Friday, August 1, 2014

JARS OF CLAY (2 Corinthians Chapter 4)

2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay.”

The context of this passage has to do with Paul’s perspective regarding ministry.  By the mercy of God he’d been given a ministry and in it he did not “lost heart” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:1, 16).  He was faithful to the task and refused to deviate from the truth (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:2-3).  How did he stay motivated?  Some refused to believe, how was he not discouraged?

I recently read a book about the Alaskan Gold Rush.  It is amazing to consider the extent that folks would go to-- and the hardship they would endure--in the pursuit of the prospect of treasure!  Paul was motivated in his ministry not by the prospect of treasure, but by the possession of it.  Though he was, by his own admission, “the very least of all the saints, he was privileged “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).  The possession of the treasure served both to motivate and empower him.

What is the treasure of which Paul spoke?  It is the gospel but more than the gospel.  The gospel is in the immediate context (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4).  It was a part of what Paul refused to tamper with (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3).  It was the truth to which the perishing were blinded to, but to which the saved were enlightened (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6).  The treasure is not just knowing the gospel, but knowing the One of whom the gospel speaks (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).  It is to be Spirit-brought into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus.  It is the knowing of Him and in a personal and intimate way.  To know Him is to possess immeasurable treasure, to live without Him is to be hopelessly and eternally impoverished.

Where does the treasure lie?  In jars of clay (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7).  Jars of clay were widely used in Paul’s day.  They were used to hold things.  And there were vessels of gold and silver and there were jars of clay.  What is the nature of a jar of clay?  Something ordinary, pedestrian, vulnerable, and temporary.  Paul was himself a jar of clay.  He possessed in life and ministry unsearchable riches, but God had deposited His treasure in his Paul’s frail being.  He was a clay pot—“afflicted…perplexed…persecuted…struck drown… always carrying in (his) body the dying of Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). 

Why has God placed His treasure in such a place?  We don’t have to wonder—as verse 7 explains, “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  It was God’s design to place the treasure into ordinary jars of clay like you and me.  It is the same principle of which Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, “And my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God?”  God has treasured our frail vessels that attention might not be directed to a man or a messenger, but to the God-man and His gospel (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31).  God has deposited His treasure in jars of clay “so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (1 Corinthians 4:10, 11).

By way of contrast the treasure vividly shines having been placed in frail vessels.  Human weakness and vulnerability gives opportunity for God’s grace to be made all the more evident.  These matters are sometimes confused in our day.  The treasure is neglected and emphasis is put instead on the clay pots.  Books are written on how to be a better clay pot.  In clay pot meetings clay pot ministries are developed with little thought given to the indwelling treasure (Cf. Revelation 3:17).  Churches compete with one another to see who can grow the biggest clay pot assembly.  And in all this spiritual naivety and nonsense it is possible to lose sight of the treasure.  Ministry is not about us, it’s about the treasure--knowing Jesus.  As Paul had said, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

God would have us to treasure the treasure and Jesus is that to us.  In our lives and ministries His life and sufficiency are made manifest amidst our human frailty and weakness--as we are “broken and spilt out” (Cf. Mark 14:3-9).  As with the cross, the surpassing greatness of God’s power is more vividly revealed when set against a contrary background.

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