2 Corinthians 4:7-12                                                                            Kevin E. Jesmer

Key Verse: 4:7                                                                                       2-9-24

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  (ESV)

Dear Lord heavenly Father. Thank you for teaching us the facts about our human nature and who we were created to be. Thank you for freeing me from compulsive obsessing about my body. What am I? I am both body and soul, created to have a relationship with you, with those around me and the rest of creation.  Teach me more about who I am from your point of view. Help me to find true life direction in you as I get closer to your word and to the kingdom of God. I prayer in Jesus’ name?

Part 1: A Treasure in Jars of Clay (7)

     We possess a treasure in a jar of clay. Verse 7 reads, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” The term, “treasures in jars of clay” is very poetic. What is Paul getting at? Simply put, the treasure is Jesus and his Gospel in us, whose bodies are simply jars of clay, created in weakness, to glorify God. Let us unpack this.

      First, the metaphor of a treasure. A treasure is something of surpassing worth. It is rare. It is valuable. Its worth is unchanging. It requires great sacrifice to acquire. It is not to be squandered nor wasted.  It can be passed down to others. People treat gold, diamonds, and gems as treasures. When the economy fluctuates people want to buy gold because it retains its value. There are family heirlooms that are like treasure. People want to pass those down to their grandkids.

      Contrary to a treasure, jars of clay are common, fragile and of little value. They are like amphorae that in ancient shipwrecks that were once loaded with olive oil, wine, and other trading commodities. Today, jars of clay are used as flower pots. People usually do not put treasures in jars of clay. They put into them items for everyday use. It does not matter if the jars break or not.

      Jesus, his kingdom, and his precious gospel are that treasure. Why is Jesus such a treasure? John 1:4 says, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Jesus is the Author of life. To thirsty souls, Jesus is the living water who alone quenches (Jn 4:14). To the hungry, Jesus is the bread of life who alone truly satisfies (Jn 6:35). To the blind, Jesus is sight (Jn 9:5). To those who are wandering, Jesus is the way to the Father (Jn 14:6). To those suffering from the sting of death, Jesus is the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25-26). In Jesus there is no darkness, no sorrow, and no death, but only life, light, love, peace and joy (Rev 21:4). In Jesus are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3). (UBF message).

      The Kingdom of God is a treasure. It is so valuable that Jesus urges people to do all that they can do to acquire it.  Matthew 13:44-46 read, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  People are deceived to think that living in a “kingdom” like the USA is a treasure. Or they think their own home or lake cabin, their small kingdoms, are treasures. But these are from treasures. These are small, temporary locales. Living in the glorious and everlasting Kingdom of God is the greatest treasure. Repentance and faith in Christ makes us members of that kingdom.

       The kingdom of God is a treasure within you. Here is what Jesus said in Luke 17:20-21. It reads, “20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.’” “In the midst of you” can be translated “within you”.   

     What is the link between Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and the gospel? Wherever Jesus rules, there is the Kingdom of God. That is how Jesus can say that the kingdom of God is within us who believe. We are not holy, but the holy Jesus can dwell in us and rule within us because of the gospel. His presence in us coincides with the coming of the Kingdom of God. And how does the holy Jesus come to dwell in us in the first place? It is by his grace of forgiveness granted us though the gospel. Because of the gospel we, through repentance and faith, have the complete forgiveness of sins, Then Jesus, the holy God, can come and make his home in us, by his Spirit. He rules as King over our hearts and minds. He works to expand his kingdom in us and through us. And so, we can see the connection between Jesus, the kingdom of God and the gospel. All these elements make up the treasure that we possess, and share with others, by God’s grace.

       Our bodies are jars of clay meant to house God’s priceless treasure. Rember back in the book of Genesis. God made us from the dust of the ground and breathed into us the breath of life (Gen 2:7). Adam then became a living being. That is the truth about living beings. We are not just bodies with biochemical processes following complicated chemical pathways. We are all that and much more. We do not have bodies that will last forever. They are not our future resurrection bodies (1 Cor 15).  They are bodies given to us so that we may live out our lifetimes in this fallen world. They contain God’s treasure.

          If our body is weak like a clay pot, how can God work through our weakness? This was meant to be. God chose humble, weak people to convey his glorious gospel to the world. People put treasures in beautiful, durable, and expensive chests and place them in a secret place. But the jars of clay we were given are our weak and perishing bodies. These jars of clay are born into sin. Prior to meeting Christ, sin robbed us of this treasure. The image of God within us has become marred because of sin. The holy God would not dwell in us. Yet when we are saved, Jesus comes into our hearts and restores all that was lost.

      Jesus is living in us. The Holy Spirit fills us and restores the image of God in us. When God’s Spirit fills us, we are alive and beautiful. The kingdom of God fills every part of us. We become living beings created to have a personal relationship with our creator. Jesus changes any kind of sinner into a prince or princess of the heavenly kingdom. Not only that, we grow in God’s image and are empowered by God’s Spirit to fulfill his will. We are empowered to live gospel centered lives. Wow! Isn’t that amazing! Paul experienced this miracle.

