The Scripture about “treasure in jars of clay” comes from a letter Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. It would have made sense to them, but it doesn’t translate well to us today. What is this “treasure” and if it’s so valuable, why would it be in simple clay jars?
Paul established the church in Corinth on his early missionary journeys. But now, these new Christians, surrounded by immorality and idolatry, were struggling. Divisions formed over faith and conflicts over behaviors.
Hmmm… does that sound strangely familiar to our churches today??
False teachers were rampant and denying Paul’s authority. They spread slanderous allegations about him.
There were also “Judiazers” (meaning to live according to Jewish customs) in the church who preached about accepting Christ and following the law of Moses.
Paul wrote to them to heal their divides and remind them of the gift of salvation through Christ alone.
Treasure in Earthen Vessels
He wanted to encourage them in their ministry to preach the gospel, and to do it boldly, humbly, and honestly.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6.
Paul is giving them the reason he was preaching about Jesus and serving the Corinthian people, and why they should do the same.
He had met Jesus on the Damascus Road as a blinding light and heard His voice calling to him. Jesus confronted Saul (Paul) in person and changed his life. Paul met the Risen Christ and heard the Gospel.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7.
What is the treasure?
Jesus is our Treasure
Our greatest treasure is the knowledge of God’s glory and the message of salvation in Jesus Christ!
Jesus is the light that shines through the darkness of our sin. He transforms our lives, shifting our priorities and goals from earthly gains to our heavenly home.
This message and knowledge were now Paul’s life work- he was merely the earthen vessel that contained this treasure; the glory belonged solely to God.
The Corinth church needed to understand what God had given them and how precious this message was.
Biblical Meaning of Treasure
We find this idea of spiritual treasure often in Scripture. Its meaning is a significant aspect of our faith.
The Greek word for treasure was “thesauros.” It means a deposit of precious and valuable things.
Jesus warns us not to store up treasures on earth that are temporary, but to concentrate on what is secure and “store up treasures in heaven.” Matthew 6:20.
He elaborates on this theme of spiritual treasure in the next verse: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” v21.
Treasure in Heaven
How do we store up heavenly treasures while we are here on earth? If He’s telling me to do it, then I want to get it right!
First off, they are treasures that we can enjoy now but even more into eternity.
Heavenly treasures center on Jesus and our loyalty to Him.
Jesus tells us that whatever we center our lives around and make a priority is our treasure- what we value most.
When we follow His commands to love our enemies, be salt and light to the world, forgive unconditionally, give to the needy, etc., we are showing him where our heart is.
When we use our gifts for His glory and not for the applause of men, we store up treasure in heaven.
The rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-30) couldn’t bear to part with his earthly treasure (money) because that was where his heart was. He was unwilling to give it up and accept Jesus as his heavenly treasure.
Parable of the Hidden Treasure
Jesus gives us this one verse parable about treasure (again, using the same Greek word Paul uses)-
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
Hidden Treasure Meaning
●The fact that the treasure was hiding tells us it is something we need to look for.
God is everywhere but asks us to seek Him. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13.
When we find Him, we are like the man in the field- filled with joy when we recognize the treasure we have found.
●The man had to sacrifice everything he had to buy the field.
We, too, must give up everything to follow Jesus. No earthly treasure compares to Jesus!
A life with Christ brings overwhelming love, joy, comfort, grace, forgiveness, and His knowledge into our lives. It is a priceless treasure, bought by His sacrifice, and given to us for free.
We Have this Treasure in Jars of Clay
Paul proclaims this magnificent treasure as the wonder and beauty of the Gospel and the glory of our Lord Jesus. Then he tells us it lives in cheap, common, easily broken earthen vessels, jars of clay.
That’s not exactly where you would think of storing treasure.
In Paul’s day, they had access to gold, silver, and bronze to produce vessels fit for treasure. It would add to the treasure’s worth and store it safely for ages.
So why “jars of clay?”
Jars of Clay in the Bible
Clay jars were everyday items used in cooking, drinking, as lamps, and storage. (The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in large clay jars!) Every home would have had them.
They were called earthen vessels because they came from the earth (clay). Each one was handmade by a potter. He shaped and molded the clay, then baked it in fire to harden it.
Treasure in Jars of Clay Meaning
It might have been easier for the hearers of this message to understand its meaning. Let’s decode:
The jars of clay were unadorned and cheap everyday dinnerware and storage containers. They threw them out if they broke. Clay jars were the “paper cups” of today.
They were as simple as you could get. But that was the point.
We are the jars of clay.
God didn’t choose us to be His receptacle for His saving Gospel because we are shiny, beautiful, rich, or durable.
He chose us because He loves us. He didn’t need us to shine brighter than the treasure or add any value to it.
