Art Toombs Ministries

Online Bible Commentary

Earthen Vessels




2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-- 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death is working in us, but life in you. (NKJV)





On his third missionary journey, after ministering in Ephesus for two years and three months, the Apostle Paul left for Macedonia in May, A.D. 56. Paul was in Macedonia from June to November of that year. It was there that he wrote the letter of 2nd Corinthians, likely in September and October of A.D. 56.

Preceding this passage, Paul wrote “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). “The light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as written in the New Testament.

The word Gospel means “good news”, the good news of Jesus Christ. As we proclaim the Gospel, we win others to Christ and they become Christians.

In this passage, Paul refers to the Gospel as “this treasure” (v. 7a). This treasure is entrusted by God to be proclaimed by humans, in all their frailty, which Paul refers to as “earthen vessels” (v. 7b).

By the use of the term “earthen vessels”, it appears that Paul is drawing a comparison to the “pitchers” used by Gideon, as recorded in the book of Judges. The Scripture reads ‘Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers--they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing--and they cried, ‘The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!’” (Judges 7:20}.

The pitchers had to be broken in order for the torches, the light, to shine. The light and the trumpets were referred to as “the sword of the Lord”. The Bible often refers to the Word of God as being “the sword of the Lord”.

So Paul is saying that the earthen vessels must be broken in order for the Gospel to shine, to be effective. We must be broken in order that God’s light may shine through.

Our natural response is that if God wants us to be effective, He would clear our path of all obstacles. But this is not how God works. God’s ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8-9).

He wants us to be broken so that “the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (v. 7c). His work is accomplished through His power, and not through our own, “so that no man may boast” (Eph. 2:9).

So God puts obstacles in our path, but He also overcomes every obstacle. He allows us to be “hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed…perplexed, but not in despair… persecuted, but not forsaken…struck down, but not destroyed” (vv. 8-9).

God allows us to be under pressure at times, but He will never allow us to be crushed by this pressure. He is our strength, “the Lord is the strength of my life” (Ps. 27:1).

God allows us to be “perplexed”, baffled or puzzled, at times as we wonder what He is up to. But He will never allow us to lose hope. Our hope is always in the Lord.

God allows us to be persecuted at times. But He will never desert us. He will “never leave us nor forsake us” (Dt. 31:6). He is always there to take us through our problems.

God allows us to be struck down, to be knocked to our knees at times. But He will not allow us to be destroyed. When we lean on the Lord, He is faithful to hold us up.

We are “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” (v. 10a). We die daily as we proclaim the Gospel to a fallen world. Just as Jesus was persecuted, we also will be persecuted.  

We must die to ourselves, our own desires, in order to live for Jesus. In this way “the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (v. 10b), as we become more Christlike.

“For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake” (v. 11a). The principle of life from death is a core principle of our existence.

A seed planted in the ground must germinate, die, before a plant will be birthed and grow. Christians must die on this earth before we can be birthed into eternal life in Heaven.

And often those who proclaim the Gospel must die, before the Gospel will grow, spread. The exposure to death for Jesus sake is God’s way in which “the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (v. 11b).

“So then death is working in us”, in those who proclaim the Gospel (v. 12a). We are constantly in danger, constantly at the mercy of our persecutors.

But while death is working in us, “life” is working “in you” (v. 12b). The physical death of those who proclaim the Gospel often results in spiritual life for those to whom they have ministered. They know that people do not die for a lie.

In conclusion, the persecution of those who proclaim the Gospel will result in many coming to Christ, becoming Christians. Our earthen vessels must be broken in order for His light to shine..