Clay Pots & the Secret to Serving God
Sunday AM--Dan Lightfoot 1459
"For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God . . . For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." (I Cor. 1:18 & 21)
A. Our bulletin this week emphasized the need for preachers… I want to encourage all you young men to think seriously about enlisting in God's service as full time preachers. We are losing about 300 preachers a year.
B. Why would anyone want to be a preacher?
1. 6 billion souls on earth. Most don't know anything about Jesus, and they will spend an eternity in hell. Love is our reason for going.
2. Rom. 10:14 -- How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?
3. Only thru the preaching of the gospel can they be saved.
4. Mt. 28:19 -- "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:"
5. "Go ye" means "Go me"!
C. Nevertheless, unless you can approach ministry as the apostle did, don't!
1. If we would preach, we must possess a sense of our own unworthiness, lest we become self-appointed experts.
2. 1st edition of "New West" magazine had an article about Christians on TV. One line at the end of the article said: "I assume Jesus has more class than most of His agents."
a. That was intended as a criticism. But it is true. ...than ALL agents!
I. We Are Earthen Vessels
A. An old adage: You can't tell the value of something by the package it comes in. That's certainly true of preachers. & Christians in general.
1. It is like the treasure of salvation likened in the parable to the treasure hidden in a field that a man sold everything to buy.
2. Or the pearl w/o price hidden in the ugly oyster shell.
3. The container does not reflect the value of its contents.
4. This contrast is the heart of 2 Cor. 4.
B. 2 Cor. 4:5-7 defines the ministry
"For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. 6For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;"
1. See the amazing contrast between the light, the shining glory of God in Jesus Christ -- & the feeble, imperfect, fragile containers by which this glorious gospel is delivered to people.
C. Some background
1. When Paul planted this church, he had no idea how much they would break his heart.
2. ...by dragging back all the sins they had been forgiven for …
a. So he wrote I Cor. to point out iniquity after iniquity to motivate them to shed those things…
3. ...by allowing false teachers to come in … bringing doctrines of demons. Hypocritical liars teaching demon doctrines (I Tim. 4:2)
a. When they came in they had to establish some credibility, status!
b. So, they tried to destroy people's confidence in their preacher, Paul, their father in the gospel!
c. They did it relentlessly! Mercilessly & consistently for months, they attacked him, undermined his teaching, his integrity, his apostleship and his message.
d. He was so devastated by this that he made a special trip back. In an effort to call them back to the word, not for his own sake but for the sake of the gospel, the truth and their salvation, he pled with them not to forsake the truth. Evidently, a man stood up & lambasted Paul to the face. Nobody defended Paul. & he left with an absolutely shattered heart.
e. He sent Titus there with another letter (not in the NT) saying: "Don't abandon me. If you do, you'll abandon truth."
1] Titus came back with a good report… but Paul was still concerned because the false teachers were still there…
2] & he knew the brethren were fickle.
3] So he wrote 2 Cor.
II. Paul's Defense
A. 2 Cor. is the hardest thing for a man of God to do. He has to write it to defend himself. & the fact is, he knows he is nothing.
1. Has to defend himself as the teacher of Truth, as the apostle of Christ, as the messenger of God. -- knowing that he is only a clay pot…
2. 2 Cor. is a masterpiece of walking that fine line!
B. The false teachers attacked him every way they could. Relentlessly.
1. 4:1 -- "Therefore, since we have this ministry (of the new covenant, chap. 3), as we received mercy, we do not lose heart,"
a. It's by mercy that I am called,...saved,…an apostle, & encouraged!
b. I Cor. 15:10 -- "But by the grace of God I am what I am."
c. We don't lose heart, tho' there is a lot of reason to… This ministry is too glorious for us to give up in discouragement.
2. 4:2 -- & despite what the false teachers were saying, "but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God,"
a. They were saying, "If you really knew Paul you'd know he is a hypocrite. He's a fake, a deceiver. On the outside he looks religious & holy, but secretly he has a life of shame. He is a con man, a charlatan, a 'kapelos'." (used in 2:17 of one who corrupts the Word of God for money)."
b. I have not! "but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
c. Paul answers their charges directly.
3. They attacked his teaching & his character… & personally.
a. Tried to destroy the man himself.
b. 10:10 -- "his personal presence is unimpressive & his speech contemptible" (ugly & can't communicate!)
1] That's bad. If you're handsome & can't communicate, people can at least enjoy watching! If you're ugly & can communicate, people can at least listen.
