Priceless Treasure in Earthen Vessels
IN ANCIENT times earthen vessels were used in Biblical lands as containers for the safe preservation of valuables. So at Jeremiah 32:14 (AS) we read that the prophet commanded Baruch to put deeds of purchase in an earthen vessel, “that they may continue many days.” The apostle Paul may have had this custom in mind when he wrote to the congregation at Corinth: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” (2 Cor. 4:7) From the context it is clear that by the vessels here spoken of he meant the human organisms of dedicated Christians, himself and his brothers, and this is further corroborated by 2 Timothy 2:20, 21, where he says: “Now in a large house there are vessels not only of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for an honorable purpose but others for a purpose lacking honor. If, therefore, anyone keeps clear of the latter ones, he will be a vessel for an honorable purpose, sanctified, useful to his owner, prepared for every good work.”
Now what is the “treasure” that is hidden in these live earthen “vessels”? From Paul’s argumentation we find that it is the ministry entrusted to Jehovah’s faithful slaves, ‘the glorious treasure of service.’ It is true that the members of Christ’s body are receptacles for the truth, but this alone does not meet the apostle’s explanation. For we read: “As we have such a hope, we are using great freeness of speech, and . . . since we have this ministry according to the mercy that was shown us, we do not behave improperly, . . . but by making the truth manifest recommending ourselves to every human conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Cor. 3:12, 13; 4:1, 2) Yes, it is the precious privilege of service that is meant by the treasure. And is it not true that the great God of the universe has granted the invaluable privilege of serving as his witnesses to lowly humans, although the angels would have hailed such an assignment with the greatest joy? It is as Peter tells his brothers: “Into these very things [which have now been announced to you] angels are desiring to peer. Hence brace up your minds for activity.” And: “You are ‘ . . . a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”—1 Pet. 1:12, 13; 2:9.
“NO FLESH MIGHT BOAST”
And why has almighty Jehovah chosen such frail earthen vessels, who are in themselves absolutely unworthy of such honor and lacking in power to resist the pressure brought to bear upon them by the enemy? The apostle answers: “That the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not that out of ourselves. . . . in order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God.” (2 Cor. 4:7; 1 Cor. 1:28, 29) And surely divine power is needed to make these vessels bear up under the heavy pressure, and it is also given in adequate measure. Let us read Paul’s description in the next verses (2Co 4:8-11) here at 2 Corinthians, chapter 4: “We are pressed in every way, but not cramped beyond movement; we are perplexed, but not absolutely with no way out; we are persecuted, but not left in the lurch; we are thrown down, but not destroyed. Always we endure everywhere in our body the death-dealing treatment given to Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be made manifest in our . . . mortal flesh. Consequently, death is at work in us, but life in you.”
“Death is at work in us, but life in you”! When the apostle wrote these words he referred to himself and to his fellow apostles and other colaborers in comparison with the members of the newly founded congregations of believers in Greece. But how well this expression states the relationship of God’s anointed remnant of treasure-bearing vessels in our day toward his “other sheep,” to whom it has been and is their sweet privilege to minister the life-giving truth and who are zealously and faithfully sharing in the grand service of heralding the Kingdom now established! In Revelation 22:17 we are told: “The spirit and the bride keep on saying, ‘Come!’ And let anyone hearing say, ‘Come!’ And let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.” These words leave no doubt that the ministry in these days is shared by the two classes. This sacred service they will carry on right into and through the battle of Armageddon, as was indicated by the answer given to Isaiah when he inquired of Jehovah how long he was to continue telling the message to the people: “Until cities be waste without inhabitant, and homes without man, and the land become utterly waste.” (Isa. 6:8-12, AS) After the fall of Christendom testimony will be given against the godless element then in power, until the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” destroys them and his own universal sovereignty stands vindicated forever.
The already “great” multitude of the Lord’s “other sheep” will continue to grow in number, whereas the remnant of Christ’s anointed body members decreases year by year as members thereof finish their course in death, faithful to the end. For them, however, the sweet promise is held out that “the things they did go right with them.” They are experiencing an instantaneous resurrection and enter right into their share in the work of their reigning King and Bridegroom. No wonder Revelation calls them “happy”!—Rev. 14:13.
ODOR OF LIFE, ODOR OF DEATH
In Revelation 22:17 the message preached was likened to life-giving water, which the thirsty ones can come and take “without money and without price,” as Isaiah put it. (Isa 55:1-3, AV) In his letter to the Corinthians Paul uses another illustration that shows the different effect that this ministry has upon people of good will, on the one hand, and upon those of a bad disposition toward the Kingdom, on the other hand. He says: “Thanks be to God who always leads us in a triumphal procession in company with the Christ and makes the odor of the knowledge of him perceptible through us in every place! For to God we are a sweet odor of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the latter ones an odor issuing from death to death, to the former ones an odor issuing from life to life. And who is adequately qualified for these things?”—2 Cor. 2:14-16.
