Through the years, as I have read and studied the Word of God, I have endeavored to expose myself to transforming truth. I have found that there is one category of books that have had a profound effect on me, starting even when I was a junior high student, and that is the category of biographies.
I have had the privilege of reading the biographies of great Christians; great preachers, pastors, missionaries through the years, and I continue to be fascinated by their lives. It’s enough for me just to see that kind of life. That becomes for me a motivation. That becomes for me a catalyst to move ahead in my own spiritual walk.
I suppose there are people, particularly in our culture today who are always looking for some pragmatic solution to things, always looking for some easy formula, some three quick steps to this and four steps to that. And some people who would wonder, when you preach the Bible and you just go through the text in an expositional manner, whether or not it’s relevant or practical. But I have found that there needs to be no practical section in a book that expounds the life of a noble Christian, for the testimony of that life is enough, in and of itself, to motivate. And I know, in my own life, that I am the sum of all kinds of influences, not the least of which are the influences of these great men through history who have walked with God, whose lives have become a part of my life because of my reading.
I have been influenced by so many, starting, as I said, when I was about 13 years old and began to read those kinds of books. And I say that because I want you to understand something about 2 Corinthians. Second Corinthians is biography. And at some point, you may say to yourself, “You know, this is all about Paul” - and it is - “and this is not really all about me.” But because it’s all about Paul, may I remind you it’s all about what you ought to be. And that’s the strength and impact of biographical information, particularly when it’s inspired, as is the text of the Scripture.
Of all of those whose biographies I have read, of all of those whose lives I’ve been exposed to through my life, no one individual has had the impact that the apostle Paul has had on me. I feel like I know more about him than anyone else because I have spent more time dealing with his life and what he said, and what he wrote, and what he did than anyone else except the Lord Himself, but I’m talking on a human level.
And as I have been going through 2 Corinthians, I really have to say that I think this is the profoundest biography in the New Testament on this man. I don’t think there’s any other epistle or any record in the book of Acts that touches the depth of his heart that this book touches. And if example means what I believe it means, then this could well be as dramatically effective in changing our lives as any book that’s directed at a more practical impact. Because what you’re seeing here is what a man looks like when He really walks with God, what a man looks like when He really looks into the face of Jesus Christ, what a spiritual person is like, what a noble Christian is. Here is the model; here is the pattern; here is the example.
And admittedly, this is biography; it’s very personal. Even when he uses the collective pronoun “we,” the plural pronoun, it seems to me that most of the time he’s talking about himself. He just doesn’t want people to assume that he talks too much about himself so he softens it a little by using a plural pronoun. But he is really the one of whom he speaks; it’s all about him.
And there really is not a lot of exhortation in this book. There’s a lot of not – not a lot of practical instruction. In fact, there’s not really an immense amount of theology. This is biography. This is looking deep into the heart of the noblest of all apostles, the great apostle Paul. It is, in every sense, a remarkable book, and it lays out for us the pattern of Christian living that should be the goal for us because it was this man himself who said, “Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ.”
I heard, when I was young, “Don’t ever pattern your life after another person; pattern it after Christ.” But I have a little difficulty with that, because I can’t quite comprehend Christ unless I can see Him in someone else. And I certainly see Him in Paul.
And so, as we go through this, and you keep saying to yourself, “This is all about Paul; this is all about Paul,” this is right. This is all about Paul being what God wants a man to be, and therefore, this is all about you being what Paul is.
Now, I guess it’s an old adage that you can’t tell the value of something by the package it comes in. And that is certainly true in terms of preachers. And that was certainly true in terms of Paul. Like the treasure of salvation in Matthew chapter 13, it was buried in the ground. A treasure down in the dirt, so precious that a man sold everything he had to buy it. Or the pearl that, at one particular time, was hidden in the ugly oyster, and when discovered was found to be a priceless pearl for which another man sold everything that he might gain it. In both of those cases, the container – the earth and the ugly shell of an oyster, didn’t reflect the value of the treasure they held. And that contrast is really the heart of this passage; the contrast between the treasure of gospel truth and the human container that it comes in.
Paul says in verse 7, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” And here we find in this text before us a startling and amazing contrast. A contrast between the shining glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and the feeble, imperfect, fragile, homely, container by which this glory is carried and conveyed to men.
