This Treasure – In Jars Of Clay

Please read 2 Corinthians 4: 1-12, and then pray; Almighty God, may your word be a source of inspiration and encouragement to me today, and may your power be seen working in and through my fragile life and Christian witness, to the praise and honour of your name. Amen!

Our text for today is 2 Corinthians 4: 7 in which the apostle Paul writes about one of his favourite themes relating to Christian leadership and practical Christian service – the great theme of God working wondrously through fragile, chipped, and broken human lives:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (NIV)

In the Good News Version of the Bible, we are presented with a helpful understanding of the truth in this verse; “Yet we who have this spiritual treasure are like common clay pots, in order to show that the supreme power belongs to God and not to us.” Reading this verse in the much looser translation of the Message also helps our understanding; “If you only look at us you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our lives. That’s to prevent anyone confusing Gods incomparable power with us.”

When considering this teaching we must be clear about two important questions.

Firstly, who or what are the clay pots? Secondly, what is the treasure that is inside the pots?

When Paul writes about clay pots or jars – what is the apostle referring to? The answer is not difficult because all the clues lie within the context that follows. The clay pots are the ordinary, commonplace, fragile and vulnerable mortal lives of the apostle Paul and those who work alongside him – indeed the mortal bodies of any and every true Christian servant. This idea of the mortal body being like a common fragile clay pot becomes clear in the verses that follow;

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 might be revealed in our mortal body.

A little later in this same chapter Paul refers to the “outward wasting away” of the body, but also to the “daily inner renewing” of the same body. We can therefore be sure, that the clay pots refer to the human body and especially to the body’s vulnerability and fragility, and the ease with which it can be cracked, damaged or broken by the harsh realities of life, and in Paul’s case, the harsh realities of dangerous and challenging frontline Christian leadership and ministry.

One of the main reasons Paul is writing this letter is to defend himself against the criticisms and attacks of opponents who are later referred to as “super apostles” but who are in fact “false apostles” masquerading as true leaders. (2 Corinthains 11: 5, 13) Paul’s genuine apostleship had been questioned and challenged by his opponents, and one of the ways they had done this was by criticising Paul’s physically weak appearance, his personality, and his limited oratory skills. They thought Paul was unimpressive and unattractive in appearance and manner. They looked “on the surface of things” as worldly people would do. (2 Corinthians 10:7, 10:1, 11 and 11:6).

It is probably true to say that the great apostle Paul was not much of a physical specimen. He was probably not a great looking man, nor physically impressive, and his body had taken a battering through all the persecution he had faced for Christ. He outlines the way his body was beaten, bruised, and abused when outlining his apostolic credentials in 2 Corinthians 11: 23-29. (Read). Pauls’ body has been tested to the limit and hammered for the sake of the truth – but wasn’t his Master’s body also literally hammered (with nails) revealing its weakness and breakability? (2 Corinthians 13:4). Paul knew that his body was nothing more than a weak, cracked, chipped and damaged clay pot – but he will go on to argue brilliantly that it is through such weak mortal bodies that God most powerfully shines in this world where so much brokenness and woundedness prevails.

Let me ask you a question. How is your body doing? Any cracks? Any chips? Any dents? Any deficiencies? Any weaknesses? Any signs of aging and decay? Everyone in that ancient world knew about the vulnerability and weakness of common clay pots that were regularly used and damaged in the home environment. This was the day and age of simple clay storage jars not unbreakable Tupperware containers which came into this world in the 1950’s!

Now on to our second point, and this, for Paul was utterly incredible as well as totally humbling. Paul writes about the contrast between the common clay pot (the ordinary human life and body) and the treasure that can be placed inside such a vessel by God. BUT we have this treasure in jars of clay…

We have identified what the clay jar is to which Paul is referring. But what is “this treasure” which Paul glories in? This too, is not too difficult to discern because the apostle has just described the nature of the treasure – and it is – the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

The treasure – this treasure in clay pots is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ – which is – the greatest and most priceless message and good news of all – the personal knowledge of God, his love and grace, his forgiveness and reconciling power – all of which – comes to us – and even enters and lives in us – body and soul – through the person (the human face) of THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. The treasure is Almighty God, the Creator of all things, coming to live in us by the presence of his Holy Spirit and His Kingdom, and this deposit of eternal treasure is placed within us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf.

Remember that Jesus once spoke of the presence of his reign as treasure and as the pearl of great price. (Read Matthew 13: 44-46). The only reason this is possible, the only reason why God can place such treasure within a human heart and soul, is that God decided out of pure grace to “shine light” into our darkness and give us this knowledge of his saving power and love. If we possess this treasure, and all true Christians do, it is solely because God has graciously made His light shine in our hearts. We are no longer blinded by Satan’s power and by our own sin. (4:4) We can now see. We can now see God’s love and light in Jesus and receive the treasure of eternal life and the gift of his eternal kingdom. (Read v 2-6). As the hymn writer exclaims; “Thine eye diffused a quickening ray – I woke – the dungeon flamed with light. (Charles Wesley)

God’s plan of salvation is truly amazing. At the centre of that plan is Jesus – and all that Jesus achieves through his physical dying and rising. (14) He took on a mortal body and in frail flesh came and died for us; in our place, for our sin and our mortal corruption. And the second part of the plan is God coming to live in us by His Spirit – depositing the treasure of eternal life in us forever. And the third part of the plan is that this treasure of grace and peace with God might by shared with others (15) – shared through the brokens lives of ordinary clay pot people like you and I. Our bodies may be “on the way out” (16), outwardly wasting away as Paul describes, but the internal treasure and presence of the Spirit is empowering a daily transformation and renewal. Through our cracks, our weakness of body, our broken and fragile witness, God chooses to work powerfully to introduce and make known the treasure to others. God chooses and uses weak vessels – and God delights to do so – because it reveals how his power and glory must be the sole power at work for salvation to be shared and known. Weak vessels must be accompanied by God’s all-surpassing power and grace.

