2 Corinthians 4:6 – 5:11
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Perhaps your day is beginning. Your blades have been finely honed; you’ve been polished inside and out till you fairly gleam. But before we begin to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, let’s be reminded of what we are – humble clay pots! Not diamond-studded golden bowls, just plain old clay pots. But notice an incredible incongruity, an incomprehensible irony. Someone has put in this clay pot a magnificent treasure. So, the value is not in the pot, but in the contents. What is the treasure? The light of the Gospel? The glory of God? The presence of Christ? Yes! And somehow that treasure takes a fragile, insignificant, common clay pot and transforms it. Watch what happens.
Nothing exposes our fragile vulnerability like suffering. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (vs 16-17). Sometimes these clay pots are shattered and all of us are shaken. But we don’t have the normal response. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 affirms: “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Why do we not have a standard clay pot response? How do we have the response of some magnificent royal vessel? This passage answers those questions – the why and the how. First then, why? Why do we respond so atypically? Psychologists might say we are suppressing our real feelings and endangering our psychological health. But Paul seems to have another reality that transforms humble, fragile, vulnerable clay pots.
To die is to be swallowed of life. Our son Bob seemed to have been swallowed up in a dark, watery grave when he died in the deep waters of the great lakes in a diving accident Paul says boldly, what really swallowed him that September afternoon was LIFE.
Yet the shattered clay pot doesn’t remain a jumble of broken shards. Brian sat in my living room and spoke confidently of his good health, his strong body, his expectancy to life long and serve God well. But at that very moment his clay pot was cracking all over and a few weeks later it was dead. But Paul says, Sunday’s coming! Brian will be put together again in a beautiful strong body. Resurrection!
God’s life – His power is put on display. This is what happened with my friend Bart. He took in a homeless man, who one night killed him. Those who knew him affirm the character of Christ that was demonstrated in his life. Some who didn’t know him have stepped forward to take his place. By living at risk for God’s purposes in this world, he joined our Savior in giving his life for lost people. With his blood he indelibly marked our fledgling program in church-starting evangelism. God’s power has been vividly put on display.
How can a lowly, fragile, vulnerable clay pot ever hope to respond this way? It is the power of God. Dick Woodward reminds us of the how; “I won’t, but he will, I can’t, but he can, I don’t, but he does.”
We give the testimony of our inner condition letting the contents of the pot spill out. During times of suffering, faith turns our world right side up exactly at the point circumstances have turned it upside down. I visited my friend, John Dunlap, in his last days. On the first visit what was seen was the visible which seemed unbearably heavy and never-ending. Paul says whatever these afflictions (and who can compete with Paul?) they are light and temporary. Compared with the unseen, with the invisible realm, which most people consider unreal, is in fact the ultimate reality, the heavy stuff, the permanent. What was happening in John’s life as his big, strong clay pot disintegrated? A gentleness, patience, kindness his family never knew was in there began to spill out. So, faith works!
Only what’s done for Christ will last. Perhaps you have had it all brought into focus by the shattering of the clay pots. Perhaps verses 17-18 will help: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”