The apostle was here referring to the practice in those days of burning sweet incense all along the route as the triumphal procession of a military victor moved through the streets of the welcoming capital. So, by spreading abroad in this day everywhere the ‘triumphant message of Jehovah’s established kingdom,’ his truthbearing vessels are diffusing and making manifest the sweet fragrance of this message. Honest persons of good will toward God and his theocratic government sense the sweetness of the knowledge thus diffused, and to them the witness work has the smell of health and life. They breathe in the atmosphere of the Kingdom truth, which is an odor of life that leads to life. The message gains victories in that it transforms many, who formerly were enemies of God by wicked works, into witnesses of Jehovah and preachers of the good news of his theocratic kingdom. They render thanks to Jehovah God and to his King, whose triumphal procession they joyfully join, loudly crying out: “Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:10) On the other hand, to those who love the things of this old world the Kingdom message is a stench in their nostrils, ‘an odor of death’ that leads to death.
Not only is the message that Jehovah’s witnesses preach an odor, but they themselves are so also. And so the apostle ended up his statement about the triumphal procession by saying: “And who is adequately qualified for these things?” He then answers his own question in these words: “We are; for we are not peddlers of the word of God as many men are, but as out of sincerity, yes, as sent from God, under God’s view, in company with Christ, we are speaking.”—2 Cor. 2:17.
Those who are opposed to the Kingdom message accuse the witnesses of all sorts of “crimes,” and often the authorities prosecute them as “peddlers,” in an effort to stop their preaching or at least make their activity appear in a bad light. Paul here gives a definite answer to such accusations; and even though some misinformed people may think differently, every real witness realizes that he is doing his preaching work “as sent from God, under God’s view in company with Christ,” and as such it is also realized and appreciated by those who are of good will.
In this connection it is worthy of notice that this witness work calls for volunteers, for people who say, as Isaiah of old: “Here am I; send me.” (Isa. 6:8, AV) Hence there should never be any attempt at forcing people to take part in this work. The thing for Jehovah’s witnesses to do, when people show interest in the message, is to study the Bible with them and thus supply them with the needed knowledge of God’s purposes and his will, so that Jehovah’s spirit can operate upon them; and then to show them how they can share their newly gotten invaluable knowledge and joy with others. In this way all persons dedicated to Jehovah God can be light-bearers in this dark and gloomy world.
In Second Corinthians Paul uses another illustration that emphasizes this function as light-bearers and at the same time explains why most people do not see the light that is being radiated from Jehovah’s servants. He refers to the fact that Moses’ face was radiating because of Jehovah’s glory that he had beheld on Mount Sinai. This reflected glory the Israelites could not gaze at, so that Moses had to put a veil over his face when he spoke to them. And Paul explains the significance of this happening and applies it to our ministry as follows: “Moses would put a veil upon his face, that the sons of Israel might not gaze intently at the end of that which was to be done away with. But their mental perceptions were dulled. . . . when there is a turning to Jehovah, the veil is taken away. If, now, the good news we declare is in fact veiled, it is veiled among those who are perishing, among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through. For God is he who said: ‘Let the light shine out of darkness,’ and he has shone on our hearts to illuminate them with the glorious knowledge of God by the face of Christ.”—2 Cor. 3:12-14, 16; 4:3, 4, 6.
This glorious light, which they have received from God through Christ, Jehovah’s witnesses are faithfully reflecting. And they have, to quote further the apostle’s argument, “renounced the underhanded things of which to be ashamed, not walking in craftiness neither adulterating the word of God, but by making the truth manifest recommending [themselves] to every human conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Cor. 4:2) So if any persons are having the light of truth veiled from their sight, it is certainly not the responsibility of Jehovah’s witnesses, but it is their own.
Especially is this so in view of the statement at Revelation 18:1: “I saw another angel descending from heaven, with great authority, and the earth was lighted up from his glory.” When this prophecy went into fulfillment by the Lord Jesus’ coming in his kingdom power, the prophetic command at Isaiah 60:1, 2 became effective: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee. For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but Jehovah will arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.” And since 1919 Jehovah’s earthen vessels have been active accordingly, with the result foretold in Isa 60 verse 3: “And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”—AS.
So let each one of the remnant and of the “other sheep” keep on shining as illuminators in the world (Phil. 2:15), in grateful appreciation of their grand and most unique privilege of service, the priceless treasure that they have in their earthen vessels.