We’re back on schedule this week and are looking at 2nd Corinthians. Frankly, I probably should have reviewed both letters at the same time, because all of the background information is the same. So if you want to get all the scoop on Corinth and the Church there, go back and listen to the show two weeks ago, or read the show notes.
This second letter was written some months after the first one and after Paul hears that the Church has mostly responded in a positive manner to the first one. Paul still has to deal with certain criticisms and gripes, but he is also more encouraging in this letter. If you read the two letters back to back, the differences are rather obvious.
Since we’ve already dealt with many of the dysfunctions in the Corinthian Church, I want to spend our time today investigating one of my favorite verses in the letter. And that is Chapter 4, verse 7.
2Co 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
Some of you have probably heard me discuss this verse before, but I think it’s well worth our time to park here for a few minutes and look behind the curtain at some of the takeaways of these few words.
First, what treasure is Paul talking about? If this verse appeared in a vacuum it would be a real head scratcher. But fortunately, Paul gave us the answer in the verse before:
the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
He’s just been explaining that many are blinded by the Enemy to the glory of God, but in verse 6, through Faith we have ‘seen His Glory’. We live in the light of salvation by grace. That is the treasure.
I am fascinated by the concept that we are jars of clay. I mean, you don’t have to look very deep to get the importance of the idea, we are mere mortals, but God has loved us enough to grant salvation despite our limitations and mortality. “What is man that you are mindful of him?’
But if we stop and look closely at jars of clay, there are several layers of added value to our understanding.
When I was a boy, we used to visit a pottery house in Bybee, Kentucky. They made all kinds of clay objects and dishes there. I absolutely loved our annual visit to tour the place. I associate it with blackberry picking. We would go out for a day of berry picking, then visit Bybee before heading home. I positively loved watching the potters shape the clay, bake it in the ovens, then glaze it. I could look around the gift shop for hours. I think I wanted every bowl, cup, vase, plate and tray in the shop.
Every time I read 2 Corinthians 4:7, my mind travels back to Bybee and the things I learned about jars of clay.
- They are made on purpose – None of the beautiful, not even the plain items in Bybee was the product of random action. Each was meticulously hand crafted by a master. Each detail was expertly designed and created. What is true for clay pots, is equally true of human beings. Genesis reminds us that we are created in the very image of God. We are not a product of random chance. The psalmist reminds us that we were knit together in our mother’s womb and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are not an accident, regardless of what you may have been told. You are unique, one of a kind masterpiece. Yes, unique. Even identical twins have distinct fingerprints.
- Not only are jars of clay made ON purpose, they are made FOR a purpose. In the Bybee gift shop I saw all shapes and sizes of objects, from Baking dishes to dinner ware, to simple flower pots. Some were very ornate, others were quite plain, but each had a role to fill. So it is with us. And each role is valuable. Yes, some of the ornate serving dishes were eye catching and grabbed the eye, but even the simplest pot, while not outwardly impressive, was used to grow the herbs that flavored the food served in the ornate dishes, or held the flowers that decorated the room in which the fancier dishes were displayed. Some of us understand our purpose instinctively from a very young age, while others struggle to discover where we are valuable, but the simple truth is, we DO bring value. We were made for a purpose.
- Clay pots are of no value until they’ve been though the fire. It is in the immense heat of the oven that the loose, soft, clay is hardened into something that can hold liquid or withstand the rigors of cooking. We may hate trials, and most times they are quite difficult, but just like fire purifies metal and hardens clay, our struggles purify and strengthen us, to make us valuable in service to the King.
- Clay pots break – I can’t even guess how many, mugs, glasses and baking dishes found their way to the trash can as a result of being dropped, kicked, or elbowed off their resting place. Those Bybee dishes may have been useful but they were by no means indestructible. Just like one of those clay pots from my youth knocked from a shelf, or Humpty Dumpty having a great fall, we easily shatter. And all the kings horses and men cannot put us together again.
It’s precisely at this point we fully understand that the clay pot is not the treasure, it is merely the vessel that contains the treasure.
So it is with us. God made us on purpose and for a purpose. He allows us to go through the fire to make us useful and to house HIS treasure. But He is the chef, and salvation is His recipe. That should take a great deal of pressure off of us. The success of the Gospel is not based on our strength or lack of strength. The work of salvation is on HIM and He will bring honor to himself. Like good jars of clay, our job is to be the clay pot used to hold the treasure. Some plant, some water, God gives the increase.