The apostle Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7). What is the treasure Paul refers to here? The gospel Paul preached was the treasure; he mentioned it in the third verse of this chapter. The gospel is so precious because it gives light to those in spiritual darkness: “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ” (v. 4). Paul spoke of one’s conversion to Christ as a heart being enlightened by the gospel resulting in, “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). In Christ, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Col. 2:3). Thus, the gospel Paul preached can be called unsearchable riches that bring light (Eph. 3:8-9).
Though he was a great apostle, Paul understood himself as merely a vessel that contained this precious treasure. Paul considered his earthly body as an earthen vessel, a clay pot. The body of man came from the earth to which it returns (Gen. 2:7; 3:19; 18:27; Job 10:9; Psa. 103:14; Ecc. 3:20; 12:7). Clay was common in Paul’s world. Clay pots were cheap to make, fragile, and expendable. Paul was contrasting his own weakness compared to the great, powerful treasure of the gospel he possessed. Paul went through hardships for the sake of the gospel that caused cracks to form in him as a clay pot, but instead of being destroyed, he remained intact by God’s power (2 Cor. 4:8-9). His outer physical body may perish, but his inner spiritual life was renewed daily (2 Cor. 4:16).
The knowledge of the truth in the gospel of Jesus Christ brings with it eternal life (1 Jn. 5:20). Paul was willing for his physical body to suffer death so that the knowledge of the gospel that brings eternal life might be made known. The Corinthians to whom Paul wrote were among those who benefited by this willingness. To them, Paul went on to write his daily experience of, “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:10-12). Paul faced dangers every hour for the gospel to the point he could say, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:30-31). He was willing to do this as a servant of God. “As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Rom. 8:36). By continually dying and continuing to live, Paul reenacted the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus were not merely the message he preached, but the model by which he lived.
All of us as Christians have been identified with Christ’s death and resurrection when we were baptized (Rom. 6:3-5). We must continue to do so by putting to death the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:24), and by denying ourselves to take up our cross daily and serve Jesus (Lk. 9:23). An eternal soul is more valuable than all the world’s treasures (Mt. 16:26). If we must endure hardships in this short life so that souls may be saved for eternity, then it is worth it.