Jars of Clay
As what we know as 2 Corinthians 3 closes, the Apostle Paul writes: "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (3:18, NIV)
Paul is adamant throughout his writings that we, as believers must cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the renovation process that began at the moment we came to faith in Christ. Being declared holy because of Christ's redemptive work in us, now demands that old habits be laid aside to make room for the characteristics of Christ.
However, in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul acknowledges that believers are very much like my clay pot and that being so is not entirely a bad thing. He writes: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (4:7, NIV). The title given to this section throws me off a little. Someone designated this section from verses 8 to 15 as "Trials and persecutions abound" but I'm not sure that Paul is referring only to physical struggles when he says: "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (4:8, 9, NIV) The context tells us that Paul is also talking about the renovation process, becoming transformed into the likeness of Christ, reflecting his glory. All these things are affected by their presence within that "jar of clay," the old habits and sins that we have to work hard to overcome in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. We often fail at the task and the clay pot shows its dints and scratches, blurring the image of Christ in us. The struggle against sin can be as graphically described by Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 4:8, 9 as can the struggle against the physically challenges that the apostle had to face.
I think my argument is strengthened by what follows these descriptive words. He says: "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal bodies. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you" —2 Corinthians 4:10-12, NIV.
I wondered how we could "carry around in our body the death of Jesus." Since the discussion is about reflecting Christ in spite of doing so within the limitations of our clay jar, I wondered if Paul's reference could be to the constant reminder that our sin is of the reason why Christ died. Every time the cracks and crevices in our clay pots show themselves we realize again that without him we have no forgiveness and without him we have no power to make that transformation into his likeness.
Paul often tells his readers to "put to death" the old (Romans 8:13) in order to "put on" the new, something I think he alludes to in these verses when he talks about "being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal bodies."
Our biggest struggle in life is not with what comes from outside of us but with what comes from inside. This is what James calls " tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed" to sin (James 1:14, NIV), The old clay pot is easily damaged by our failure to bring those internal struggles under the cross and the power of Christ before they become sin.
On the plus side, those watching our victory over our "earthiness" by the power of Christ applied to the dregs of what we once were, are presented once more with the solution to the fractures ad fissures of their own lives.