Now, let me touch a little of the background again. Paul had established the church in Corinth over a period of nearly two years preaching there. Not long after he left, false apostles, false teachers came in, and their agenda was to teach lies. But in order to be heard, they had to dethrone Paul. And so, they started an all-out assault on Paul.
In the midst of his own congregation, in his absence, they tried to discredit him in every way conceivable. They were the emissaries of Satan, desiring to teach false doctrine, but they couldn’t get an audience until they had managed to assault Paul sufficiently, where the people no longer trusted him and began to trust them, and then they would be listening to the lies.
Their attack involved some very, very low blows. Their assault on Paul was merciless, relentless, and cheap. And part of their assault on him was a really unthinkable kind of attack. And they assaulted him on the basis of his personal defects. I mean they assaulted him on the basis of his physical blemishes, his human weaknesses, the way he looked, the way he spoke. In fact, when he addresses these false apostles directly, in verse 10 of chapter 10 of 2 Corinthians, he says that they said his letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is contemptible or unimpressive, along with his speech.
He is not an imposing person. He lacks charm; he lacks persona; he lacks good looks. He doesn’t have the personal presence and the personal power to motivate people. Some have even suggested that he was a small hunchback, and that he had a rather repulsive eye deformity that made him ugly to look at.
You say, “Where would people get such a thought?”
Well, some of it comes out of tradition, but also, in Galatians 4:14, Paul says, “That which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe.” Maybe he was used to being despised and loathed for something about his appearance. And then in the next verse he says, “I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.”
And so, there are those folks who would conclude from that, and it may well be that the man had a very kind of ugly eye deformity and a rather loathsome appearance, nothing to look at. And certainly the false teachers and false apostles were saying, “The reason Paul is rejected, the reason people don’t listen to what he says, the reason that he’s not more popular and the gospel doesn’t get a better hearing is partly because he’s just an unimpressive, common, run-of-the-mill, homely, and maybe even deformed man. He lacks the persona, the stature, the charm, whatever it takes to sway people.
They smeared him as a preacher. They said his speech was contemptible, his bodily looks unimpressive. In 1 Corinthians chapter 2 and verse 3, he says, “I was with you in weakness and in fear, and in much trembling.” And in verse 1 he says, “I didn’t come with superiority of speech.” He didn’t impress anybody with his oratory; he didn’t impress anybody with his speech. He didn’t impress anybody with his intellect, though he had an immense intellect. He didn’t impress anybody with his looks; he couldn’t command people’s attention. And so, they mocked him for that. And they blamed the failures of his ministry and the fact that he was rejected so very often partly on the fact that he was such a despicable person to look at and listen to.
This was a hurtful approach to a noble man, and he needs to respond to it. It’s part of their attack on him, and he wants to defend himself not for the sake of himself, but for the sake of the truth. Because if he is totally discredited and rejected in that church, and the people are left with the false apostles to believe and hear, they will then fall into false teaching.
And so it is very important for Paul to defend himself so that they will continue to listen to him because he speaks the truth. How’s he going to handle this? He’s in a very difficult position. Like all noble preachers and noble servants of God, he is placed in a very embarrassing spot. He is, frankly, being criticized by people who were much more sinful and weak than he was, and yet he can’t defend himself to them, perhaps, without looking proud.
And they have now accused him of being ugly and homely and unimpressive in terms of his physical presence, and he certainly can’t write back and say, “Look, I just found three people who think I’m cute.” How is he going to get himself out of this? How’s he going to extricate himself out of this dilemma where he has to defend himself, and at the same time not be proud?
And after all, you know, his physical weakness was not news to him. Nobody knew his physical weakness better than him. If he was bent over and hunchbacked and deformed, and if indeed he had some kind of repulsive eye problem, and if, in fact, his speech was as unimpressive as they said it, no one knew better than he knew.
In fact, it was a matter of constant amazement with him that he was ever in the ministry to begin with, because as he wrote to Timothy, in 1 Timothy chapter 1, it was only God’s mercy because he was violent; he was an aggressor; he was a blasphemer; he was a persecutor of Christians. And the only reason God ever called him was to demonstrate sheer pure grace and mercy. It was a continual source of astonishment to the man that the Lord ever called him in the first place. No one knew better than he did his physical weaknesses and infirmities. No one knew better than he did his lack as an orator.
