7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
Verses 7-12 detail the suffering of Paul’s team in ministry. Their ability to minister under duress is a demonstration of the work of God in them. God is sufficient for any difficulty. The suffering of Paul’s gospel team stands in sharp contrast to their opponents (2 Co 4:7-18). God gives ministers of the gospel His power and confidence of future glory. Verse 7 demonstrates God’s power in the frailty of the gospel team.
The “but” here shows the contrast between the message of salvation (v. 6) and those delivering—a wonderful treasure placed in fragile jars of clay.
we have this treasure [knowledge of God in the face of Christ, v. 6]
A stark disparity exists between the treasure of salvation (the knowledge of His glory, v. 6) and those who deliver its message.
in earthen vessels [human beings],
People in the first century hid their treasures of gold and jewels in clay pots. “Earthen vessels” were in every house in the first century. They were cheap, fragile, and easily broken. The metaphor here is of a clay pot representing human frailty and weakness. A clay pot is something very ordinary, very expendable. The gospel team viewed themselves as very average. They were not a beautiful set of china. They were like clay pots that people quickly discard. Their value lay in what they had—the glorious gospel of Christ. What these vessels contained is what gave them importance.
Generally, people today place costly items in valuable containers. Here, however, God put something of great value in the lowly human beings of Paul and his team.
We see the sufficiency of God in our insufficiency.
Earthen jars should not rob the treasure of its glory. God puts ministry in the hands of frail human beings so that He might demonstrate His power in them. No one can ascribe the power of the gospel to finite human beings. God’s ministers are unattractive in themselves but valuable in what they have. They are clay pots but majestic vaults of divine truth. The value is in their message, not in their position, education, or giftedness.
We live in a day where there is a perverse emphasis on Christian superstars. That makes frail human beings rob God of the glory of the treasure of His salvation in Christ. The fleeting glory of human ministers will fade away in eternity. Instead of the desire to be viewed as someone of great moment, ministers should perceive themselves as simple instruments of God’s message. The treasure is more important than the clay pot container. The light is more important than the lamp. Disproportionate attention to the minister instead of the message is a displacement of priority.
The clay pot has its importance, but it is not of primary significance. Every minister of the gospel is significant to the church, but not of central import. Paul and Peter were the greatest missionaries of the first century; that is significant, but the most critical dynamic was the gospel and its spread to the Mediterranean world. They were indispensable to their era. There is an importance to those who bear the message, but it should not minimize the message itself.