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Earthen Vessels with Heavenly Treasure

The following is adapted from the Blue Letter Bible Institute (BLBi) class God’s Sufficiency for Godly Living by the late Bob Hoekstra. God’s Sufficiency for Godly Living teaches a Biblical understanding of what it means to rely upon God alone; it is one of fourteen free classes available at the BLBi.

The title of this post comes from 2 Corinthians 4, which speaks of earthen vessels filled with heavenly treasure. God has set a pattern into the Christian life. He has crafted men as earthen vessels. Men are weak and ordinary, as if made of clay. Earthen, frail, vulnerable, and inadequate, believers are meant for a purpose but are entirely insufficient for its demands. The Scripture says that God knows our frame that we are but dust—not gold dust, but the common, ordinary kind. And yet:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
(2 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV)

The beauty of being a vessel is that vessels are designed to contain something.

This is where the believer’s meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in life rests—in the treasure he is meant to contain. And yet still, the believer is but an earthen vessels. Though a container, we might refer to the believer as a simple, clay flower pot. Now a clay pot is no big thing, but containing the right flower, its worth is magnified—magnified for how it reflects the beauty of the flower. This is a good picture of what the Christian life is supposed to be. The believer has great treasure kept within earthen vessels of his body and soul, in fact, within his very life. Paul has already told us of this great treasure:

For we are to God the fragrance of Christ.
(2 Corinthians 2:15 NKJV)

The fragrance of Christ

hat very word, fragrance, fits the imagery we have already presented of a flower in a container. “We are a fragrance of Christ.” This fragrance comes not from the clay pot, but from that which resides in the pot. If one is to be the fragrance of Christ, that sweet-smelling aroma can only originate from Christ Himself. A clay pot only has an ordinary earthen fragrance and can never smell as a fresh flower. The fragrance comes from Christ Himself, because the life of Jesus is manifested in the believer’s body (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:10). The life of Christ is the treasure housed within the believer’s earthen vessel. It is the life of Christ that is manifested from within the believer’s mortal flesh (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:11).

The earthen vessel: mortal flesh. The treasure: the life of Jesus.

Recall Colossians 1:27, “Christ in us, our hope of glory.” That is Paul’s point here. The believer hosts incredible treasure in an ignoble, earthen vessel. God has ordained this to be that “the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” If any excellent power is seen in and through the believer’s life, it is to be seen clearly as something foreign to his nature—it must be clear that God is the power of excellency residing in the believer.

Of course, this is not the manner in which humanity regularly thinks. Man generally focuses upon the earthen vessel. He shines it, paints it, polishes it, shapes it, postures it, and does whatever he can to keep it from perishing. But the outer man is perishing daily. There is no way to stop the process brought on by the Curse. The believer is encouraged to recognize these vessels are only meant for a temporary season. As long as the inner man is being renewed day by day, the believer walks the right path and God is having His way in the man.

We hold an exceeding valuable treasure.

So then, the believer holds within himself (as an earthen vessel) an exceedingly valuable treasure. And he is given this treasure that the transcendent, extraordinary excellency of the power would be recognized of God and not of us. The dynamic, animating force that is to develop, drive, and produce a Christian life is to come from the contents of the vessel, not the vessel itself. This power is to come from the treasure rather from the human in whom the treasure dwells—from the flower rather than from the clay flowerpot. This is a picture of insufficient vessels, containing sufficient treasure.