And so, he’s in a position where if the truth is really to be told, he has to agree with his accusers. He has to say, “Well, you’re right. You’re exactly right. Everything you say about me is true.” He would have to agree about his weaknesses; he would have to agree about his inabilities, his physical liabilities, his lack of attractiveness. In fact, he would have to affirm the taunts of his detractors if he was honest. And he is honest.
And yet, he has to defend himself as a faithful preacher of the truth. So, how’s he going to do this? He wants to make sure that people don’t defect over to the false teachers and be led astray.
So, he’s caught, in a sense, between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he as to agree with his detractors because he knows he is unimpressive and contemptible in some ways, humanly speaking.
But on the other hand, he has to defend himself for the sake of the truth. He’s very aware that the glory and the majesty and the wonder of the new covenant, the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ is, in his case, packaged in a humble, frail, imperfect, common messenger. And that’s why he says in verse 7, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels.”
It never, ever ceased to be a wonder to that man that such a priceless treasure came in such a worthless sinner. Never ceased to be amazing to him that the incalculable treasure of new covenant gospel truth was contained in a clay pot. He doesn’t deny it; he admits it. But instead of that reality becoming a reason to reject him, it becomes a credential of his apostleship. That’s where he turns the tables.
The treasure in earthen vessels. He is not going to say, “This is not how it is.” He’s going to say, “This is exactly how it is.” And frankly, it’s a frightening thing to expect or demand an impossible standard for a clay pot. Preachers are always going to be, at best, clay pots - some better looking pots than others, but not perfect. And in comparison to what they preach, they are the frailest of frail. And if God couldn’t use homely, common clay pots, then there wouldn’t be any ministry, because there aren’t any perfect people, and so there aren’t any perfect preachers. If God couldn’t use poor instruments and feeble voices, he couldn’t make music.
Abraham was guilty of duplicity, and yet he became the man of faith and the friend of God. And Moses, another clay pot, had his halting speech and quick temper; yet he was the man chosen to make a nation and to commune with God, to receive the law.
David, another clay pot, was guilty of adultery and murder, but he repented and became a man after God’s own heart and the sweet singer of Israel for all time, whose songs we even sung this morning.
Elijah ran from Jezebel and sat under a juniper tree, angry at God. But he had stood on Mount Carmel and defied Ahab and all the prophets of Baal, and now he sinks to this low level. But even Elijah heard the still, small voice of God at Horeb and was used mightily.
And then there was Isaiah, who in the presence of God admitted that he was a man with a dirty mouth. And yet it was he that God called and used mightily.
And then there was Peter, the leader and the spokesman of the Twelve. Peter, who failed so many times, and finally, when everything was really on the line, denied his Lord with cursing and oaths. He was later restored by the compassion of Jesus to the most effective and powerful ministry to that point, 3,000 people repenting at his one sermon on the Day of Pentecost.
And there was John the apostle. John the apostle, who expected to be praised by Jesus for refusing to allow a man not of their company to cast out demons. John who with James wanted to call down fire from heaven and burn up a whole Samaritan village. John who, along with his brother and his mother, came and asked Jesus to put them on the right and the left hand in the kingdom. A very blatant act of pride. It was John who became the beloved disciple, the apostle of love, the eagle who soared to great heights. And of all the apostles, perhaps the one who pierced most deeply into the mystery of Christ as the Son of God.
And now it’s Paul. It’s just another clay pot. Under assault, the unjustly accused, falsely accused, and yet very much aware that all of the weaknesses for which he was being accused were, in fact, true. Reluctantly for himself, but gladly for the Lord and the gospel, he has to defend himself. But he can’t deny his human weakness; he can only affirm it, and he does. And his human limitations, and his frailties, and his imperfections are not defects. In the end, they are credentials – credentials of his authenticity.
This is a marvelous section of Scripture. It runs from verse 7 down to verse 15, and it presents to us this defense of a man who has been accused of being inadequate, inept, unimpressive, contemptible. This man does not belong representing the gospel. This man does not belong preaching. His technique falls short of what is required. His looks fall short. His oratory falls short. Everything about him causes people to turn their back on the gospel, because he is so common, so mean, so plain, so base, so unacceptable as a person.
