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A Cracked Pot

A person God uses is a cracked pot, whose experiences create healing and blessing to be passed out to others.

Most of you are familiar with Murphy's Law: "If anything can go wrong, it will." If you are unaware of it as a philosophical statement, you know it by experience. Life is filled with all kinds of manifestations and applications of Murphy's Law, and it's funny only when you're a long way from the circumstances. In the middle of trying circumstances it's all too real; the hurt can be very intense. You can get to the point where the pressure is mounting and there seems to be no way out; you think you are going to crack up. The tragedy is that so many are doing just that—losing control, cracking up, or as an alternative, taking some mind-altering substance to supposedly help them cope.

  • What can we as Christians learn to help us handle life's crushing blows?
  • What do you do when spiritual people turn on you?
  • What do you do when a friend makes a promise and forgets/neglects to do it?
  • What's the answer when you feel crushed by life, perplexed, persecuted and struck down?
  • How do you avoid cracking under the pressure? These are important questions!

Second Corinthians 4:7-15 shows us that though life can be extremely difficult at times, there arereasures and power available to every Christian, enabling us to be equal to any situation.

Let's walk through this passage: v. 7—"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."

There are two important factors in this verse: the description of basic humanity, and the revelation of the intent of God.

The description of basic humanity is that of a container, a vessel, a clay jar.

If we were to look at all clay jars, we would find they all have four commonalities:

  1. They need a potter to mold them into shape. (We are made by the Master Potter, too.)
  2. They are all made of clay. (We are made from the earth, too—Ps. 103:14.)
  3. They are all designed to contain something. (So are we.)
  4. They are different shapes and sizes. (So are we diverse and special.) Some are thin like china—soft and delicate. Some are sun dried and easily cracked. Some are tough and resilient to almost all conditions. Some are large; some small. Some are ostentatious; others blend with their surroundings and are hardly noticed.

This picture of human clay pots isn't seen only in Second Corinthians 4:7. You find this imagery throughout Scripture—Jer. 18:1-10; 2 Tim. 2:20; Rom. 9:20-21. Perhaps you have never thought of yourself as a vessel before, but this is a fundamental and essential concept of the biblical view of man.

I really hate the question, "If you could be an animal, what one would you be?" A more constructive question might be,

"If you had your choice as to what kind of you would be, what kind would you choose?"

Actually, you don't have a choice. Look in the mirror; you were made this way by the Master Potter. It's His choice, not yours—see Rom. 9:20-21.

The picture of a clay jar is so useful, because it gives us the second important factor:

The revelation of the intent of God. What are vessels for? They are made to hold something. What are human clay jars made to contain? This is an immensely important question which has set man on a quest since time began. What are we here for? Why were we made?

We were made to be containers of God.

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20] you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." 1 Cor. 6:19-20

 

The glory of humanity is that we are made to have God dwell/live in us, by His Spirit. Contrast that with the opposite: a man without God. If we don't have God in us, what are we? Empty... an empty temple.

  • "The world today is suffering from a neurosis of emptiness"—Carl Jung.
  • "Within every man is a God-shaped vacuum"—Pascal.

No matter what we try to place in that vacuum, it doesn't fit, e.g., noble causes, sex, marriage, success, education, relationships. Our hearts are restless for Him.

This "filling" is called in v. 7, "a treasure..." What a beautiful description—there is inestimable treasure in us. What is the treasure? Colossians 1:27 reveals it. "To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

This treasure is so valuable, the world will pay anything to get it. This treasure is the secret of adequacy. Commercials lie to us and say if we use their products we will be adequate and successful. Advertisements promise if we sign up for a seminar, we will receive inner peace. The quest of Madison Avenue, in fact, is to make people "adequate."

But adequacy is not a product, it's a person. The lost secret of humanity is Christ in you, in me! "Containing" Jesus is what makes one a person, a whole person. He enable us to handle pressures, difficulties, and problems, and not crack. One might say it this way: "He adds the extra to our ordinary to make our lives extraordinary."

This treasure is elaborated on in v. 7. It's more than valuable, it's also called "all surpassing power..." This is not ordinary power of the mind, or super personality, or money, or family, or degrees, but resurrection power. Ray Stedman, in his book, Body Life (p. 64) writes:

"This power operates in the midst of death. It operates best in a cemetery, for that is where it was first demonstrated...If we learn to operate by the resurrection power, we can be alive and vital when everything and everyone around us is dead and lifeless.

Furthermore, it makes no noise. When a Christian is living by resurrection power, he does not advertise it or seek to dazzle others by its display. His effect upon others is quiet and unobserved at first, but soon there are evident changes that mark the inevitable effect of resurrection power at work."

