But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (verse 7)
Jars of clay – it’s such a gripping image, communicating so much of human frailty and the immense worth of Good News, all within such a tight phrase. It startles me when I realize this image only appears right here in this single verse.
But the image can’t be contained, it expands outward, fostering humility while simultaneously communicating such immense privilege of being used by the Lord.
I step back to consider. I think of Paul, chosen by Jesus, gripped by grace, appointed as Apostle to the Gentiles, bringing the light of the Gospel where there had only been darkness prior – his ministry shines so intensely bright. Then, remarkably, I think of what he says about you and about me, that in Christ, enveloped in grace, we ourselves are being transformed from one degree of glory to another, in real time, by the power of the Spirit – incredible.
And yet, it’s not about us, nor about Paul, nor any of the other great heroes of gospel faith down the years. All of us together are but jars of clay, earthen vessels, unadorned, unremarkable in ourselves, prone to fracture, but made purposefully as a receptacle of glory. For it is the treasure that glistens; it is the glorious light that blazes forth; it is the gospel that shines – “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (verse 6). We are privileged, beyond all comprehension, to hold this treasure – but the glory is his.
Which means we shouldn’t be surprised when we discover ourselves, again, to be imperfect, or when our strength doesn’t match the size of our own aspirations, or when hardships conspire to thwart the success we’d envisioned, or when we find ourselves cast down by ever-encroaching troubles. We’re jars of clay. Paul himself acknowledged that he was “hard pressed on every side” (verse 8 ) – it was the natural consequence of being clay-made.
Yet, the Good News persists, and the glory of Christ still shines. This is the sustaining counterbalance to our common frailty. For if jars of clay are vulnerable to the battering of the world, there is still an enduring hope that is sparked by the gospel of grace. Paul testifies that each onslaught rising up to meet him (pressure, perplexity, persecution, attack) had been unable to push him under. He had not been crushed, not succumbed to despair, not experienced abandonment, nor found himself destroyed. For the gospel itself contains a powerful antidote: the resurrection life of Jesus. Yes, as we embrace the gospel, we find ourselves sharing Christ’s suffering – but there is the sure future hope that we will “also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). The things we experience at present are but “light and momentary troubles,” but they are “achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (verse 17).
So, embrace hope. We are jars of clay. Indeed. But these clay pots hold an all-surpassing power and glory which is from the Lord himself. We are receptacles of the gospel – indeed, of Christ.
This is our calling. It’s why the Potter shaped us.
O Lord, I submit myself into your hands once again. You have shaped me for yourself. You are mindful that I am but dust. Yet you are at work in me, filling me with your Spirit, touching me with the goodness of the gospel, and choosing to share that good news through me to others. Thank you. Use this jar of clay for your glory. Amen.
Reflect: Take the scripture seriously. Envision yourself as an ordinary vessel of clay, yet holding the immense goodness and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pause to consider how this shapes your time, actions and goals this day.