Treasure in a Jar of Clay
You're having a tidy out and you come across an album of family photos and you stop to look at them. It's not long before you're searching to see if you can find yourself in the group pictures. It's something I think we all do – how we like to see ourselves!
When we became Christians one of the questions we probably asked ourselves in some form was "what's in it for me?" And the answers we heard then convinced us that was a lot in it for us!
And yes that is most certainly the case. The Bible and the NT in particular emphasises over and over again the blessings that are to be enjoyed. Indeed part of my task as a preacher is to help you to see and understand the scope and the extent of these blessings: sins forgiven, peace with God and a hope of heaven; to know and enjoy the mercy of God, the grace of God and to experience the four dimensional love of Christ; given a new status and adopted into the family of God; we could go on and on listing them.
As we hear these truths we begin built up our own identikit picture of what we think a real Christian is like and it is so easy for this picture to dominate our thinking.
But then what happens when you look at your life and come to the conclusion that the life you're currently living just doesn't match up? What do you do when there seems to be some disparity between life as it is and life as you think it ought to be?
It won't be long before questions start to pop into your head. Is there a problem with me? Am I simply not cut out to be a spiritual Christian? Must I content myself with living a kind of second class Christian existence? Or perhaps you begin to wonder whether the gospel has been exaggerated or overhyped?
Left unresolved you may well begin to feel like giving up and some folk do indeed give up and abandon the faith. Others may continue but only half-
As Paul continues his letter to the Corinthians he helps us to see our way through these matters more clearly.
Paul was certainly aware of the enormous blessings and privileges of being a Christian and has just highlighted some aspects of that in v.6 where he wrote that God had shone in our hearts:
"to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
Glory speaks of weightiness of worth and of value. What greater glory could be known than the glory of God the Creator and Sustainer of Life? "He is", in the words of the Baptist catechism, "the fountain-
Paul's understanding of the gospel led him to describing its blessings in terms of treasure – he certainly had no desire to diminish or to minimise its wonders. He was intent on doing just the opposite as he preached the unsearchable riches of Christ.
But Paul also knew that these blessings were lived out in a broken world – for the time being the blessings of the Christian life would be experienced on the battlefield there would be ample time later for them to be experienced in a pain free new creation. The unsearchable riches of Christ that Paul had to preach now were the unsearchable riches of Christ crucified. An dthat is the same for us too. The pattern of Christ's own life is normative for the believer.
Paul also knew that even though the Christian was an immensely privileged person he was not and never meant to be an independent individual who was the measure of all things. The Christian was, and is, meant to live in union with Christ totally dependent upon God's power for it is not the Christian who is to be the centre of everything but God.
How does Paul declare this?
Look at v.7
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay,"
The treasure that Paul is speaking of is both the gospel and the privilege he has of proclaiming this good news to others. This is something that is already in Paul's possession "we have this treasure" he says. But do you see where this treasure is located? It is located in "jars of clay." How strange!
We normally place something of great value in the best possible setting to enhance the beauty of the product: a picture is put in an ornate frame, a necklace is placed on a beautiful neck, a jewel in a jeweller's is laid out on a wonderful piece of soft, dark, velvet. But the treasure that is the gospel is different – it is placed within "jars of clay".
Paul is comparing himself here with a small, cheap, fragile and disposable item of everyday life. A clay pot was inexpensive and easily broken – when it did break it wasn't repaired but it was thrown out and replaced with a new one.
This was no mistake on God's part – he did not intend to give his servants a beauty or a strength that might deflect the glory away from the treasure or from his own divine power. God was determined to occupy centre stage himself.
Consequently, although Paul has been called and set apart for gospel ministry he is not thereby protected against the turbulence of life. In fact the very turbulence of his life serves as the setting that is best designed to demonstrate God's power because this power is a power that keeps wonderfully and effectively!
Paul looks at his life and sees that it is a life of suffering and difficulty but he does not throw his hands up in horror and suggest that something has gone horribly wrong instead he focuses upon power, the keeping and delivering power of God. He outlines this in a series of contrasts:
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.
Paul had in fact not much before this been so hard pressed that he had feared for life itself but that experience had served to draw him into a fuller, more complete dependence upon God (see 2Cor.1:8ff.)
Through all these trying experiences God kept hold of Paul and this demonstration of his power served to confirm and endorse the reality of the message carried by his messenger.
And you know practically too what I'm talking about. You know how encouraging it is to your faith when you see a friend who despite going through a really trying time doesn't lose their faith but resolutely, stubbornly goes on trusting God. You may have many around you walking in the faith but the most encouragement flows from the one whose circumstances are the most difficult.
When you feel the most vulnerable, the most weak, the most useless, when you feel that all you can do is trust in the Lord's deliverance knowing that if he doesn't intervene to support you then all will be lost, at that moment you may be at your most effective as a Christian in bringing glory and honour to God and help to others. What great things might be accomplished when God's surpassing power is clearly revealed!
On the other hand when you are cocky and self-
Later in this same letter Paul will sum up his conviction that it is in his weakness that God's power is most clearly displayed:
2Cor.12:9 "he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
The Christian's Service
Twice in this chapter uses a phrase that doesn't appear in this particular form anywhere else in the NT. The expression is a simple one and speaks of the motivating driving force in a Christian's life:
"For Jesus' sake"
It appears first:
v.5 "ourselves as your servants FOR JESUS' SAKE"
And again here:
v.11 "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."
(While this exact phrase is not to be found elsewhere there are plenty of similar expression such as "for Christ's sake", "for his sake".
Eg. Phil.1:29 "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,"
The language that Paul uses recalls the many times in which Jesus himself spoke about how his disciples were to act:
Eg. Lk.9:24 "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.")
In both instances Paul describes how he serves in ministering to others as he aims to secure their spiritual well-
In serving Jesus Paul does more than merely teach the doctrine of a crucified Saviour he is himself exposed to similar suffering. Serving Christ in this way can be very costly but what benefits accrue to others! As Paul suffers he also experiences divine deliverance which points to the reality of Jesus' own resurrection. His message thus supported and confirmed by God becomes the channel whereby blessing is brought to those who as yet have no life.
As Paul suffers others are brought to life in Jesus Christ!
v.12 "So death is at work in us, but life in you."
And so the next cycle can begin! If we back up to v.11 Paul speaks of "we who live" so the next generation of Christians brought to life through the powerful preaching of God's word by those who were unafraid to proclaim it will in their turn pass on the message to others.
Struggles and difficulties and painful experiences are by no means evidence that gospel blessings are not being enjoyed. We need to realise that God's plan is far bigger than our individual salvation and therefore our salvation is not to be defined in terms of our personal comfort and ease. We must avoid the temptation of assessing our Christian service by the sense of spiritual glow we might have (or like to have). Until Christ returns we live on in a broken world because wants us to; our lives are lived on a spiritual battlefield in a war in which no truces are declared; our standing and standing firm is enabled and ensured only by a demonstration of God's power and what a powerful witness that makes of lives yielded to him.
So, don't give up! Don't withdraw! Don't be half-
Above all keep your focus on Jesus and live your life "for Jesus' sake".