And just that for which he was being rendered useless in the ministry, he turns around to become the very thing which made him the servant of God that he was. What they saw as disqualifiers were, in fact, his credentials. And what we learn, in verses 7 through 15, is that Paul defends his apostleship not on the basis of his human talent, not on the basis of his natural skill, not on the basis of his past achievement, but purely on the conditions of his weakness. Purely on the conditions of his weakness.
In verse 8, for example, he says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. We are always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus.” In verse 11, “We who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake.” Verse 12, “So death works in us.” All of these weaknesses, all of these deformities and infirmities become the very credentials of his apostleship. He is a true preacher. He is a clay pot that holds the great treasure. And it’s evident by his weakness.
Now, as we go through this text, in the next few weeks, I’m going to give you several points that marked out his spiritual character. He first one is that he was humble. Look at verse 7. He was humble. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.”
Now, here is one of the many paradoxes in 2 Corinthians. Priceless treasure in clay pots. The word “but” signifies that contrast, because verse 6 has just been talking about the immense, incalculable glory of the new covenant which is the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Christ, where you have this superlative, supernatural description of the new covenant revelation: Christ’s majestic, eternal glory shining.
You have the glory of the God of heaven and earth, the glory of the eternal God revealed in the incarnate Christ. That’s the message of the new covenant; that’s the gospel that God came in Christ. His glory shines through Christ. Salvation and eternal life come through Christ. That’s the priceless treasure.
And in contrast to that is the clay pot that carries it and proclaims it. Every preacher must have that perspective. Paul had it; that’s really what made him so great. In chapter 10, again when he’s directing his discussion right at the false apostles, he says in verse 12, “We are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves.”
“I’m not going to get into a situation like you false apostles who rank each other according to looks, and oratorical ability, and intellect, and cleverness, and natural skill and talent. I don’t get into that,” he says. “I’m not interested in comparing myself with those who measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, and who are really without understanding.”
“We will not,” he says in verse 13, “boast beyond our measure. I don’t want to say anything about myself. I’m not going to compare myself with somebody else.” Verse 17, of chapter 10 he says, “He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord. For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.” That’s it in the end, isn’t it? And the Lord had commended Paul, notwithstanding what he looked like or what he talked like. And the Lord relishes that, because as verse 7 says, the more feeble the vessel, the more evident it is that the power is God’s.
“We have this treasure.” What does he mean by “treasure?” The new covenant gospel. Back in verse 1 he said, “We have this ministry.” Here he says, “We have this treasure.” The ministry and the treasure really refer to the same thing: the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ which is the gospel. That God – the eternal God – came into the world in Jesus Christ, that He died on the cross, rose again, provides forgiveness of sin and eternal life, that’s the treasure. The treasure is the truth that God is shining in Christ, and he’s bringing salvation. That’s the New Testament gospel.
In Christ, then, are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Christ is the fullness of Godhead revealed bodily. And the new covenant treasure is a ministry of life, and power, and glory. It revealed the grandest truths the world can ever know. It produced the most astonishing effects. It freed men from condemnation and the power of sin. It transforms them into the image of Christ. It delivers them from the power of the god of this world and the power of death and makes them partakers of eternal life. These effects transcend all human ability, all human skill, all human technique, all human power. They are attributable directly to the power of God and the power of God alone.
So, here is this powerful, glorious, majestic, new covenant, incalculably priceless truth – the treasure. And it’s in earthen vessels. Baked clay, folks. Dirt-baked hard. Paul says, “That’s what I am, dirt-baked hard.” The word is ostrakinos, and it refers to just baked clay. These were very common pots. They were cheap, breakable, replaceable, valueless, and homely. And they served many functions.
Just let me give you a little bit of a background – you know, get a feeling for what Paul is really saying here, if you understand how they were used. Occasionally, clay pots were used as vaults and valuable jewelry, gold, silver would be put into a clay pot and very often buried in the ground so that the clay pot served as a vault. And that would be how, for example, the man plowing the field in Matthew 13, who uncovered the priceless treasure, might have uncovered it, because his plow might have broken the pot and there, exposed to him, was the treasure. So, they were used as vault, occasionally, to carry those things that were valuable.
Plutarch describes the historian at the celebration of the Macedonian victory of Aemilius Paulus, in 167 B.C., that 3,000 men followed the wagons carrying silver coins in 750 clay pots. So, they were used as containers for valuable things, they themselves not having any particular value.
