But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; (4:7)
But introduces a contrast with verse 6, which describes the immense and incalculable glory of the eternal God revealed in the incarnate Christ. That priceless divine treasure is contained in a lowly human container—a humbling perspective every preacher and believer must have. Paul’s humble view of himself was at the heart of what made him so usable. Later in this epistle he wrote, “For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves” (2 Cor. 10:12). He refused to evaluate himself based on the false apostles’ shallow, external criteria; he was not interested in comparing himself with those who “measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves” (10:12). He would not “boast beyond … measure” (10:13), because “he who boasts is to boast in the Lord” (10:17) and, “It is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends” (10:18).
The treasure in view here is the same as the “ministry” in 4:1. Both terms describe the glorious gospel message that the eternal God came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, and died on the cross and rose again to provide forgiveness of sin and eternal life for all who repent and believe. The treasure is of incalculable worth, because “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.… For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:3, 9). The gospel message reveals the most profound truths the world has ever known, which produce the most powerful eternal effects. Through the gospel people are freed from the power of sin and death (Rom. 8:2; Heb. 2:14), released from condemnation (Rom. 8:1), transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18), and given eternal joy, peace, and satisfaction.
Yet, amazingly, that priceless gospel treasure is contained in simple earthen vessels. Ostrakinos (earthen) refers to baked clay. The vessels Paul describes here were just common pots: cheap, breakable, easily replaceable, and virtually valueless. Occasionally they were used to hide valuables, such as gold, silver, and jewelry. The pots containing such valuable items would often be buried in the ground. In fact, the man in Jesus’ parable who found the treasure hidden in a field (Matt. 13:44) might have discovered it when his plow broke a buried pot. Clay pots were also used to store valuable documents; the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered stored in clay pots in a cave near Qumran.
But earthen vessels were most frequently used for ignoble, everyday purposes. In ancient times, human waste and garbage were stored and transported in clay pots. They were “vessels … of earthenware … to dishonor” (2 Tim. 2:20); that is, they were used for dishonorable, distasteful, unmentionable tasks. Such clay pots had no intrinsic value; their only worth came from the valuables they contained or the service they performed.
Far from disputing the false apostles’ disparaging assessment of him, Paul embraced it and turned it into an affirmation of his authenticity. The apostle acknowledged his human limitations and weaknesses, even describing himself as the “foremost” of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). But like a cheap, fragile, ordinary clay pot used to hide valuable treasure, Paul carried the priceless treasure of the glorious new covenant gospel. Therefore he could boldly affirm, “I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5). In the next verse he declared, “Even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge.” Though he lacked the polished oratorical skills so highly prized by the Greeks, Paul was not at all lacking in spiritual knowledge.
God delights in using humble, common people, those who are overlooked by society. He places in such clay pots the incalculable treasure of the gospel. In his first inspired letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminded them of that truth:
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. (1 Cor. 1:26–29)
Earlier he asked rhetorically, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20). By using common clay pots, God gets the glory, “so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’ ” (1 Cor. 1:31). The prerequisite for spiritual usefulness is to be humble, to see one’s self for what one really is, and acknowledge that all the glory for one’s accomplishments belongs to God, who placed the treasure in us. His own trials had taught Paul the lesson that God’s glory and strength were best manifest in his weakness. Because God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), Paul could joyously affirm, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10).
The world is filled with people too enamored with their own cleverness, importance, and ability to be used by God. But when God chose the men through whom He would give His Word to mankind, He did not choose the learned scholars of Alexandria, the distinguished philosophers of Athens, the eloquent orators of Rome, or the self-righteous religious leaders of Israel. He passed them all by in favor of simple Galilean fishermen like Peter, John, James, and Andrew, despised traitors like Matthew the tax collector, and obscure men like Philip, Mark, and Nathaniel (see John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men [Nashville: Word Publishing, 2002]). Even the educated people He chose, such as Luke the physician and Paul, the rabbinic scholar, were humble, unimposing people. To those common, earthen vessels God entrusted the priceless treasure of the gospel.
God chooses humble people to proclaim the gospel message so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of Him. He alone reveals “the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (4:6). By using frail, fallible people, God makes it clear that the power lies not in the human messenger but in the divine message. God’s power transcends the limitations of the clay pot. And it is precisely those limitations that allow Christians to experience the greatest demonstration of God’s power.