       I thank God for granting me the right viewpoint of my body with all its failings and weaknesses. It frees me from a lot of worrying and from holding onto false expectations. This year I will be sixty years old. I just celebrated my first-year anniversary of my new hip. Things are going fine. But after several twelve-hour shifts, working as a floor nurse, my right leg does ache. Sometimes it cramps. I think to myself, “Can I keep this up for another eight years?” With God’s help I sure can. Every second Sunday I go to church without sleep. It is hard to stay awake and hear the message. The short of it, my body has weaknesses. But that is OK. I can pray. I can trust God that he will strengthen me and sustain me as I live as his disciple. God’s glory is revealed through my aging body.

     My jar of clay is also so prone to sinning. In my weakness, I could complain. I could ignore seeking Jesus in my tiredness. I can avoid the fellowship of believers and studying the word of God because of tiredness and a wandering mind. I could try to get relief from suffering through things in the world. On my own this jar of clay is not worthy to house a treasure nor the Spirit of the holy God. On my own I deserve to have this jar of clay to crumble and fall apart and then face judgment. But yet, God thinks differently. God has chosen to forgive me of my sins. He had determined to bear with my sins, failings, and shortcomings. He is willing to house his precious treasure within my mortal body, so that he can work through me to reveal Jesus and the precious Gospel to the whole world. “Lord, grant me the grace to serve your purpose for my life.”

Part 2: Apostle Paul’s Example (8-9)

       It was very difficult for Apostle Paul to live as a servant of God. Look at his testimony in verses 8-9, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;”  The Lord had said about Paul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Ac 9:16)

     Paul shares how he and his co-workers were able to carry out the gospel ministry with bodies that were like jars of clay. What they accomplished seems impossible to achieve. He was under constant pressure from his concern for all churches (2Co 11:23-29) In the eyes of the world, Paul looked foolish, pitiful, and weak. Why was he sacrificing himself so much to propagate the Christian message and encourage house churches filled with the poor people and former slaves? He was a highly educated Jewish Pharisee. Surely, he could have poured out his life for a different cause that made more worldly sense. Why not live for Jewish nationalism? Why not spread the message of Judaism? Why not get paid a high salary being a member of the religious elite? The world thought he was foolish, but in the eyes of the Lord, what Paul and his companions were accomplishing was of utmost importance. The Gospel message was a heavenly treasure for all who believe. But to spread the good news of this wonderful treasure required much sacrifice. Because of God’s inspiration Paul and his companions were willing to make the necessary sacrifice and God strengthened them each step of the way until their mission was accomplished.

     Paul testified that he won victory over many hardships through faith in Jesus Christ. God’s power was manifested through his life. When he felt no way out, God delivered him and opened a way. Actually, God opened a multitude of ways. Once, after being stoned, Paul was dragged outside of a city and left for dead. Yet God’s resurrection power surged through his body and he got up (Ac 14:19-20) and went back into city to continue with his mission. It was not because of his own strength. Paul was given new courage and strength to keep on following Jesus and preaching the Gospel. Paul would glorify the name of Jesus throughout the Roman world. The goal of Christian life is not personal glory, nor ease and benefits. It is growing in love with Christ, knowing His glory and making his name known. It is accomplished through living by faith while in a jar of clay.

      Usually, if people are hard pressed on every side they get stressed out and want to give up. In extreme cases, they could become crushed and helpless. It is because they have run out of inner power to overcome life’s hard pressures. But Apostle Paul was able endure so much. He was filled with God’s treasure in his jar of clay, that is, Jesus in a heart full of gospel faith. He testifies that with the Lord’s help that he lived a victorious life of faith despite of innumerable hardships. Praise the Lord.

      Early Christians, also endowed with bodies of clay, were used by God to establish the first century church. They were hunted down, driven out, and martyred. How could they not only survive, but thrive? It was because they had this precious treasure within themselves. Jesus was with them, empowering, inspiring, and delivering them in miraculous ways time and time again. They could faithfully reveal the gospel to a hostile and unbelieving world. What was the point? Verse 7b reads. “…to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” God worked among them to reveal his glory. He wanted the world to know that this surpassing power belonged to Jesus alone. Jesus is the Messiah and the Savior of the world. God’s all-surpassing power can be manifested through our weakness.

     God is accomplishing what he has determined through my jar of clay body. He strengthens me to work as a floor nurse. He strengthens me when there is a lot of pressure. I can glorify him in the hospital, among the patients and the staff, despite of my age and my hip replacement. When I have several shifts in a row, my leg does ache. God also is helping me to be an encouragement to my family, traveling and encouraging. I hope that I can serve the Lord in the new church merge we are part of. But there is one thing I know… I can keep going because of the treasure God has so graciously placed in me. I thank and praise God, that his Spirit dwells in me and his kingdom can grow in my life.

Part 3: What Are Some “Take Aways” For Believers Today?

      Sometimes Christians become confused thinking that their bodies, made of clay, are the source of their own power. This is called humanism. Though they can accomplish very little, they become proud and useless. Jesus even tells us that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Soon their jars of clay disintegrate as they prepare to leave this world. The declaration on their lips may well be, “It might have been!” Sad.