Going back to verse 7, we read God put this treasure in jars of clay “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” It’s all about the treasure and very little to do with the vessel.
When you think about it, there is no earthly box, jar, or urn worthy of containing this treasure. There is no person spiritually superior, talented, or intelligent that is worthy either.
God could have used any method to spread the Gospel. But He chose us. God put His all-surpassing power into us so that it would be obvious that it had to be coming from Him.
God is the Potter
Going back into Genesis, we see God used His words or thoughts to create everything except us. For that, He used His own hands.
“He formed the man from the dust of the ground.” Genesis 2:7.
“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8
We are earthen vessels, frail and fragile, yet created by Him for His chosen purpose.
His hands shape us into the image of Himself. God chose us to carry the amazing news of Jesus Christ to the world. Paul tells us it is our responsibility to let people see Jesus through us.
2 Corinthians 8-12
Paul continues his teaching to show the church that shining the light of Jesus comes with some bumps and bruises. Even though the Corinthian church was weak, they had still received this great treasure.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” V8-9.
Discouragement and uncertainty may trouble and perplex us. Has anyone ever mocked or attacked you when you have shared your faith?
Paul compares these difficulties with the remedies of God. He won’t lead us into despair or destruction, nor will He will ever abandon us.
We are never without hope! He will always come to us with His comfort, strength, power, and presence through the power of the Holy Spirit within us.
God Uses Broken Vessels
No one gets through this life without experiencing some breakage in our vessel. Sometimes He allows us to be broken so that we can experience His power, wisdom, and knowledge within us.
When we realize that this inner strength is a gift from God, not ourselves, our faith grows. Paul certainly lived through extreme breaking, but it resulted in the miracle of his new life in Christ and spreading the Gospel throughout the world.
Paul spoke of simple but usable clay vessels. But maybe you are not feeling so “usable” or even worthy to carry this spectacular treasure. Maybe your clay jar is chipped, broken, or splintered with cracks.
Broken people can feel as useless and tossed aside as the old clay pots of the Bible. Maybe you feel the things you’ve done have broken you beyond His use.
Good news, my broken friend. We are all in good company. The Psalmist felt the same way:
“I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel.” Psalm 31:12 NKJV.
Anguish over enemies who conspired against him and friends who had run away from him consumed him. But it was his next thought we ought to remember:
“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘you are my God. My times are in your hands.’” V14-15a.
He is your God. Believe that He is in control of your life- He chose you! He will patch your broken pieces together because He loves to use broken and imperfect people!
Treasure in Clay
His light shines bright through those chips and cracks. No container can limit the power of the Gospel!
Don’t be concerned about your imperfect vessel. God filled us with His treasure to bless others with the Good News of Jesus. Concentrate instead on God’s beautiful treasure and how you can use it every day for His glory.
The Chosen Vessel Poem
I came across this beautiful poem called “The Chosen Vessel” and I want to share it with you. It leaves us with a beautiful picture of why God chooses us and how He tenderly cares for us.
The Chosen Vessel
The Master was searching for a vessel to use; On the shelf there were many- which one would He choose? Take me, cried the gold one; I’m shiny and bright, I’m of great value and I do things just right. My beauty and luster will outshine the rest. And for someone like you, Master, gold would be the best!
The Master passed on with no word at all; He looked at a silver urn, narrow and tall; I’ll serve you, dear Master, I’ll pour out Your wine. And I’ll be at Your table whenever You dine; My lines are so graceful, my carvings so true, And my silver will always compliment You.
Unheeding, the Master passed on to the brass; It was wide-mouthed and shallow and polished like glass. Here! Here! Cried the vessel; I know I will do; Place me on Your table for all men to view.
Look at me, called the goblet of crystal so clear; My transparency shows my contents so dear; Though fragile am I, I will serve you with pride, And I’m sure I’ll be happy in Your house to abide.
The Master came next to a vessel of wood; Polished and carved, it solidly stood. You may use me, dear Master, the wooden bowl said, But I’d rather You used me for fruit, not for bread!
Then the Master looked down and saw a vessel of clay. Empty and broken, it helplessly lay. No hope had the vessel that the Master might choose; To cleanse and make whole, to fill and to use.
Ah! This is the vessel I’ve been hoping to find; I will mend and use it and make it all Mine. I need not the vessel with pride of its self; Nor the one who is narrow to sit on the shelf; Nor the one who is bigmouthed and shallow and loud; Nor one who displays his contents so proud; Not the one who thinks he can do all things right; But this plain earthy vessel filled with my power and might.
Then gently He lifted the vessel of clay. Mended and cleansed it and filled it that day. Spoke to it kindly; There’s work you must do; Just pour out to others as I pour into you. – Beulah V. Cornwall
All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.
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