7. But we have this treasure. Those that heard Paul glorying in such a magnificent strain as to the excellence of his ministry, and beheld, on the other hand, his person, contemptible and abject in the eyes of the world, might be apt to think that he was a silly and ridiculous person, and might look upon his boasting as childish, while forming their estimate of him from the meanness of his person. The wicked, more particularly, caught hold of this pretext, when they wished to bring into contempt every thing that was in him. What, however, he saw to be most of all unfavourable to the honour of his Apostleship among the ignorant, he turns by an admirable contrivance into a means of advancing it. First of all, he employs the similitude of a treasure, which is not usually laid up in a splendid and elegantly adorned chest, but rather in some vessel that is mean and worthless; and then farther, he subjoins, that the power of God is, by that means, the more illustrated, and is the better seen. “Those, who allege the contemptible appearance of my person, with the view of detracting from the dignity of my ministry, are unfair and unreasonable judges, for a treasure is not the less valuable, that the vessel, in which it is deposited, is not a precious one. Nay more, it is visual for great treasures to be laid up in earthen pots. Farther, they do not consider, that it is ordered by the special Providence of God, that there should be in ministers no appearance of excellence, lest any thing of distinction should throw the power of God into the shade. As, therefore, the abasement of ministers, and the outward contempt of their persons give occasion for glory accruing to God, that man acts a wicked part, who measures the dignity of the gospel by the person of the minister.”
Paul, however, does not speak merely of the universal condition of mankind, but of his own condition in particular. It is true, indeed, that all mortal men are earthen vessels. Hence, let the most eminent of them all be selected, and let him be one that is adorned to admiration with all ornaments of birth, intellect, and fortune, still, if he be a minister of the gospel, he will be a mean and merely earthen depository of an inestimable treasure. Paul, however, has in view himself, and others like himself, his associates, who were held in contempt, because they had nothing of show.
7 Here is the first paradox—the difference between the indescribable value of the gospel treasure and the relative worthlessness of the gospel’s ministers. Verse 6 referred to the treasure in jars of clay as the illumination that comes from “the knowledge of the glory of God.” In describing as “earthen vessels” (NASB) those to whom the gospel is entrusted (1 Th 2:4), Paul is not disparaging the human body or implying that the body is simply the receptacle of the soul (see Notes). Rather, he is contrasting the relative insignificance and unattractiveness of the bearers of the light with the inestimable worth and beauty of the light itself. Behind this contrast Paul sees a divine purpose—that people may recognize that “this all-surpassing power” is God’s alone. His power finds its full scope in human weakness (2 Co 12:9).
7 In this new passage Paul sets out to explain the paradox stated first in 2:14–16. Although his ministry imparts life (2:16), and brings the Spirit of God (3:3) and the glory of God (4:4, 6), in himself he suffers humiliation in God’s triumphal procession (2:14) and the basis of his ministry is that of a slave, the crucified Christ (4:5). Those things that the Corinthians and their new teachers disdain in him, that is, his missionary sufferings, he now declares to be fundamental to ministry that faithfully represents the Crucified One.
The human vessel bearing “this treasure” (= “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God,” v. 6) is a mere “jar of clay.” But this is for a divine purpose—stated positively and negatively5—that the “all-surpassing power might be (1) “from God,” and (2) “not from us.” This “all-surpassing power of God” probably picks up—but so as to reverse—a reference to his sense of overwhelming debility that he made near the beginning of the letter (1:8).
His verb (“we have”) in the first part of the verse occurs a number of times in the immediate context of the letter, where Paul is reflecting upon the new covenant ministry. Paul is deeply conscious of the “treasure”7 that he carries within him.
The previous passage (3:18–4:6) powerfully celebrated the glory of God/of Christ as it is mediated to human lives by the apostolic word. But now there is reintroduced the somber note of the suffering of the one who bears that word, which will run through the entire passage 4:7–5:10. Each part of this verse expresses the antithesis between the power of God and weakness of the apostle (treasure/in clay jars, on the one hand; power from God/not from us, on the other). Such antitheses will characterize the entire passage 4:7–5:10.