      Nicodemus was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He became wealthy and famous. His life was akin to painting a fancy design on his jar of clay, like an ancient Greek vase with pictures on it. However, his inner man was miserable–bound and suffocated by the power of sin and death. He lacked the real treasure that could give him true life, spiritual victory, freedom, and peace. He knew he was missing something. That is why he came to Jesus at night (John 3). Jesus told him that unless he was born again, he could not see the kingdom of God. People spend their lives decorating the outward look of their jars of clay. They need to see and have the Kingdom of God. That is a treasure that comes when Jesus reigns in our hearts.

      For those who have faith in Christ, they are not fooled about what their jars of clay can accomplish. They know who their power source is … Christ.  In his word, God reminds us that we are jars of clay, mere containers to carry Jesus to the world. Knowing this fact is impowering. John the Baptist is a good example. He gained popularity through his ministry and people thought that he might be the Christ. Yet he clearly said, “I am not the Christ.” John denied himself more and more, saying, “I am not,” and “no.” (Jn 1:19-28). He knew that Jesus is the treasure and he was only a jar of clay meant to point the world to Christ.

       We need this kind of humble attitude. We must submit to Christ and through faith, have the heavenly treasure dwell in us. Then God’s power works in and through us to accomplish what he has called us to do. We cannot boast of any power or virtue in ourselves. It is only because Jesus dwells us, that we are not crushed nor do we despair when we are misunderstood, persecuted, or struck down. Remember, Jesus can accomplish more through us than we can ever imagine (Eph 3:20). We simply need humble gospel faith.

     God has made each of us ministers of a new covenant. This calling is more precious than any other mission to be done on earth. Yet it can be one of the most arduous tasks. Sometimes Christians get burnt out. But knowing God is with us, we should never lose heart because of our weaknesses. We can do God’s work, not by our own ability, but by God’s power.

       How easy for gospel workers to say that their environment is too challenging or unfavorable, due to persecution, pressure, or other perplexing difficulties. However, the real problem is not outward, but inward. If we have Jesus in our hearts, we can overcome all hardships and God can create a new history through us. The Lord promised his disciples, “And I am with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:20). We can boldly follow the Lord Jesus because of His promise and his all-surpassing power. Do you feel too weak to do God’s will? Great. Because you are in exactly the right condition of heart to take hold of Jesus by faith and allow God to reveal his glory through you.

Part 4: Always Carrying Around the Death of Jesus (10-12)

       In this passage we also discover a phrase, “carrying around the death of Jesus.” Verses 10-12 read, “10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.” What does that mean? It sounds a little heavy. But it is a lifegiving teaching. We can learn from Paul’s example.

      Paul’s daily life was truly difficult. As we have already discovered, though Paul was often persecuted and misunderstood, he never despaired, never gave up, and was never crushed. It was because he always trusted Jesus and God helped him overcome hardships by the all-surpassing power of God. In this way God enabled him to live a victorious life of faith.

       In addition to this, Paul always carried around in his body “the death of Jesus.” Here “death of Jesus” means Jesus’ self-denial and suffering that Christ endured to fulfill God’s will for world salvation. Paul saw that through Jesus’ self-denial and suffering, Christ’s glory was displayed. God’s plan for salvation was complete. So, Paul wanted to know Christ by participating in His sufferings and so experience Christ’s resurrection power. He said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…” (Php 3:10). When Paul shared in Jesus’ sufferings, he also experienced Jesus’ resurrection power and he became a blessing to the Christian church (12).

    That is another way to carry around the death of Jesus. Jesus’ people love Jesus’ cross. It is Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection that sets us free from the power of sin. We die with him daily, so that his life may be revealed in us, and the gospel shared with the world.

       Carrying around the death of Jesus also indicates how serious we are about the Gospel mission. If this gospel message was not so serious, if it was one option among many, Jesus would not have to suffer, die, and resurrect. It would just be a matter of writing on a philosopher’s scroll. But the gospel that saves sinners is matter of eternal life or death. Lives and families and nations depend on it. We need gospel faith if we are ever going to make it into heaven. We must declare the gospel message like Paul did.

    It also tells us what the message is about. Paul carried around the message of the death of Jesus. When I say, “the death of Jesus”, I automatically include “the resurrection of Jesus”. It is the Gospel. The death of Jesus was at the forefront of what Paul preached. It was at the forefront of how he lived. It was the basis of his attitude towards his mission. Paul’s whole life was focused on carrying the death of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

       How important it is for Christians to keep the message focused on the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They need to know it, preach it, and live it, like Paul did. But often the message is something else. There is the health and wealth gospel. There is the message that Jesus wants to give you a better life while living in this world. He may. But for many people in this world, a conversion to Christianity makes their lives a lot more difficult. There is a TV evangelist in the early morning hours that consistently encourages people to make a money offering so that God can solve their financial problems. Paul different. He was determined to carry with him the death of Jesus.

     Prayer: Lord, thank you for filling this jar of clay with a wonderful treasure, your own presence… your Spirit. Help me to love your cross, and die daily to myself so that your glory may be revealed to the whole world.

One Word: The greatest treasure in jars of clay is Jesus Christ our Lord.

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