“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, KJV)
Growing up, there was this thing that grandmom had called the cookie jar. It was a ceramic jar with a lid that would seal the contents to protect them. Inside that jar were some homemade cookies. Yes, they were delectable treats, sometimes chocolate chip and sometimes oatmeal. We looked at that jar as if there was hidden treasure inside.
Ceramic jars are those made of the most inexpensive material, clay. Paul indicated that “we have this treasure in earthen (clay) vessels.” Clay vessels would have been used to contain a variety of goods and also used to make oil lamps for illumination. In the context of the previous verses, we can understand a couple things. First, the description of clay vessels refers to believers. Consider the creation of man. God created Adam out of the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7). As clay vessels, man is fragile and apart from God, spiritually lifeless. When I was in grade-school, one of our teachers told us that the chemical value of the human body was only a few dollars. Today, estimates are still low. You see, it is the contents of the body that determine its value.
Second, we must understand that is the contents of the clay vessel that gives it its value. So, what is the “treasure” of which Paul wrote? In the context of the previous verses, it has to do with the ministry to which God called Paul, his team, and all other true believers. It is the manifestation of the gospel in the lives of believers. There are many facets of this. One is the message of the gospel. The gospel message is the greatest news that any person could ever receive.
In 1946 and 1956 an amazing discovery was made in some caves on the northern shore of the Dead Sea. We know this as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The initial discovery in 1946-1947 was made by some Bedouin shepherds. They discovered some ancient scrolls and fragments of the Scriptures in some clay vessels. Additional discoveries were made in subsequent excavations. They quite literally discovered treasure in jars of clay, the word of God.
Yet, the manifestation of the gospel message in the earthen vessels of the believer, is even greater. For the manifestation in the believer is the living word of God, though the ministry of the Spirit. In the believer is the message, which has been brought to life. The believer is a living message, with the knowledge of the gospel, and the life transforming power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The word and the Spirit combined in one to give the believer the ability to shed the light of the glory of the gospel to others.
The fact that ancient oil lamps were made from clay is a wonderful picture, for the lamp without the oil had no practical value. Yet, when oil was put in the lamp and lighted, it would illuminate and drive out the darkness. The believer is the same. People apart from the manifestation of the gospel message can do nothing to display the glorious light of the gospel. It is the word of God by the power of the Spirit living in the person that will radiate the glorious light of this truth in a darkened world. Jesus stated it, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, KJV). Let us consider the treasure in us and how we might let it shine on those around us.