"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us." 2Corinthians 4:7
Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth is one of the most personal and emotional letters he wrote. In this he opens his heart, and he does not hesitate to share his pain and feelings. He also unfolds the blessed privileges of a servant of God even in the midst of trying circumstances. The text given above is such a passage, and it is filled with spiritual truths that can comfort and strengthen any believer.
Paul refers to three important truths in this verse: a. The glory of the gospel of Christ: The value of what we possess.
b. The frailty of a believer who possesses the glory: Our actual state today.
c. The divine purpose in this paradoxical choice: God’s expectation of us today.
I. The glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. v.7a
The blessing that a believer in Christ enjoys is beyond description. It’s much more glorious and precious than what the saints in the Old Testament period experienced. For Israel in the past, much of their blessings were earthly, whereas what we, in the NT times, experience in the Lord Jesus today is heavenly and eternal, internal and transformative. Enlightening
Divine light shines into one’s heart the moment they look to Christ in faith. Paul speaks of the wonderful result of looking at the face of the Lord Jesus Christ in v. 6: “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.”
God, who removed darkness during creation, has shone in their heart and removed their darkness. The darkness because of their tradition, prejudice, rebellion and sin is gone the moment they turn to Christ. It is a fact that when an individual turns to Jesus Christ, they are enlightened. This divine light liberates them from all kinds of bondages. This even revives and transforms them. Enriching
What Paul says in v. 7, ‘this knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,’ also enriches us. It is a divine treasure; even heavenly riches that will make one spiritually wealthy. No wonder Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3.
II. The frailty of a believer. v.7b.
The paradoxical truth here is that God has deposited such valuable treasure in earthen vessels. Cf. v. 7 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” By earthen vessel Paul here refers to one’s entire person, not just their body, as many consider.
Paul knew very well that God chose him as a vessel for God’s purposes. Cf. Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. He was also aware that if as a vessel he needs to be used for God’s purposes, he must be sanctified and remain clean and holy. Cf. 2Tim 2: 21 “ Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” Moreover, he acknowledges another fact: He is just an earthen vessel with all kinds of infirmities, weaknesses, and limitations. This is the true state of every believer – a vessel made of clay which is easy to be broken, perishable and fragile. In vs. 8 and 9 he further explains his weak, vulnerable state.
“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; 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.” 2Corinthians 4:8, 9.
This was the actual state of Paul. Throughout this book, Paul refers to his trials around seven times. His daily experience included untold sufferings accompanied with the thought of a possible death any time. There is something that we often refuse to acknowledge or consider seriously. It is true that we are very privileged and blessed to enjoy spiritual treasures; however, we are not to forget that we are vulnerable and weak, just earthen vessels. Acknowledging this helplessness and fragility, we need to trust the Almighty for His assistance moment by moment.
III. The divine purpose in this paradoxical choice. v. 7c
Finally, the writer also states the reasons why God deposited His treasure in earthen vessels. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” v. 7
This was not an accidental choice of God. God has purposely deposited His riches in earthen vessels that are perishable. Notice three possible reasons for this:
a. To display the power of God. ‘The excellence of the power may be of God’. v. 7b
God wants to make it very clear that the power behind the wonderful transformation that a Christ-lover enjoys is not of man but of God alone. The spiritual strength that we experience, the divine light that shone into our lives, the spiritual freedom that we cherish, and any goodness that you can think of which we possess, the source of all this is God.
A Christ-lover can never think that they are successful by their own ability. Paul said earlier, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.” 2Corinthians. 3:5. It was with this same intention that God chose the foolish, weak and base things of the world So that no one should glory in His presence.
“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 1Cor 1:28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 1Cor 1:29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.” Cf 1Cor 1: 27 - 29
Furthermore, God will never allow anyone to rob God’s glory. We always need to acknowledge that we are what we are only by His grace. 1Cor 15:10a. Notice, Paul makes it very clear in 2 Cor. 7 that despite his vulnerability, fragility and frailty, he is not defeated, crushed, confounded or even forsaken etc. cf. v. 8, 9.
