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Clay Jars

At an auction in 2018, a bottle of Romanee-Conti red wine sold for the record-setting price of $558,000. Imagine that!
Read Time: 6 minutes

More than a half million dollars for a single bottle of wine nearly 80 years old. The purchaser must have seen immense value in this Pinot Noir. The buyer believed this wine had special properties that only a wine connoisseur would appreciate, and ultimately it would taste better than any other wine.

I don’t know if the purchaser kept the wine or opened and consumed it. But what do you suppose the purchaser did with the bottle once it was consumed? Maybe today, it is a collector’s item and has value. But more likely, it was discarded. The bottle had served its purpose for 80 years. It carried about a treasure, but the bottle itself had no special significance. It was all about what it was carrying inside. 

The Apostle Paul wrote:

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined 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 earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. (2 Cor 4:6-7 KJV).1

How critical it is for us to understand—really understand—the power of this teaching. We are nothing but earthen vessels made from the very clay Adam was once formed from. There is no particular value in a clay pot in itself. Of ourselves, we have no real value. There is no unique capability that we have that God needs. What makes us important is what we “carry around in our body.” (v. 10 NIV). 

Paul’s exhortation to us is essential for proper spiritual thinking. First, we need to comprehend the immense gift that has been placed in clay jars. It is far more priceless than Romanee-Conti wine. This “treasure” was created in us when our blinded minds, once a resident in darkness, had light illuminated into them by the power of God. The treasure was never us! We never generated the treasure. It is a gift of God through Jesus Christ. We are merely the clay jar that holds it.

depend on God for strength and confidence

We should all pause here and contemplate this spiritual message. Of ourselves, we bring no inherent value to our Lord. Jesus spoke of hired servants working in the field all day. But when they came in, they were not encouraged to recline and rest while supper was prepared for them. Instead, the worldly master reminded them of their value.

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come at once and recline at table’’? Will he not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink?” Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” (Luke 17:7-10 ESV).

Unworthy servants? What does that mean to us? Different translations handle the word in varied ways. It carries the idea of being unmeritorious, even useless. Bro. Harry Whittaker suggested the term should be understood as “not needed.” Jesus crushes the hypocrisy of the Jewish elite, who gathered to themselves the testimony and praise of men. They did not think they were unworthy. It was everyone else.

If we really stop to contemplate what this means to our spiritual lives today, it should also help us to appreciate that not one of us, no not one, is a meritorious servant. None of us are capable by ourselves to serve God as He intends. By our own strength, we are truly “not needed.”

But that is just the message, isn’t it? We never are to rely on our own strength and capabilities. Doing so will only bring frustration and eventually collapse. One of the great lessons in David’s life was that he learned that in whatever situation he found himself in, he could depend on God for strength and confidence. Not by military might or Saul’s armor, but by “the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel.” (1 Sam 17:45). David realized that it was the LORD who would deliver the giant into his hand.

It is easy to admire people when we see strength. The charismatic speaker. The brilliant scholar. The courageous preacher. It seems natural to assign a certain honor or admiration to such people. But, at the end of the day, they, too are just clay jars.

When Paul spoke of the enormous response to the preaching unto the Gentiles, he was always clear to say that it was what “God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.” (Acts 15:12). Paul later reflected that when he was weak, he was strong (2 Cor 12:10). It is when we embrace our weakness and dependence on our God, He chooses to do great works through us.

This one is hard for me. I have been trained all my life to assess problems, create strategies and execute my plan. The adage in business is “Plan your work, work your plan.” This is a cultural expectation here in our society. Grown men and women are taught to be personally productive and self-reliant. I suppose this is fine in the workplace and secular matters. We need to develop skills that allow us to be productive members of society. But I found that this can come at the risk of segregating areas I believed I could handle as distinct from the spiritual issues of my life, where I knew I needed God. Looking back now, I can see this was a fundamental flaw in my thinking.

Jesus was not a fisherman but a rabbi like no other. The disciples would never hesitate to ask him about spiritual things. He was their Master. But in Luke 5, Jesus came to their workplace. He arrived at a time when they were terribly frustrated. 

I don’t know how many times these fishermen worked all night and caught nothing, but I suspect it was very unusual. While the disciples were washing off their nets, Jesus asked Simon to “thrust out a little from the land.” (v. 3). From the ship, Jesus began to do what they all expected—he preached to the people. Then, Jesus turned to Simon and asked him to “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” (v. 4).

The deep is not likely a place where most fish were caught. Now, this must have greatly frustrated Simon. “Look, Lord, I can listen to you preach all day. Your words touch my heart like no other. But you are a carpenter. Are you going to tell me how to fish? On this lake? I have been on this lake since I was a young boy.” But Jesus did know their fatigue. He had control of a situation that Peter couldn’t have possibly imagined was possible.

To Peter’s credit, he did let down the net. The Scriptural text seems to indicate he did so almost to placate Jesus. The NLT translates this, “We worked hard last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” (v. 5). Of course, you know the rest of the story. The nets had such an abundant haul that they broke. Their partners came to help, and the fish catch was so great the boats began to sink. The astonishment of Simon and the others led to an important spiritual lesson they would not soon forget.

In his work, A Life of Jesus, Bro. Melva Purkis captured the lesson to Simon and all believers.

Peter was willing to acknowledge the leadership of his new master in spiritual paths, but surely Jesus had nothing to teach him in his daily tasks. Ah, Peter, how wrong you are! How wrong is every disciple who fails to acknowledge Jesus as his master in every walk of life and every place of experience. Unless our surrender is complete we shall toil all night and catch nothing.2

Understanding that the Lord is our Master in all aspects of our life is crucial. Peter may have reflected on the psalmist’s words, acknowledging that God would put all things under our Lord’s feet, “the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea.” (Psa 8:6-8).

This is a key to spiritual life. Remembering that we are but dust, that of ourselves, we have no special capability. Whether in the office, at school, in our marriages, or contemplating how to preach in our ecclesial neighborhood—our Master has the solution. Our role is to bear him about, carry him in us. If we can empty ourselves as he did (Phil 2:7 NASB), he will make us perfect in every good work (Heb 13:21).

This, then, is the great Divine work in our lives. As clay jars, we are literally wasting away (2 Cor 4:16), but inside we are being renewed. While we experience “light affliction” now, we look past the noise of our daily lives. Jesus works now with us in our frailties. But he is preparing a “far more excellent and eternal weight of glory.” (v. 17) The Lord knows where the fish are. He has control over all the variables that lead them into the net. 

 Dave Jennings

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