Have you ever had a day when you’ve felt just completely broken? Like nothing you do is beneficial or good, no one seems to appreciate or enjoy you, and you just make mistakes at every turn? Maybe you’ve felt that way for more than just a day – maybe it’s been a few weeks, months or even years. Maybe you can’t remember a time when you didn’t feel just useless. Broken.
For his entire ministry, Paul had been persecuted in one way or another. Sometimes he experienced obvious, outward persecution like being flogged nearly to death for the sake of the gospel. Other times his difficulties were circumstantial, like being shipwrecked or experiencing the hardship of poverty and physical need. And in the case of his life in Corinth, he was experiencing spiritual, social affliction from false teachers and those who sought to harm his reputation and poison the well of his gospel teaching. He truly felt every emotion in his ministry and experienced just about every hardship thinkable (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). He was no stranger to circumstances that would lead a person to feel broken. And yet his hope and focus are continually on Jesus, the “light of the knowledge of God’s glory” that shines in him and in other believers (2 Corinthians 4:6, CSB).
Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. (2 Cor 4:7-9, CSB).
Archaeology teaches us something unique and profound about the following verses. In Biblical times, jars of clay were used for just about everything from food and wine storage to waste collection. I think that’s probably how we usually hear the sermons – even if God destined you to be a waste receptacle in His great plan, you’re still useful to Him. Truth be told, that’s never lifted my spirits much when I have truly felt like, well, poo. But there’s another possible interpretation of this metaphor Paul uses. Middle Eastern archaeologists have found jars of clay buried filled with coins. Treasures. Turns out, in these times it was common for families to take jars that had cracked and were no longer useful for food or wine or even waste storage and use them to store physical, monetary treasure. They filled the jars with wealth and buried them for safety. Over time, the clay would eventually erode and decay and fully disappear, but the treasure would remain.
This is the extraordinary truth of how useful you are in Christ. You will experience many afflictions in this life. Your circumstances might cause your clay jar to crack. But a cracked, crushed, despairing jar is not useless. It is used for treasure. The treasure in you is the Light of God, Jesus, who will remain in you until your physical body is gone and you are with Him in Paradise. Hold fast to this eternal hope, and do not let your circumstantial, weary brokenness keep you down. You are beautifully broken.