Who wants to be ordinary?
Psychological research has consistently demonstrated our propensity to believe that we’re above average. We see ourselves as more ethical than most. We believe we’re better drivers. And on and on it goes.
And in a merit-based culture like ours, we want to be recognized for our accomplishments and strengths (rather than judged by our failures and weaknesses). Even as Christians, if the truth be told, we engage in image-management: we only let people see what we want them to see, so as to seem more spiritual in public than we know ourselves to be in private.
As suggested by our tour of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, many of the believers there probably thought the same way. But Paul, having eloquently expounded on the glory of the new covenant and the light of that glory shining in our hearts, makes this important counter-assertion:
But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. (2 Cor 4:7, CEB)
Clay pots were common household items, used to store anything from water and wine to valuables. They were ordinary, unremarkable, fragile, and disposable. If Paul were writing his letter today, I imagine he might have said, “We have this treasure in cardboard boxes” or even “Styrofoam containers.” What matters is not the containers themselves, but what’s in them.
Why this metaphor? Because it needs to be clear to everyone that it’s God’s power at work, not ours.
The problem in Corinth was not that the people lacked the power of the Holy Spirit, but that spiritual gifts had become a matter of personal pride. Paul response is to say, in effect, It’s not about you — it’s about God and his mercy. He’s said as much more than once in his letters (e.g., 1 Cor 1:26-31), and makes the point again here with the homeliest of word pictures.
The lesson is not that we should make it our goal to be ordinary, if that means being careless and lackadaisical in the Christian life. Paul’s point, rather, is that we are ordinary in contrast to the priceless treasure we carry, a gift we could never have expected and don’t deserve.
And knowing this, Paul hopes, we would want others to be impressed with the treasure, and not the pot.