Jars of Clay

October 28, 2016

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay…” (2 Corinthians 4:7a) Paul describes himself as an unassuming clay jar. It is an image of humility and weakness. Jars of clay were cheap, useful, and breakable. What was important to the users of clay jars was the contents, the treasure inside.

The point of the image is not to say that Christians are unimportant. Even within this paragraph, Paul notes that it is “so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11, ESV). And Paul is working towards the statements that although our outward self is wasting away, “our inner self is being renewed day by day.” Even though our mortal body can be compared to a tent which can be pulled down, we await our heavenly dwelling.

Paul’s point is seen in his purpose statement: “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7b, ESV). The Corinthians seem to have a problem with pride (see 1 Cor. 4:6, 4:18-19, 5:2, 8:1). They are way too convinced of their own wisdom, strength and honor (1 Cor. 4:10). It sometimes even causes them to complain about Paul: “his bodily presence is week, and his speech of no account” (2 Cor. 10:10, ESV).

Paul is chipping away at this Corinthian pride all through 1 and 2 Corinthians.

  • God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 1 Cor 1:27
  • Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. 1 Cor 1:31
  • “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.. 2 Cor. 10:17-18
  • If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 2 Cor. 11:30
  • Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor. 12:9

Calling himself a jar of clay with a treasure inside, Paul can admit his weakness and reliance on the power of God. He can take afflicted, perplexed, struck down, and carrying in the body the death of Christ and use the power of God to face these difficulties. It is with God’s help that he is not crushed, not driven to despair, not forsaken, not destroyed, and manifesting the life of Jesus in our bodies. These contrasts (4:8-11) are instructive.

“The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” is in us. What a treasure! Yet, we must acknowledge we are but jars of clay. When we admit our weaknesses, we find that God can use the weak things of this world to show his power. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

“Ghandi and Christianity”

October 22, 2016

Richard Attenborough directed the film Ghandi which won eight Oscars in 1983 and launched the career of Ben Kingsley. It is a powerful film which tells the story of Mohandas Ghandi who through his nonviolent civil disobedience broke Britain’s colonial rule of India. Ghandi admired Jesus Christ and was especially fond of the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, Ghandi lived his life as a Hindu and never became a Christian. At the time of the movie, Philip Yancey wrote “Ghandi and Christianity” which pointed out that part of Ghandi’s reluctance was due to the kind of lives he saw among those who professed Christ.1

Inconsistencies. As a law student in Britain, Ghandi became exposed to the Bible and to those who professed to be Christians. After many Sunday sermons, he complained of uninspiring sermons and a congregation who “appeared rather to be worldly-minded, people going to church for recreation and in conformity to custom.”

Prejudice. Attenborough’s movie tells of Ghandi’s experience in South Africa. He was among supposedly Christian people, but he found discrimination. He was thrown off trains and excluded from hotels and restaurants, because as he put it, he was considered “a coloured man.” E. Stanley Jones is quoted by Yancey as saying, “Racialism has many sins to bear, but perhaps its worst sin was the obscuring of Christ in an hour when one of the greatest souls born of a woman was making his decisions.”

Reflecting Christ. Ghandi’s bad experiences only serve to underscore the importance of Paul’s words: “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3, ESV). Paul is using the image of a letter of recommendation. A letter of recommendation introduces and commends someone by telling of his or her character and qualifications. Paul tells the Corinthians that they are “Christ’s letter.” They are a letter of recommendation for Jesus Christ. Their lives are introducing others to Jesus. Their lives are speaking volumes about who Jesus is.

Christians should live lives “worthy of their calling.” We should conduct ourselves so that we are an accurate letter of Christ for the world to read even though we are not perfect. We may be the only “letter” that some may see, and we may be the “letter” that influences their decision. Let us be conscious of our function as letters of recommendation. Ghandi’s life reminds me that this has at times been done poorly. Let us rise to the task and reflect Christ in our lives.

1Christianity Today (April 8, 1983):16.

