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Fragile Jars of Clay

II Corinthians 4

There is so much in this chapter!  Wow, I hardly know where to begin, so the easiest thing is to look at it in three sections and I promise I will only touch on the highlights.

4:1-6
Power cuts are common and frequent in Niger.  Sometimes the power will be off for a few minutes and we just sigh and put up with it.  Sometimes it's off for hours and that can be frustrating since we don't have a generator.  It inevitably happens when the major item you need to cross off your to-do list involves the use of electricity!  Power cuts that last into the night are especially frustrating because that means no fan or air conditioner when the bedroom is 90 degrees. 


Paul continues the defense of his ministry by contrasting darkness and light.  I can imagine that as Paul wrote this he is thinking back to his conversion experience when he was blinded by the Light of Heaven.  Paul is also saying that in his ministry he has never had a "power cut" in which the forces of darkness have taken over.  He has renounced secret and shameful ways, does not use deception, and does not distort the word of God.  He is aware that the god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of many.  But Paul has always let the "light of Jesus shine in his heart to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

II Corinthians 4:7-12
Do you remember in chapter one when Paul says "We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life."  Paul was in a rough place, but in chapter 4, Paul is able to look back over his life and see how God was at work in the hard places.  He was able to see how God used him in spite of his fragility.

This passage has been such an encouragement to me lately!  We had a tough term with the church burnings, dealing with some rough things in the personnel office, and then the problems within our own church.  But we've seen God work for His glory in each of those situations!  And He has used us!  We are just jars of clay, but He has chosen to hide the gospel within jars of clay.

Clay jars are used frequently in Niger.  Almost every household has a large clay pot that holds drinking water.  The water evaporates slowly through the porous surface and stays quite cool in the clay pot.  Clay pots are used for planters for flowers.  Back in the day, they were even used for cooking, but most housewives now have metal pots.  Clay jars can also be used for burning incense or for decorative purposes.  In Bible times treasures would sometimes be held in jars of clay, and scrolls were kept in jars of clay which it turns out was somewhat of a climate-controlled environment.  


You can imagine that Paul may have seen similar uses of clay pots and was thinking of these things when he wrote this passage.   Whatever the use of the clay jar, though, the point Paul is trying to make is that clay jars are fragile.  They can easily break, get chipped, or crack.  But somehow God has chosen to put his gospel within us, fragile as we are.  

And then somehow God strengthens us for the task.  I love Paul's contrasts here between our fragility and God's strength:  


  • hard pressed on every side ... but not crushed
  • perplexed ... but not in despair
  • persecuted ... but not abandoned
  • struck down ... but not destroyed
  • given over to death for Jesus' sake ... so that his life may be revealed
  • death is at work in us ... life is at work in you

II Corinthians 4:13 - 18
I love how music has the ability to cheer us up and to get us through hard times.  You may have a favorite song that you listen to over and over to help you get a better perspective on life and on what God is doing in the world.  Did you know that Paul had a song that got him through rough patches?

Paul's song was Psalm 116.  He quotes a line from it here just briefly:  "It is written: 'I believed, therefore I have spoken."  It's really helpful to read the entire psalm to see why this was such an encouragement and motivation to Paul.  He did not need to quote more than that because his readers would also have known the song.  Psalm 116 parallels Paul's experience and despairing of life itself, but YHWH heard his cry and was merciful and rescued him.  N T Wright says, 
"The traps of death were around him, the bitter smell of the underworld seemed to be coming for him, dragging him down.  And there, down in the deapths, YHWH, Israel's God, came to his rescue; the God Paul now knew as the father of Jesus, the one by whose power the Messiah himself had gone down into death and been brought up to new life."

Just as the psalmist had remained faithful and could testify of YHWH, so Paul remained faithful and could testify of the Messiah.  They both wanted the glory to go to God.

For now God's glory is contained in fragile earthenware pots.  But someday it will be fully revealed!  Our troubles will then seem as nothing.



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