To promote their products, manufacturers have long known that advertising sells. Television viewers were once subjected to commercial after commercial when watching their favorite program. Of course, cable and satellite companies remedied that with the ability to record programs. Now we simply fast forward through commercials and we can watch an hour-long program in thirty minutes. Still, it is proven that advertising works. Everything from humor to sex is used to draw upon our inner desire to have, and of course to have the best.
What does the advertising of the gospel look like? How does God make known the provision of salvation to the lost? Does He reserve minutes during the half-time show of the Super Bowl? Maybe He hires a lizard or a caveman to present His provision? Is there an inventory reduction sale during the off-season?
Maybe, but those sound more like suggestions we would offer. We would see the advantage of enticing the desires of the needy by these means.
But God has chosen a different method. He has chosen to use the weak and foolish things of this world. The gospel of Jesus Christ is promoted through vessels of weakness, suffering, and death. What a sales pitch.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he says the gospel is carried in jars of clay; hardened mud. He continues to describe the jars of clay as afflicted, crushed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. Then to really make this advertisement attractive, he describes it as carrying around a heaping dose of death. Orders? Anyone? 2 Corinthians 4: 6 – 11
To grasp the analogy Paul is introducing, some identities should be given to his metaphors.
First, the treasure. What is the treasure? Quite simply, it is the gospel; a Holy God coming to this earth as a Man, laying down His life on the cross, and being resurrected three days later.
But why? Because… He loved His world. The world that fell to the curse of sin due to unbelief and disobedience. It happened in the garden, but just consider our own lives. The effects of their sin is demonstrated in my life every day. Disobedience is my middle name. So why would God love a world that strives to be disobedient to Him?
Was it that He saw a glimmer of hope in someone’s eyes? Once again, that’s the way we would like the story to play out, but it’s fictitious. When we consider the word love, we anticipate that one party will find something attractive in the other. Maybe a nice smile, or pretty eyes, or something. But John’s famous passage (3:16), used mostly at sporting events now, is not God’s wooing His creation because He finds something attractive in them. There is nothing attractive about the human race. It is sin-laden and nothing short of Paul’s description in his letter to the Romans (1 -3). And yet…God loved His world.
And according to Paul, He advertises His love through the same sinful beings He saves; cracked clay pots. When Paul uses the word, clay pot or earthen vessel, he is describing a container of his day that found its only worth in what was stored in it. It had no intrinsic value of its own.
The glorious gospel message. Jesus crucified and risen. Good News! The payment for sin has been made! Reconciliation to God through His Son!
This priceless treasure contained in clay pots. This is inadequate, but picture the Queen of England being escorted in a worn out, blown up Ford Pinto. If that doesn’t quite ring a bell, consider a priceless pearl in a crusty, slimy oyster shell.
God places all the wealth of this treasure in earthen vessels, His image bearers, to advertise the glory of His gospel to the world. But Paul intensifies the image of the contents of this container by stating, “..always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (4:10).”
Persecution was a way of life for Paul. Paul suffered at the hands of evil men because of his identification with his Lord. Those who hate Jesus persecute His people. But this was a powerful rebuttal against the allegations of false teachers. His suffering was evidence that he carried in his body the death of the Lord Jesus. Paul spoke of this many times with words such as, “I die daily,” and “I am crucified with Christ.” But this death, as he states, brings forth life.
The Greek term used here by Paul implies “the process of dying,” more than an event of death. He is describing the death of his personal desires and the life of God’s desires. It would have been easy enough for Paul to lessen the severity of his suffering by simply backing off from his advertising of the gospel. But that was his point. That would mean he and his desires still lived. Instead, he put to death those desires and sought the will of his Lord.
The end result was effective advertising. Oh, he would be executed. After suffering at the hands of those who wanted to halt the progress of the gospel, he was thrown into prison, and killed. But the gospel lives on. There is no human explanation for the impact of Paul’s ministry except that God’s power flowed through him. But look at the progression of the gospel through his willingness to be a clay pot.
Paul doesn’t confine this method of advertising to himself only. In verse eleven, Paul uses plural pronouns. He anticipates all believers being willing vessels of clay advertising the gospel to the world.
So the question I must ask of myself? What’s my billboard displaying to the world? Is my advertising effective?