Striking is the contrast between the radiant treasure of the knowledge of God/Christ in the heart (4:4, 6) and the inexpensive and easily breakable receptacle11 that bears it, an earthen pot. Such vessels are both cheap and fragile,13 thus having no enduring value in their own right. Only their contents give them worth.
The immediately following references to his sufferings in ministry (vv. 8–9) and the workings of death within the apostle’s life (vv. 10–12) spring from this understanding of the vulnerability of the bearer who carries the treasure. Indeed, the general statement made by this verse should be seen as an introduction to the whole section 4:7–5:10, which becomes universal in its application (4:13–5:10).
Similarly imposing is the juxtaposition of the power of God, which is “all-surpassing,” and human power, which is feeble. This is a recurring theme within 2 Corinthians. Earlier, Paul wrote of being “under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure” (see on 1:8). Now, in exact answer, he points to God’s power, which surpasses the weakness of his mortal body. Later, Paul will recall Jesus’ words to him, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9).
This is no merely pious acknowledgment of his limitations as compared to the greatness of God. Rather—as the syntax (purpose construction shows)—it is divinely ordained that the human bearer of the divine revelation should be an earthenware vessel. The enabling—indeed, the surpassing—power for that ministry cannot, must not, arise from the bearer of the message, but only from God. But this is to reiterate Paul’s earlier conviction, “Our sufficiency comes from God, who has made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant” (3:5–6).
Why should Paul teach this? Is it because it happens to be true and worth saying, or is there also a special point to be made? In all probability Paul is giving this emphasis because the newly arrived “peddlers” claim to be superior in ministry to Paul, and even to possess special powers. Indeed, Paul’s word that characterizes their self-presentation is hyper, “above”; they are “superlative” apostles (see on 10:12–18; 11:5). It is as if they claim that power for ministry arises from within them; they have more of it than Paul. In response Paul will often point to the sufferings in apostolic ministry within the letter, and—as here—he will insist that it is only by God’s power that the revelation of the glory of God in the gospel can be given (vv. 2, 4, and 6) and that such power can only be seen where its human vessel is “clay.” Paul is not the powerhouse but only the place where the power is exhibited. It is not the power inherent in the minister, but only the word he bears, and which he bears in mortal frailty, that brings light and salvation.
Nonetheless, although Paul’s comments seem to be conditioned by the particular circumstances then prevailing in Corinth, similar views can be found elsewhere in his writings (e.g., 1 Cor 4:8–13; Phil 3:10). In Paul’s mind the proclaimer must reflect the proclaimed. He who proclaims a crucified Messiah must himself live cruciform. Let the Corinthians and their current teachers know that the glory of God does not reside on the face of Moses but on the face of the Christ who was crucified. This truth is reflected in the missionary sufferings of the ambassador, the apostle Paul (cf. 5:20; 12:10).
Moreover, it is doubtful whether such remarks are to be confined in their application to him. Although they begin with him, they do not end with him. The present section (4:7–5:10) has, at a number of points, a degree of applicability to all members of the new covenant and not merely to the apostolic leader (see especially 4:16–5:10). Although Paul is referring in the first instance to himself as an apostle, there is a real sense in which Paul here writes representatively for all fellow members of the new covenant, including the Corinthians (3:18; 5:10; but cf. 12:19). Paul’s sufferings as an apostle, when considered against the claims of the triumphalists who oppose him (2:14–17), have caused him to reflect more generally on what might be called “the human condition.” Thus he reminds readers of these words—then and now—that the power to lift humans out of their powerlessness in the face of suffering, decay, and death does not come from within themselves; it comes only from God. Indeed, these words teach that it is not God’s plan—apparently—that the power for revelation or redemption should arise from within a man or woman. Had the priceless treasure of the knowledge of God been contained in a strong and permanent body, it could have proved fatal, given the fact of human pride. This is true even of an apostle.