2] But if ugly & can't communicate -- you've got nothing!
c. In the first epistle they complained that he spoke the same simple message about the cross all the time -- that he didn't use the wisdom of men -- & didn't weave together the great philosophies -- & he wasn't intellectual… He didn't have the charm or charisma that makes communication effective.
1] They were just unkind. Attacked personal blemishes…
2] Some suggest Paul was a small hunchback with some physical deformities. We know he was aging & had some scars!
3] Whatever his appearance-- he was aware of it.
...physical shortcomings -- he was aware of those.
...lack of personal charm -- he was aware of it.
C. His response?
1. "What do you want out of a clay pot? This isn't news!"
2. He turned their arguments back on them. "You're right! I agree about my weaknesses & inabilities."
3. But he was pitted against people much more sinful & weak than he. Yet, he found it difficult & painful to defend himself, because he knew he was nothing. Christ was everything. He had not come to preach Paul, but Christ.
4. At the same time he knew he was nothing, he knew the new covenant was everything.
a. & the starkness of the contrast is very apparent.
b. vv. 5-6 blaze out at us . . . .
--- as if we had stepped into the tabernacle the day the glory of God arrived...
--- or stepped into the holy of holies the day the glory arrived…
--- or were standing beside Moses as he stood on Sinai…
--- or with Peter, James & John on the Mt. of Transfiguration when Jesus pulled back the veil of His flesh & revealed His glory
--- as if we were with Isaiah in His vision of the glory of God that drove him to his knees to confess his unworthiness.
--- as if we were with John when he saw the glorified vision of the Son of God In Rev. 1 & fell on his face like a dead man.
c. He sees the blazing, shining reality that God, in Christ, in the new covenant is saving sinners.
D. v. 7 -- "We have this treasure in earthen vessels."
1. It never ceased to amaze Paul that God would put such a priceless treasure in such worthless containers.
2. He was dirt baked hard. That's what a clay pot is. & he knew it.
a. I Tim. 1:12 -- "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, (its toward the end of his life & he's still in shock) 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all."
b. He never got over that incredible fact.
3. Preachers are men. That's all. Men are not perfect. & there is no hope of perfection in the ministry.
a. If God could not use poor instruments & feeble voices, He could not make music.
b. Abraham, guilty of duplicity, became a man of faith & friend of God.
c. Moses, stuttering speech & quick temper, was chosen to found a nation & receive God's law. The list is long.
d. David, guilty of adultery, conspiracy & murder, unfaithfulness as a husband & father, repented & became a man after God's own heart. The #1 songwriter of all history. & we still sing his songs.
e. Elijah, running from Jezebel, asking for euthanasia.
f. Isaiah, "a man with a dirty mouth, among people with dirty mouths,"
-- I'm certainly not useful to You, O God! But once cleansed said, "Here am I. Send me." & God said, "Go."
g. Every one -- weak, frail, clay pots every one.
4. So it is with Paul.
a. Under assault unjustly. Falsely accused. Battered. & its serious.
b. It's physical -- as in Ephesus when he had to escape a riot… in 2 Cor. 11 when he lists all the beatings, & ship wrecks…
c. Beyond that, it was concern for all the churches…
d. Beyond that, it was the criticism of the false teachers & the Judaizers who dogged his steps.
e. He suffered so greatly that he said in the same passage, "we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake," & "I die daily." (2 Cor 4:11 & I Cor. 15:31)
1] I get up every morning knowing this could be the day I die.
2] Many people were trying to kill him.
5. Yet, no matter how much he suffered, he knew it was not commensurate with what he deserved.
a. The chief of sinners.
b. "When I am weak, then am I strong."
6. His defense is so interesting because he says, "I know I'm weak. You're right. I know!"
a. He affirms their arguments. But they are not defects -- they are credentials of his authentic apostleship!
b. This section gives a tremendous tribute to a humble man. Humble is the word!
c. He serves God -- not on the basis of natural talent, or achievement, but by confessing, agreeing with God, that he has none.
d. & he makes a comparison that is magnificent.
E. v. 7 -- "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that (purpose clause) the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;"
1. God puts the power in clay pots so no one will have to ask where the power comes from! Certainly not the pot!
a. In comparison to the glory of the eternal God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ; …. to the magnificence of the new covenant; ….to the shining glory of Jesus in redemption -- the preacher is nothing!
b. In 10:12, Paul doesn't get into comparing with other preachers.
2. This treasure relates back to ministry in v. 1 -- which is "the gospel of the glory of Christ" in v. 4.
a. The treasure is the truth… that God is in Christ… reconciling the world thru His new covenant...the good news of salvation!
b. & God put it in clay pots (ostrakinos)
F. Clay pots. Let me tell you about them.
1. It is baked dirt. Cheap. Common. Breakable. Replaceable.
2. Essentially valueless.
a. You have them at home. Break it. No big deal.
b. Your wife may put a ribbon on it to dress it up. (That's why preachers wear ties!)
