We Have This Treasure
While browsing a tiny shop along a dusty, busy street in the Philippines decades ago, I noticed a beautifully hand-painted clay pot. As I carefully examined it, I was amazed at how the artist had so richly encapsulated village life in the images of a woman winnowing rice and another cooking over a simple fire.
Almost forty years later, the small clay pot has a special place in my home. Its presence is a daily reminder of the scores of godly men and women who have left indelible marks on my life. Although diversified in language, tradition, and culture, our hearts beat as one.
In biblical times, whether decorative or common, clay jars were made from clay and water. In Genesis 2:7, we read that God physically shaped Adam from the dust of the earth, molding him out of clay and breathing life into him. The word human corresponds with humus, which means earth or clay. In this sense, we are all pottery.
Paul’s statement in II Corinthians 4:7 is insightful, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” Paul sets the focal point for the Scripture verse with his first words, “But we have ….” The Greek word for have is echomen, which can be translated as “we hold or possess.” Paul aptly reminds us that the focus is never on the earthen vessel but on what we possess, “this treasure”!
On my missionary journey over the past thirty-eight years, I have learned many life lessons. One of those lessons comes as a paradox. It matters not how physically fragile, weak, uneducated, or materially poor our earthen vessel may be. All God needs is a self-emptying clay pot filled with truth.
Recognizing our place of weakness allows us to see His power made perfect in weakness and to fix our eyes on the unseen reality of true faith. Conversion comes by the power of the gospel, never because of human skill, intellect, or genius. Our many imperfections instinctively withdraw attention from the earthly vessel and rightly places it on the glorious treasure within, “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
Paul continues his admonition in the following verses in II Corinthians chapter 4, reminding us that afflictions, struggles, persecution, and even death will come, but we are not to despair. The Master potter places us in His kiln, where the fires of life refine us into stronger vessels. He desires to form us into “A vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet [useful] for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (II Timothy 2:21).
It is humbling to understand that the gospel’s limitless, life-changing power and glory are distributed through limited, ordinary, earthly vessels! “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (I Corinthians 6:19).
We who have received His most glorious gift of the Holy Ghost possess this treasure greater than any earthly treasure—even greater than perfect health. “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).
God periodically permits our vessels to crack so this precious treasure will spill out and enrich others. Suffering not only reveals our weakness but also has the potential to reveal the glory of God. The gospel properly shared demonstrates the power of God, not the qualities of the proclaimer—the jar of clay.
Paul’s writings bring me to self-examination. Are others drawn by my jar or this treasure I carry? Am I more concerned about protecting my clay jar or this treasure? Will I allow my clay jar to be broken and laid aside, so the glory of this treasure is seen? The precious gospel message deserves center stage in everything I do!
Believing in the resurrection of Christ should lead us to believe in our own resurrection. Do not fear and exhaust yourself in efforts to protect the clay jar; focus your energy on protecting and proclaiming this priceless treasure!
Our rightful place is to be vessels for His use, jars carrying His treasure, hands and feet proclaiming His Word to the world. Our earthly ministry of the gospel, through human frailty, is designed to shout the message of this powerful and priceless treasure to the world: God’s matchless mercy, His eternal redemptive power, and His magnificent glory!
“But we have this treasure….”
BECKY BUCKLAND is a teacher at heart. With her love for people and coffee, she has served alongside her husband, Roger Buckland, in Global Missions for nearly four decades. Their current role is Pacific regional director.