Paul had addressed the Corinthians’ tendency to exalt certain messengers of Christ in 1 Corinthians 3:1ff. As he writes the letter we know as 2 Corinthians, it doesn’t seem as if his words had their desired effect. The Corinthians still seem caught up with the messenger rather than the message. The situation has been exacerbated by the self-proclaimed “super-apostles” (11:5, 12:11) who had visited Corinth and boasted of their superiority (10:12, 11:18). Paul response is, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (11:30).
He’s speaking from precisely such a perspective in the fourth chapter when he says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). The treasure he refers to is “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (v. 6). This is the message Paul proclaims wherever he goes. He has referred to it as:
- “our gospel” (v. 3),
- “the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (v. 4),
- “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (v. 5).
The “But” of v. 7 suggests a contrast—this glorious light is in jars of clay. A jar of clay was like a first century version of a plastic bottle or aluminum can (but without the recyclable aspect). They came in all shapes and sizes, you could find them everywhere and everyone had one, or two, or three . . . Writing on this passage, James Scott notes that such jars of clay “are found in every domestic excavation site . . . Pottery vessels became the main type of containers in most near Eastern cultures. Yet the vessels were fragile, and their usual lifespans were probably a few years at the most.”
God put the treasure of the glorious news of Jesus in ordinary, fragile, disposable containers. His did this so that no one would confuse the container with the contents. No one confuses the diamond ring with the box it came in. The box is replaceable, the ring isn’t. Much of what we buy from smaller appliances to the latest in entertainment technology comes in disposable, cardboard boxes. When you look at these things online or see it in the store—no one displays the box! In the same manner, God has put this treasure of the glorious knowledge about Him in disposable, fragile containers so no one would make the mistake of associating the life transforming power with them.
Messengers of Christ come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have this in common: they are fragile and disposable. Like everyone else they have weaknesses, problems, temptations they struggle with and sin that needs to be forgiven. All of this means it’s a real mistake to miss the message and magnify the messenger. Don’t miss the treasure carried by the jar of clay!