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June 2018

We Have This Treasure in Jars of Clay

St. Paul had a twin problem with his fledgling congregation in Corinth: his people thought too much of themselves, and at the same time too little of themselves. How can this be? They thought too much of themselves because they valued their own talents and accomplishments as if the Corinthians themselves had produced them. On the other hand, they thought too little of themselves because they viewed their talents and accomplishments as merely human and not divine. To deal with this twin misconception, St. Paul used the illustration of “treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

My Uncle Don serves as a pastor in Michigan and was an early inspiration to me in my own path to the Office of the Holy Ministry. For a birthday many years ago, he gave me an earthenware pot originating in ancient Israel at about the time of Jesus. The fact is that this pot is not very impressive. Someone probably made it just as an ephemeral container for unremarkable materials, never dreaming that it would find its way into the home of an Iowa pastor thousands of years later. I can readily imagine that this was just the sort of “jar of clay” that St. Paul had in mind as he wrote to the Corinthians. It is unimpressive, unnoticeable, unremarkable.

What better place, therefore, to store one’s most valuable possessions? No thief would think to look in such a humble pot for gold, silver, and precious stones. The pot would have a humble appearance, but would contain within itself an unimaginably great treasure.

That is what the Corinthian Christians were—and what we are. Outwardly we are merely human. We are weak, we are ailing, we are dying. We continue to be beset by sin. Anything that we regard as coming from ourselves must be deemed worthless, of utterly no value in obtaining everlasting life, yea, worthy only of destruction. We are jars of clay. Inwardly, however, we contain a vast treasure of unimaginably great worth: we contain God Himself, who “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Far from being worthless, we are precious, not because of what comes from us, but because of what God has given us: His own self.

Think about that as you walk among your friends and acquaintances. All they see is a jar of clay. They see what comes from you. They see your humble outward appearance, suggestive only of the merely human life that they have in common with you. But hidden from their sight is a glorious light that, if they could only behold it, would stun them into holy fear and mystical awe in your presence. This light, this treasure of surpassing worth, is truly within you by faith in Jesus Christ.

And every now and then, those around you may get a peek into what you, the humble jar of clay, contain within yourself. The God who shines within you in the face of Jesus Christ continually renews you according to His divine image, making you more and more like Him. Your works of love and your faithfulness to your God in Christ reveal ever so slightly the vastness of the treasure you contain. Those who catch a glimpse of that treasure are given the opportunity to become themselves vessels of God’s glory, jars of clay that contain the divine treasure.

May we never think too much of ourselves, boasting in our own talents and accomplishments as coming from ourselves. By the same token, may we never think too little of ourselves, forgetting that, though we are but jars of clay, we bear within us the Light that enlightens all men.

Amen

Pastor Neuendorf

 

 

 

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