4:7 / Having shown the transcendent power and glory of his apostleship in 2:14–4:6, Paul is careful not to claim personal credit for these things. Paul wants to avoid the appearance of self-commendation (3:1) and claims instead that his competence is from God (3:5). This treasure probably refers to the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Christ through which Paul received his apostolic commission (4:6). Paul has this revelatory treasure in jars of clay. It is difficult to know exactly why Paul has chosen this metaphor for his physical body (cf. b. Taʿan. 7a; Acts 9:15). In the ancient world, the most common vessels were earthenware. They were used for storing and transporting (of water, oil, grain, and olives), cooking, eating, drinking, and presenting offerings. They are found in every domestic excavation site and in graves, where they accompanied the deceased with provisions. Pottery vessels became the main type of containers in most Near Eastern cultures. Yet the vessels were fragile and their usual life spans were probably a few years at the most. Therefore, when Paul refers to his body as a clay jar, he may be regarding himself, on one level, as quite ordinary and transitory (cf. Lam. 4:2; Song Rab. 1:19: “Just as water does not keep well in a vessel of silver or gold but in the commonest of vessels, so the Torah resides only in one who makes himself like a vessel of earthenware”).
Paul’s metaphor, however, has a deeper significance: His body is a “jar of clay” because “the Lord God formed man (ʾādām) from the dust of the ground (ʾadāmāh)” (Gen. 2:7; cf. Ps. 103:14; Isa. 29:16; 45:9; Sir. 33:10, 13; 1QH 1.15; 3.21; 1QS 11.21–22). The Hebrew verb yāṣar here is most often used of a potter who “forms” a vessel out of clay (cf. Isa. 29:16; 41:25; Jer. 18:4, 6; 1 Chron. 4:23; Lam. 4:2). In the account of the curse, Genesis goes on to underscore the relationship of human beings to the soil: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19; cf. Ps. 104:29; Job 10:9; 17:16; 21:26; 34:15; Eccl. 3:20; cf. Schäfer, §973). Therefore, when Paul refers to his body as a clay jar, he regards himself as having a mortal human body.
Verse 7b goes on to give the purpose for which the revelatory treasure is contained in the clay jar of Paul’s mortal body. In the previous context, Paul has been careful not to claim any credit for the surpassing glory and power of his apostolic ministry (cf. 3:6, 10). In fact, the apostle strictly denies any sufficiency in and of himself (3:5). If his body fails to emanate this glory and power, that merely underscores the point, for while Paul considers himself to possess all-surpassing power, this power is not inherently Paul’s own; it is from God (v. 7b; cf. 6:7; 12:9; 12:12).
7. “Lest any should say, How then is it that we continue to enjoy such unspeakable glory in a mortal body? Paul replies, this very fact is one of the most marvellous proofs of God’s power, that an earthen vessel could bear such splendor and keep such a treasure” [Chrysostom, Homilies, 8.496, A]. The treasure or “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” The fragile “earthen vessel” is the body, the “outward man” (2 Co 4:16; compare 2 Co 4:10), liable to afflictions and death. So the light in Gideon’s pitchers, the type (Jdg 7:16–20, 22). The ancients often kept their treasures in jars or vessels of earthenware. “There are earthen vessels which yet may be clean; whereas a golden vessel may be filthy” [Bengel].
that the excellency of the power, &c.—that the power of the ministry (the Holy Spirit), in respect to its surpassing “excellency,” exhibited in winning souls (1 Co 2:4) and in sustaining us ministers, might be ascribed solely to God, we being weak as earthen vessels. God often allows the vessel to be chipped and broken, that the excellency of the treasure contained, and of the power which that treasure has, may be all His (2 Co 4:10, 11; Jn 3:30).
may be of God … not of us—rather, as Greek, “may be God’s (may be seen and be thankfully [2 Co 4:15] acknowledged to belong to God), and not (to come) from us.” The power not merely comes from God, but belongs to Him continually, and is to be ascribed to him.
Ver. 7.—In earthen vessels. The glorious light which we have to show to the world is, like Gideon’s torches, carried in earthen pitchers. The word skēnos, vessel, is used in Mark 11:16, and “vessels of earthen ware” in Rev. 2:27. St. Paul, in Acts 9:15, is called “a vessel of election,” whence Dante calls him lo vas d’ elezione. Man can never be more than an earthen vessel, being frail and humble, and the metaphor specially suits an apostle of Christ (see 1 Cor. 2:3–5; 2 Tim. 2:20). But when he takes the Word of life from the earthen pitcher and waves it in the air, it illuminates all on whom the light shines. No commentator seems to have seen the probable allusion to Gideon’s pitchers. It is the “light,” of which he has been speaking exclusively in the last verses, which constitutes the “treasure.” Those who suppose that the “treasure” is gold or silver or something else of value, refer to Jer. 32:14, and Herod., iii. 103; Pers., ‘Sat.,’ ii. 10. The excellency; literally, the excess or abundance. Of God, and not of us; rather, of God, and not from us.
