Spiritual treasure in clay pots

I had the privilege last weekend to be alongside some ordinary lay Christians as they talked of their journey of faith and their understanding of Christianity. When I say “ordinary,” I mean that these were mature Christians but not people with degrees in theology. Watching and listening to them I understood afresh the meaning of the phrase “Spiritual treasure in clay pots.” (2 Corinthians 4: 7)

The treasure that shone out of them was Grace. Grace was at work in and through them and because they were offering something that they loved and which had great meaning for them their egos were not getting in the way. Despite their ordinariness, their earthiness so to speak, light was shining out of them. As it says in 2 Corinthians 4:5 “For it is not ourselves that we preach; we preach Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

What is this clay of which Paul writes? It is not only our outward appearance, which is in most cases unpromising of hidden greatness. Surely it is the fragility and weakness in which we carry this gift of grace and it’s potential. Everything can get in the way: our enormous need for affirmation from others, our competitiveness, our hunger for power, our vanity. The ego’s voracious appetite appears the very moment at which we do something good for God. And we all experience it. I believe it was John Bunyan who on being told how brilliant his sermon was, said, “Yes, the devil told me exactly the same thing as I came down from the pulpit!”

So even as we offer our best to the Lord we are aware of our weakness which is the temptation to trespass: to take that which does not belong to us. “Forgive us our trespasses,” we cry, trying to hold true to our calling, “And lead us not into temptation.” But at the same time this is God’s gift to us. As we give it away we are enriched, enlivened, know ourselves as gifted people.

This is the paradox of God’s grace. The more we give it away the more we have it. The more we die to ourselves, the more alive we feel. The more we struggle not to trespass and take what is not ours, the more we realise our inheritance. What an extraordinary experience this is, to be so weak and yet so strong because of a God who in his grace made himself small enough for us to hold him in our frail clay pots.