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Jars of Clay

One of the themes of the Old Testament, including the Psalms, was the goal of believers to give glory to God. Immediately, our minds probably think about a worship service, perhaps especially a hymn or spiritual song. While that is definitely part of giving glory to the one who deserves it, there is more to it – many more and practical opportunities to shift glory away from self and onto the Lord.


I. Giving Glory to God

A. Mary

1. the place to give glory to God is, sometimes literally, at the feet of Jesus, where adoration meets authority in a place of subjection and gratitude

2. no one exemplifies that characteristic better than Mary of Bethany (John 12:1-9)

a. coming six days before Passover, her act casts a solemn shadow over the final earthly week of Jesus Christ

b. Mary might not have had very much, but she sacrificed two precious commodities to give glory to her savior – half of a liter of expensive Indian perfume, amounting to a year’s wages, and every shred of her pride and personal glory

3. anointing him with nard was one thing – a great thing – but the image of her wiping his feet with her hair – her own feminine glory – provides the enduring picture of adoration

4. as will be true for us, her opportunity to reflect glory toward the son of God happens outside a formal worship assembly where faith is tested and true

B. Woman’s Beauty

1. Mary’s hair represents her femininity, her crowning glory, and she soiled and subjected it to the feet of someone else in an act of perfect humiliation

2. the woman’s hair still represents those tender qualities (First Corinthians 11:2-15)

3. even in this liberated age of gender deterioration, a distinction is made at the apex of the human form, where reason, intellect and discovery are centered

a. when the godly woman is in subjection to Christ, she is ready to devote her gifts to him and employ her glory for his

b. when the godly wife is in subjection to her husband, she can manage a home where children are secure and the marriage is strong (First Peter 3:1-4)

C. Commendable Conscience

1. most of us possess some potential source of personal glory, a font into which we can dip our cups when in need of an ego boost – often, the well contains very real gifts and talents, accomplishments and achievements

2. giving glory to God is the practice of deflecting praise in the direction of the giver of every good and perfect gift (Second Corinthians 4:1-11)

3. whenever we try to use our gifts for the sake of the kingdom, it is vital that we have God’s glory in mind and not our own, regardless of our personal traits and contributions

4. there isn’t anything we can do or be that would make us more valuable than a savior who died on a cross to atone for our sins, so all we can do is give our best and reroute the glory toward the one who deserves it

II. Jars of Clay

A. Optimism

1. a light shines in our hearts that makes us more generous, patient, forgiving, kind, and persevering than we could ever learn to be on our own – that light is nothing that we created by striking a match or tapping the power lines

2. those sources tend to burn out eventually, unlike the light of Christ that has burned continuously for two millennia

3. that reliability is cause for optimism, as Paul writes, “we do not lose heart,” a term synonymous with discouragement

a. hoarding glory for yourself is a dead end, because eventually you fail, but spending your glory on a faultless God is infallible; “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:11-12).

b. what we have and exercise is by the mercy of God and gives us no reason for discouragement to take control or for fear to overwhelm future effort

4. it is doubt and inactivity that eclipse the work of the glory of God in our lives, self-destructive tendencies that we can ill afford in such short lives as ours; even in our jars of clay, giving glory to God returns confidence to us

a. “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (First John 2:28).

b. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (First John 5:14).

B. Renouncing Underhanded Ways

1. Paul was frequently accused of malfeasance or corruption in his ministry by people who made themselves his personal enemies or who were opposed generally to the cross

2. he testified before the Corinthian readers that he had renounced the use of disgraceful, underhanded methods – the kinds of things that gainsayers employ against people of truth

3. there were – and are – those who approach the gospel cunningly, or who tamper with God’s word to make villains of the innocent or justify popular wickedness; that is the work of the ignorant and unstable (see First Peter 3:16)

4. so many times, the motivation is to steal back a little glory for the preacher who needs a bigger church, for the pastors who want to command a larger treasury, or even for the worshiper whose talents fall outside some aspect of authority (Second Corinthians 2:14-17)

5. our goal is not simply to win debates or attain bigness, but to give glory to God by practicing honorable methods of diffusing the gospel invitation

C. Clear Conscience

1. we give glory to God when our own consciences are genuinely clean; “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (First John 3:21).

2. when we aim for honorable, we can commend our consciences to others without concern that they will reflect negatively upon the savior we claim to follow

3. conscience clearing has two essential steps

a. holiness: doing the right thing (Second Timothy 2:20-21)

b. repentance: confessing and correcting when one does the wrong thing (First John 1:9-10)

4. stealing glory from God is an act of hostility and pride; “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (First Timothy 1:5)

D. Servant Mindset, Reflected Glory

1. we best give glory to God when we make our lives luminous enough to reflect that glory in good works, a faithful attitude, and preparation for eternity

2. in short, when we pursue a servant mentality, we are ready to give glory back to God, no matter what it costs us in terms of sacrifice or dignity, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (Second Corinthians 4:5-6).

3. everyone of us – and especially those of us in teaching or leading positions – must regularly crucify our pride to keep our place, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith” (Second Corinthians 1:24).

4. “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (First Corinthians 9:19).


As Ronald Reagan said, we can get so much more accomplished when we don’t care who gets the credit. Well, in this case, people who are serving God should be concerned that God gets the credit.

Questions for Review

  1. Which was worth more – Mary’s nard or her dignity?

  2. What does Paul claim the hair illustrates?

  3. When are Christians tempted to steal glory from God?

  4. How is pessimism an expression of doubt?

  5. What do some hope to gain by peddling the gospel?

  6. What two elements are part of a clear conscience?

  7. Describe the servant mindset.

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