For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not of ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NLT)
We keep an empty gallon milk jug in our pantry. No, its not full of milk. Its been rinsed out and has a hole cut in its side and we use it to store our empty plastic grocery bags. The “single use bag” was developed by a firm in Sweden back in the 1960’s and made its way across the Atlantic in 1979. While many companies were trying to figure out what to do with this new material, it was the grocery stores that saw the value. They discovered they could save as much as 20% in the bagging costs by switching to these plastic bags versus offering the traditional paper sacks. In 1982, Kroger Stores introduced them to customers, followed quickly by Safeway. By 1985, 75% of all super markets were asking the question, “paper or plastic?” Consumers like me don’t consider them single use bags by any stretch of the imagination. We reuse them for everyday purposes from toting lunch to work to cleaning up after our pets in the back yard.
The Apostle Paul’s first century world had no concept of single use bags. His world was familiar with jars made of clay. Jars of clay were readily available. They were unexceptional, affordable and mass produced. They had flaws and imperfections and were used in a wide variety of ways. It would appear that first century citizens would have held them in the same regard as we do our common grocery sacks.
Paul used this image as a metaphor for discipleship and life in the Kingdom of God. Clay symbolizes the frailty of our mortal nature and the weakness of our flesh. Like clay, we are prone to imperfections. We crack and crumble.
The great paradox is that God entrusts the treasure of Christ to these jars of clay. The concept seems absurd at first, but it is not without purpose. God does this so that the weakness of our platform will highlight and not diminish the surpassing treasure of Christ himself.
Each of us has our own unique imperfections. Life has chipped and scratched us. Cracks have formed. The importance of that realization is that these imperfections become the very platform that God uses to display his Son.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting about some of the jars of clay that God used in Scripture. We’ll look at their imperfections and weaknesses and see how God used those very things for his glory. I suspect that we will see ourselves once again reflected in the truth of God’s word.