Another description might be that it is like Spring coming out of Winter. We see it every year. There can be snow, blizzards, confinement, no mobility at all, but then something happens. Invariably and gradually the whole landscape is transformed by a quiet, silent, invisible power that's at work bringing life out of death. It is Spring, and this is all-surpassing power.

Have you noticed? So often we get hung up on power. We want to have visible power, i.e., to be in control. We sometimes jockey for positions of authority; we want people to need and notice us. Other times we think we need the power of a strong personality, i.e., the power of magnetic charisma. It is such a tragedy when believers, run after such visible power. What we have as believers is much superior.

Again, the power we have may not make a big splash immediately, but this power—like the Person it comes from—is all-surpassing. Our treasure is Jesus and His power! If we rely on it, evident changes will mark our lives.

Why do we contain this treasure? Notice the last part of v. 7—"...to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us." Our clay, i.e., "clayness," is significant. If the clay shows, it will be apparent this treasure and power are not from us: "Nothing coming from us; everything coming from God." God entrusts this secret power to failing, faulty, weak, and sinful people so it will be clear this power does not originate from us.

It is God's plan that our jar of clay would be obvious, so we shouldn't try to put on a show and fake it. Isn't that great news and a wonderful relief? This is why we consistently look bad in the media if we try to push our strength, personality, or prowess! It may not be obvious to us, but it is very apparent to non-Christians—we don't have it all together.

If we, then, spotlight our exterior accomplishments or personality, then would-be Christians won't see our message—they'll see our jar, our clay jar. A lot of what the world sees is "jarness." No wonder they aren't impressed. You see, it's what is in the jar, and the power of the person in us that we want the watching world to see—that is what impresses and attracts them! This is why we must be transparent, not judgmental people. We must be honest about our failures, our "clayness," so the treasure in us can be seen.

So Church, don't forget our treasure is a Person and His power! (1 Cor. 1:22-29) Likewise, don't abhor "clayness" as long as the treasure,the Person, and the power shows through. With that in mind, let's continue with our passage. What happens with this power? How does it work in us? Here we see how this power helps us to avoid becoming "crushed pots."


There are four categories of trouble described here to demonstrate that we need this power.

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed: perplexed, but not in despair; 9] persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (vv. 8-9). Isn't that amazing? We need not only display this power, but we need to use this power in the real life circumstances of our lives!

Here's a definition of a Christian: "A Christian is completely fearless, constantly cheerful, and always in trouble"—Ray Stedman. Look at these categories, and notice how realistic they are. It says:

"We are hard pressed on every side..."—v. 8a.

Who's talking? An apostle, a pattern Christian. Never forget, Christians have the normal pressures that life brings: sunburn; forgotten keys; lost wallets; flat tires on rainy days. The Bible says, "it rains on the just and the unjust alike." We are not excused from life. Don't think that because you have everyday problems, something is wrong with you. As long as you breathe, you will have problems. Any doctrine or belief that says the Christian should be free from problems, simply is not biblical and honest, and it will lead people to confusion and hypocrisy.

Here's the good news, though. Even though hard pressed on every side:

"...but not crushed..."

"Crushed" means literally to crowd into a narrow place so one is not able to turn. Why are Christians not crushed? Because we have a treasure, a power designed to handle not only tremendous emergencies, but normal irritations. When the pressure pushes in, the power pushes out.

"We are...perplexed..." v. 8b.

Perplexed is not knowing what to do, mental confusion. Ever feel perplexed, not knowing what to do? Join the club, everyone does. The apostles, in fact, were often perplexed and uncertain of what they should do—Acts 16:6-8. Doesn't that help you? But let me give you a secret I've noticed in times of perplexity. When doors are closed, that's a prelude to a vision, a calling.

"...but not in despair..."

Definition: to be wholly without resource, without help of any kind. There is no reason for despair; we have a treasure of power. We don't float above life on some spiritual cloud, yet we have power! What do we do when we pray for healing and we are not healed? We get perplexed! Do we need to give way to despair? No! Our response is simple: We say, "I don't know why, but I still believe and pray, and if healing doesn't take place on my timetable, or as I have prayed, I still choose to trust God. I need not be in despair!"

"We are...persecuted..." v. 9a.

This runs the gamut of intended offenses against Christians:

  • Unkind words
  • Outright rebuke of our faith
  • Cold shoulders
  • Deliberate efforts to hurt, even torture or death (see 2 Cor. 11:23-29; Matt. 5:10-12)
  • Critical remarks

This persecution, however, should never separate us from help.

