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The treasure and the vessel
- Jacob Ninan
When God works through us, people see the treasure - the greatness of His work - and the earthen vessel - we who carry that treasure (2Co.4:6,7). Those who know us well are so familiar with our weaknesses - the earthen vessel - that they hardly expect anything great to come from us (Mt.13:57). Those who hardly know us are so impressed with the greatness that when they come across a weakness they are shocked! In a sense we cannot help this; we cannot control what people think about us. But the important thing is what we think about ourselves - whether we think we are great because of what God is doing through us, or we are aware of our own weaknesses so much that we are quick to give the glory to God. The danger is that when we are appreciated and admired by people we begin to accept that as something we deserve or that we bow down before our weaknesses and give up serving God.
The apostle Paul has given us a good example here. He was an apostle of apostles, brilliant in his mind, scholarly in his understanding of Scriptures, endowed with many gifts of the Holy Spirit, outstanding in his accomplishments for the kingdom of God including many supernatural interventions, widely known and admired by many Christians of his time, so powerful in the hierarchy of the servants of God that his word was almost the end of discussions, author of half of the New Testament, responsible for reaching the gospel to many new areas and starting many churches, etc. I am not aware of any person of this stature living at this time. What did he think about himself? What we see is a rare combination of honesty, realism, humility and uprightness. We do not see any false pride, any demeaning of himself in trying to act humble, any giving up of self-esteem for fear someone might misunderstand, any mechanical giving of glory to God, etc. This is something that should challenge any of us.
Paul was absolutely clear that in himself there was nothing good but was also confident that whatever he was accomplishing came from Christ who was living in him (Ro.7:18;Ga.2:20). In other words, he knew that apart from Christ he could do nothing, and also that with Christ he could do everything (Jn.15:5;Php.4:13). This confidence in Christ did not cause him to take a passive role, because he worked harder than all others. Yet this did not make him think that he was greater than the others because he knew that it was God's grace that enabled him to work (1Co.15:10). He recognised that God had anointed him as an apostle with authority over the churches, yet he realised that as a man he was just a recipient of grace as one of the chief sinners (1Ti.1:15). He knew he had the right to demand the churches to take care of him, but chose to earn his own livelihood to become an example to other servants of God (1Co.9:14;Ac.20:34). Though he could have commanded others, he chose to plead to them (Phm.1:8,10).
Let us examine ourselves to see where we stand.