Focus on the Treasure Not the Clay Jar

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But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

True confession time, when I have preached on this passage before I focused on the jar.  It is so easy to focus on what is flawed and ordinary but the most striking part of the verse is the treasure and the power of God.   I am in good company because Warren Wiersbe agrees with me. “It is too bad when Christian workers make the vessel more important than the treasure of the Gospel.[1]” I love this illustration because even unbelievers know of the power of God.

 In Stay of Execution, Stewart Alsop discussed what it was like to live with incurable leukemia. “The disease was temporarily arrested. During this time, the not-too-active Episcopalian and noted journalist discussed a number of variables with his physician. Finally, Alsop said, ‘There is one variable you keep leaving out.’

‘What’s that?’

‘God,’ he said.

The doctor and patient smiled. Alsop continued, ‘I don’t really believe in God, or at least I don’t think I do, and I doubt if my doctor does, but I think we both had in the back of our minds the irrational notion that God might have something to do with what happened all the same.’ ”[2]

The Clay Jars.

Clay jars is an emphasis on the human body. The Greek term to describes these common containers implies something fragile, inferior, and expendable. We don’t like picturing ourselves that way.  Society has pushed hard against this sense of the ordinary.  Possibly because it shows this everyday common utensil conveying life as disposable. In spite of that God stores an invaluable treasure in these ordinary vessels.  What a contrast, prone to break, easily chipped and cracked earthen vessel which offers no protection for the treasure stores a divine treasure. The message here?  Stop focusing on the vessels.

 The Treasure.

The astonishing thing is that such a divine treasure, God’s own presence of grace, the ultimate of what is heavenly, absolutely priceless, beyond the value of all rubies and diamonds of earth, should be placed into such wretched vessels and be kept in them so long. One would expect that this treasure would be entrusted only to vessels of the highest value, be placed where they and their treasure are only admired and are ever handled with utmost care and reverence. But see what God has done! Yet this is his way with this treasure as 1 Cor. 1:26–29 shows. He sent his own Son into our flesh, permitted him to be born in a stable, in a paltry village, in lowliest surroundings, him in whom all the Godhead dwelt bodily(Col. 1:15–19; 2:9). Astounding, yet a fact.[3]

 The explanation of this lies in God’s purpose: “in order that the greatness of the power may be of God and not from us.” This is more than saying “that it may be seen to be.” This is reality and not only manifestation or appearance. The latter does not always match the former. Many things appear to be and are supposed to be “of God” while they are only “from us.” But if a thing is of God though at first it may not be seen to be, it will soon enough be seen to be of him. The genitive “of God” is the ablative denoting source (R. 514), a possessive in the predicate, and it really belongs to the noun subject and is not affected by the copula (R. 497). “Of God” is the opposite of “from us”; but ἐκ= derivation while the simple genitive denotes possession. This is God’s own power and not merely one that is derived from him: God and his power are one.[4]

The Struggle.

 Paul paints a clear picture of the struggle the Christian may face, as a follower of Jesus Christ.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. [5]2 Corinthians 4:7-11

J. Utley points out that verses 8–10 contain a series of nine PRESENT (mostly PASSIVE) PARTICIPLES which are word plays on Koine Greek words describing Paul’s difficult ministry. The first describes Paul’s ministry experience and the second limits the consequences. Examples of this wordplay are: (1) “at loss but not utter loss” and (2) “knocked down but not knocked out.” This section can be compared to 2 Cor. 1:6; 6:4–10; 11:23–28.[6]

Paul describes the struggle as a gradation of challenging outcomes, that God spares him of the worst possible effects.   It points Christians to the promise of Matthew 28:20 “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” It begins with 1) “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed”—the Lord provides an escape. 2)perplexed, but not driven to despair—the Lord gives us hope. 3) “persecuted, but not forsaken,” -the Lord does not abandon His people. 4) Actually “struck down, but not destroyed,“ Jesus does not allow us to perish and be done eternally.

 The Victory.

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So, death is at work in us, but life in you.[7]

I love this quote, “Paul’s suffering continues to reveal God’s saving activity as he carries around Christ’s death and displays it for all to see. It is possible that he depicts himself here as the pallbearer of Christ.[8]”  Imagine that, through our life we continue to proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection for the salvation of the world.  That is where the victory lies for the Christian, in the life offered through faith in Christ’s work on the cross.

If you like this share it.  It is greatly appreciated.

[1]Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament(p. 486). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2]Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching(p. 98). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3]Lenski, R. C. H. (1963). The interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second epistle to the Corinthians(p. 974). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

[4]Lenski, R. C. H. (1963). The interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second epistle to the Corinthians(p. 975). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

[5]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:7–12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6]Utley, R. J. (2002). Paul’s Letters to a Troubled Church: I and II Corinthians(Vol. Volume 6, p. 231). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.

[7]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:11–12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8]Garland, D. E. (1999). 2 Corinthians(Vol. 29, p. 231). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

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