When I was in China, I bought a jade necklace. I wanted something Chinese to bring home with me as a souvenir, but I also wanted something that had personal significance, as well. The jade pendant is shaped like a jar—kind of odd for a necklace, I thought, but something that reminded me of 2 Corinthians 4:7,
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels [clay jars], that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
That verse summarized some of the things God had taught me, especially during my final summer months in China, so I purchased the necklace as a tangible reminder of lessons learned.
What is “this treasure” that Paul is talking about? Verse 6 explains, “For it is the God Who commanded light to shine out of darkness, Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The treasure that we possess is light. Verses 3-4 state that those who do not believe the gospel are blinded by Satan and living in darkness. But God’s Word pierces that darkness, and through Jesus Christ, the Living Word, we can know God and His glory. Knowledge of God—this is the priceless treasure that we have been filled with.
But the treasure is not just for our benefit. Being reminded of what I have in Christ causes me to pause, to thank Him, and to realize that I don’t treasure Him enough; however, God wants more than appreciation. He “shone in our hearts” so that we can “give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” As Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world…[No one will] light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand…Let your light so shine before men, that they may…glorify your Father in Heaven.” God gave us light so we can give it to others.
Jars of Clay
Clay jars filled with light…it’s kind of an odd picture. Yet it’s not original to Corinthians. Way back in the Old Testament, God told Gideon how to lead the Israelites into victory over their enemies. “Then [Gideon] divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers” (Judges 7:16).
300 soldiers, 300 trumpets, 300 jars, and 300 torches. This was what God chose to use to defeat an army “as numerous as locusts” who possessed camels “without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude” (Judges 7:12). The reason He chose such a small and unusual array was so that the people would not take the credit for themselves but would glorify God for their triumph (Judges 7:2). That sentiment is repeated in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
We are just clay pots. We hold a treasure that is supposed to shine, but the treasure isn’t ours–it’s God’s. Knowledge of God is the source of our light, and it is that knowledge that He calls us to share. Just a couple verses back, in 2 Corinthians 4:5, Paul declares firmly, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus [to be] the Lord, and ourselves [to be] your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.”
Through the Cracks
Torches in pitchers, light in jars…Jesus said in Matthew that we are not to hide our light under a basket! Yet that seems to be the picture being given. How can we let the light shine through us if we are made of clay? We are weak, we are sinful, we look nothing like Christ—how can people look at us and give glory to God? How can they see us and look at Jesus?
Continuing the story of Gideon, we read that he and his men surrounded the enemy camp. Then, right as the night watchmen were changing shifts, “they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands” (Judges 7:20).
They broke the pitchers. That’s when the light shone brightly. And as the light shined and the trumpets blared, the enemy stumbled around in confusion and self-destructed. Gideon’s men never lifted a sword, and God received the glory for the awesome victory.
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed [restrained, confined];
We are perplexed, but not in despair;
Persecuted, but not forsaken;
Struck down, but not destroyed—
Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:8-11)
We can glorify God because we are just clay holding radiant light. “My strength is made perfect in weakness,” He assures us (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our brokenness, our pain, our difficulties, our perplexities do not prevent but rather facilitate His purpose for us. We suffer, but not to death. We have been given eternal life, and though our bodies die and our flesh is weak, God’s light shines through the cracks. In fact, His light can’t shine through until there are cracks. It’s when we’ve reached the end of ourselves and our jars are pressed hard—when our bodies have failed, our minds are spinning, our spirits are heavy, and our determination is limping—that we begin to realize that we can do nothing apart from God. That’s when He renews our inner being with His Spirit (2 Corinthians 4:16), and we continue to serve Him in even the most trying circumstances, boldly declaring with every task that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
“Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)