“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Faithful women today are in great need of encouragement, just as they have always been. There is no era, past, present, or future, in which we don’t need our faith stirred up and our hope fixed on Christ, no matter what our particular troubles and challenges. This verse above can lead us to see that the way we view our troubles is actually a huge part of this encouragement.
Treasure in a Dirt Pot
What treasure is the apostle Paul referring to here? If we glance back to 2 Corinthians 4:4, we will see that it is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” that shines in our hearts. Paul explains that just as God spoke the light into existence in Genesis 1:3, he has spoken with that same creative power to bring light into our dark hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). This is the priceless treasure of the “gospel of the glory of Christ.”
Where does our good and great God store this remarkable treasure? He has put it in very unremarkable clay pots — in earthen vessels — in the hearts of his people who were, just like Adam, made out of dust. A clay pot is an apt metaphor for us, for we were made out of clay and fired in the furnace to be humble little containers for stashing treasure. Not a golden vessel, not marble or crystal or sterling silver — a dirt pot.
But why would God place his priceless treasure in such unworthy vessels? Paul tells us the answer: “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). The amazing power of his goodness shines with more glory when it is set in an earthen vessel. And when does this treasure shine out most brightly? If we follow Paul through 2 Corinthians, we will see that it particularly shines when the earthen vessel is in a heap of trouble.
The apostle Paul was set apart for trouble. When God sent Ananias to lay his hands on Paul, the Lord said, “He is a chosen vessel of mine. . . . I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15–16). And indeed, Paul suffered many things for Christ’s sake. This is why he can give us firsthand encouragement for how we are to view our own troubles today. Just like Paul’s troubles, our troubles are clay pot troubles.
Dirt Pot Problems
The verses following our text above tell us that Paul was “hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9). Apparently, clay pots don’t have an easy time of it. On the outside, they are surrounded by trouble on every side; they are perplexed, persecuted, and cast down. But on the inside, where the treasure is, they are not distressed, not in despair, not forsaken, not destroyed.
Because we tend to have our eyes on the seen (the troubles), we might miss what’s going on inside the clay pot, where the treasure is. These unseen things are what we must see by faith, like Paul does. For in the midst of all these clay pot troubles, Paul says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. For though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). So as we walk by faith, we will see our outward man falling apart (even perishing), but our inward man can see the glory now and the glory coming.
A couple of chapters later (2 Corinthians 6:4–10), Paul gives us another account of his troubles in this famous passage:
But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
Here we see another list of clay pot troubles. They have tribulations, needs of all kinds, and distresses. When a ship is going down, it sends a distress signal. Have you ever needed to send a distress signal? Paul did. Not only that, he was beaten, thrown in jail, in the middle of turmoil, in hard work of all kinds, without sleep and hungry, by evil report, accused of deception, unknown, dying, chastened, sorrowful, poor, having nothing.
And yet, these troubles are set in sharp contrast to the treasure within: purity, knowledge, longsuffering, kindness, the Holy Spirit, sincere love, the word of truth, the power of God, the armor of righteousness, by honor, good report, as true, as well known, as living, not killed, always rejoicing, making many rich, possessing all things.
I hope you see that in the hardest afflictions, God’s goodness and strength and graces shines brightest. But the most astounding thing is still coming. Paul later mentions that he asked the Lord three times to take away his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7–8). But God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
So what is Paul’s conclusion? He says,
Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)
Did you catch that?
Jesus’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. His grace is sufficient. So Paul will actually brag about his afflictions because he knows they set off the power of Christ in his clay pot. In fact, and this is rather amazing, Paul takes pleasure in these things. He takes pleasure in infirmities (physical weaknesses); in reproaches (when others blame or insult him); in all kinds of needs (physical, emotional, spiritual); in persecution (when he is being arrested or beaten); and in distresses (when he needs to send an SOS).
Take Pleasure in Your Weakness
Consider your own infirmities, ailments, weaknesses, needs, and distresses. Can you boast in these? Can you take pleasure in these? Certainly not, if you are looking to your clay pot to find strength. You will find no help there. But what if you approach this by faith? What if you begin to view each trouble as a golden opportunity to show off the glory of God? When we begin to take pleasure in our troubles for Christ’s sake, they lose their power over us. We are set free in Christ to watch God work.
Take your God-given weaknesses, and ask God to showcase his power and strength in them. Take your God-given infirmities and boast in them. Take pleasure in these things. Not because they are good in themselves, but because they are clay pot troubles. And when the clay pot is buffeted, more of God’s goodness and glory rests on the lowly earthen vessel. And finally, when we see that the excellence of the power is of God and not of us, our faith grows.