Plain Ol’ Earthen Vessels Move The Kingdom Forward

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; (2 Corinthians 4:7 NASB).

We have a cupboard (a “Lazy Susan” if you want to get all Good Housekeeping about it) that’s full of Tupperware. I’m quite fond of Tupperware (never thought I’d utter that phrase).

It’s practical, sturdy, and lets me transport food without dumping it all over my lap (I prefer to do that when I’m eating).

But there’s nothing special about it. When guests come over, I don’t take them to the cupboard and say, “Hey, you gotta see my Tupperware collection.” I’m not like Michael Scott showing off his plasma television.

we have this treasure in earthen vessels

The whole point of Tupperware is what’s inside. The glorious leftover morsels of chicken that I will gleefully savor. The outside is as boring as a tax form.

When Paul talks about earthen vessels (or “jars of clay” depending on your translation/preference for 90’s CCM), it seems to me that he’s making a Tupperware comparison, of sorts.

Unlike the “Super Apostles”, who were flashy and always waving their credentials about, Paul compared himself to a plain, boring, easily breakable earthen vessel. A jar used for everyday purposes.

Why does Paul use this language? Is he on some sort of self-loathing trip, trying to get pity from the Corinthians?

Nope. Paul knew that what mattered was not the earthen vessel, but what it contained.

In 2 Corinthians 4:5 he says, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

Paul knew a profound secret that the Super Apostles, with all their flash and pageantry and parading, completely missed: the kingdom of God moves forward through weak, weary, easily broken earthen vessels. 

In other words, it’s the message, not the messenger that builds the church. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s Jesus Christ himself who saves, sanctifies, and will eventually restore all things.

In The New American Commentary On 2 Corinthians, David E. Garland writes:

A breakable vessel offers no protection for the treasure (except from dust and water). The image therefore serves to emphasize the contrast between Paul’s own pitiful weakness and the great power of God…Why put treasure in an earthen pot, and divine treasure at that? To show that the treasure has nothing to do with the pot, “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

I find this tremendously encouraging.

There are so many times when I feel like a pitiful, earthen vessel, trying to communicate glorious truths about God and yet sounding like Siri botching the pronunciation of my last name (it’s Al-troh-gee, like hoagie or stogie).

When I’m trying to do family devotions at the dinner table.

When I’m leading a Bible study.

When I’m encouraging a discouraged friend.

On the few occasions I get to preach.

In these moments, I’m profoundly aware that if the advancement of God’s kingdom depends on me, God’s in some serious trouble. If the salvation of my children and the encouragement of my friends and the effectiveness of my preaching hinges on my eloquence and power and intelligence and insight, I might as well throw in the towel.

Because in my own strength, I can’t make things happen.

But the good news is that I’m just an earthen vessel. I’m a Tupperware container. My job is simply to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and then trust God to move. To, in a sense, sit back and witness the explosive power of the gospel.

Again, to quote David Garland:

He [Paul] basically admits to being a cracked pot, one rejected, and afflicted, and subject to destruction. But “his weakness and vulnerability is necessary to the proper conveyance of the treasure of the gospel.” All can see that the power he imparts for the salvation of the world (Rom 1:16) does not derive from him but from God alone.

The power to save and change and build the church does not come from me or you or anyone else. It comes from God alone.

I can rest in that.

Speaking of his preaching, Charles Spurgeon said:

Sometimes, after preaching the gospel, I have been so filled with self-reproach that I could hardly sleep through the night, because I had not preached as I desired. I have sat down and cried over some sermons, as though I knew that I had missed the mark and lost the opportunity. Not once nor twice, but many a time has it happened that within a few days someone has come to tell me that he found the Lord through that very sermon, the shortcoming of which I had deplored. Glory be to Jesus; it was his gentleness that did it.

I may not share the gospel or teach my children or encourage others as effectively as I desire. After all, I’m just an earthen vessel. But glory be to Jesus, he does it.

Hey, I'm Stephen Altrogge. I'm a dad and published author. I've written for The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, ERLC, Church Leaders, Crosswalk, and many more outlets. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook .

10 thoughts on “Plain Ol’ Earthen Vessels Move The Kingdom Forward”

  1. Amen.

    I remember going down to my parents’ house, holding mini Bible studies with my little brother and sisters. I was terrified I wasn’t doing it right, or somehow I wouldn’t be clear enough.

    Then one weekend I visited the family and went to our home church. Our pastor never fails to end his sermon with the refrain, “If there is someone who would like to join this little band of believers, please come forward.”

    This time, my little brother, who was sitting next to me, turned and smiled, then stood and walked to the front to be baptized and become a member of the church. A few months later, my sisters followed suit.

    I’m a broken, helpless, sinful vessel. But thanks be to God for using someone like me to be used for His glory.

    Great article.

  2. Terrific article and right on time. I keep beating myself up because God just brought my daughter back into my life after 20 yrs of No contact (her choosing) and I feel I’m not taking advantage of the time we have to talk about God enough, or using the right scripture to make meaningful points. Time is running out the voice in my head says, you can’t screw this up!! What a relief I say that it’s HIM, All HIM not me! I just have to remain faithful & willing. It’s at times like this when laughing at myself feels really gooooood! Thank you Stephen A.


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