Treasure in Jars of Clay
Douglas B. Clawson
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:6–7).
Recently I had an opportunity to open God’s Word and pray with a dear saint in the hospital. She was so thin and frail that I wondered if she might not soon be with our Savior in glory. As she spoke of her faith, I marveled again that our God has blessed such weak vessels as us with his glory and so much grace. Of course, we see the contrast between the frailty of Christ’s servants and the glory of Christ all the time. But sometimes that contrast is sharper than at other times. Christ displays his glory in people who are sometimes poor or powerless, and sometimes rich or influential, but they are always people who get old, get sick, and die. His treasure is in jars of clay.
Jesus spoke about treasure on several occasions. He spoke about good treasure and evil treasure. He spoke about the treasure of this world that can be stolen by thieves or consumed by moth and rust. Most importantly, he spoke about the treasure in heaven that the Father has given to us. In contrasting the two, he warned, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).
For those outside of Christ, their treasure, like its container, is perishable. It may consist of dollars, shares of stock, properties, artwork, or precious metals. It may even consist of cows, crops, wives, or children. Some people find their treasure in educational attainment or in holding influential positions in society. However, not one of those things lasts. All of them will eventually be destroyed or die.
In contrast, we who are in Christ have a different sort of treasure. It isn’t the sort of treasure that an unbeliever would consider valuable. Our treasure is Christ, his kingdom, and all of his wealth of blessings. It cannot be stolen from us. It cannot be extorted from us. It is a treasure that has been stored up for us in heaven. This treasure, like the place where it is being stored, cannot spoil or fade. This treasure is not subject to the damage brought about by time and the elements. However, while Jesus speaks of us having treasure in heaven, here in
2 Corinthians Paul tells us that our treasure may also be found in another place—a perishable one. It may be found in us.
In writing about his ministry and its fruit, Paul has assured the Corinthians that the unfading glory of Christ, which is displayed in the gospel, is at work in believers to transform them from one degree of glory to another. Therefore, Paul is not discouraged. It is true that there are those who hear the gospel and remain unchanged. Nevertheless, Paul does not alter his message in an attempt to persuade more people to embrace the gospel, as if the message is the problem. Rather, the problem for those who do not see the glory of Christ in the gospel is that their minds are blinded by Satan.
Unlike those who remain blinded, God has enabled us to see. As surely as God’s word made the light shine out of the darkness on the first day of creation, he has caused the light of the knowledge of his glory in Christ Jesus to shine in us. He has removed the veil that covered our hearts. He has made us gaze on the glory of God by making us see Jesus Christ in the gospel. This is true treasure! Our eyesight could be stripped from us, and we would still see it. We could be buried in a dark, windowless prison, and we would still see it.
This treasure is promised in the gospel. It is communicated in the knowledge of Christ and his works, which we are given in the ministry of the Word. But, more than the mere words, which many others hear and do not believe, God has given us the reality that those words promise. The gospel promises that in Christ we have eternal life, forgiveness of sins, Christ’s righteousness, and the resurrection. And more than that, we are promised Christ himself, as Paul says in Colossians 1:27, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
God has placed this treasure in those who are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. He has placed it in those who are dying for the sake of Christ and whose mortal flesh is wasting away. God has placed his treasure in jars of clay in order to demonstrate that it is God’s power, not ours, that has given us life and will one day raise us from the dead to the glory of God. We may be beaten and persecuted, starved and oppressed, but we have within ourselves a message of glory. This is the treasure that is preached from your pulpits. This is the treasure that your pastors, interns, church planters, and foreign missionaries preach each Sunday and teach every opportunity that they get.
At the risk of having it taken from them or having it ruined, most people do not put their treasure on display, let alone into a place that is easily destroyed. But in the preaching of the gospel and the Spirit’s work in us, God has displayed his treasure—the glory of Christ.
Believers may lose all of their material wealth in this world. Believers may lose all of their physical family in this world. Believers may lose all of their resources for a comfortable retirement in this world. Believers may lose all of their health in this world. But they won’t lose this treasure because the glory of Jesus Christ, which lives in each and every believer, cannot be lost. It is a glory proclaimed by the gospel and a glory that lives in those who are made alive when the Spirit unites the gospel with faith.
All who truly believe have this treasure.
As we approach the Thank Offering this year, we may wonder what will happen to Christ’s church when she refuses to redefine marriage. We may wonder what will happen to her when the incomes of our members continue to shrink in relation to the rising costs of education, health care, and insurance. But our true treasure is no less secure, even as God determines to make us trust him more and ourselves less. God is glorifying himself in us by making the glory of Christ increasingly greater in us. And God is glorifying himself as he removes the veil that covers the hearts of those who do not believe.
The goal of this year’s Thank Offering is $850,000. With the Thank Offering, we help to enable more men and women to hear the gospel, by which they will obtain the knowledge of Christ. With the Thank Offering, we help to make sure that more men and women hear the gospel, by which the veil is lifted in the hearts of those to whom God gives the gift of faith.
In 2013, there have been sixteen summer and eighteen yearlong interns supported by the Committee on Christian Education. In 2013, there are five new church planters for a total of thirty-nine church planters being supported by the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. In 2013, there are five new missionaries for a total of twenty-one foreign missionaries who are supported in whole or in part (some only administratively) by the Committee on Foreign Missions.
Without a generous Thank Offering, there will be fewer new interns, fewer new church planters, and fewer new foreign missionaries in 2014. The treasure that God has placed in us and in those who proclaim the gospel has been displayed throughout the earth to the glory of Jesus Christ. Although we may be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down, we are not crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed. Christ’s glory shines brightly through our weakness. Pray for Christ to use us to faithfully proclaim the message by which he lifts the veil of darkness from the hearts of those who do not believe. Pray for Christ to use us to faithfully proclaim the message that he uses to transform us to be like Christ, who lives in us.
The author is the associate general secretary for the Committee on Foreign Missions. New Horizons, November 2013.