Summary: We hold a holy treasure in clay pots, but that's all that's needed to share the gospel and honor God.
2 Corinthians 4:1-15 “Imperfect People”
Many illustrations are used to explain the deep truths of God’s grace and our lives as Christians. In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew Jesus explains to his disciples that God’s kingdom is like a mustard seed (vs. 31). Paul encourages the Christians in Ephesus to put on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10-17). He compares the Christian life to that of a Roman soldier. At other times Paul uses the image of a wrestler when he advised Timothy to “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12), and the writer of Hebrews likens the Christian life to a runner when he exhorts his readers to “Run with perseverance the race that is before you” (Hebrews 11:1ff). These are all noble images.
In chapter four of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul uses an image that catches us by surprise. The Christian life, he writes is like a mundane, clay pot. The word that Paul uses could also be translated, “cracked pot.” We can learn a lot about ourselves and our lives as Christian by viewing our lives from the perspective of a clay pot.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A CLAY POT
There is a certain humility to a clay pot. Its purpose is to hold soil and a plant so that plant can be healthy and beautiful. A clay pot is very good at what it does and it does it day in and day out with little or no fanfare.
A clay pot is somewhat fragile. If they are dropped they break. Frequently they are chipped or cracked. Still they carry out their purpose.
A clay pot is imperfect. It has variations in its color and shape to go along with the chips and cracks. Even though it is imperfect, still the clay pot is able to be used.
If we are going to see ourselves and our lives as clay pots we may at least try to hold out to be a beautiful, hand painted pot—or vase. That is not what is needed, though. The humility, fragile nature and imperfection of clay pots do not detract from the beautiful of the treasure that they hold. In fact their plainness can even enhance the beauty of the treasure.
Most of us can identify with Paul when he recounts his experiences as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He writes those powerful words, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (vs. 8,9). It sounds like “one of those days.”
Paul isn’t trying to get sympathy from the Corinthians because he has led such a tough life. Nor is Paul bragging about how “Macho” he is. Instead, Paul is identifying the inner strength that Christians have. It is not an innate inner strength, but rather a gift from the Holy Spirit. It is grounded in our trust in God’s presence and power in our lives. Paul makes the additional, remarkable claim that in these struggles Jesus is made visible (vs. 10).
I admire and I am impressed by the accomplishments of Bill Gates the founder of Microsoft, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Mary Barra the CEO of General Motors. They accomplished a great deal. I’m inspired by the stories of the wounded soldiers who competed in the Invictus games, by Nelson Mandela and his twenty-seven years in prison and by other stories of perseverance through hardships. We may not want to admit it, but often it is our struggles rather than our successes that demonstrate our faith and bear witness to the living Christ.
I wonder if that is what might happen with us as a congregation. We imagined that God would be glorified when a worship and community center was erected on our land. That didn’t happen. Perhaps God’s power will be demonstrated by our tenacity and our overcoming the challenges that are before us.
Paul continues in his letter to the Corinthians by writing about the witness of persistence. Paul writes, “We are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh” (vs. 11). Afflictions are not a flash in the pan; they are an ongoing part of life. We deal with these situations on a daily basis and in that our daily lives become a witness to the life of Jesus.
As students we are not known by the one “A” we received or even the one “F”. The type of student we are is demonstrated by our grade point average and our involvement in school and academic activities. As parents the fact that we made it to one of our children’s’ plays or concerts is not as revealing as our involvement in their lives in a number of different areas. Professionally people see our track record. Socially people recount our loyalty and our ongoing awareness of the needs of others.