity of the container, chipping us here and there. We come through each experience a little more weathered and stressed.
But for Paul, the great miracle is that we come through at all! It seems that for all affliction and trouble has to throw at us—somehow we are given the strength to bear it. What threatened to crush us, didn’t crush us after all!
In the heat of the trial, we wonder how we will ever survive. When the storm has passed, we realize we survived only by the grace of God. The excellency of the power was of God and not of us!
Second, consider the puzzle of perplexity.
Life is confusing? What should I do? Which way should I turn? There is a frantic search for answers and direction for the journey. How will we ever get to where we are going? Where are we headed anyway?
Who would dream that Paul was ever perplexed or puzzled? How did he find his way through life’s maze of uncertainty without throwing up his hands in despair? In fact, his perplexity put him in greater dependence upon God for direction. His life displayed the glory of God’s guidance.
How was Paul smart enough to know what to do and where to turn. He wasn’t. Neither am I! Neither are you! But guidance comes! We get to where we are going. And when we look back, we see that the surpassing greatness of the power was of God and not of us!
But we grow grey due to the stress of it. Worry lines deepen. The weariness takes its toll. The container gets chipped in a few more places. The glaze begins to show signs of crackling. Why would God allow such to happen to the container that holds the treasure of the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ?
Third, consider the pain of persecution.
When people throw rocks at jars of clay, something is bound to be broken. Once Paul was stoned and left for dead. But he didn’t die! How did he not? How did he survive? What brought him through? But the container was left damaged! Now, not just weathered on the surface, but cracked and broken. Why?
Paul wants us to know it was so that the treasure could be revealed. It was so that the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ could shine forth from Paul’s life!
Just as when Stephen was stoned, and Paul held the garments of those that threw stones, the people saw Stephen’s face like the face of an angel. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ was shining through the cracks in the clay!
Paul did survive many of his difficulties. He lists some of them in 2 Corinthians 11. …beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28
Paul could bear witness to all of those troubles. He could testify that even when he was struck down, he was never forsaken. The Lord stood with him on each occasion and brought him through, so that the excellency of the power might be of God and not of Paul himself.
Fourth, consider the peril of being pinned.
This word struck down is an athletic term or military term meaning to be thrown face down. Paul said, I have been pinned down but never counted out; Punched, but never knocked out of the fight; Knocked face down but never failed to get up! And how did he keep getting back up and keep on keeping on? It was by God’s grace! His strength was made perfect in Paul’s weakness. And every time there was a new crack in the clay jar that was Paul, there was another spot where the Light of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ shined through!
What of the clay jar that is you? Has the stress of life taken its toll? Does it seem there are more chips and cracks and gaping holes in the container that is you? Is your life becoming more weakness than strength?
What is the Plan of Providence? Here is how Paul summed up his struggles: …always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus… Paul yielded himself to these struggles, and realized he was called to yield up his fragile clay container so that it could be broken. Every time it was, the life of Jesus was manifested in his body. The Light of the glory of God was revealed in and through Paul’s difficulty. That is also true in your life and mine!
Do you remember the story of Gideon and the three-hundred fighting men. They distributed clay pitchers and torches to each of the men. They put the torches inside the pitchers. But at a given moment in the battle, the pitchers were to be smashed. When they were, the brightness of the torches was revealed. In order for the light to shine, those clay jars had to be broken. Judges 7:16ff
Do you understand what Paul was saying? These clay jars are meant to be cracked! There is a glory in us that will not be released unless they are. Please, don’t misunderstand! I don’t mean to say that cancer or diabetes or whatever calamity that has come into your life is not hard. It is hard! Those things do leave people broken! I am only asking you to see the opportunity that exists in your brokenness.
God has placed a treasure inside that clay jar life of yours! Cancer is a crack in the clay. Affliction chips away at the container. Sometimes, something comes along, like the loss of someone we love, that leaves a huge, gaping hole in our lives. Yet out of the cracks in the clay, it is possible for God’s glory to shine!
For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Corinthians 4:11