2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Treasure trove inside a dusty cave
In 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd tossed a rock into a cave at Qumram near the Dead Sea. He heard a cracking sound and investigated. To his amazement, he found ceramic pots filled with papyrus and leather scrolls that were almost 20 centuries old! Tens of thousands of scroll fragments were discovered in nearby caves, treasures that had been preserved from as far back as the 3rd century BC in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. A Jewish Ascetic sect called the Essenes, who devoted their lives to copying and preserving sacred texts, probably preserved these scrolls in clay jars and hid them in caves before the Romans destroyed their settlement in 68AD. These scrolls were still of excellent quality and contained most of the Old Testament books, including two full copies of the book of Isaiah. The Dead Sea scrolls were a great treasure that prove the reliability and accuracy of the Old Testament manuscripts and the jars preserved them all those years. In ancient times, valuable treasures like sacred parchments, money and jewels were often placed inside clay jars and hidden to keep them safe. This is what Paul’s readers in Corinth understood when they read this metaphor in 2 Corinthians 4.
Paul takes this image and applies it to believers in Christ. If we are followers of Jesus, we are the jars of clay with treasure hidden inside us– the treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Clay jars were common, cheap pots that cracked easily. Similarly, ordinary, broken human beings house the message of the Gospel and the “all- surpassing power” (verse 7) of the supernatural God! Doesn’t that just blow your mind?
We have the “light of the Gospel that displays the glory of Christ” entrusted to us, to preserve and pass on to those who don’t know and to future generations. (verse 4)
Paul’s metaphor is a treasure worth mining.
Here are some ways that Christians are clay jars safeguarding the Gospel:
- Our ministry and service is not about us at all but about displaying God’s glory. It doesn’t make sense to praise the ordinary clay jar over the valuable treasure inside. We are just the “packaging”. The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the treasure.
- God seems to intentionally choose weak, ordinary human beings, not highly talented superheroes to guard his treasure on earth. Like Paul, we will experience batterings of many kinds during our lifetimes. “Hard pressed”; “perplexed”; “persecuted”; “struck down.” This is the reality of any true messenger of the Gospel who carries “around in our body the death of Jesus” and shares in his sufferings on earth. It is in the battering and breaking of the clay jar that we see the light of the treasure within us.
- “But not crushed”; “but not in despair”; “but not abandoned”; “but not destroyed.” I love those four “buts” because no matter what we face, we have the only antidote to despair– HOPE. God is our deliverer and the source of our hope. He may send a solution, or a particular verse from Scripture, a supernatural sign or a person with an apt word of encouragement when we’re on the verge of giving up. Even if we don’t feel God’s presence, we can be assured that He will never leave us or forsake us. When the clay pot is battered, when all natural means of self-help are gone, God’s all-surpassing power blasts through supernaturally. It is his power, not our own, that displays “the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
- Clay jars are refined by fire. Trials are not the enemy but the means God uses to build character and perseverance in us, so that we may become mature bearers of the Gospel. Frailty reminds us of how badly we need a Saviour and makes us kinder to weaknesses in others. It helps us not to rely on our own abilities but to rest in Christ and know He’s all we need. Our frailty forces us to depend on the strength of God’s all surpassing power and not our own.
Grounded by Grace
I suppose you may be wondering about the ending to my own health saga. In September 2017, I finally found the help I needed from a Functional medicine doctor and since then I’ve been on a steady path to recovery, even if it’s entailed being deprived of almost every comfort and pleasure I used to know in the form of food and drink! It sometimes feels like I’m climbing a sand dune– two steps forward and one back, with plenty of sand in my shoes and mouth! (I empathise with Lawrence of Arabia.) But I wouldn’t exchange the experience of the last few months for anything.
Lessons I have learned by being grounded
God literally grounded me on purpose. It was against my will but definitely for my good. His grounding was a gift of grace to me. It may sound harsh, but Jesus is the Great Shepherd of our souls and sometimes He makes His busy little sheep lie down in green pastures and He leads us beside still waters to restore our restless little souls! (See Psalm 23:1-3). That’s what He has done with me over the past few months. I have been forced to stay at home, rest, read, enjoy simple tasks and cling to Jesus in my weakness. I have learned to gratefully accept help from my friends and family. I have been struck by the truth that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” and am in awe of the body God has given me. I will never again be discontent with the way I look or take my health for granted, as I now see every good gift I enjoy as a privilege, not a right. I am in awe of my family and friends and their amazing love for me. My marriage is more intimate than ever before, because of the tender way in which my husband has protected and taken care of me. He has practised the kind of sacrificial love that Jesus showed the Church when He laid down His life for her and it has been humbling to receive such love. Relationships have sustained me and I am determined to never allow my to-do list take priority over people. It has dawned on me that busyness is not an indication of fruitfulness. In stillness, my purpose has come into sharp focus and I have seen more clearly than ever what God has put me on earth to do, day by day, slowly but faithfully. I am learning not to waste a moment wallowing in worry or self pity, but to run to my Saviour and cast my cares on Him over and over again, believing that He cares for me. The Lord has graciously led me to accept my temperament and to work with it to sustain healthy rhythms in my life and manage stress better. I have come to see that while we have no control over what happens to us, we can choose to feed hope or despair; faith or fear; trust or anxiety. The choice is always ours, no matter what our emotions may tell us. We may be crushed by life, but we are never abandoned by God. After being crushed by depression every afternoon for many months, God showed me that this was a spiritual battle I needed to fight and win. I actively used Scripture as the Sword of the Spirit, declaring the truth and defying my feelings. Friends also prayed with me, and in less than a week, those feelings of despondency left me and have not returned even though my physical health remained the same.
I have known all these things in my head but God’s gracious grounding translated them into my heart language. Now I truly know the truth of Peter’s declaration: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen. ” (1 Peter 5:10.) I’m grateful that the Lord Jesus put His treasure in me, a cracked jar of clay.