Treasure in Clay Pots

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[Note: This speech (given at the Xiamen International Fellowship--XICF) started with a reading from the Bible: 2 Corinthians 4:6-7.] Click here for another XICF message.


This Treasure in Earthen Vessels

 (The Potter and the Clay)

(by Michael Krigline,, August 19, 2012)  


            Our son, Andrew, is now in college, so you can tell that this photo is not recent. But it was a memorable day, about a decade ago, when he got the chance to get dirty at the National Pottery Museum in Hangzhou. First a skilled potter showed us how easy it was to turn dirt into a thing of beauty. Then Andrew tried it, and we learned that—well—it isn’t as easy as it looks! Andrew’s first attempt soon began to wobble out of control, and the potter had to come, squeeze the clay back into a lump, and start over again. This time, he kept his skilled hands next to my son’s, and the result showed the difference.

            That scene at the Pottery Museum was much like the scene Jeremiah reports in Jeremiah 18. You may turn there if you wish, but I will refer to a number of passages, so you might just want to write them down so you can look them up later.

            I will begin reading in Jeremiah 18: verse one.

            1The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying: 2“Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.” 3Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. 4And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. 5Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 6“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the Lord. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!” (Jeremiah 18:1-6 NKJV*)


            The image of God as Potter, and us as the clay, only appears in scripture a few times. Nonetheless, we readily embrace this image, and widely employ it in poetry, art and song. Why? I think the answer lies in the how much we can identify with the PROCESS and the PROPERTIES of pottery.


            First, we can relate to the beginning of the Pottery Process. 

            The source of earthen vessels is earth. Common clay is extracted and cleaned. Only then can the potter transform it into a thing of use and beauty.

            Likewise, the Bible says we are made of dust or clay. Genesis 2:7 says Adam was created from the dust. Job, the Bible’s oldest book, says, “Your hands have made me and fashioned me, an intricate unity; ... Remember, I pray, that You have made me like clay.” (Job 10: 8-9)[i] Similarly, David speaks of being brought up out of the “miry clay” (Ps. 40:2[ii]), and Isaiah writes (64:8) “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and we are all the work of Your hand.”[iii]

            The Bible also clearly uses the image of our clay-like-ness to remind us of God’s superiority and sovereignty. This is the theme in Isaiah 29: 15-16, Isaiah 45:9, and Romans 9:14-24 where Paul writes: 20“But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ 21Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?”

            We are thus on slippery ground when we compare ourselves to our brethren, wishing for their success or their ministry. In the song I’ll sing later, the lump of clay begins to swell with pride when he realizes he is being fashioned into a beautiful pitcher. But the world needs far more small lamps, like this one, than it needs expensive ornamental pitchers and vases. Let God decide which you will be, and choose to give Him praise for His choice.

            So, clearly, we are like pottery, in that our frame is useless dirt, until it is found, chosen, and washed, by the God who has decided to seek, choose, and cleanse us. But we must never forget that the shape and purpose for which we are molded is the Potter’s sovereign choice, not ours.


            Secondly, we can identify with the PROCESS of being molded. The spinning wheel may sometimes terrify us. Few of us enjoy being “changed.” But God loves us too much to leave us as He finds us! And like the potter that Jeremiah observed, God often makes use of His right to “start over” with us at various stages of our lives. Some imperfection, or some change in His own need of us, makes it necessary to squeeze the clay back into a lump, and reshape it according to His will. This was basically what Jeremiah was trying to say to the leaders of Israel, and it applied to nations[iv] as well as it applied to individuals.


            Thirdly, like clay sealed by a potter, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 1:22, Eph 1:13[v], Eph 4:30). Seals were important in antiquity for a number of reasons, and pottery in particular is sealed in two ways. First, the potter has a special seal—or chop—which tells buyers about the piece’s origin/creator and purpose (such as “for the imperial house”). Secondly, fine porcelain is sealed with a glaze to make it watertight and to enhance its beauty and durability.

            The Holy Spirit’s seal is like both of these. He seals us with a coating of godliness that makes us better able to weather the storms of life, and He seals us with the very Name of God.

