But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 ESV)
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul describes the believer as jars of clay. The analogy points us back in time when people used to have jars or earthen vessels made of valuable things like gold, silver, and bronze. They also had very low-value clay vessels which were used in the bathroom and for other ordinary uses. When thieves came, they would search for a person's fortunes, often stored in these gold or silver vessels. The jars of clay were not appreciated and therefore ignored by the thief.
Now that we understand that our earthly bodies are like jars of clay, why does Paul say 'we have this treasure in jars of clay'? To see why, let's look back in history one more time. Some rich people wised up to the way the thieves worked and started storing their very valuable items in their jars of clay. When the thieves came, they would pass over the jars of clay, thereby missing the treasures inside. When the people wanted to again access their riches, they would have to break the jars of clay.
So here is the point: God breaks us in order to access the treasure within. By doing so, we realize (and others do to) that it is God's strength alone that powers and sustains us. Hence, God receives all the glory. Furthermore, and following our brokenness, here is the treasure that is released in us: 'The life of Jesus manifested in our bodies'. So as we 'are afflicted in every way' as Paul describes beginning in verse 8, we don't despair and give up hope. Instead we learn to surrender all of ourselves to Christ in and through all of our brokenness. Every thing we are then points to Jesus and his abounding love. His life now flows in and through us, through our weak and frail bodies, our jars of clay.
For the believer in Christ, brokenness is a certainty: It is one of the ways God accomplishes in us this continual transformation into the likeness of Christ as described by Paul here:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)
Certainly these times of brokenness often come with great difficulty and pain, sometimes even to the point of a deep perplexity about what God is trying to accomplish in our lives. In these times, the Lord will be near and comfort us. This truth is found throughout the Bible and here are just a few examples:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:17 ESV)
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
(Psalm 34:18 ESV)
For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:5 ESV)