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Treasure in Jars of Clay
Dr. Alex Tang
The story is told of two shopkeepers who were bitter rivals. Their stores were right across the street from each other, and they will spend each day sitting in the doorway, keeping track of each other’s business. If one got a customer, he will smile in triumph to his rival. One night, an angel appeared to one of the shopkeepers in a dream and said, “God has sent me to teach you a lesson. He will give you anything you ask for, but I want you to know that, whatever you get, your competitor across the street will get twice as much. Would you be wealthy, but he will be twice as rich. Do you want to live long and healthy? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier. You can be famous, have children you will be proud of, whatever you desire. But whatever you get, he will get twice as much.” The man frowned, thought for a moment and said, “All right, my request is to strike me blind in one eye.”
Corinth is a cowboy town. It is situated at a narrow isthmus that joined the Peloponnese to the mainland. By crossing the isthmus, which at its narrowest point is about 6000 meters across. By dragging their ships across on rollers, sailors are able to shorten their journey and avoid having to sail round the treacherous waters of the Peloponnese. Hence Corinth became a centre of trade, temple worship and immorality. It was actually built by Julius Caesar in 44B.C. and destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 521.
Of the many churches in Asia Minor, I do not believe any of the churches have given Paul as much headaches as the Corinthians. They are a gifted lot, both financially and spiritually. Yet the churches were fragmented with the various groups, members of the church are involved in sexually immoral activities; litigation among the members and some challenged Paul’s claim to apostleship. A sizeable group are under influence of Jewish Christian ‘false apostles’ who are Judaizers.
To deal with the problems in the church in Corinth, Paul has actually written 4 letters to them. 1 and 2 Corinthians and two lost letters which scholars called “Previous Letter” and “Lost Letter”. Paul was himself in Corinth twice. Initially when he started the church in 50-52 A.D. And finally in 56 A.D. where he spent 3 months and wrote the Epistle of Romans. Some scholars believed that Romans is actually a series of lectures written for the Corinthian churches to lay down the basic doctrine of the faith.
So we have to understand this morning’s passage in the context of the problem Paul is dealing with the Jewish Christian ‘false apostle’ who claim that to be a true Christian we must accept Christ and obey the laws of Moses. We can learn from Paul’s response to his persecutor what it means to be a Christian and what it means to serve God.
2CO 4:7 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 be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
1. We are Jars of Clay
i. Fragile, breakable
We are jars of clay. We are imperfect. Overly sensitive. Emotionally fragile. Easily breaken. Empty inside. Hollow. We are fragile. We are also in constant threat from the outside world, from our environment and from other people. Paul described the threat to the jars of clay by being hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down.
Don’t you feel that you are being hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down? We live in a busy world, a rapidly changing world and a stressful world. Our time is not our own. We do not really have full control over our own time. We are often lost, wondering what are we doing here? Being stressed, we become irritable and easily offended.
Have you ever tried to pack a number of jars into a box? Each jar is of a different shape and sizes. It just cannot fit. This is what is happening in church. Jars of clay of different shapes and sizes are being packed close together. Is it any wonder there will be fireworks? I know of a sister in Christ who held something against another sister for 5 years before the Lord convicted her and she asked for forgiveness. The offence – one day after church service, the sister was abrupt in her answer when the first sister asked how she was. The sister was offended and held it against her for 5 whole years! For 5 whole years, she avoided the sister and the relationship was only mended recently when the Lord convicted her that she needed to forgive. We are all jars of clay. We are not perfect. Is anybody perfect here? I would like to shake your hand.
ii. Low by the standards of the world.
Paul likens us to jars of clay. Not containers made of copper. Not containers make of silver. Not wineskin made of leather. But clay jars, the commonest, cheapest object used to contain water. And he is right. God did not choose us because we are beautiful, we have perfect bodies, we are rich or famous. God chose us because He loves us. Even made up of clay, He can use us.
JER 18:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." 3 So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
JER 18:5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
2. We contain a Treasure within
Paul did not say we are jars of clay and left it at that. He said we have a treasure within us. What is this treasure that Paul speaks of?
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 the glory of God in the face of Christ.
The treasure is the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. The treasure is not an object. When we were in Disneyland, we took a theme park boat ride called the “Pirates of the Caribbean”. During the boat ride, we were shown a cave where the pirates’ treasure was. It was full of gold, beautiful objects, jewellery and fine silk. When we think of treasure, we always think of physical things.
The treasure that Paul is talking about is not an object but knowledge. Nowadays we talk about k-commerce. Paul was using k-religion long ago. Knowledge that God has allowed we to see His glory. What do we mean when we use the word ‘glory of God’?
In the Old Testament, glory Heb kabod denotes the revelation of Yahweh’s being, nature and presence to mankind, sometimes with physical phenomena. The glory of Yahweh led His people out of Israel and was shown in the cloud, which led then through the wilderness by day and a column of fire by night.
In the New Testament, Gk doxa means the revelation of the character and the presence of God in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the outshining of divine glory.
Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
This treasure, this knowledge allow us to recognise the significance of Jesus Christ in our lives. We know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. We know the life of Jesus and we also know the significance of the death of Jesus.
3. The Treasure within transforms us and empowers us for service.
And this treasure has power. Because of this treasure, our jars of clay can withstand many things - 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. It is not the jars of clay that is tough but the treasure within. to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
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 be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Having the death of Christ within us will give life to our jars of clay. The death of Christ means the completed work of Christ on the cross. It has power because (1) we are reconciliated with God; (2) we are a new creation and (3) we receive the Holy Spirit.
My hospital is building a new consultant block. It is a 5-storey building with a radiotherapy unit. To supply the required electricity to run the whole building, TNB built a substation. It is marked “Danger. High Voltage”. Hundreds of thousands of volts are available. But this cannot be used. This much electricity will burn up the building. So the engineers build a transformer into the system. A transformer breaks down the electricity into smaller voltage that we can use. So the Holy Spirit (the Transformer) comes and He takes the majestic glory of God and dispenses it to us in small amounts that we can handle. He may make one thing meaningful to that woman, something altogether different to that man and something different again to that fellow at the back. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. He gives you just what you can handle. It is the Holy Spirit that transforms the jars of clay and empowers us for service.
There is no such person as an ordinary Christian. There is also no such person as an extraordinary Christian. There are only ultra-ordinary Christian. As a Christian, God has opened our eyes to the treasure that is within us: His glory who is Jesus Christ. This Jesus who lived and died for us have given us the Holy Spirit when He ascended to heaven. C.S.Lewis, in The Weight of Glory , considered to be his greatest sermon: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnats. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
The jars of clay have become vessels suitable for use by kings and emperors. And by God. Brothers and sisters, do you feel depressed? Do you feel that you are failing as a Christian? Do you feel pressure and stress and persecutions? Paul did. The passage stresses that the death and the life of Jesus were simultaneously evident in Paul's experience. For him it was not a matter of life after death, or even of life through death, but of life in the midst of death. Paul's repeated deliverances from death evidenced the resurrecting power of God; otherwise stated, the resurrection life of Jesus was operative in his "mortal body"
And the most wonderful thing is, we do not have to do it on our own. Let go and let God.
Soli Deo Gloria
Treasure in Jars of Clay
2 Corinthians 4:7-12
Soli Deo Gloria
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