They were also used for valuable documents. When title deeds and precious manuscripts needed to be stored away, they were frequently stored in clay pots. In fact, that’s how the Dead Sea Scrolls were stored in the caves at Qumran, the very likely Essene community, down in the desert, east of Jerusalem. I’ve been to that place several times.
It’s an amazing story. The Dead Sea Scrolls contained very accurate manuscripts of the Old Testament that predate Christ and show us how perfectly Scripture has been preserved from then till now. A marvelous, marvelous discovery. And do you know how they were discovered? A little shepherd boy was playing around on the edge of that precipice, and there’s a huge chasm there. And he was throwing rocks, apparently, into the cave, and he heard something break and went into the cave and discovered the clay pots that contained the Dead Sea Scrolls.
They now, of course, are priceless in their value to biblical scholarship, and they are housed in a beautiful museum in the city of Jerusalem. And that museum is built to replicate the design of the clay pots in which they were found. And the top of the museum is like the lid on those clay pots. And when you go through the souvenir shop, at the end you can buy a little miniature replica of those clay pots.
So, they were used for very valuable things. But most interestingly, and most importantly, they were used most frequently for the common things of life, much like you would use that bucket in the garage, or that pail that you keep out in the back. Only in those days, they had no sewage systems, and so they were used for waste – human waste and garbage.
It’s the same kind of thing that he said in 2 Timothy chapter 2. You may remember, when we were teaching 2 Timothy, we commented on it. And now, in a large house, there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and earthenware. It’s the same word exactly as in 2 Corinthians 4. Some to honor, some to dishonor. The idea of an earthenware or a wooden container was that it was to dishonor. And that word means that it was use for dishonorable purposes.
Now, it would be an honorable purpose to use it to contain the Dead Sea Scrolls or some very valuable jewels or gold, but the idea of the earthen pot, in the mind of Paul here, may well be the same as it was in 2 Timothy. And he’s seeing it used in the most common and distasteful and sort of disgusting ways.
Common containers they were, for the most humble and dirty uses, not fit for noble purposes by any means. There were other things used for exalted, honorable, noble duties, but there were these common, humble pots used for the dirty purposes of life.
And I really think that’s what Paul is saying. I don’t think he’s reaching out for some elevated use of a clay pot. I think he’s just saying, “We’re nothing but clay pots; you know what they’re used for.” Nothing honorable. In fact, the only value they had was the service they performed, and if they didn’t perform the service, they didn’t have a value. They had no intrinsic worth. They were expendable and easily replaceable.
And that’s how Paul views himself. “Go ahead; say whatever you want to say. Go ahead, accuse me. Go ahead, mock my looks, mock my speech, mock my weaknesses; they’re all true. But after all, what do you expect for a garbage pail? That’s all I really am. I’m the chief of sinners and worthless. I’m useless. And if it weren’t for what I contained, I would have no value at all.”
Back in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, in verse 20, he says, “Where is the wise man.” Where is he? I’m looking around the church; I don’t see him. You know, the ones the world thinks are so wise? “And where is the scribe?” I don’t find him. “And where is that great debater of this age?” Those great intellectuals – where are they? I don’t see them. Why?
Verse 26, “For consider your calling, brethren, there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.” Look around – I mean we’re just common folks. “God has chosen” – verse 27 says – “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, in order that no man should boat before God.”
God delights in choosing base, plain, foolish, common, despised, ignoble folks – clay pots – that the society might say really aren’t good for anything, and he puts the treasure in them.
And how many times do I hear Christians say, “You know, wouldn’t it be amazing if such-and-such became a Christian? Boy, he could really be a spokesman for Christ.” Or, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if this famous person” - or that great intellect, or this genius over here, or that great scientist, or this very popular leader, or this profound thinker, or this popular individual well-known around the globe – “wouldn’t it be wonderful if those people became Christians. Wow, what an impact they could have.”
But God just keeps ignoring them and picking up clay pots in order that the power may be manifest that it is of God and not from ourselves. That’s why God delights in that – “so that him who boasts” – verse 31 of 1 Corinthians 1 says “will boast in the Lord.” Common containers with an uncommon treasure.
And here is the essence of true spiritual usefulness. It’s being humble; it’s seeing yourself for what you really are. And they came along and they accused Paul of being weak, and unimpressive, and plain, and common, and not clever, and not intellectual, and not oratorical; and they attempted to discredit him.