            Pottery collectors can determine the worth of a vase or other piece by its seal. A “famous” seal (like the Jing-de-zhen seal shown here) makes China far more valuable. Vessels “sealed” for use by the Emperor are likewise considered far more valuable than ordinary pottery. That is good news for Christians, who bear the “seal” of the Holy Spirit, and who are chosen for use by the King of Kings! [vi]



            So, we can identify with the beginning of the pottery process—made of clay—and the molding/remolding process, and the sealing process. Fourthly, we can identify with the pottery PROCESS in relation to the Kiln. Without undergoing the fantastic temperatures inside these ovens, pottery is really little more than dry dirt. The heat makes it durable and useful. Some pottery is actually fired several times, depending on the kind of glaze or artwork involved, and depending on the intended purpose of the vessel.

            According to the Shanghai Daily: “As the firing temperature rises to between 900 and 1100 degrees Celsius, the color starts to come out. Its shade is governed by the precise temperature in the kiln—as well as, in part, to prevailing weather conditions. This uncontrollable element on the process means that no two pieces are the same.” (“Firing up an art movement” by Te Xie, Shanghai Daily, May 16, 2001)

            We too must go through the fire. In fact, 1 Peter 4:12 says we should not consider these “fiery trials” strange. It is part of the process by which the Master Potter makes us durable and useful, not to mention unique—but I’m getting ahead of myself.


            I said that we embrace the image of God as our “potter” because we can identify with both the PROCESS and the PROPERTIES of pottery. So let’s move briefly to the subject of its properties.


            First, porcelain dishes and pitchers are not simply washed once! They are cleaned daily. Likewise, the Lord taught us to pray daily to be washed or forgiven from sin, even as we are to pray for daily bread. (Matt 6:12)

            Secondly, handmade pottery is both beautiful and unique. As I just read, no two pieces are ever identical. And our Creator also delights to be sure that “no two pieces are the same.” No two fingerprints, no two hands, no two eyes, no two voices are ever the same. What more proof do you need that you are His individually crafted work of art? It is also true that what is beautiful to one person may not seem so beautiful to another. That is why we are not to worry about our neighbor’s evaluation of our beauty. God is our potter. He has made each of us unique, and to Him we are all beautiful.

            Thirdly, pottery is both useful and valuable. In Judges 7, Gideon used clay pots to help him defeat his enemies. The Bible connected many Old Testament sacrifices with earthen vessels. And twice, Paul connects the varied uses of pottery with the variety of roles humans perform.[vii]  So, the Lord not only sees us as uniquely beautiful, He also assigns each of us a unique purpose. It is no use for a vase to try to be a cup, and I am likewise foolish if I try to imitate YOUR place in the Church while ignoring mine. And what can I say of the priceless value God places on human beings? We have been counted as worth enough for Him to redeem us with the precious blood of Jesus![viii]

            Fourthly, pottery is also durable. We see this in Jeremiah 32 (verse14), and it is also clear the moment one walks into just about any museum! The exhibits are filled with pottery that proclaims the glory of past dynasties and cultures, long after the potter’s wheel is still. In the same way, although our Potter’s molding and firing will only last a lifetime, we will abide forever as a testimony to His grace and as “containers” of His glory.

(continued from other column)

           The final aspect of the pottery process we relate to is the one demonstrated whenever you drop your china:  pottery is fragile. The Bible contains numerous references to the fragility of pottery. (Gideon in Judges 7; Eliphaz in Job 4:18-20; Job in Job 10:9; Ps 2: 9; Ps 22:15; Isa 30:14; Jer 19:1-13; Daniel 2:41-45; Rev 2:26).[ix] In some ways, I think this is the property of pottery that we can identify with most! We all feel fragile, especially in areas of Christian service. Who can live up to the perfection God demands? Who can feel up to the task of being an Ambassador for Almighty God? But perhaps we should look at it a different way. What gives fine China such an enduring value if it is not the fact that it is equally fragile?

            I believe this is the heart of the often-quoted passage that we started with. 2 Cor 4:7 says: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” (NKJV*) Paul concludes this passage by saying:  15“For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.”  …or as CEV puts it: (v4.15)“…so that more and more people will know how kind God is and will praise and honor him.” (CEV*)

            God knows we are fragile, but does not see it as a liability. To Him, it is an asset, for it makes it easier for mankind to see Him in us and through our service!


            “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” (2 Cor 4:7 NKJV)


            When I read this scripture, I see an unanswered question. Paul says we have THIS treasure in earthen vessels, and so the obvious question is: “WHAT treasure?” I want to use the rest of our time to deal with this question.

