WHAT ARE EARTHEN VESSELS? – 2 Corinthians 4


But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves;

2 Corinthians 4:7 ASV

The thought of this verse is that God entrusted the gospel to people who had none of the trappings of earthly power and honor, in order that the great success of the gospel would not be accredited to its messengers as men, but unto the eternal God who inspired them.

And, although it is true, that any earthly body is an unworthy receptacle for so glorious a message, yet there seems to be in view here the lowly earthly estate of the apostles.

EARTHEN VESSELS

“In earthen vessels” The figure is possibly drawn from the small pottery lamps, cheap and fragile, that could be bought in the shops of Corinth; or from the custom observed in Roman triumphs, in which the silver or other precious metals looted from conquered peoples was melted down and poured into clay pots to be carried in the procession.

Herodotus tells us that Darius melted his gold into earthen pots, which could be broken when it was wanted.

Tiffany’s in New York City once displayed a fantastically large and beautiful diamond on a small piece of driftwood. A frail vessel of earth, a little clay lamp, was often used to hold the light.

A great many commentators stress the ephemeral nature of frail and transitory mortal life in connection with this.

The preferable view here is that of seeing the apostles who had been fishermen and tax collectors, and who were the most remarkably ordinary men; and Paul, as the most gifted of them, yet drastically handicapped by the thorn in the flesh, which may have been the bitter hatred of his whole race and nation, as well as by his unimpressive personal appearance – seeing SUCH MEN literally take the whole world for Jesus Christ!

That the power may be of God, and not from ourselves … Let any man consider the facts:

(1) of the difficulty encountered in turning pagan worshipers away from their idols, or the power required to woo people away from the fleshly lusts in which they lived, or the strength of fleshly ties that had to be severed, of the animosity and hatred that invariably came from priests, magistrates and others whose vested interests were jeopardized by the acceptance of a new religion, and the combined opposition to Christianity of every evil and shameful institution in the entire social order of that period; and

(2) the fact that none of the apostles had any standing as worldly authorities, or even as respected teachers, and having no other background except that of laborers, etc.

Let any man consider all of that, and then let him declare that God’s purpose was indeed served by placing the inestimable riches of the treasures of the gospel in EARTHEN VESSELS, in order that the power of the new faith would be recognized as coming from God himself, and not from any abilities of its human advocate.

Mark 16:16
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