People may see his suffering as one that does not mean he is defeated or destroyed. God will never allow that. Even when he was imprisoned God made it possible for someone to serve him there. The secret behind his success and survival was the divine enablement. Thus, God’s power is manifested and displayed. cf. v. 11 “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.”
b. To humble us. “ the power may be of God and not of us.” v. 7
Human tendency is to forget the past. Once we are successful in enduring troubles, we tend to forget the divine help and God’s hands that led us. Therefore, God in His wisdom allows infirmities that persist so that we continue to trust God and never boast in our own ability or achievement.
Many boast in their own strength and even display their achievements just as the worldly people do. Are they not telling indirectly that they are worthy, qualified and successful by their own efforts? Can we expect divine approval for such a boastful attitude? God expects us to be meek and humble in our disposition.
c. For the benefit of others. V. 12 "So then death is working in us, but life in you."
Paul further explains the outcome of such a life. When a believer acknowledges his limitations and begins to trust God for help, God will definitely help and use them. Not only will their readiness to suffer pain, shame and sorrow for the cause of Christ make their words and deeds Christ-like, Paul says that it is then the life of Christ will flow through them and the people of God will be ultimately benefited.
We will never understand the wisdom of God behind the painful life of many saints. There are plenty of examples to this truth. However, the sufferings and agony they faced – orally, verbally, and even silently – resulted in godly ministry. The heart touching hymns of Fanny J. Crosby, the famous Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress are all the result of intense afflictions.
Let us praise God for the blessed privileges that we have as a result of this glorious gospel – the divine treasure. At the same time, we must not neglect the truth that this treasure is in earthen vessels. Let us be conscious of our frailty and always draw from the unfailing strength of God so that the excellence of power may be of God. Eventually, even when we face death and decay, all who come across us will experience life and joy through our words and deeds. May Lord’s name be glorified.
Story of Father Joseph Damien proves the truth that our sufferings actually make us more fruitful for the Lord. In 1873 he went from Belgium to Hawaii Islands to work among the lepers. Their poor response made him to think of returning from the mission field after serving them for around 12 years. But by the time he was about to leave, he found that he was also affected by leprosy.
As the news of Father Damien contracting leprosy spread, many from the leper colony came to meet him. They could very well understand the pain and agony Father was going through. Next Sunday morning hundreds of them attended the worship service and his ministry became very much successful from then on.
The reasons are two fold, not only they understood him, he too could understand and identify with them, because of the same sufferings he was going through.
When Trials Come: Be patient
God wants His people to be patient. The premature death of a loved one will not be the end of His plan for us. A handicapped child may bless our spiritual life at the end. A humiliating experience may bring glory later.
I know of a Christian couple who takes care of three grown children with “fragile X syndrome.” I talk with those parents often. They take turns coming to church, since at least one person must be with the children at all times. Now the children are in their twenties. Both the boys are around 6 feet tall and physically well built. The girl is a little more manageable, yet needs constant care. All in all, they have 3 physically grown children with childlike mental capabilities. The parents’ lives are confined to the neighborhood they live in. They hardly could take a vacation together in the last twenty five plus years.
The boys tend to break household furniture when they are excited, so they do not even have good furniture in the house. The father or mother has to rise around 4 a.m. every morning to make breakfast and feed the boys. They get hungry often and more than normal children. This has been their life 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for twenty plus years.
Yet I see them with smiles and in cheerful spirits. I am not sure why God gave them these 3 children. These parents take care of them like precious gifts from God. They know that they bear the image of God, although they carry around seriously marred emotions and underdeveloped brains in their “overgrown” bodies.
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By Tom Johns, USA
“Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil, and let us see what we are made of.”
_________ - Charles Spurgeon
“The only way to learn strong faith is to endure great trials”