Every year when I encounter the fourth chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians as part of my reading plan it always carries a special weight in my post-reading meditation. Love this chapter. So encouraged by this chapter. Particularly by the seventh verse. This morning I thought I’d update and replay some thoughts I put together back in 2009 . . .
I’m not going to lie to you . . . “jars of clay” has got to be one of my favorite phrases. The phrase evokes a ton of implications, imaginations, and emotions within me.
In 2Corinthians 4, Paul’s theme is “we do not lose heart” (4:1, 16). Paul’s ministry was a glorious one (see chapter 3) but it was also a hard one. The price paid to bear the good news of the gospel was significant for Paul. He was “afflicted in every way . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . struck down . . . carrying in the body the death of Jesus.” Hard work . . . wearing work . . . often very unappreciated work. Yet, Paul says, “we do not lose heart!”
So, what’s the secret? Well, I know enough to know that it doesn’t boil down to a formula. Not as simple as some “3 Steps to Maintaining Your Spiritual Vitality.” But I also don’t think it’s really complicated–at the very least it begins with a realistic assessment of what I am. Cue “jars of clay.”
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
(2Corinthians 4:7 ESV)
A jar of clay, but the treasure it contains is grand. It is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6).
Oh, that mortal man should possess such knowledge, the knowledge of the glory of God! That he or she would be made so spiritually alive as to see, by faith, the face of Jesus Christ and, in so doing, begin to grasp something of the awe-invoking, jaw-dropping nature of God. (As an aside, I read in Psalm 99 this morning that the Lord reigns . . . that He dwells between the cherubim . . . that He is holy . . . holy . . . holy . . . and that the appropriate response is to praise His great and awesome name . . . to exalt the LORD our God . . . to worship at His footstool).
And what has God determined to do with such a treasure? To do with such light? To do with such magnificent experiential knowledge? He has chosen to place it within jars of clay. He has determined to commit it to fragile earthen vessels.
Why would such treasure be placed in such iffy vehicles? Paul asks the question a little differently, “And who is sufficient for these things?” (2:16)
Short answer: Not me!!! Saved? Yup, that’s me! Sanctified? You bet, declared so and being made so? Sufficient? No way! Just a jar of clay.
What a great perspective to own. Chipped . . . cracked . . . worn . . . brittle at times . . . only an earthen vessel. But it’s not about the vessel, it’s about what’s inside. Take an empty pop can (I think that may be soda can down here) and you can easily crush it with one hand. But fill it up and seal it and not so easy. So Paul could say:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed
(2Corinthians 4:8-9 ESV)
It wasn’t about the jar of clay it was about the treasure inside. The treasure is a sustaining treasure. In fact, a little bit of brokenness, a crack here or there, it all serves to enhance the treasure. Through the cracks the light shines out and the power is evident. It’s the treasure, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, that gives the power. It’s of God and not of us.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison . . .
(2Corinthians 4:16-17 ESV)
We do not lose heart! Despite how fragile we get sometimes . . . despite how cracked and broken we may feel . . . despite the incredible pressure we sometimes experience . . . we do not lose heart because we are just jars of clay shored up by the glorious treasure we carry anticipating a future glory beyond imagination. It’s not about the strength of the vessel but about the glory of its contents. “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (3:5).
Just a jar of clay. But the transport of an eternal treasure. Therefore, do not lose heart.
All because of amazing grace . . . All for God’s eternal glory.