Think of it this way. God chose to bring salvation to the world through the broken body of His Son who was crucified in weakness (13:4), yet later raised by God’s power. Now he deliberately chooses to spread salvation light to the world through broken vessels like the apostle Paul, and like you and I. In this scenario, (God’s scenario and plan) – weakness turns out to be strength – for through human weakness – God reveals his own surpassing grace and saving strength and power. Paul had pointed this out in his previous letter to the Corinthian Church! (Read 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31)

Let me close by making three points of application.

The first and most important is to understand and grasp one of the main reasons why Paul wrote 2 Corinthians. Paul wrote this letter to teach Christians that in our weakness, God reveals and shows his mighty strength and power. Weakness – whether it be bodily weakness, emotional weakness or even spiritual weakness is not a disadvantage in the Christian life. It is an advantage because it is through weak vessels that God chooses to move by his power. Paul looked weak by human standards, and his critics loved to taunt him about his supposed deficiencies, but was there ever a man through whom God worked so powerfully to touch so many other lives with the treasure of God’s rescuing love and power? God received all the glory through Paul’s “weak” body and “unimpressive” efforts.

I was reading a story of how Bishop Michael Baughen (Bishop of Chester 1982-96) was involved in the commissioning service of a female missionary who was going to serve God for a second term in India. What struck Bishop Baughen was the woman’s small and fragile stature and demeanour. However, when placed by God in India, with the power of His Spirit, this missionary proved to be a giant when it came to advancing God’s love and God’s care to the poor. Apparent physical weakness is no barrier to God working powerfully and wondrously and miraculously – in fact – it is an advantage. Humility and meekness are not a disadvantage in the Kingdom of God but standard requirements. See the beatitudes for further details! (Matthew 5 v 1-12) Physical impairments are not a disadvantage in the Kingdom. God brings His mighty strength to bear! I was also reading this week about the testimony of Vivien Whitfield who felt the need to return from the Mission Field in Peru because of a worsening problem with deafness, only to find that back in England God would use her in new and wonderful ways to be a blessing to the deaf community, and to many needy people in Churches who could hear! Friend’s, never be put off working for God because of your apparent weakness. Let God’s power and glory be seen in you and through your service to others.

Secondly, view apparent weakness as Paul did – and rather than bemoan it or lament it – delight in it, and understand that weakness means that you can be greatly used of God. Later in this letter we learn that Paul struggled with what he refers to as the “thorn in his flesh.” He thought this might slow him down and hinder his work for God. But he learned that this new weakness was going to be used by God to reveal to Paul and to the world the sufficiency and magnificence of God’s grace and power. (Read 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10). Paul learned to delight and even boast in weaknesses and in difficulties. Can we learn to do that? Can we learn to understand that “when we are weak, then we are strong.” Can we catch on to the great truth in Isaiah 40: 29-31 where the prophet teaches the weakened exiles that “God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak,” enabling them to soar on wings like eagles.

Finally, feeling weak or tired in body, mind, or spirit, should not be a reason to quit any Christian service or ministry before God tells us to. Paul was not a quitter. He was a fighter. He says as much twice in this section of 2 Corinthians. He does not lose heart or feel a failure. He presses on for God despite difficulties and personal agedness and decline. (Read 16-18) Christians can often be tempted to quit a piece of work, or a particular ministry prematurely because of weariness and a sense of weakness; maybe they feel too old, or a new physical problem has reared its head in their lives. Maybe it is not time to quit or resign, but instead time to allow God to work through your weakness with his power and glory. Your mobility may not be as good as it used to be, but “God is able to do more, much more than all we can ask or imagine, according to is power that is at work within us….” (Ephesians 3:20) Before laying down any ministry or service for God, pray long and hard about whether God may want you to continue to reveal His power and glory through your felt weakness? How many times has God used someone to an even greater extent than He did previously – after they have been hit by a new frustrating handicap or problem? Remember God’s glory shines through weakness. Carol Terry is a great example to everyone here. God can turn our weaknesses into His opportunities as the Graham Kendrick song reminds us!

Give thanks to God that you are His clay pot. He is the potter; you are the clay. His Kingdom treasure is within you. He deliberately chooses to use weak vessels, humble pots. Never curse supposed weakness, but surrender all things to God, and allow His surpassing power to work in you and shine through your cracked pot. Hear the gracious word of the Lord Jesus himself! This is the Master’s teaching: It came by special revelation to His battered and bruised apostle – but it also comes to us and it is aimed at every weak and feeble saint! My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12: 9)

Thanks be to God who chose the weak things of this world to glorify His Name and share precious treasure with a needy world.


(Revd Peter J Clarkson 2.6.24)