Fragile but Strong Clay Pots

Fragile but Strong Clay Pots

Question
Can a fragile clay jar be strong? I’m looking at 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 and I just don’t get it. How can I be strong in such times? I always seem to complain in trials.
Answer
2 Corinthians 12:9-10: But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

For the most part, all of us tend toward what you stated in your question. It’s human nature. All of us seem to complain in some form or fashion when undergoing trials. Sometimes it may be by complete silence while we are inwardly protesting, and at other times it can be rather verbal and loud. Our problem is that we don’t fully recognize God’s strength in such times–which admittedly is easier said than done. However, we can grow in this area.

All of us tend to rely on our own strength, ideas, and own ways at times. We are taught this early in life. Look at all the books on being self-reliant, being all you can be, and having success-centered thinking and living. Parents and coaches emphasize there’s no prize for second place and so win, win, win at any cost. This isn't entirely all bad as we should always strive to be the best in all things. But we also have to agree with Clint Eastwood who, when playing the part of Harry Callahan in Magnum Force, said, "A man's GOT to know his limitations." And when battling life and all it brings, all of us have limitations, don’t we?

A failure to recognize our own limitations can spin us out of control. If we’re honest with one another, when undergoing trials, we occasionally get a sense of discontentment and insecurity as we observe our own imperfectness and fallen condition. Through the Holy Spirit and a lot of personal experience, Paul discovered the answer to living with and overcoming this dilemma.

A few chapters prior to 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul tells us that we are but fragile clay jars when he says, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Cor. 4:7). Paul understood that he was made out of mere mud (cf. Gen. 2:6-7). Though miraculous, there’s nothing very glamorous about this. It’s actually rather humbling! We’re all just clay jars or pots. And Paul also knew that pots are very fragile. If you drop one on the ground it can easily be cracked or broken. In reality, this is who and what we are–fragile.

Adam’s fall changed our clay beings (Gen. 3). We’re now born to break. We are born to die (cf. Heb. 9:27). One of the most difficult things in life is to recognize and accept that we are each fragile jars of mere clay. We can and will crack or break under enough pressure. No man-made football helmet will guard one against all the impacts this life brings.

Understanding that he was a fragile pot, how could Paul rejoice in such weaknesses? (cf. Phil. 4:4). He recognized the pot’s weakness had a higher purpose which was "to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Cor. 4:7). And it's here we see some more important truths: (1) Paul, the pot, knew God the potter; (2) Paul was focused on glory, not weakness; and (3) Paul had a sense of total contentment.

Paul the Pot Knew God the Potter

God makes pots (cf. Gen. 2:6-7). Paul, a pot, knew the Potter well. He first met him on the Damascus Road, and on that day his life was changed forever (Acts 9:1-19). Then he grew to know him better in time through prayer and Spirit-guided study (Gal. 1:12; cf. Gal. 1:11-24) and experience (2 Cor. 11:23-33). Throughout the remainder of his life, Paul had an intimate ongoing relationship with God.

Paul knew he not only could but should rejoice even in his weaknesses because he understood utter destruction would never come to him. He explains this in 2 Timothy 1:12: "which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me."

Paul Focused on Glory, Not Weakness;

The greatest moments of my life have not been those that have concerned my own salvation, but those when I have been carried into communion with God and beheld His beauty and desired His glory … I rejoice and yearn to be emptied and annihilated of self in order that I might be filled with the glory of God and Christ alone - Jonathan Edwards[1]

Paul understood that he was a vessel which contained God’s glory because he was made in the image of God (cf. Psa. 19:1-4; 2 Cor. 4:7). He considered the bigger picture of things, which was God’s picture of things. Paul came to understand that all things happen for God’s glory, so no matter how bad it gets, everything has a divine purpose. Paul learned to not focus on the bad things (plural), but the good thing (singular) – God’s glory. He understood that all things were working together for his own good (Rom. 8:28), and for the glory of God (cf. 1 Cor. 1:31). In many respects, our good and God’s glory are flip sides of the same coin.

So Paul could rejoice in his weaknesses because he knew he didn’t have to be stuck in the rut of his own weaknesses. Paul understood that one day he would be a completely fixed clay pot. As John wrote, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4).

Paul Had a Sense of Total Contentment

By what he learned and experienced, Paul had a sense of total contentment in the midst of trials. He was a happy clay pot. He was open, honest, and transparent about his weaknesses. He was also humbled by them. He could rest or be content in the grace of Christ alone and the surpassing power of God. He didn’t wallow in self-pity. He accepted his circumstances. This doesn’t mean he never tried to change them. He chose to rest in the fact that God was ultimately in control despite what he presently saw (cf. Heb. 11:1). Many of us are still personally learning this, aren’t we?

Paul understood and lived out what he wrote in Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." He was content (Phil. 4:11-12). He embraced his life for what it was and made the very best out of it. He was so content he could even rejoice in it. And this wasn’t some manufactured response. While accepting the fact of his fragile condition, he simultaneously clung to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His ultimate goal was to glorify God in all he did (cf. 1 Cor. 1:31). What a "treasure" (2 Cor. 4:7).

If you know and have faith in the end of the story, then why not glory in the middle of it too? (cf. Rom. 8:35-39).

Note

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 1:lxv-lxxiii, as quoted in Joel R. Beeke, Living for God’s Glory (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008), 147.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).