Spectacularly Ordinary — 2 Corinthians 4:7

Using our ordinary weakness, God has placed his gospel treasure in earthen vessels (jars of clay) to elevate Christ and his greatness.

Spectacularly Ordinary — 2 Corinthians 4:7
ceramic vase by Egor Myznik
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves." (2 Cor 4:7)

Delight in the Ordinary

In the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Professor Jones and his father are in search of the cup that Christ used during the Last Supper—the Holy Grail. The search is intensified due to the Nazis also looking to seize articles of power—much like the Ark of the Covenant in the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. When Indy finally comes to the location where the Grail is being kept, he must wisely choose from a plethora of cups. After much thought, he rightly decides on the plainest looking vessel. This, of course, is Hollywood, but it does speak to a general truth—God takes delight in the ordinary.

Treasure in Earthen Vessels

In Second Corinthians 2, the Apostle Paul is reminding the believers about the nature of his ministry. At this point in his relationship to the believers in Corinth, Paul is having to defend his work, and some have even suggested his salvation, too. Everywhere he goes, it seems he is rejected, beaten, imprisoned, and quite frankly, bad fortune follows him. The Corinthians reason that a true servant of God would not face such travesties if God was on his side. So, Paul explains very clearly that these believers have misunderstood his calling. In short, it is not to elevate self, but Jesus Christ (4:5).  The Apostle proclaims that “we have this treasure (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) in earthen vessels” (4:7). God has sovereignly chosen to place the precious message of salvation in Christ alone in plain, ordinary containers … us. What a weighty, glorious honor and privilege it is to be entrusted with this saving message.

Greatness in Weakness

But the Apostle does not stop there. Continuing in verse 7 he says, “…so that …,” which signals for us the reason why God has put the precious treasure of the Gospel in ordinary vessels. We read, “so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not ourselves.” God delights to demonstrate His greatness in the plain, ordinary, and often weak (12:9) things. This idea of “weakness” was counter-cultural then, and it remains so today. In our society, we are told and taught, directly and otherwise, to hide any perceivable weakness or frailty. Such things make us far too vulnerable and lowly. Have you ever felt weak? Do you still have such moments?

Not too long ago I began a new teaching assignment, and that school year gave me many such opportunities. Not physically weak so much—I could still beat most of those 4th graders in arm wrestling (well, at least the boys). But there were times when the newness and unfamiliarity of it all shined what felt like a searchlight on my inadequacies. Emotionally and spiritually I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. Then God showed up and whispered, “Let me show you what I can do.” He takes delight in the ordinary, to demonstrate His strength in our weakness, and to draw near to His children who know they desperately need Him.

Recognizing Strength in the Ordinary

To the adults who might be reading this, please consider what you are teaching the children within your circle of influence about their weaknesses, whether directly or indirectly. By our example, are we showing them that you can never make a mistake, and by all means, never let anyone else see that you struggle?  Do we live out our lives before these precious gifts excusing our failures, projecting our shortcomings onto others, and that one must be the greatest, to say the least? I have seen the fear of being “exposed” in the faces of my students. God help us to be models of what it means to be weak, frail, ordinary vessels that demonstrate daily the power of God through His strength.

Be encouraged—God can use you right where you are, even in the most humble of circumstances. Remember, the King of Glory did not invade human history with great fanfare, but as a helpless baby in a livestock feeding trough.

What is "this treasure?" (v.7a)

"This treasure" is a reference to "the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" in the previous verse. This treasure is the gospel.

What is the significance of "earthen vessels" or "jars of clay"? (v.7b)

"Jars of clay" had little value or beauty. However, it could contain valuable treasure. It was a common metaphor in the ancient world for human weakness.

  • I am forgotten like a dead man⁠—out of mind⁠—I am like a broken vessel
    (Psalm 31:12)
  • Whose breaking is like the breaking of a potter’s jar,
    So ruthlessly shattered
    That a potsherd will not be found among its pieces
    To take fire from a heart
    Or to scoop water from a cistern.”
    (Isaiah 30:14)

Paul uses this metaphor to reference our weak human nature including our decaying physical bodies. Paul reminds us that God works through the weak in the world's eyes.