I’ve acquired a number of old clay pots over the years. My favorite was excavated from a site dated during Abraham’s time. It’s at least one item in our home that is older than I! It’s not much to look at: stained, cracked, chipped, and in need of a good scrubbing. I keep it to remind me that I’m just a man made out of mud. Though fragile and weak, I carry an immeasurably precious treasure—Jesus. “We have this treasure [Jesus] in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Paul continues: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (vv. 8–9). Hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. These are the pressures the pot must bear. Not crushed, in despair, abandoned, destroyed. These are the effects of the counteracting strength of Jesus in us.
“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus” (v. 10). This is the attitude that characterized Jesus who died to Himself every day. And this is the attitude that can characterize us—a willingness to die to self-effort, trusting solely in the sufficiency of the One who lives in us.
“So that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal body” (v. 10). This is the outcome: the beauty of Jesus made visible in an old clay pot.
Paul’s call to ministry included the call to suffer (Acts 9:15–16). In 2 Corinthians 1:8–10; 6:4–10; and 11:23–27 he elaborated on the many oppositions, persecutions, threats, and dangers he faced. He sees these hardships from God’s perspective and desires to persevere through them with God’s provision (4:14–18). Paul’s confident resolve is to not “lose heart” (vv. 1, 16).
In the Bible, earthen vessels (objects made from clay) are used as a metaphor for human weakness and powerlessness (Job 4:19; 10:9; Psalm 31:12; 103:14–15). By speaking of himself as a “jar of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7), Paul acknowledges his frailty and mortality. His confidence isn’t rooted in himself, but in God’s sovereign power and sustaining grace (vv. 7–9), Jesus’ resurrection life (vv. 10–15), and an expectation of a future reward and eternal glory (vv. 16–18).