When God told Jeremiah (7:27) and Ezekiel (3:7) to go and preach His Word to people who would not listen to Him nor them, it captured the pathos of preachers and preaching. Preachers are men sent by God to proclaim His message to humanity.
In the Bible, they emerge from obscurity. Preachers labor in seeming futility, which warrants the label, “fools for Christ.” An untenable message, promulgated by a suspect method, via an ignoble character is God’s means and method. The world calls it, “foolishness,” but the apostle Paul called it, “the wisdom of God.” This is the story of clay pot preachers.
God made man from the dust of the earth. After the fall from Eden, there was nothing good in man. He possessed no value. He was unworthy of relationship with God. Everything was corrupt: mind; words; and actions. Immediately, man began to strive with his neighbor. They fought over resources, until death caused each one to succumb. Preachers are men like these.
When the striving increased, some began to think, speak, and act proudly. Achievement to god-like status became man’s objective. He built towers and put his name above every other name (Gen 11). His quest was prosperity, security, and pleasure. His desire was eternal status, but death incessantly ruined his plans.
Successive generations of men could never seem to alter the plot line. The lust of their eyes, the lust of their flesh, and their pride could not be tamed. God’s assessment of man’s existence was poor, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5).”
The chasm between God and man was great. Only God could reconcile the relationship between Himself and man. God sent men to be preachers. Enoch and Noah preached prior to the flood (Gen 5–6). The message of judgment against the ungodly was coupled with the message of God’s salvation. Only God was able to save humanity from the state of total depravity. He revealed Himself to and through Abraham, a man of Ur of the Chaldees. The covenant of grace would provide the solution.
What man needed was right standing before a holy God. No person could achieve it by works. It was granted by grace and evidenced by faith. It demanded a substitute sacrifice and the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins. God provided it all.
Preachers are not saviors. They are mere men chosen from an ordinary lot, for an extraordinary purpose. Preachers proclaim the reconciliation between God and man through the atoning sacrifice of the substitute Lamb of God. Abraham informed his son Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Isaac believed and revealed these things to Jacob and Esau, but only one of them believed. Jacob taught his sons about God’s plan of reconciliation through His covenant. One of them, Joseph, would serve as a type of kinsman redeemer for his brothers and their families.
The story of Israel eventually became the Gospel message to be preached to all nations. Salvation would extend to the uttermost part of the earth, to every nation, tribe, and tongue, beginning with the Jews (Acts 1:8; Rev 5:9).
The Jews were clay pot people, too. They were family, citizens of the smallest of nations. There was nothing about them which made them preferable in the eyes of God. He simply chose them to be the conduit of God’s message to all people. This, too, was foolishness to the great nations of the earth. The Greeks had their philosophers. The Egyptians had their scholars. The Romans had their esteemed political and military leaders. Even the Jews were experts in religion, but God chose a remnant from Israel, “the least of these my brethren.” They would bear witness.
So, when God raised up a preacher, he did not choose a scribe, or a Sadducee, or a Herod, or a Zealot, and or a Pharisee, except for a select few. God prefers the weak ones. Moses was born a slave. David was a shepherd. Amos was a farmer. Some were of priestly lines, like Jonah and John the Baptist, but even then, there was nothing spectacular about them by birth or achievement. Paul wrote, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble (1 Cor 1:26).”
The origin of the preacher never gave way to grandeur, save for a few kings and leaders. Even in those cases, there was much trouble for them. God resists the proud. Hosea married a prostitute. Elijah was destitute. Many of the prophets were killed by their own people, to whom they delivered the Word of the Lord.
Homes in the ancient near east would have any number of vessels for holding things. Some would be made of gold, others of silver, and then there were the everyday pots for various uses. When Paul wrote and described some as having “treasure in earthen vessels,” he was making a point (2 Cor 4:7). These earthen vessels were the kind which carried garbage and human waste from the house. They were filthy. When Isaiah realized this truth, he was undone (Is 6:5).
Thus, we have the profile of a clay pot preacher. He is nothing. He has no status. He is revered by no one. He is unworthy to even be in the house. His only function is to carry something. In our case, God has chosen him to carry treasure. This is unexpected and hardly believable. Thus, he is ignorantly treated with disdain.