"...but we are not abandoned..."

Definition of abandoned: "To be left behind in any place or state; to leave a church, to desert." Someone has said, "We are persecuted by men, but never abandoned by God. One of the most noble things about the martyrs has always been that it was amidst their sorest times that they had their sweetest times with Christ. As Joan of Arc said when she was abandoned by those who should have stood by her, 'It is better to be alone with God. His friendship will not fail me, nor His counsel, nor His love. In His strength, I will dare and dare until I die.'"

As the Psalmist wrote, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up" (Psalm 27:1). William Barclay said, "Nothing can alter the loyalty of God."

"We are...struck down"—v. 9b.

Definition of struck down: "to throw or cast down, to strike down, to kill." This is referring to catastrophes; stunning, shattering blows which seem tocome to us out of the blue. For example,

  • Cancer
  • Riot
  • Catastrophes
  • Fatal accidents
  • War
  • Heart attacks
  • Earthquakes

When this type of terrible experience strikes us, our faith can be shaken and we can be left frightened and baffled. The book of Job is proof that catastrophes can happen to believers. Look again at verse 9c, however. It shows us the limit of being struck down:

"...but (we are) not destroyed"—v. 9c.

Job 13:15a—"Though you slay me, yet will I hope in you." We may be struck down, but we are not destroyed—eventually we get up!


Isn't this an amazing list of troubles? As we reflect on the catastrophes happening to us, what is our reaction? Are these verses our testimony? What makes the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian under the same pressure?

There is a power within us that keeps pushing back with greater pressure, whatever comes from without. So we are not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, and not destroyed. For further help in crisis and trouble, look at verse 10.

There are two ways to keep the power on.

v. 10—"We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."

This almost sounds too mystical to understand, but it isn't. This is how the power of Jesus is seen in these clay jars of ours.

The inner attitude to which we must consent is our willingness to accept the implications of Christ's death.

"Okay, Bob, what does that mean?" Ask yourself:

What did Jesus become on the cross?

He became what we were (evil men and women), thus there was nothing else God could do but put Him to death. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." This is why Jesus died. In theological jargon we could say Jesus became what we are, fallen sons of Adam. He was made sin for us. He became our substitute, He took our place.

The Scripture makes it clear, this was not because of His sin. He was sinless; but because He loved us, He laid down His life for our sin.

So, what does this mean to us? v. 10a—"We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus..." This means we accept the verdict of the cross on our natural resources. We understand that our natural resources are absolutely worthless to God. They have plenty of value to man, but none in God's sight.  In other words, we can never blow the trumpet of self-praise when we do what we think is good. (See Mark 8:34.) Why?  

It was the best that I could do that put Jesus on the cross.

I must therefore come to every trying situation and say, "God, I don't have what it takes to make it through this; I must rely on You." I must say no to self-reliance, pride, and self-assertiveness. When we recognize our best actions are not good enough—that they put Jesus on the cross—it sets the stage for the life of Jesus being seen in us! (v. 10b—"...so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.") When we obviously and overtly live dependent on Jesus, the clay jar is no longer seen as the center of attention, and Jesus is revealed.

Remember, death to self comes first, and then life is revealed. Death is intended to lead to resurrection. (Read Rom. 6:5-8.) Much like a beautiful flower arrangement in a flower pot, when the flowers are properly displayed, the vase is simply a container of something beautiful!

The outward circumstances in which we are placed are the second factor producing life in us.

v. 11—"For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body." This sounds much like the first factor, but there is a difference. The first was an attitude we must consent to. The second is stated in the passive voice; something is done to us. We have no choice concerning the second; they are problems having nothing to do with us. They come when we are innocent, e.g., 2 Cor. 4:8-9.

God deliberately puts us into situations where we are way over our depth and are forced to abandon hope in all human resources, crying out, "Lord, save me." In other words, "we...are always being given over to death"—v. 11.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 2 Cor. 1:8-9.

The Lord gives us over to death, i.e., the death of self, ambition, pride, prowess, etc., so we might trust the Lord within. These experiences will reveal Jesus in us.

Conclusion

What are the effects on this kind of a life? What does all the death do for the cause of Christ? The effects reach far beyond any one individual—v. 15.

2 Cor. 4:15—"All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God."

This is a restatement of 2 Cor. 4:11. Verse 15 makes it clear that our pressure, our outward circumstances not only reveal Jesus, but the benefits overflow in the lives of those who watch.

  • My death becomes your life.
  • My outward pressure creates more life within me to overflow to others.
  • Just as Jesus' death gave life to us, when we die to yourselves, we give life to others.

What a prospect for old, cracked pots!