Power in weakness (4:7)
Paul contrasts a priceless jewel with its receptacle, an everyday earthen jar. The jewel, or treasure, is ‘the knowledge … of God in the face of Christ’ which God has ‘made … shine in our hearts’ (verse 6). The earthen jar in which this treasure is contained, the human body, is subject to decay and vulnerable to disease and injury. It is, in ultimate terms, powerless.
This is not accidental, but deliberate, to show that this all-surpassing power is from God (verse 7). The power to lift man out of his powerlessness in the face of suffering, decay and death does not come from within himself; it comes only from God. Man is like a jar of clay in order that the all-surpassing power might be from God, and not from ourselves. Earlier (1:8), he wrote of being ‘under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure’. Now, in exact answer, he writes of God’s power which surpasses the weakness of the human body.
It is, apparently, part of God’s plan that the power is not from us. Had this priceless treasure been contained in a strong and permanent body it would have proved a fatal combination for proud and sinful man. Like Adam, he would have reached for the heavens to be a spiritual superman, a ‘god’, a reference perhaps to Paul’s opponents (cf. 12:6–7, 11). We come to appreciate how powerful God is only when we acknowledge the certainty of our own death. This, apparently, had been Paul’s experience. Human life is short, its form easily defaced and its fabric destructible in a second. It is an earthen jar, a cheap clay pot. Hughes comments that ‘the immense discrepancy between the treasure and the vessel serves simply to attest that human weakness presents no barrier to the purposes of God, indeed, that God’s power is made perfect in weakness’.
This teaching about power in weakness, so far from being applicable only to the apostles, is, along with the teaching on transformation (3:18) and illumination (4:6), true for all believers. In fact, the opinion that the power of God impinges on man not in his supposed strength but in his real weakness is no passing sentiment, but is the theological insight, the chief theme, which binds together the whole letter and gives it its unity. It was stated near the beginning (1:8), is restated here (verse 7) and will reappear near the end in the memorable words of Jesus to Paul: ‘My power is made perfect in weakness’ (12:9).
7. And we have this treasure in earthenware pots, so that the extraordinary power may be of God and not out of us.
This verse shows double contrast: first, the treasure of gospel light (v. 6) and worthless clay pots; next, God’s supernatural power and human weakness. The first clause states a fact that in the second results in achieving purpose.
- “And we have this treasure in earthenware pots.” The phrase and we have refers not to Paul only but to everyone who has received and possesses the good news of salvation. This treasure consists of the gospel message that we have received from the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul tells us that this message is a priceless gift that we carry around in earthenware vessels. He uses an illustration taken from everyday life: clay pots that contained everything from wealth to worthless things, from foods to liquids. Because jars, pots, and vessels were made from clay, they were subject to breakage and, therefore, were inexpensive and discarded in short order.
Jewish rabbis used to say: “It is impossible for wine to be kept in gold or silver vessels but in the most inferior of containers, namely, in earthen vessels. Similarly, the words of the Law are kept only in the person who is most humble.” An analogy is the valuable Dead Sea Scrolls, which were stored for more than two millennia in ordinary clay jars that were decaying while the scrolls remained intact. E. F. F. Bishop suggests that Paul may have had in mind “earthenware lamps of different shapes and sizes.”29 Other scholars wish to link earthenware jars to Paul’s remark about the triumphal procession in Christ (2:14). Filled with coins, grain, wine, or water, vessels were carried along in offering processions.
Lamps made out of clay spread light in every home and jars filled with various commodities were part of triumphal processions. But if Paul had intended to draw attention to either a lamp or a jar in a procession, he would have been able to express this in appropriate words. For him, the contrast of the incomparable value of the gospel and the cheap, fragile clay jars is important. He emphasizes not so much the fragile pots but their content, namely, the treasure.
