1Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; 2But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. 5For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. ~ Second Corinthians 4.1-7, King James Version
I am reading the second division of Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship. In the sixth chapter titled, “Spiritual Formation in Christ Is For the Whole Life and the Whole Person,” Willard says, “You cannot avoid having a vessel. … The problem comes when we mistake the vessel for the treasure, for the treasure is the life and power of Jesus Christ.” While Willard was discussing the definitions and nature of our spirituality, I couldn’t help but consider race.
Our body is but a vessel, a container, a “hollow utensil.” The old folks would say of God and their relationship to God: “I am but an empty pitcher before a full fountain.” What they were saying to us is that all that we are has been given to us, poured into us and we are merely receivers. We are all the same on the outside. We all need the same thing on the inside and only God can give it to us.
We are exposed to a great truth in the story of David’s selection as the next king of Israel when the prophet records that “man looks on the outward appearance but God looks at the heart” (II Samuel 16.7). It is not about size, age, birth order, parental expectation or today, the social coloring of one’s skin. It has not been nor will it ever be the deciding factor of our usefulness to God. God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55.8). God does not think about us as His races but His children.
Today, we tell our children, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and “It’s not what’s on the outside but it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” We say that the thing to be treasured is internal, hidden and not physical. But, we do look on the outward appearance and thereby profess to know the character of a human being. We do judge the book by its cover and will not open ourselves up to a new relationship because of what we “see” on the outside. We treasure the vessel. We don’t need a map, a ship or a crew. We have discovered all that there is to know about a person without a shovel, without digging any deeper than what our prejudices tell us. The social coloring of one’s skin is the X that marks the spot.
Many Christians treasure their vessel, pride themselves on its appearance and exclude others based on it all while claiming to have the ministry of Jesus Christ. Ah, but when we treasure the vessel, the social coloring of one’s skin is treated as if a jewel. The vessel becomes our prized possession and we become greedy for “skin” and its social status. When we treasure the vessel, we do not see the true value of the ministry of Jesus Christ and compromise His message to satisfy the claims of our carnality. When we treasure the vessel, we are dishonest, crafty, deceitful and the gospel is hidden from us. When we treasure the vessel, we preach ourselves, claiming that the excellency of our power is in race. But, when we treasure the vessel, what is being poured into us?