And he said, “You know what? You’re right. I’m good for nothing but taking out the garbage, except for the fact that in me is an immense treasure.” He accepted their assessment. I love that. He didn’t argue; he accepted their assessment and turned it to a credential for his authenticity.
Over in chapter 11, where he talks to these false apostles, verse 6, he says, “Even if I am unskilled in speech, I am not so in knowledge. I know the truth, even if I can’t say it too cleverly.”
Well, I can identify it with that. Sometimes you go away from preaching, and you say, “You know, I knew what I wanted to say, but I just didn’t say it very well.”
“Even if I am unskilled in speech, I’m not so in knowledge.” Here again indicating how they had criticized him for his lack of ability as a speaker. Over in chapter 12, verse 7, he says, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelation” – I mean he’d had so many revelations, the Lord had come to him personally on so many occasions, and he had been taken into the third heaven and seen things he couldn’t even talk about, because of these immense spiritual and revelations that God had given him to keep him humble, he says, “To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me by God a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me – to keep me from exalting myself! And concerning this, I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me” – Lord, I don’t like this; it’s not comfortable; it’s not a pleasant experience to be assaulted by this messenger right from Satan, please take it away.
And He said, “No, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in” – what? – “weakness.”
See, when you’re weak and when you can’t trust in yourself, and when you’re browbeaten, and when you’re hammered – and I believe that messenger from Satan, as we’ll see later on, was the ringleader of the Corinthian false apostles who were leading the conspiracy against Paul. And Paul is saying, “Get rid of the guy,” and He’s saying, “No, I’m leaving him there, because the more he hammers on you, the weaker you become. And the weaker you get, the stronger is going to be my power demonstrated through you, because there’s less of you in the way.”
Listen, the world is full of people too clever, too erudite, too intellectual, too educated, too profound, too enamored with their own ability, too great as orators to be used by God.
So, he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you. Power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” That’s Paul’s way of saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” He is saying, “You can say all you want; I am content with all of those assessments, because in my weakness, I find my strength is God’s strength.”
It thrills me to know that the New Testament was not written by the elite of Egypt, nor by the elite of Greece, nor by the elite of Rome, nor even by the elite of Israel. When the Lord set out to call to himself those people who would be the writers of New Testament truth, he didn’t pick the greatest scholars who were in Egypt, studying at the greatest library in the ancient world of Alexandria. He didn’t go to the most distinguished philosophers who were all assembled at Athens, where the seat of philosophy existed; the greatest minds of the time, from a philosophical standpoint, found themselves there. Nor did he go to Rome, where the greatest orators were, where the men who had the power of speech existed, and they were swaying the world to follow them. Not only did He not to Rome, He didn’t even go to Jerusalem, where He could have found the great religious geniuses of the time, men who had spent their whole life pouring over the Old Testament. He didn’t go to those places.
Where did he go? He went to the shore of Galilee and found a bunch of fishermen. I think God absolutely delights in that. He chose clay pots through whom to preach His great salvation message. He passed by Herodotus, the historian. He passed by Socrates, the philosopher. He passed by Hippocrates, the father of medicine; Plato, the philosopher; Aristotle. He passed by Euclid, the mathematician; Archimedes, the father of mechanics. He passed Hipparchus, the astronomer; Cicero, the orator; and Virgil, the poet.
And He chose what some would tell us is a little hunchback Jew with a deformed face, without great oratorical abilities. And He put in that little clay pot a priceless treasure. And he’s still doing it. He’s still doing it. And so, you may look at the preacher - you may look at me and say, “I don’t know why anything goes on in this church; look at him; listen to him. How does it happen?”
My own son asked me that one time. My own son, Mark, when he was little - and I’ll never forget it; I probably shared it with you before - he said – and he was very pensive one day, and he was sort of scratching his little head and wondering why I was the way I was, and he said to me, “Dad, I don’t understand. I don’t understand how you go to church, and you preach, and all these things happen, and God blesses. And you’re really” - “special” is the word he used. “But when you come home, you’re nothing special.” That’s what he said. And he realized he had a clay pot for a father, and he couldn’t understand what was going on with that clay pot.
