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The Reason God Wants You to Be a Fragile Jar of Clay

The Reason God Wants You to Be a Fragile Jar of Clay

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A cracked jar of clay does not have to be a bad thing: if you know the potter. God prefers His creation to be fragile jars of clay, so He can display His miraculous, surpassing power to our friends and the culture. Of course, there is a problem with this perspective. Adamic clay pots are not content being fragile, vulnerable, or weak. We envy strength, power, might, and other self-reliant strategies for self-protection and, sometimes, self-promotion. This counterintuitive message about the gospel cuts against the grain of proud hearts.

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Unusual Ways

In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, we learn how Paul thought about the power through weakness message. He was afflicted, and it was as though it did not matter which way he turned; someone was always persecuting him. To find trouble was to find Paul. Paul and trouble were like two peas in a pod. According to him, he experienced affliction in every way. Paul was perplexed, persecuted, and pushed down. He was always carrying in his body the death of Jesus—bringing us to a most crucial and practical question. How about you? How goes it? How’s your day, your week, your life? Are you experiencing affliction? Have you had seasons where things did not go your way?

Let me venture a guess here: you have. How do I know this? Because you are a human—a fragile jar of clay. You’re a disposable pot. How about this twist: Though times of affliction are some of the more undesirable seasons in anyone’s life, it is precisely in those moments when God receives His greatest glory and we experience other-worldly power. Of course, this perspective raises more questions, at least to me: Do I want my affliction to be a means to glorify God? Better yet, do I want to be afflicted at all? What if I continue to rely on myself rather than Him who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)?

I remember vividly unique seasons in my life when I was afflicted, and God’s glory was not at the top of my list of hopeful outcomes. My primary aim was to escape the traumatic time. However, if I were honest, I would say it was in those moments of despair that I experienced God in incredible and unusual ways. The people I served during those seasons experienced God’s help through this broken jar of clay in ways I could not conjure through mere human intellect. Only afterward do I have such sovereign clarity. I’m confident you’ve had those moments too.

Death and Life

There is tension here; I am not looking to suffer, but I know that my suffering magnifies the fame of God and empowers me in other-worldly ways. It is also true that nothing will objectively measure my Christian maturity more than when I am in times of personal difficulty. Though I can fake you out sometimes, I cannot always fake you out, and personal affliction is one of those times when the real me comes out, whether for the good or the bad. To know the real me is to understand me when I’m afflicted, bringing us to the best news of all!

I do not have to despair. There is always hope for the Christian. The good news is that God will not leave me alone in my affliction. God is in my suffering, always working His good purposes through this weak and fragile piece of clay. Few passages in the Bible break down God’s comprehensive help for the believer more clearly than 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. Paul gives us one of his most profound gospel-centered perspectives on afflictions in this passage.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you (2 Corinthians 4:7-12).

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Disposable Houses

We have this treasure in jars of clay. – Paul

I think sometimes I can forget that my body is decaying and disposable. Though the gospel is evident, teaching me that I am a dying man, I can drift from this truth, thinking my life and creature comforts are more important than the life God is calling me to. Honestly, the container I live in is not all that important; it should never receive precedence in my heart. But what is in my container is the thing that is important and the thing that matters most. Whenever I put too much emphasis on my container rather than the content of the container, the temptation is to lose heart. I can despair.

We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair. – Paul

When I do not see myself as a pilgrim passing through this wilderness land, I can succumb to the temptation to savor the life I live more than the purposes of God, the one who is writing His story into the life that I am living. Perhaps framing the question this way will help: Am I more interested in and fixated on the container or the content in the container? Which is it for you? What occupies more of your mental time and emotional space? The problem-centered person will focus more on and talk more about the problems in their life. The Christ-centered person will focus more on how to put Christ on display through the circumstances in their life.

Suffering does not deny the gospel but confirms the gospel. From Paul’s perspective, he did not see suffering as what should dominate his mental space or conversation. He understood that life in a clay world was destined for failure, brokenness, and deterioration. He got that. It’s like lamenting growing old, turning gray, or experiencing increased diminishing capacities. These things are who we are as clay pots. Dying is what we do. We are jars of clay that God did not build to last. Because of the fall of Adam, we die, suffer affliction, and experience nicks, dings, brokenness, and damage.

Accepting Weakness

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. – Paul

The issue should never be primarily about what is happening to us—regarding our afflictions. God made us weak and fragile. Fragile things are always afflicted. The real deal is that we are vulnerable and moldable clay pots that God wants to inhabit. This mystery about our clay-ness raises a question and points to a secret: why would God make something so weak and fragile? By design, God entrusts this secret about His glory and our mysterious strength to failing, wounded, vulnerable, and sinful people, so it will be apparent that the power does not originate from us. It doesn’t result from a strong personality, keen, finely honed mind, or good breeding or training. No, it arises solely from the presence of God in our hearts.