3. But useful!
a. Can put a flower in it, etc.
1] In ancient times things of value could be put in them (Dead Sea Scrolls, e.g.). But it was not permanent.
2] Jesus' parable of the treasure hidden in the field; probably in a clay pot. But the value was in the treasure, not the pot.
b. But in the home, they were normally used for garbage & waste, to carry out what was unmentionable.
c. cf. 2 Tim. 2:20-- "Now in a large house there are not only gold & silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to (not less honor, but) dishonor. 21Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master."
1] If you are ever going to use them in honor, you must do what? Cleanse it, because it is defiled.
2] No guest would ever see these vessels. The only value they had was in the service they performed.
4. Back to 2 Cor. 4- He says we have this treasure in a garbage can!
a common containers--& God has chosen to put His treasure here! What an honor!
b. In the ministry. & as a Christian. Our only value is as containers
c. It is the treasure that we bring that has the value.
G. That's why I Cor. 1:26 says, "not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,"
1. He has chosen the humble, the base, the common…
a. This is the basis of Christian service…
b. "You're weak, unimpressive, not a good communicator, plain, common, not clever, not philosophical, not culturally sensitive…"
c. & Paul said, "I know. I'm just a clay pot. But do I have a treasure!"
2. The NT was not written by the elite of Egypt, Greece, Rome or Israel
a. The greatest scholars were in Alexandria, Egypt. Philosophers were in Athens. Powerful men were in Rome. Religious genius' were in Jerusalem.
b. & God didn't use any of them. He used clay pots.
c. He passed by Herodotus the historian…Socrates & Plato, the philosophers…Hippocrates, the father of medicine…Aristotle... Euclid, the mathematician… Archimedes, the father of mechanics… Hipparchus, the astronomer… Cicero the orator…Virgil the poet -- He passed them all!
a. He was looking for clay pots. Men who would exalt Christ, & not themselves!
b. Those men where magnificent vessels -- in their minds (& others)
c. Frankly, they were so valuable in their own eyes that they saw no value in the gospel.
d. So, we have peasants. Fishermen. Smelly guys. Tax collectors. Clay pots chosen to hold, proclaim & write the treasure of gospel truth.
e. & God is still doing it. Passing by the elite. Choosing clay pots. God is finding the humble who will carry the treasure of saving truth.
H. How Can That Work?
1. v. 5 -- "For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord"
2. When Paul said, "When I am weak, then am I strong," (12:1) he didn't mean a man with no convictions, an undisciplined man, lazy… irresponsible… one who can't work hard
a. What he means by weakness is: "I got myself out. I don't rely on me. I rely on God & His strengths."
b. That's when the strength of God became apparent.
c. If you want to be used mightily by God, get yourself out of it.
J. Why is it this way?
1. v. 7 -- "so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves"
2. Paul reminds us: "I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God." (I Cor. 2:3-5)
3. At best we are clay pots with nothing to offer of beauty or power.
4. "I just go around bragging on Jesus!" (preacher's business card)
5. It is OK that we are weak and petrified. The point is trust in God.
6. I Cor. 3:7-- "So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth."
a. If we are not anything, what are we? Nothing.
b. & some of you are horrified because you have been caught up the "self-esteem" philosophy, the "we are good and great" philosophy.
c. Our only goodness comes from Him. Our only greatness is what He gives me.
7. "Without Him" (#544)
Without Him I could do nothing; Without Him I'd surely fail.
Without Him I would be drifting Like a ship without a sail.
Jesus, Oh Jesus, Do You know me today? You can't turn Him away.
Oh, Jesus! Oh Jesus! Without Him, how lost I would be!
Without Him I would be dying; Without Him I'd be enslaved.
Without Him life would be hopeless, But with Jesus, thank God, I'm saved!
8. A.T. Robertson wrote: "There always have been men in the world so clever that God could make no use of them."
a. The power to change men's lives and grow churches… is not in our talents, or potential, or human genius or programs, or….
b. The power of the gospel is in the gospel! The truth…
9. …….We are weak & common & plain & fragile & breakable & dishonorable & disposable clay pots… that should be taking the garbage out… but instead we're bringing the glory of God in.
a. The amazing thing is that such does not prove fatal to the gospel.
b. Rather, it is essential to the gospel… because it makes it crystal clear where the power lies.
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