            To find an answer one might think that we should simply be able to look back a verse or two, but such an observation does not come from one who is very familiar with Paul’s writings! Paul had an amazing ability to construct thoughts that took pages to express! In this case, as I searched for a description of “this treasure,” I found that one “answer” seemed to point backward to another, and then another, until I ended up almost two chapters earlier, back in 2 Cor chapter 2! Now, perhaps Paul was only thinking of my final point or two when he penned chapter 4, verse 7, but either way, these insights from 2 Corinthians are all a part of “this treasure” that God places in us—His earthen vessels.

            Now, I don’t have time to read the entire, complicated passage, but if you will follow along (and please do read the scripture passages later!) I think you can see the half dozen or so facets of this remarkable treasure.

            First, the treasure is a divine fragrance. Look at 2 Cor. 2:14-16[x]. Fragrances were even more important to the ancient world than they are today. The magi chose fragrances to bring to the Christ child as a token of their utmost esteem. (Matt 2:11) Judas complained about the fragrance that Mary lavished on Christ because it was worth almost a year’s wages! (John 12:5) But even this is nothing in comparison to the treasure in us of the fragrance of Christ, because Paul says THIS aroma confronts humanity with the eternal choice between LIFE and DEATH. So, “this treasure” includes a Divine fragrance.

            Secondly, this treasure is likened unto Love Letters from God to a lost world. Look down to 2 Cor 3:2-3.[xi] Paul tells the reader that we are “epistles of Christ,” or (CEV) “you are like a letter written by Christ and delivered by us.” This letter is written on tablets of flesh by the Spirit of the living God, “known and read by all men.” To put this another way, YOU are the only Bible that many people will ever read, particularly people in China. Think of it! Our lives are supposed to be like a treasured love letter proclaiming God’s love to the people around us!

            Thirdly, this treasure is the gift of sufficiency as one of God’s ministers. This is in 3:5-9, especially verse 6 that says that God has made us “sufficient as ministers of the new covenant”.[xii] Now don’t forget that to Paul a “minister” was above all one who serves and represents the interests of someone greater than himself—we still use the term this way referring to government positions. Paul develops this thought at length in chapters three and four. But in a nutshell, God considers us “sufficient” for ministry because He places in these earthen vessels a “manifestation of truth.” (2 Cor 4:2). Then, all He has to do (see verse 3) is take away the veil that blinds sinners, and point them to us! So, part of the treasure in us is sufficiency as ministers of the New Covenant.

            Next, we see the treasure described in terms like “hope” and “liberty.” Hope (2 Cor 3:12) is a priceless commodity! Ask a doctor, or ask someone undergoing life’s trials! Hope can literally mean the difference between life and death! And liberty (3:17) is a great treasure—greater perhaps than I would have given mankind, because it is also our liberty that so often distracts us from serving our Potter, and leads us to complain when we don’t like the way He is shaping the clay!

            The “earthen” side of our liberty makes the next facet of this treasure even more remarkable. Look at 3:18 and you will see that the treasure placed in us includes a reflection of God’s glory. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image…”

            A mirror (or “glass” in King James English) can only reflect what is really there, so if we see God’s glory “as in a mirror” then this reflection is proof of the treasure God has placed in us! Isn’t that cool?

            And finally, in the verses immediately before the text that started our search, we see that God gifts us with the treasure of the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4). That is, we are a torch fueled by Christ’s glory to show the perishing a way out of the darkness. The treasure in us is the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

            This brings us back to 4:7. It is HERE [3 verses later] that Paul calls us earthen vessels—fragile, durable, valuable, unique containers of this remarkable treasure: a divine perfume, love, hope, liberty and light that reflects the glory of Christ.

            Now I don’t know about you, but when I look at myself I do not see “this treasure”—I just see an earthen vessel. I know my faults and fragility too well. So, when I read Paul’s description of this treasure God has placed in me, I can’t help but wonder WHY? Why would God chose “earthen vessel” people like me and you to contain such an incredible treasure? Use angels, Lord; or use saints or pastors; but why use me?

            Of course, Paul supplies the answer in the same verse (4:7): “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”

            Paul goes on to say that he and his fellow ministers (i.e., those “earthen vessels” who carry this treasure) are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. But their lives show the “dying of the Lord Jesus” so that (v4.11) “the life of Jesus also may be manifested.”  In other word (and skipping down to v4:15 in the CEV): God chooses to place His treasure in earthen vessels like us “…so that more and more people will know how kind God is and will praise and honor Him.” (CEV) It’s not about us… it’s about HIM.


