Treasure in Jars of Clay

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 - But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show us that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
There will be changes in our lives during 1975! This is not a trite prophecy taken from a Chinese fortune cookie, but rather it is a fact of life. Nothing in this life stays the same. We will all change in certain ways during this new year. The big question is--will we grow as Christians?

2 Corinthians 4:7­12 has a few important things to say to us about Christian growth. What is said is both encouraging and disturbing. How encouraging it is to know that the power of growth in the Christian life is not self-generated, but comes from God Himself (verse 7). And this power is really there within every Christian, even though it is placed in such unlikely containers as you and me! But this scripture is also disturbing because it is a "bust" to our pride to admit that we are nothing but jars of clay. And not only that, but it seems that God purposely permits these frail jars to be battered (verses 8-9) and broken (verses 10-11). Is this Christian growth, you ask? Yes! Let's look at this passage in more detail.

The theme of this section of Scripture is the extreme contrast between the message of the gospel (verse 6) and the messenger of the gospel. The fantastic and fabulous message of the good news in Jesus Christ is carried by frail and fragile messengers. The main point is that God has purposelydesigned it this way so that there will be no mistake as to the source of the great life-changing power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This point is illustrated in verse 7 by the contrast between a treasure and a clay jar.

At the time this Scripture was written, earthenware vessels were very plentiful in that part of the world. They were used as containers to hold water or food. Sometimes these clay pots were used to hold things of greater worth, such as money, jewels, or even parchments. (The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in such containers.) The common lamp at that time was also an earthenware vessel. It was composed of a cheap clay pitcher or jar containing olive oil and a floating wick. All of these pottery vessels were easy to purchase and broke just as easily. In fact, such potsherds can still be seen among ancient ruins today.

Thus the contrast between the carrier and the content of the Christian message is well illustrated. The message of the gospel is precious and valuable like a treasure of jewels or light, but it is purposely contained in common and ordinary-looking human "vessels of clay." And "clay jars" are not supermen! They get runny noses and rashes. They are subject to flu and forgetfulness. Some people have the idea that the growing Christian is to become more like a "six million dollar man" each day. Not so! Although the power of the gospel is supernatural, the preacher (that's you and me!) is purposely not a superman.

In verses 8 and 9 the apostle Paul (You knew he wrote 2 Corinthians, right?) proceeds to show that the Christian is not only a common earthenware container, but is a battered container as well. He mentions instances in his own life which were impossible situations for mere man. The deliverances which he experienced were clearly brought about by the power of God and not by the genius of man. In these two verses, four sets of words are used to describe the battering of the clay vessel on the one hand, and the miraculous deliverance by the power of God on the other hand.

"Hard pressed," perplexed," "persecuted," and "struck down" all refer to the battering which a Christian undergoes as a messenger of the gospel. Can you identify with any of these words? What about the time you felt so depressed and discouraged that you didn't know which way to turn? ("Hard pressed, perplexed".) What about the time you tried to share your faith with that student who mocked you out? ("Persecuted, struck down.")

"But not crushed," "but not in despair," "but not abandoned," and "but not destroyed" all refer to the deliverance which God is able to bring to any "impossible" situation. We can all think of times when God stepped into our situation and "saved the day." Remember the time when God "coincidentally" brought to your attention just the verse of Scripture you needed? Has there been a traumatic situation in your life through which you sensed the presence of Christ with you in a new way? Has there ever been a situation in which all natural means were at an end, and to your amazement, you saw the power of God at work in an unbelievable way? God purposely permits the clay pots to be battered so that He can exhibit His supernatural power in the situation.

In verses 10 and 11, God's purpose is further emphasized. All the struggles and hassles of the battering a Christian goes through have the result of breaking open the clay jar so that the treasure within can be seen. Even though the anxiety of circumstances, the antagonism of persons and the attacks of Satan himself are death-blows to the natural human vessel of clay, the very life of Jesus is revealed through the Christian as a result. To "carry around in our body the dying of Jesus" and to be "given over to death for Jesus' sake" is to experience in some small way the battering which our Lord went through when He walked on this earth. The Christian who is seeking to live a godly life will in some way know what the hate of the world and the attack of Satan are all about (See John 15:18 and 1 Peter 5:8.)

As the Christian undergoes these deadly attacks and the jar of clay is broken down, the Divine Life (which can never be destroyed) can be both seen and communicated more easily to others who need this treasure. In verse 12 Paul says that the breaking process at work in his life resulted in new life in Christ for the Corinthians. (See John 12:24.) Will new life come to someone this year because Jesus has been seen in your life­­through a broken jar of clay?

Throughout 1975 God will permit the battering and breaking process to go on in your life. There may be changes in your way of living, but that is all part of Christian growth. Remember, there is treasure that can meet the needs of others in your jar of clay.
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