Assaulted and battered numerous times, Paul’s own body was living proof of its frailty and impending mortality (5:1). For this reason, Paul uses the example of earthenware pottery to illustrate the bodies and minds of humans. He himself calls attention to the potter who fashions vessels for noble and common purposes (Rom. 9:21; Isa. 29:16; Jer. 18:6). And Jesus describes Paul as “a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15, KJV).
- “So that the extraordinary power may be of God and not out of us.” We hold the gospel as it were in clay jars to exhibit the phenomenal power of God, so that everyone may see that not we but God is its source. The original text reads: “the extraordinary (quality of the) power.” The Greek perhaps reflects Hebraic syntax that merely says “extraordinary power.” What is this great power? It is God’s word that created light (Gen. 1:3), that led Israel out of Egypt (Exod. 3:7–10), that raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 1:4), and that called Paul to be a missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16–18).
God’s power is revealed in human beings who, in the eyes of the world, are of no account. For example, a company of uneducated fishermen follow Jesus and, filled with the Holy Spirit, spread the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jason and some fellow Christians are dragged before the city officials in Thessalonica and are accused of causing trouble all over the world (Acts 17:6). Paul is told that he is unimpressive and lacks oratorical skills (10:10), yet he proclaimed the gospel, founded congregations, strengthened the believers, and composed epistles that have brought the message of salvation to countless multitudes around the globe. Commenting on his physical weakness and Christ’s power, Paul affirms that when he is weak, the divine power of Christ is resting on him (12:7–9). The authority of the gospel is not human in origin but has its source in God. “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom. 11:36).
4:7. Paul began this section with a clear thesis statement that he would develop in the verses to follow. Although Paul and other apostles were determined to serve in ministry because of the light of Christ in their hearts, they had this treasure in jars of clay. The image of this metaphor is twofold. On the one hand, there is treasure. The treasure represents the new covenant ministry empowered by “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (4:6). In Paul’s day earthenware containers were used to hold many different items. Paul had in mind precious items such as silver or gold. Paul viewed the gospel and its ministry as precious cargo.
On the other hand, this priceless gospel ministry was carried about in jars of clay. Artifacts from Paul’s day indicate that not all items were stored in earthenware containers. Boxes of gold and ivory, decorated with precious stones, were available for the wealthy. Yet, it was common for items of great value to be stored in inexpensive pots of clay.
The counterpart to the jars of clay in Paul’s metaphor is the ministers themselves. Paul had in mind not only the physical body, but also the many trials and troubles that came upon him and those who ministered with him. He introduced the idea that God had placed the treasure of the gospel ministry in frail, ordinary humans. A priceless treasure was contained in common earthenware.
Paul chose this metaphor because it symbolized the reality of his ministry. He had received the incredible light of God in Christ and was commissioned to spread this gospel throughout the world on Christ’s behalf. Yet, this precious treasure did not raise Paul out of ordinary human life. He still faced the weaknesses of physical trials and persecutions in this world.
What was the purpose of this design? The grand message of Christ was carried through the world by ordinary, weak human beings to show that this all-surpassing power was from God and not from the ministers. The expression all-surpassing power alludes to 4:6, which focused on the divine power demonstrated first at the command that light appear (Gen. 1:3), and later in the order that the light of Christ shine in the hearts of believers. God spoke and the light of creation shone; he spoke and the light of re-creation shone as well.
This power of God was also evident in the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 15:18–19). The weakness of Paul and other ministers, coupled with their refusal to use deception, could not have produced the powerful, re-creative effects that the gospel produced. God chose weak creatures to minister the gospel so that it would be all the more clear that he had accomplished the work through these ministers (2 Tim. 1:8).
The effectiveness of their ministry might have caused some people to attribute honor to the ministers themselves. But Paul insisted that the weakness of the jars of clay demonstrated that ministers of the gospel deserved no glory for their work. The power came through weak instruments to demonstrate that it was from God and not from the ministers.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2003). 2 Corinthians (pp. 139–142). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Vol. 2, pp. 201–202). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Harris, M. J. (2008). 2 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 469). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (pp. 229–232). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Scott, J. M. (2011). 2 Corinthians (pp. 103–104). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 306). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). 2 Corinthians (p. 90). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
 Barnett, P. (1988). The message of 2 Corinthians: power in weakness (pp. 86–87). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 19, pp. 146–147). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, pp. 337–338). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.