The Power is Not From Ourselves
"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness."
2 Corinthians 4:7
Suppose that you lived during the time preceding the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, to the world. You were a believer in Jehovah God, and well aware of the many, many prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. You knew that He would be Redeemer and Savior; Prince of Peace and Victorious King; Lion of Judah and Lamb of God. You knew that in Him God would bless the whole world. You knew from these prophecies that the soul redeeming gospel of hope; the good news, was on its way.
The gospel would be indeed good news. It would be a precious treasure with value beyond measure; for its promises are eternal, and eternity cannot be measured.
So, in what container would God put this wonderful treasure? Something like the Ark of the Covenant, perhaps; ornate wood and gold carved to precision.; a thing of beauty to behold.
God did select a container, or rather, containers for His gospel. But not containers of costly materials of silver and gold; or precious stones such as diamonds and rubies. No, instead the containers for this valuable treasure is described this way:
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Paul describes himself and the other apostles as “earthen vessels” into which God placed the gospel. For the most part they had few credentials for greatness. What they did have they counted as loss in order to gain Christ. They were not kings or priests or warriors. They were mostly common men of faith, but not perfect faith. They had their weaknesses and problems. They would have a lot to be ashamed about as they looked back at various events that they would probably rather forget. But through it all the Lord would lead them to victory and joy and purpose. Jesus could work with these “earthen vessels” for the simple reason that they would yield to Him. It would not be about the vessel; it was just plain and ordinary. It would be about the treasure it contained: the gospel of Jesus the Christ.
Using the Treasure
Though progress was certainly made during the ministry of Jesus, it would be the resurrection that would transform the apostles into men of full faith. They would go forth into an often hostile world with the gospel, and witness the salvation of some. They would not be greeted with marching bands or fireworks. They would not depend on slick promotions and razzle-dazzle public relations.
They would depend on the gospel proclaimed wherever they went to produce disciples of Jesus Christ. “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. “ (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).
The Mission of the Earthen Vessels
Their mission was to take the gospel into a lost world so the lost could be saved. “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20).
A few years later we look in on these vessels and find the gospel making its way into Europe having already multiplied throughout Judea and Samaria and throughout Palestine and reaching into and spreading across Asia Minor. How had this happened with these ordinary men? It happened because of the treasure of the gospel within them! “And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ." (Acts 17:2,3).
And then, about thirty years later we have this statement: “...if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.” (Colossians 1:23).
Lives of thousands had been changed and men and women prepared themselves for eternity. How was this done? It was, and is, done by exalting Jesus Christ. As Lord and proclaiming His gospel as He had given it. It was not the eloquence of the preachers, though some of them were eloquent. It was not their education, though some of them were highly educated. It was not their wealth or power or overwhelmingly pleasant and charming personalities.
Display the Treasure
Today, as then, we seek to show the world the richness of the treasure. We must understand that it is not ourselves, the container, that holds the power of conversion and redemption. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is God's power to save (Romans 1:16).
Suppose you wish to show off the beauty of a rose you have grown in your garden. What kind of vase do you put it in? A fancy vase will draw attention away from the rose, so, instead, you use a plain vase which will enhance the beauty of the rose.
The Lord placed His gospel into good men who would not detract from it.
When we understand the importance of the gospel, then we will also do what we can to enhance it and the Savior which it proclaims. Of course, I need to make sure I am a worthy container for the gospel. I need to allow myself to be used by the Lord as the fruit of the spirit is exhibited in my life; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). But I also need to be sure that these attributes point upward to Jesus and enhance His gospel.
One other important point to make. This also means that we must not consider ourselves lacking power to save the lost. Of course we lack that kind of power! The power to do this is not ours to begin with. It is the Lord's, and is dispensed through the gospel. We are just earthen vessels. We're nothing fancy. The treasure is within us if the gospel is to be found there!
Let us all, without pretense, as earthen vessels show the world the true beauty of the rose-the gospel of Jesus Christ.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 17.3; March 2010