But we have a treasure in these clay pots, don’t we? And it’s the treasure, not the pot. And apart from the treasure, the pot has no value. God is still passing by the elite; he’s still passing by the proud intellectuals. He’s leaving them in universities and seminaries. And he’s looking for the humble who will carry the treasure of saving truth with humility.
And why does he do that? Look back at verse 7, “In order that” – this is a purpose clause – “in order that the surpassing greatness of surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves,” so that it becomes abundantly apparent that this has to be God, because we all agree it couldn’t be him. By using such frail and ugly people, God makes it clear that the power is His power, not our power.
“It is God” - verse 6 says –“alone who can bring the light.” It is the gospel that is empowered to become the power of salvation to all who believe.
So, the great power of God overcomes and transcends the clay pot. It overpowers and transcends the weakness of the preacher and the witness. And you may think of yourself as a very frail clay pot, but the truth in you is still the power of God. The fact that God can do such eternally powerful and transforming work through such frail jars is proof of the greatness of His power.
We ask that question so often. We say, “You know, I heard that guy speak, and I don’t understand why anything happens. I’ve heard that preacher, and I’ve heard better. I don’t know why it happens.” It’s the simplicity and clarity of the message. It’s the treasure, and it’s the power of God, not the pot.
In fact, it’s precisely the Christian’s complete weakness that allows him to experience the greatest demonstration of God’s power. And He wants you to know how great the power is. Here he says – he doesn’t just say that the power may be of God, but the surpassing greatness of the power that is therefore inexplicable if we approach it humanly. We’re dirt-baked hard; that’s all. We have nothing to offer of beauty, nothing to offer of power in ourselves. The transcended effect of what we do is because of the treasure that is in us. So, don’t scratch your head and wonder why anything good can happen when some clay pot presents the truth of Christ. The power is in God; the power is in the truth.
Denney, commentator of old, wrote, “No one who saw this and looked at a preacher like Paul could dream that the explanation lay in him. Not in an ugly little Jew without presence, without eloquence, without the means to bribe or to compel, could the source of such courage, the cause of such transformations be found. It must be sought not in him, but in God.”
Here, Denney again, he says, “One would sometimes think, from the tone of current literature, that no person with gifts above contempt is any longer identified with the gospel. Clever men, we’re told, do not become preachers now. Still less do they go to church. There always have been men in the world so clever that God could make no use of them. They could never do His work because they were so lost in admiration of themselves. But God’s work never depended on them, and it doesn’t depend on them now.” End quote.
So, the power of the gospel is not the product of human genius or human oratorical ability or technique. It is not the result of clever human ingenuity. The power is from God; we’re just the weak, common, ordinary, plain, fragile, breakable, disposable, dishonorable pots, good for nothing but carrying out the garbage.
And the wonderful thing is that all of that weakness doesn’t prove fatal to the gospel cause. Just the contrary. It doesn’t prove fatal; it proves advantageous, because it gets us out of the way and lets the power of God, through the truth of God, do its work.
But the great, encouraging reality of ministry; the great, encouraging reality to Paul; and the great, encouraging reality to me is that my weakness is not fatal to what I do; it is essential to what I do. And therefore, with Paul, I can rejoice in that weakness. I’m not talking about sin; you understand that? I’m talking about human weakness.
The Lord’s servant here was humble, and when they – when they took the lowest possible course of assault and mocked him for his human disabilities, and his frailties, and his blemishes, he accepted it willingly, because he knew that it was not at all fatal to His purpose, but essential to His purpose; that he realized that he had nothing with which to commend himself. And there, in the weakest of earthen vessels, you have the most powerful expression of divine treasure. More to come. Let’s bow in prayer.
Father, again our thanks to You for the richness of these great thoughts. How we might bemoan our frailties; how we might feel that somehow our inabilities and our ineptness is fatal to the gospel, fatal to any effect, and we couldn’t be more wrong. Our weakness, our frailty, our blemishes cast us on You. And when anything transforming happens around us, people will know for sure it wasn’t us; it had to be You. And the power will be seen to be from God and not from ourselves. Not ek, out of us.
We thank You, Lord, for the privilege of being dirt-baked hard, a little clay jar in which You’ve put the new covenant gospel. And may, in our weakness Your strength be perfected, and may You use us to transform lives. We thank You for such a privilege, in Christ’s dear name, amen.
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