God’s Power in Earthen Vessels
I’ve always loved the scriptures about the potter and the clay… and I came to look at the flaws I saw in myself as cracks in this pot that I am, but knowing too that light can shine through cracks. So when I read this sermon by Ray Stedman this morning, I was humored by the fact that I am not alone in my thinking. But it also encouraged me as a believer to be salt and light, so here is a portion of his sermon called Your Pot — His Power…
Here in Second Corinthians, Chapter 4, we are examining one of the clearest passages in Scripture, in my estimation, to declare the process by which the power of God is released among men. We long, we pray, for that power to be released among us; everyone wants that to happen. I am increasingly concerned, however, about the ignorance of Christians, not only in other places but right here as well, as to their true power. We are surrounded by evidences of decay in society, of increasing corruption, of the disintegration of personality, of increasing hurt and darkness and despair. But all the time I can hear Jesus saying to us, “You are the salt of the earth,”(Matthew 5:13 RSV).
Salt is designed to stop corruption, so his word to us is, “You Christians are the salt of the earth. You can stop this kind of thing. If there is moral darkness around, so people do not know the difference between good and evil, so they are blind to what is happening, you are the light of the world, and your light can dispel darkness.”
Of course, he says, your salt has to have savor; it has to be salty. You cannot merely put on a front of being salty. You have to be salty, that is, you have to have the divine life and power at work in you, because salt without savor is good for nothing. And light has to be visible, Jesus said. You have to put it up on a hill where it can be seen. Nobody lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel. You cannot live isolated from the world around you. You have got to be right out in the midst of it.
Paul has been describing his ministry in terms of direct combat with what he calls the “god of this age,” the invisible being behind this darkness and corruption, the one who has, as he put it in the passage we saw last week, “blinded the minds of the unbelievers,” (2 Corinthians 4:4b RSV). But as Paul lives and speaks in light of the fact that Jesus is Lord, then the light begins to break out in the darkness of the world. That is God’s process. In Verses 7-11 of Chapter 4 there is a detailed description of how to exercise the power of God; and Verses 12-15 describe how to display the glory of God. That is what life is all about. Christians are Christian in order to exercise the power of God and display the glory of God. That is what Paul is talking about here.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7 RSV)
First, it is obviously God’s deliberate program that his mighty power be displayed through “earthen vessels.” That term is not very complimentary. An earthen vessel is nothing but a clay pot, that is all, yet it is a beautifully descriptive term for basic humanity. All of us, in one sense, are nothing but clay pots, although some of you have a little finer clay than others, perhaps. You know, clay can be made into beautiful, fragile chinaware, which, of course, cracks easily. Some of you have cracked already! (They tell me they are developing a science here in California called “psychoceramics.” It deals with cracked pots!) Others are more rough and rugged. They are made of adobe mud, baked in the sun (half-baked sometimes, perhaps). But this is our humanity. We are nothing but clay pots.
A pot, or a vessel, is made to hold something. This is a beautiful figure to use, because basic to our humanity is that we are not designed to operate on our own. We were made to hold someone; and that someone is God himself. The glory of humanity that we can never get away from is that somehow God designed us to correspond to his deity; and that his marvelous deity, with its fullness and wisdom and power should somehow relate to and correspond to and be manifest through our basic humanity. We are earthen vessels, and that is what Paul is talking about — clay pots. He is very likely thinking of that Old Testament story of Gideon, who was called of God to deliver Israel from the hands of Midian hosts which had come into the land. Gideon was nothing but an obscure member of one of the more remote tribes of Israel. He had no reputation, he regarded himself as inferior to everyone else, and yet God called him to deliver the nation.
When 32,000 men gathered to help him, God cut the number down to 300. God told them to take earthen jars, common clay pots, put candles in them, and during the darkness of the night to circle the Midian camp. At the signal of the sound of the trumpets, they were to break the pots so that lights would spring up on every side. When they did that the Midian army was demoralized. They suddenly saw lights springing up all over the mountainside. Thinking they were ringed by an army, they panicked and began to kill each other. That story has great significance for us, because it is really telling us that if we begin to live on the basis of the new covenant, acting and living as though Jesus is Lord, in control of everything in our life and the life of the whole world, we can demoralize the antagonists of Christianity and they will begin to attack one another.
I have seen this happen. Christians have no longer to fight hard, pitched battles, for the battle is often won. That is what Paul is saying here. God’s purpose in your life and mine is that we so live that people are actually baffled when they look at us. They say, “I don’t get it. I know this person. He (or she) is so ordinary; there is nothing outstanding there, but yet what happens as they go through life is so remarkable that I just don’t understand it.” They can see that the power is not coming from you; it is coming from God.