The Bible and Archeology

October 18, 2016

Archaeology reminds us that the Bible speaks of real people, places, and events. Admittedly, archaeology does not interest everyone, and some aspects of archaeology may be tedious. I suspect that I don’t want to be the person who moves dirt away from an ancient artifact with a small brush. But I am thankful for the people who do such research. Many of the results of archaeology are exciting for the student of the Bible and are helpful in a number of ways.

Archaeology has helped us understand ancient customs and the background to certain passages. The Nuzi tables, for example, contain marriage contracts which obligate a childless wife to give her husband a female servant who would bear children for her. This doesn’t make the practice moral, by the way, but it helps us to better understand the actions of Sarah in giving Hagar to Abraham (Genesis 16:1 ff.) and of Rachel in giving Bilhah to Jacob (Genesis 30:1-3). They weren’t dreaming this up on their own but were following the established customs of the times.

Translation. The meaning of the Hebrew word pim was unknown in 1611. The KJV translator conjectured from the context of 1 Samuel 13:21 that it meant “file.” The KJV reads, “Yet they had a file for the mattocks ….” Archaeologists have found small weight stones in Palestine with the word pim on them. The name of the weight was evidently the expression of the price for sharpening plowshares, making a pim about 2/3 of a shekel. The ESV has “and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks” (1 Samuel 13:21, ESV). They also provide a footnote indicating that “two thirds of a shekel” is the translation of pim.

Defense. The criticism of alleged inaccuracies in scripture have been refuted by certain discoveries. For example, the Hittites were unknown outside the Old Testament, and many thought this was a case of historical error in scripture until the discovery of the Hittite city of Hattusas. Before the ivory finds in Samaria, some skepticism was expressed over the phrase “houses of ivory” in Amos 3:15. We now know that ivories were used either to adorn the walls as paneling or were inlaid in furniture. “Houses of ivory” were houses decorated with ivory not built out of ivory.

Archeology has limits. Grant Osborne notes the fragmentary nature of material remains, “Yamauchi estimates that being supremely optimistic we could have one-tenth of the material in existence, six-tenths of that surveyed, one-fiftieth of that excavated, one-tenth of that examined, and one-half of that published. This means that we have only .006 percent of the evidence.”1 So gaps in knowledge from archaeology should not surprise us. But the information we do have reinforce the reality of the biblical world.

1Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 159

“You Should Have Been Aborted!”

October 7, 2016

Life Chain is a protest against abortion. On the first Sunday of October, participants stand on the sidewalk of a major street holding signs with messages against abortion but also for forgiveness. Participants are to be silent. It is to be a time of reflection and prayer. Life Chain began in 1987 and went national in 1991. I’ve participated many times through the years.
In our community, we have many people driving by honking their horns in support. This year we also had a few obscenities thrown our way, but the most intriguing negative response was this. Someone shouted at us, “You should have been aborted!”

It certainly felt like a curse – a situationally appropriate “pox on you.” It certainly didn’t sound like it came from this person’s happy place. But isn’t the remark a bit of a two-edged sword. If saying this to pro-life demonstrators is a kind of curse, isn’t performing or having an abortion an actual curse on the unborn?

Did this remark make me want to throw down my sign and run away? Absolutely not! I wasn’t standing there holding a sign because I thought everyone agreed with me. And in this there is a lesson for us about all of Christian faith. There will always be opposition. Paul wrote:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents — which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. (Philippians 1:27–30, NASB)

Paul is describing conduct that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. That conduct consists of (1) standing firm in one spirit, (2) striving together for the faith with one mind, and (3) not being alarmed by your opponents. Not being alarmed doesn’t mean that the opponents can’t hurt you. Paul is in prison when he writes this, and he even ponders whether he will die or not (see Philippians 1:19-26).

So what does it mean to not be alarmed or frightened? It may be helpful to define another word. To intimidate is to use fear to make someone do what you want them to do. The person who is not intimidated may feel the fear directed at them, but he or she will not change what is believed, what is said, or what is done. There will always be opposition to truth. The lesson we must all learn is to not be intimidated by the oppositions words or deeds.