            So (to conclude), God is the potter, and we are the clay. We embrace this truth because we can identify with the process by which pottery is made, and the properties inherent in the finished product. We are made of clay, molded by skilled hands, sealed by the Spirit, and made useful through times of fiery trial. Like fine China we must be washed repeatedly from the grime of sin. We are uniquely beautiful, useful and valuable in God’s eyes. We are durable—lasting forever as “containers” of His glory. And finally we are fragile—so that our lives will always point to the greatness of God.

            God places His treasure in these earthen vessels. It is a treasure too rich and too remarkable to state in a few words. The treasure is a Divine perfume, a love letter signed by God Himself, a sufficiency to serve as His ministers. The treasure is hope and liberty; it is a reflection of God’s truth, and a torch that shines with the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

            And it is obvious that this has very little to do with how worthy we are—and EVERYTHING to do with how worthy God is. For the Kingdom of God is not made up of perfect people. It is made up of treasure-filled earthen vessels, on display before equally fragile and imperfect vessels, who likewise need to be filled by a perfect God.



(I closed the speech by singing "Earthen Vessels"--a song that an earthen vessel might sing as it sits in the house of the Master Potter.)


Earthen Vessels (by Michael Krigline, 1992)


1. From earthen pit He took me; my grime He washed away;

    The Potter lumped me on His shelf to watch, hope & pray.

    What an honor just to sit there, midst treasures by the score:

    But soon He placed me on His wheel to sit unused no more.


2. At first I spun in terror, “Don’t change me, Sir,” I cried;

    But as He worked with skill & grace my fear gave way to pride.

    A spout—a handle; “Now I see!” “I’ll be the toast of men!”

    But hopes were dashed and faith was born

          as He started over again.


3. Someday I’ll be more useful, once fire and glaze make strong:

    The Potter’s seal will give me worth; His praise will be my song.

    Until then I need not worry, though He change me every day,

    For I’ve come to know the Potter’s touch

          and I trust Him with the clay.


4. He seeks out those abandoned, filling downcast hearts with zeal.

    Broken vessels are His pride— They show His power to heal.

    When days at last are endless, and the Potter’s wheel is still,

    His glory shall abide in me and all who did His will.



God puts His treasure in earthen vessels,

Christ pours His pow’r through jars made clean each day

May I be sanctified

That Jesus be glorified

Through this chosen vessel made of clay.


This song was recorded in 2002 (click here to read more about the CD & how to get a copy). If you would like a free mp3 file of the song, please write to me. (The address is on the home page)

*Scriptures are quoted from the following translations:

NKJV: Holy Bible; The New King James Version. 1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

CEV: Holy Bible; Contemporary English Version. 1995. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


[i] Also: Eliphaz, in Job 4: 18-20, “If (God) puts no trust in His servants, if He charges His angels with error, how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust…” 

[ii] “He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps.” (Ps 40:2, NKJV)

[iii] Also Ps 103:14, David: “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” Our foundation of dust not only shows our lack of worth before being placed in the Potter’s hands, but it also points to our equality with each other. This was Elihu’s point in Job 33:6-7 when he says to Job: “I also have been formed out of clay. Surely no fear of me will terrify you…”

[iv] For example, Psalm 2:9 prophesizes that God’s Son will one day inherit the nations, which He ‘shall dash to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’

[v] “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise…” (Eph 1:13 NKJV)

[vi] There is a ref. in Prov 26: 23 to glazing. CEV: “Hiding hateful thought behind smooth talk is like coating a clay pot with a cheap glaze.”

[vii] Romans 9:14-24 (which we read earlier), and 2 Tim 2:20-21.

[viii] Heb 9:11-14; 1 Peter 1:18-19

[ix] For example, Psalm 2:9 prophesizes that God’s Son will one day inherit the nations, which He ‘shall dash to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’

[x] “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.” (2 Co 2:14–16 NKJV)

[xi] “You are like a letter written by Christ and delivered by us. But you are not written with pen and ink or on tablets made of stone. You are written in our hearts by the Spirit of the living God.” (2 Cor 3:3 CEV)

[xii] “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant…” (2 Co 3:5–6 NKJV)

© 2012 Michael Krigline. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print or copy this article, or link to it, for personal or classroom use.

 (see Website Standards and Use Policy)

Scriptures quoted are primarily from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.


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