To be more specific, the preacher carries the unfathomable riches of Christ (Eph 3:8), being a steward of the mysteries of the Gospel (1 Cor 4:1). God has chosen a foolish means to carry out His purpose and plan. Paul said, “For I know nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (Rom 7:18).” Priceless treasure is hidden in a putrid box.
The preacher, as a vessel of mercy prepared for glory (Rom 9:23), is poured out like a drink offering before Almighty God (2 Tim 4:6). His life is expended by design in the plan of God. Paul confessed he labored more than all the rest (1 Cor 15:10). Having died to himself, the preacher values nothing in this world. He counts every gain in the world as loss. He values the things of the world as dung. These things which occupied him are removed from his vessel, so that Christ might occupy him fully.
Christ, by His Spirit, fills the clay pot preacher. His purposeful work now brings meaning and significance to his very existence. He has value, not because his clay pot status has changed, but because God has chosen him and called him. He is a vessel bearing water God turns into wine. He is filled with the spiritual nourishment for the famished. When he is poured out, God washes him clean, and then refills him for further service.
Men look at preachers as nothing but clay pots. They are despised by those who covet beautiful things. Preachers are undervalued by those who desire rich things. Preachers are quickly dismissed by those wishing for a body of knowledge. Preachers are a disruption to sinners, living sinful lives in the world. They are despised and rejected by men, as was their Master. Preachers are sometimes ejected from the house of God because the people want something other than the contents of water and wine.
Paul confessed he was the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15), a filthy pot. He also made reference to himself as, “the least of all saints (Eph 3:8),” and “the least of the apostles (1 Cor 15:9).” Paul’s self-evaluation should be your self-evaluation and mine. We are all untimely born into a world of sin.
If the evaluation of the clay pot preacher is so low: by God, others, and oneself, why do preachers press on with their calling? First, some do not. They grow weary of doing good. Most preachers are tempted, like Timothy, to quit the ministry of the Word. The financial hardship is made worse by those who look down on you. The work of the ministry is easily misunderstood, “Why don’t you get a job at 7–11?” It can be very disheartening. The lack of spiritual growth in saints is grievous to the preacher. Wandering saints get into all kinds of trouble.
Second, when a preacher continues in the work of the sacred calling, it is because his eyes are focused on the Savior. By serving Christ, first, and the church, second, the preacher is kept by grace. The laborers are always few, but who really cares other than the Lord Himself. He is sovereign and in control of the labor pool. He is able to make all grace abound in times of need. It is His prerogative to continue to use a particular clay pot. The burden is great, “Here am I…send me.”
Third, the preacher who has a kingdom perspective is unmoved by statistics or emotional ups and downs. He is aware of the utter need for grace in God’s calling him to the ministry. His task is to know Christ, in order to preach Him to others. This singular purpose, if it can be maintained without distraction, is simply to make Christ known to all people. Who is adequate for such a task?
Paul answers our query, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:5–6).” Here is a type of salvation for clay pots in the work of the ministry. God has made us adequate.
There is no other way to reconcile our worthlessness and the fact of our high calling. Note the extent: “anything as coming from ourselves.” God is glorified, “for it God who is at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13).” Or as Paul wrote elsewhere, “For from Him, and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory, forever. Amen (Rom 11:36).”
One might ask why God does all the work of the ministry? The answer brings us to our conclusion, “so that no man may boast before God (1 Cor 1:29).” God has chosen the weak things, the despised things, and the foolish things to shame the world (1 Cor 1:27–28). The proud are heading for destruction. The humble know grace upon grace for their good works prepared beforehand by God (Eph 2:10).
In conclusion, we have seen God’s employment of clay pot preachers. He fills them with His Word and His Spirit. He takes them wherever He wishes to employ them. He pours them out with all meaning and significance. Paraphrasing and adapting David’s sentiment, “Better is one day, as a clay pot, in the house of the Lord than a thousand elsewhere.”
Preacher, are you busy doing something else, being something else. Here is the imagery every preacher must hold onto. Your only purpose is to take in the water of the Word and experience the bliss of having it poured out as wine to those thirsting for God’s righteousness. Be humble in your status and capacity but be courageous in this singular purpose. Relieve yourself from everything that hinders the simplicity of your identity and function. Know the Word, preach the Word, as a clay pot preacher.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 2, 2021