Is it an insult to be called a Jar of Clay? It’s not the worst thing I’ve been called by a long way, but last week I had the pleasure of speaking three times on the same passage; 2 Corinthians 4, where Paul described himself that way. The deeper I dug into the passage, the more instructive and inspiring I found it in a world where sometimes we feel all too frail and inadequate and others are only too glad to affirm that picture.
Opponents – in the church – were saying Paul was unimpressive and ugly, a rubbish speaker, manipulative, a deceiver, a false teacher, money grabbing (anyone would think he was trying to do ministry in the 21st century! If you want to see vociferous nastiness like this just google Rick Warren’s name – look what bloggers galore write about him, and the guy’s amazing!).
What was Paul’s response?
Well it wasn’t like mine. I’d step right up to defend myself on every point. I’ve done it before for sure, perhaps because we are taught to defend our image and self esteem at all costs. Now Paul does declare that he has nothing to hide, because integrity matters – but then he also shows that he’s got nothing to prove either. How?
They said, “You’re rubbish!” And we’d want to affirm our self worth etc. but Paul says the most surprising thing…
You’re absolutely right.
‘…we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’
Remember Paul described himself as being the ‘chief of sinners.’ He said at the start of this passage he only had any ministry at all because of the MERCY of God.
The God who puts his treasure not in the best china, but disposable containers.
The greek word he’s using for ‘earthen vessels’ (ostrakinos) denotes not a decorative item but a pot used for dishonourable things, the slop buckets, containers you wouldn’t let the guest see what was in it. The wheely bin.
Cheap, common, breakable, replaceable. Not essential but essentially valueless. The only value they had was the service they performed. Again, this may not build your self esteem!
Paul says, “We have this treasure in a waste basket, in a slop bucket.” In other words, ‘It’s not about me.’
Whole talks I’ve heard about this passage and blogs I read around it etc talk about being ‘cracked pots.’ There’s a problem with that. It’s not in the text. It doesn’t say anything about the pots being cracked. I wonder whether we want to add that in because we want to make it about US again. The point is not about your cracks. Don’t make it about that.
The point is, the container is NOT the point. It’s what’s inside that matters.
We’re made to contain God! To be containers of God! In Ephesians it says God wants to put his FULLNESS in us. We’re made in his image to carry his glory! This sets us apart from everything else in the whole of creation! We’re meant to carry and contain GOD IN US. That’s why it’s accurate to describe anybody living without God as living an EMPTY life. Don’t let them fool you. Jung said the world’s suffering “a neurosis of emptiness.” Whatever a person tries to eat, drink, sleep with, sniff, buy or sell to temporarily feel full, will never last or satisfy. They’re empty of what they were made to contain and sometimes some people feel that. Like hollow men and women, dressing up outward shells of busyness – inside resounds echoing emptiness.
Many of us have found that if you ask Jesus, he will give you life to the FULL (John 10:10). You will become a container for God’s glory. Jars of clay don’t have to be pretty. They’re the most ordinary containers. But there’s something different about them. What? They don’t have TRASH in them but treasure!
That’s how it is with us Christ followers. We’re nothing special filled by Someone Awesome! We have HIM in us who is ‘the hope of glory.’ People may look at us and say, ‘Nothing special…’ But if they take a closer look maybe we can show them what we contain, because we’re containers for God. We’re made in His image to carry his glory! We shine His light! We are valuable – as containers. The treasure inside is priceless!
That’s why the Bible says the Lord didn’t choose many mighty or noble or wise people… (anyone else qualify ?). But it says He chose the lowly and weak, the humble, the despised, the ordinary.
So they said to Paul…”Give up! Stop trying to make a difference! You’re RUBBISH! You’re weak, ugly and unimpressive, you’re a rubbish preacher, too ordinary, not clever, you didn’t go to the right schools to learn the rhetoric, you’re too old…”
He said, “I know, I know, I’ve gone to pot.” (groan!)
But there’s treasure in the pot.
And when Jesus came looking for containers of his glory and messengers for his message he didn’t chose the brightest, the bestest and the beautifullest!
He bypassed people who thought they were wisest and wonderfullest; the kings and religious experts, powerful politicians and everyone who was so impressed with themselves. He called peasants, prostitutes and fishermen, tax collectors and so on – clay pots – who knew they were empty – to be filled with him and go for him and do what he wanted to do and what he would do if he was there, because where they went, HE IS!