“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:6-7).
When I was a boy, I often dreamed of going on a grand adventure to find some lost treasure, sleuthing my way using clandestine maps and backdoor meetings. Now, perhaps that wasn’t one of your imaginary adventures growing up. But we all had “treasure” that we kept in safe places, far from prying eyes, only to be brought out at the most opportune time.
Many in Christianity today would tell you that you are that treasure. Don’t get me wrong, since every human who has ever walked the face of the earth is an image bearer of God, there is invaluable worth in each face we meet. But Paul is doing something very important here – he is pointing us away from ourselves to something far more valuable, something enduring and life-changing.
If you were to go to some archaeological dig today of a site that existed 2,000 years ago, a majority of the items that you would see being excavated would be broken pots. Clay jars were insignificant in the ancient Near East. They were common, unimportant, temporary, and expendable. They were also very fragile. If a clay jar broke, you did not try to fix it. You just discarded it and replaced it. It was a worthless item that was useful to hold something else – perhaps some sweet-smelling perfume or oil.
Paul understood the fragile nature of this life all too well. Throughout 2 Corinthians, he recounts numerous times when he was persecuted, shipwrecked, beaten, and even snake bitten. As he says in verse 8: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsake; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus…”
He endures the most awful things for one main reason – the treasure that we carry around in our bodies. He likens this treasure to the very creation of the universe. Notice what he says the treasure is. “God…has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” It is the treasure of the gospel, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Indeed, near the end of this section of 2 Corinthians, he says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The greatest miracle that we will ever experience in this life is this new life. This is how Paul describes it in his letter to the Ephesians. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:1, 4-7).
That is the treasure that we have in these jars of clay. Our very weakness accentuates the greatness of the treasure. Again, notice the reason why God has given us this great treasure in these fragile, weak vessels: “…to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
This isn’t some tidbit of knowledge that Paul was passing along to this congregation to just store up on a shelf. It was the very heart of our life in Christ, the reality of living out the Christian life in this life. These weren’t mere words, but the sounding out of a life wholly devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ – the same devotion that every follower of Christ is called to.
When he nears the end of the letter, he shares a personal struggle he is having – a thorn in the flesh. We don’t know exactly what this was, but it is not the point. Paul says in 2 Cor. 11:8-10, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But 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. For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
So we can do as James exhorts us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-3).
We won’t reach that perfection in this life, but it is the glorious hope of the life to come. Won’t you look to Jesus, particularly in your weaknesses, and give him praise that he is doing a good work in you for your good and for his glory.