We Are ALL Jars of Clay; We Are ALL Cracked Vessels

There is good news in this truth:

Every single person on the planet needs to learn two absolutely vital lessons: (1) There is a God; and (2) I am not him. Getting this clear in our heads can save us from all sorts of trouble. Yet too many folks – including too many Christians – think and act as if they are God, and they really do not see just what faulty and fallen vessels they really are.

Christians at least should be quite familiar with the words found in my title. They come from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 10. Part of that chapter says this:

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 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.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (verses 5-12)

We can get a few major lessons from a passage like this. One is this: none of us measure up perfectly to what we should be. We are all imperfect and very cracked vessels. None of us are the ultimate standards of the sort of people Christians ought to be.

Sure, Paul could say ‘follow me as I follow Christ,’ but he would also urge believers to get their eyes off him and back on to Christ. Yes, we all need role models, and we all need godly examples to follow. But none are perfect, and all can let us down and disappoint.

You might say, ‘I would love to be as holy and godly and sold out to Christ as A. W. Tozer was.’ Yeah, I hear you. I feel the same way, and yet… While I have a great desire to be in the same league as he was, I am aware of some areas of weakness and imperfection. His home life for example suffered somewhat, as his family at times could feel rather neglected. See more on this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/10/02/notable-christians-a-w-tozer/

The truth is, even a very godly pastor or Christian leader that you might know and love is still a clay pot. It is Christ within that makes all the difference. They too have their issues they are dealing with, their weaknesses that need to be addressed, sins that need to be confronted, and blind spots that need to be exposed. ALL great men and women of God are still cracked vessels. There are no perfect Christians.

The other major lesson is this: we all are effective for Christ only as we allow him to live his life through us. We have nothing to offer in and of ourselves. God may have blessed us with various talents and gifts, but they are still just that: his gifts to us. We cannot boast in what we have received.

The light within that we are called to let shine in a dark and needy world is HIS light. The power we have to make a difference is HIS power. The love and grace we are called to show to others are HIS. We have nothing that we have not first received from him.

Image of 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness (Preaching the Word)
2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness (Preaching the Word) by Hughes, R. Kent (Author) Amazon logo

Let me conclude with some remarks made by R. Kent Hughes in his expository commentary on 2 Corinthians. He says this about the passage in question:

Clay jars were the throwaway containers of the ancient world, so that their life spans were generally a few years at the most. They were used to store and transport water and olive oil and wine and grain and even family treasures. Earthenware jars were an anonymous part of everyday living as they were used for cooking and eating and drinking and storing leftovers. Every domestic archaeological excavation site contains their remains, called ostraca, from the Greek word for pottery. No one took note of clay jars any more than we would of a fast-food container. They were simply there for convenience. It was no great tragedy when such vessels were broken. They were cheap and easy to replace.


As such, jars of clay provided Paul with a penetrating metaphor for his and his followers’ humanity. Indeed Adam was formed out of the dust of the ground, and to dust he returned (cf. Genesis 2:7; 3:19). As clay jars we are all frail, weak, transitory mortals.


This understood, Paul’s famous declaration pulses with meaning: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (v. 7). The “treasure” is the illuminating power (described in the preceding verse as “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”) that God provides with the full creation power with which he spoke things into existence. This “treasure,” this creational, transforming gospel power, has been committed to insignificant, fragile followers of Christ — men and women who, like Paul, are all clay pots.


The reason for this is so there would be no mistake about where the power comes from — “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” This is not a pious pro forma acknowledgment of Paul’s (and our) limitations as compared to the greatness of God. This is not a casual admission. This is Christian realism. Christians are never powerful in themselves but are only vessels in which God’s power is exhibited. Paul is speaking primarily of himself, but the truth he teaches is true for every follower of Christ. Our utter frailty and weakness provides the ground for God’s power.

He closes his chapter with these words on verse 12:

Paul concludes this astonishing paragraph with an unexpected twist because, by the way Paul has been structuring his thought, we would expect him to say something like, “So death is at work in us, but life is also at work in us.” But surprisingly, he says, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.”


This is, of course, the great principle of the cross. Christ died that we might live. The great exchange of the gospel is: Christ’s life for ours. And those who are used most to spread the good news of Christ embrace death as the operational principle of ministry. When George Muller, pastor and provider for thousands of children, was asked his secret, he hung his head and said, “There was a day when I died.” Then he hung it lower and said, “Died to George Muller.” Jesus said,


“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:24-26)


It’s humbling to take to heart the fact that we are clay pots, and as such we are fragile and transitory, vessels of weakness. It’s humbling to accept that Paul’s declaration, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (v. 7) is not a formula for our power. The equation for power is: my weakness plus God’s power equal’s God’s power. It’s humbling to hear that all my acknowledgment of weakness will not make me strong — embracing weakness leads to more weakness.


But it is also so beautiful and so liberating to know that God’s power in our lives does not come from our pursuit of power. How wonderful to know that “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Bless God for the powerful resiliency this brings! So that we are


squeezed but not squashed;

bewildered but not befuddled;

pursued but not abandoned;

knocked down but not knocked out.


How beautiful that this reflects the life of Jesus in us, “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (v. 10). How heartening to know that when you live this way, death is at work in us but life is at work in those whom God has called us to serve. What a glory that the power of new-covenant ministry comes by embracing weakness.


What a word for the church today — with our human idolatries and our exaltation of human beings. The power of the gospel comes in our weakness, not in our strength, not in our greatness, but in the fact that we are clay pots — and cracked ones at that!

[1568 words]

4 Replies to “We Are ALL Jars of Clay; We Are ALL Cracked Vessels”

  1. Bill, I love how God also uses fellow believers to help us through the most challenging events in our lives. Much of your message today will be the major thread I will use at a Eulogy on Saturday in Saskatchewan, Canada. The majority of the attendees ARE atheists/unbelievers or lukewarm Christians.
    Thankyou, Brother in Christ.

    Neil, my brother in law was found dead on his remote property outside Saskatoon – he’d been there 2 weeks before anyone noticed he was missing. Neil and my husband, Pat were at odds. BUT GOD kept prompting me to remind Pat of forgiveness at all costs. Unfortunately, Pat chose not to and is now racked with guilt.
    Glory Be to God – Neil chose forgiveness and Jesus welcomed him home.

    For those still here, God is going to use this tragedy for His Glory and bring many lost souls to Him – I pray my husband will be the first to bow his knee.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *