Second Sunday In Lent: Earthen Vessels
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you should abstain from fornication; That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour... (I Thessalonians 4:3)
In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Paul speaks about purity in the sexual area. 1 Thess. 4:4 could be translated in two possible ways. The word "vessel" here (skeuos in Greek) could refer either to our body or to our wife.
The Douay Rheims Bible commentator, George Leo Haydock considers the vessel to be our body.
Saint Augustine, concerning this particular passage of scriptures, says this:
The married believer must not only not use another man’s vessel—which is what they do who lust after other men’s wives—but he must know that even his own vessel is not to be possessed in the disease of disordered sexual desire.
In other words, 1 Thess. 4:4 could be interpreted in two possible ways. The word "vessel" here (skeuos in Greek) could refer either to our body or to our wife. So it could be said that "Each of you must know how to possess his own body in sanctification and honour." We must learn to keep our body holy and pure, because the will of God is that we must be sanctified, that is, set apart as vessels for God. (1 Thess. 4:3).
C.S. Lewis said, “God gives His gifts where He finds the vessel empty enough to receive them.”
It has also been said,
“When you're full of yourself, God can't fill you. But when you empty yourself, God has a useful vessel."
In 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul speaks about the glory of God as the only real treasure that we can have on earth. Just as God commanded light to shine way back in Genesis 1, He has also shone into our hearts - and this light is in an earthen vessel. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us.” (2 Cor. 4:7). Till the end of our lives, we will all be only earthen vessels. The only attractive thing about this vessel is that it contains the glory of God.
In the Old Testament, Abraham and David were materially wealthy. That was an earthly glory - because all human beings glory in wealth. But in the New Testament, God used a man like Paul, who was both poor and unimpressive. Tradition tells us that the Apostle Paul was only 4 feet 11 inches tall, bald, having a hooked nose and sick for much of his life. When he stood up to speak, he was not a very impressive personality. But this was the man God used to "turn the world upside down" - because he was anointed ( Acts 17:6). Paul was actually turning the world "right side up", because the whole world has been upside down, ever since Adam sinned. He was a weak earthen vessel but one that contained the glory of Christ inside. It's what's inside you that really counts. Many people today are impressed by so-called great servants of God who stand on platforms like film stars. But that's not the picture we get of a true servant of God from the apostle Paul. He was not a golden vessel. He was an earthen vessel. So don't get discouraged if you find many human limitations and weaknesses in you. Ensure that there is a great glory inside - that you walk with a clear conscience before God and live under the anointing of the Holy Spirit all the time. That's what really matters.
The light in an earthen vessel mentioned in (2 Cor. 4:6-7) reminds us of Gideon's army of 300 soldiers who had an earthen vessel each, with a light inside. These 300 were selected from a larger group of 32,000 by God, and are a type of the overcomers in the last days. When they go to battle against Satan, like those soldiers, they have a sword (which is the word of God), and a trumpet which is the proclamation of the word of God). But they also have an earthen vessel with a light inside. Gideon's soldiers were told to break their earthen vessels so that their lights would shine out. If you put a candle inside a pot, you will hardly be able to see its light. But if the pot is broken, the light shines forth.
Richard Challoner, the English Catholic Bishop, said, concerning this passage:
“Their trumpets: In a mystical sense, the preachers of the gospel, in order to spiritual conquests, must not only sound with the trumpet of the word of God, but must also break their earthen pitchers, by the mortification of the flesh and its passions, and carry lamps in their hands by the light of their virtues.”
Paul tells us how his earthen vessel had to be broken for the life of Jesus to shine forth. He had to go through affliction, perplexity, persecution and being struck down, without despairing. (2 Cor.4:8-12). Thus his earthen vessel was broken and people could see the light (the life of Jesus) clearly in him. Many believers don't understand this, and they are not interested either. But this way of the cross alone is the way of life.
When you sow a grain of wheat into the ground, its hard outer shell cracks open. Only then can the life within be released. Even in us Christians, there is the hard outer shell, of our soulish personality and our flesh, which has to be broken. Only then will the light of the glory of God shine forth from us.
This is a principle that we see right through Scripture. When Saint Mary Magdalene brought an alabaster vial of perfume to Jesus, there was wonderful perfume inside. But no-one in the house could get the scent of that perfume until the vial was broken. In the same way, God has to take us through various circumstances where our outer life is broken. Then we will no longer be attractive to people. You may want to come across to others as a very smart person. But God says, "Let Me break this desire of yours."
According to many of the early fathers of the Church, (among them being Irenaeus, Tatian, Melito, Didymus of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa,) Man comprises of spirit, soul and body. There is a tremendous glory that dwells in our spirit when Christ comes in. But our soul life hinders that glory from shining forth. That's why God allows many a breaking in our lives - so that we fulfill His purpose.
Listen to 2 Cor.4:10-11:
"Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.
For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake; that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh."
These are verses that are misunderstood by most Christians. Many believers are eager to hear of a gospel that will do physical miracles in their lives. But if you want the life of Jesus to be manifested in you, the answer lies in these verses. We have to carry the dying of Jesus in our body. What is this "dying of Jesus"?
It is to die to our own will and our self-life the way Jesus did during His entire 33 ½ years on earth (John 6:38).
That means reacting to life's situations the way Jesus reacted when He was on earth. How did He react when people called Him the devil, when Judas Iscariot stole His money, when people spat on Him, when people called Him an illegitimate son (the son of Mary), when people insulted Him, robbed Him, abused Him, told Him to stop preaching and threw Him out of the synagogue? He died to human honour, prestige, reputation and dignity, and to His own will. That is the "dying of Jesus." You and I have no part in the dying of Jesus on Calvary. We cannot die for the sins of the world. But there was a dying in His life that went on every day of His earthly life. That is the dying that we have to share in.
Why is it called "the dying of Jesus"? - Because Jesus was the first Person who walked this way of death to self and to the things of this world. He died to everything that was human, and thus He manifested the glory of the Father. You and I are called to follow in Jesus' footsteps. In 2 Cor.4:17-18 Paul says, "For that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory." In other words, all this affliction that we go through is very light because the glory that is going to come into us through them is so great. But this glory can come into us only as long as "we keep looking at the things that are unseen and refuse to look at the things that are seen" (2 Cor. 4:18). That means that we don't look at any of our sufferings from a human viewpoint, but from a Divine viewpoint. There is a glory that is worked into our lives through these trials and we get into closer fellowship with Jesus' heart.