2 Corinthians 4:6-7 (ESV)
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
At the end of one paragraph and the beginning of the next, Paul sets in contrast two wonderful truths. Paul shows the Corinthians that he and those with him who preach the gospel have a great treasure. Then, as he opens the next paragraph, Paul makes sure that his readers understand that, though the treasure is great, Paul and his companions are weak vessels, not grand and worthy of such a treasure in themselves.
For the past few chapters, Paul has been talking about the gospel of Christ. He drew a comparison between the gospel and the Old Testament law. Paul wanted to show that the message of Jesus far surpasses the law, even though the law in itself was a glorious thing.
As Paul discusses the treasure that he has in the gospel, he refers to it as “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” As many have pointed out, this is a lofty statement from Paul, bringing into the discussion the values of the cultures that came together in Corinth. The Jews followed God, who led them with light in the sky. The Greeks treasured knowledge. The Romans in their empire treasured glory. Paul shows that, in the gospel, the message of God’s plan of redemption, we see light and knowledge and glory, the treasures of all people, all bound up in one central treasure, the person and work of Jesus Christ.
If having the gospel is a treasure beyond the measure of any culture to claim, then who are we to claim to have it? Are we not full of ourselves to say that we know the one message, the one truth, that others have failed to see? Paul answers this criticism before it can even be raised.
Paul argues that, if the treasure is great, the vessels containing it are weak. Paul refers to himself and his fellow ministers of the gospel as “jars of clay.” Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he does not assume, even for a moment, that he is the one who is special. He is but a weak, clay pot. The treasure is what is valuable. HE has no strength in himself. All his message, all his spiritual success, all his goodness comes from the gospel, not from himself.
What Paul has written there is true of us too. WE have the message that is a treasure beyond measure. But we do not have it because we are special. We are not entrusted with the gospel to share because we are special. No, we are weak. We mess things up easily and regularly. But God’s message is still powerful. God’s Gospel is still glorious. We want the world to see that it is God’s strength not ours, that saves souls and changes the world. So let us be the people of God who highlight the treasure and downplay the weak vessels in which God has chosen to place it.