December 23, 2011

Fragile Earthenware & Human Lanterns

"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us." 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

I have a few thoughts on this passage.

All Christians generally know this passage. We are the earthen vessels and Jesus Christ is the treasure within in the vessel in the form of the Holy Spirit.We can be flawed, cracked and imperfect but the treasure that dwells within us is of surpassing value.

I myself usually find the most non-descript container or object in my house to hide my valuables in too. It makes it hard to determine where they are. The difference with us as believers is that we speak and interact with our surroundings in a cognizant manner. It is when we do this that we reveal what is in us. The more of Christ or the more light we have within us the more we radiate that essence out into the world.

My second thought is where this gets really interesting. Jesus is the light of the world (John 9:5). Paul seems to draw on this idea and then ups the ante a little. The opening passage is written to Corinth about overcoming his sufferings and the very weakness of the physical body shows the life of Jesus within the Christian is from God and not inherent to humans. Paul (and we) are persecuted and beat down but we do not recant the Gospel nor does the world snuff out the light that is within us. It may damage the vessel or lamp but the flame within the lamp stays lit, it stays strong and shines out into the world of darkness. Like a glimmering treasure or a beacon to the lost.

Additionally, storing precious things in common or ordinary containers was not an uncommon practice in the ancient word as noted be Herodotus in The Persian Wars:

"Such was the revenue which Darius derived from Asia and a small part of Libya. Later in his reign the sum was increased by the tribute of the islands, and of the nations of Europe as far as Thessaly. The Great King stores away the tribute which he receives after this fashion - he melts it down, and, while it is in a liquid state, runs it into earthen vessels, which are afterwards removed, leaving the metal in a solid mass. When money is wanted, he coins as much of this bullion as the occasion requires." [Herodotus 3.96-The Persian Wars]

The idea here is that the boundless riches are specifically placed in the earthen vessels exactly because they are dispensable and temporary. When someone would need the gold or silver within the vessel they would simply break the vessel to get at the treasure. The treasure within the vessel filled the vessel and took the shape of the vessel or was an and exact image or impression of it. Once the vessel was destroyed the treasure would retain its shape and still maintain its value without the vessel.

It is also ironic than man makes vessels to store his treasure in from the very thing than God made man from...the dust or clay of the ground. 

It is a paradox that, like the precious treasures stored in earthen vessels, God chose to allow His Spirit to reside in something so frail, damaged and broken as mankind.

Regardless, this would also explain Paul's subsequent elaboration on being hard-pressed yet not crushed; struck down, but not destroyed..."always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body." of 2 Corinthians 4

Our bodies like Paul's groan and crack under the abuse this world puts them through but they are temporary. Paul tells the Corinthians to not lose heart because, "...even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." 1 Corinthians 4:16-18

We will eventually be clothed in a body of immortality (πνευματικὸν) when we slip this mortal coil and are glorified in Christ whom is the treasure.

In my studies I have come across another additional and rather interesting historical fact. By using this analogy, Paul is most likely alluding to the Corinthian's cheap pottery lamps that they made for walking around in the dark with-just like the Christian is a light in a dark world. These Corinthian lamps were renown for their utility...and frailty. Just like the believers Paul compares them to. These lamps were made exceptionally thin and often cracked in spots and for all intensive purposes they were disposable. It is this very feature of the pottery lamp, its thinness, that would sometimes allow the lamp to give off more light and cause the lamps to appear to glow similar to a paper lamp. The lamps would also emanate light from inside right through the walls of the lamp like shining a flashlight through the skin of your hand due to chips, cracks or hairline fractures in the broken lamp. The very fact that they were cracked (damaged) allowed them to be more useful for radiating light into the darkness...after which they were disposed of. Hmmm.

To me this is a rather vivid analogy from Paul and it paints a mental imagery that is perfectly apropos with Christ, the light of the world, dwelling in the believer. The believer then becomes a flesh-n-blood lamp or lighthouse for the Gospel calling ships into shore or guiding people out of the darkness or guiding their path in the darkness so they do not continue to stumble and fall. We are the candles at Christmas. We are the search lamps that find the fallen and lost. We are the ones God uses to signal the ships adrift in a sea of sin to guide them into safe harbor. We hold a radiant flame and resplendent treasure within us that we can barely contain. It is only because God allows us to hold His Spirit inside us that it that it is possible. This radiant treasure obviously stands in stark contrast to the dirty flawed object that holds it.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...