V77But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;. The opening words of verse 77But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; show a clear connection with verse 66For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.. In order to understand the value of this passage first you must know what is meant by “this treasure” and “earthen vessels”.
Verse 66For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. gives an exact description of ‘this treasure’. The word ‘treasure’ indicates that it is something very valuable and precious. Is not the knowledge of God seen in Jesus Christ something overwhelming? How great it is! It is really unimaginable. In the past you lived without God, wandered around blindly; you had no hope and your heart was empty. Now you have a treasure in your heart and it is invaluable. You know God because you had an encounter with the Lord Jesus and accepted Him. In “Christ … are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:33in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.). What more do you want? To have more than this is simply impossible!
And what is meant by earthen vessel? The Bible refers to a person or a person’s body as a vessel. The Lord calls Paul: “A chosen vessel” (Acts 9:1515But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;). This word ‘vessel’ is used in the same sense in other places (1Thes 4:44that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,; 1Pet 3:77You husbands in the same way, live with [your wives] in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.). In this verse vessel has a prefix. It is called earthen (made of earth). This is to emphasize its fragility. Unlike a treasure that represents something precious, an earthen vessel is of little value.
That Paul presents these things in this way is not without reason. This is reminiscent of the history of Gideon in Judges 7. There we see a small army of three hundred. This little army had to fight against a formidable enemy who held the Israelites in slavery. What are the kinds of weapons Gideon hands out to his men? Trumpets, empty pitchers and torches inside the pitchers (Jdg 7:1616He divided the 300 men into three companies, and he put trumpets and empty pitchers into the hands of all of them, with torches inside the pitchers.). In the verses following you read how they use these weapons. They blow the trumpets, break the pitchers and make the torch visible (Jdg 7:19-2019So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the pitchers that were in their hands.20When the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers, they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing, and cried, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!”). Thus the enemies got the impression of being surrounded by a huge army and took to flight.
Do you see a parallel in this to 2 Corinthians 4 (2Cor 4:77But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;)? The torch is the treasure (‘the light’) and the pitcher is the earthen vessel. This treasure in all its glory must be revealed in your life. The important thing is not your own life and your own person. The earthen vessel cannot have a high opinion of itself and it does not seek its own interests. Self-importance is out of place. You have no strength in yourself to let the light shine. The more you are aware of your own inadequacy, the more visible will be the power of God in you and the brighter the light shines forth from your life.
V8-98[we are] afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;. These verses describe how this works. There you read on the one hand how the earthen vessel is broken and on the other hand you read of the power of God which makes the treasure visible outside. The enumeration in these two verses is as follows:
1. On the one side “afflicted in every way (the earthen vessel is broken),
2. on the other side “not crushed” (because the power of God gives a way out).
You find these two sides subsequently in
1. “perplexed” (the earthen vessel), “but not despairing” (the power of God provides a way out);
2. “persecuted” (the earthen vessel), “but not forsaken” (God is there with His strength);
3. “struck down” (the earthen vessel), “but not destroyed” (God prevents by His power).
When the weakness of the earthen vessel is felt, God gets the opportunity to make tangible the excellence of His power. Otherwise we would get the honor and not God, while the whole point is that He gets the honor.
We read the same thing in Judges 7. God wants to prevent Israel from usurping the honor which belongs to Him alone (Jdg 7:22The LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’). Therefore He reduces the army to three hundred men and then says: “I will deliver you with the three hundred men” (Jdg 7:77The LORD said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the [other] people go, each man to his home.”). We understand one thing for certain: the more thoroughly the vessel is broken, the brighter shines the light of the torch.
Here you get an explanation (I do not say the explanation) for the trials you perhaps are going through or you might see in others. They serve to make visible God’s treasure while we disappear from view.
V1010always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.. So the servants of God are constrained by the force of extreme circumstances to have “the dying of Jesus” in their mind always. If you look at that, you see your own death. This view prevents you living for yourself. This creates room for “the life of Jesus”. His life is then seen in all your walk and talk, in your behavior and manners.
V11-1211For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.12So death works in us, but life in you.. Well, that is why Paul always was delivered to death. You see he says “always”? Whatever happened to him did not happen occasionally. His dedication to the service of God took him to the greatest dangers. Think again on what he said in chapter 1 and read about it in chapter 11. All that happened to him had a wonderful result for the Corinthians. He risked his life so that others (among them the Corinthians) partake in the true life.
V1313But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak,. There is only one way to persevere in life like Paul and that is only in the power of faith. He had the same spirit of faith as the believers in the Old Testament had. That is why he cites Psalm 116 in verse 1313But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak, (Psa 116:1010I believed when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
). Where true faith is present, it will be spoken about, whatever the opposition is. You simply cannot keep silent.
V1414knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.. When you remember God always has the last word then things cannot go wrong. God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, didn’t He? The Lord Jesus had to pay with His life for the testimony He gave. Of course much more is connected with His death than His testimony. By His death He saved us from judgment. But the point here is that in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus there is a great encouragement.
God raised Him. Then the encouragement is that certainly God will raise you too when you testify at the cost of your life. Then you will stand before Him along with Paul. No circumstance in your life can change that. It is anchored in the power of God.
V1515For all things [are] for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.. When you view the difficulties in your service for the Lord Jesus Christ in this manner you will see the grace of God shining. The more fellow believers you serve in the midst of your trials and difficulties the more praises to the glory of God there will be. Is not the breaking of the earthen vessel worth it when you think of the fact that finally God will be glorified in those who belong to Him?
Now read 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 again.
Reflection: What is your experience in having ‘a treasure in an earthen vessel’?