Our earthiness must be as apparent to others as the power is so that they see that the secret is not us but God. We must be a transparent people, not hiding our weaknesses and failures, but honestly admitting them when they occur. – Ray Stedman

God has always intended for us to be jars of clay, which contains the treasure of God’s glory for us to put on display, but be warned: God will not compete with us. It will either be our strength or His strength, but it will never be our strength and His strength. He created us in breakable, disposable, weak, and fragile clay pots to magnify His power. It’s not about the pot but about what is in the pot. If you could accept that you are weak, broken, and damaged, you would begin to see and experience God working in you, bringing about His glory to others.

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Gospel Paradox

We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed. – Paul

We are jars of clay, called to put the gospel on display through our brokenness. Notice the paradox in Paul’s theology of suffering.

  • On the one hand, we are afflicted, but on the other hand, we are not crushed.
  • On the one hand, we are perplexed, but on the other hand, we are not driven to despair.
  • On the one hand, we are persecuted, but on the other hand, we are not forsaken.
  • On the one hand, we are struck down, but on the other hand, we are not destroyed.

It takes a paradox to put God on display; it takes a clay pot, and it takes God’s power in the pot. Though you will experience affliction, you will not experience terminal crushing. Though there will be perplexing times, God’s grace will keep you from utter despair. Though there will be persecution, the good Lord will never leave or forsake you. Guard your heart. Your affliction is not primarily about something you did wrong or what someone did to you. It’s about God working in you.

Sovereign God is always working, always on the job, and always helping you to put His name on display. God’s primary work is what affliction is about in your life. Your or someone else’s challenges are merely how God’s name goes on display. Guard your heart against the temptation of bitterness when thinking about affliction, especially how your affliction came to you. God is with you. God is working in you. This suffering worldview is a life-shaping, trajectory-altering, gospel-centered, grace-motivating truth.

Do You Believe?

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. – Paul

The difference between experiencing affliction, perplexity, and being struck down but not being crushed, driven to despair, and destroyed, is how you understand and live out the power of the gospel. Believing the gospel is different than being willing to live according to how the gospel is supposed to work in you. Experiencing the life of Jesus comes by embracing the death of Jesus. The suffering Paul experienced was so people could see the gospel through his broken jar. While he was experiencing the death of Christ in his mortal body, he saw the life of Jesus manifested in the lives of others.

How many times have you seen Christ’s life manifesting itself through Christ’s death? If you have seen or experienced this, you know it only happened because of God working in and through a broken jar of clay. I have heard many testimonies about men and women who went through suffering and how, through their suffering, they shared the life of Christ with others. Sometimes God will put you in places that feel like death, but if you embrace these things by faith, the life of Jesus will come through your brokenness.

Paul’s faith in the gospel kept him from losing his heart. He would suffer more if he could only manifest Christ’s life to others. What Paul wanted for himself and others was a practical experience of the gospel: Christ took on death so we could have life. Living like Christ means living with weakness, challenges, and difficulties while dying to self for the sake of others. Of course, this experience happens daily, bringing us to some counterintuitive news: the more deaths you die, the more you will display Christ’s life for others, and the more God will be glorified.

Life Implies Death

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).

There is no way around this big truth: if you want to live, you must die. Out of death comes life. Out of weakness comes strength. Out of jars of clay comes the power of God. The suffering you experience today is not a denial of the gospel but a confirmation of the gospel. Living the gospel life is what this life is all about, and it is the only way to live this life for God’s glory. When you willingly choose to take on the death of Jesus, the strangest thing will happen; you will display the life of Jesus. How can you die today? How is God calling you to put Christ on display? Perhaps you need to reconcile with your spouse, even though you’re not the primary one who is guilty. Is God calling you to die to your expectations, rights, and preferences for greater glory—His glory put on display?

Maybe you are a teenage son or daughter walking waywardly from God and your parents. Is God calling you to die to your anger, to take on the death of Christ so that you can demonstrate His life through you? Believe this: no matter what affliction you are going through, God promises that if you will willingly embrace the death of what is happening to you and turn your heart toward this kind of gospel worldview, you will not be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed. Yes, you will experience death, but the life of Christ will shine out of your broken jar of clay.

Call to Action

  1. Will you believe the gospel today, the functional, practical gospel? What does that question mean to you? How would you practically apply the gospel—death and life of Christ—to your life today?
  2. In what way do you struggle with being a fragile jar of clay? What does your struggle reveal about your theology of suffering? What specific way do you need to change, and what is your plan?
  3. Who do you know that is struggling as a jar of clay? Assuming you have the relational bridge, context, and time to encourage them, will you ask the Father to provide the grace and act upon it by going to that person to care for them?

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