Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Potter and Clay
Pastor Steve Schell
Romans 9:19-21
In the middle of an explanation about why so many Jews were rejecting the gospel Paul echoes one of the deepest questions that comes out of the human heart: “God, why did You make me like this?” For some reason most of us are displeased with what we see when we look at ourselves. This is true whether we’re focusing on our physical appearance, our intelligence, our career path or even our spiritual gifting and call to serve Him. Something perverse in us always wishes we were like someone else. We consider what they do to be a great success but what we do to have little meaning or to be altogether a failure. We initially blame ourselves for this and set about to try harder, but as time passes we discover there’s a deeper root to the problem. We discover God has made us certain ways and the more we struggle to change, the more apparent that truth becomes. I’m forced to admit I’ve been made a certain way and there’s no escaping it. And that’s when Paul’s words in these verses become so healing. He stops us in our tracks and asks, “…who are you, O man, who answers back to God… does not the Potter have the right over the clay to make… one vessel for honor and another for common use?” His words heal us because they go right to the root of the problem. It’s only after we finally submit to the Potter that we find joy and become an honored vessel.

What is Paul saying to the church in Rome?
• God has the right to direct Jewish hostility so that it serves His saving purpose. He used it like He used Pharaoh to spread His glory among the Gentiles so more people would be saved.
• Judaism was being divided by the gospel. It was exposing the lack of faith in people’s hearts and those who rejected the gospel were being hardened in the process (Mt 13:10-16; Isa 6:8-13). However, it also exposed the presence of faith and a small, but significant, percentage were being saved and were providing spiritual maturity and eldership to the rapidly growing church.

What is the eternal truth here?
Paul’s statements contain a truth that applies just as accurately to believers in any generation. He says:
1) God is also our Potter who forms us according to His divine purpose. We have no control over how He designs us. We are merely clay in His hands.
2) Some of us are designed for service that is “honored” by others in the church. Some are designed for service that is “not honored,” meaning less visible, less appreciated.
3) It is wrong to reject the way God chooses to use me.
The key: There is a great difference between what God honors and what humans honor.

Different members (1Co 12:12-25)
Paul applies this principle to the church in his first letter to the Corinthians.
• (v13) We must cease thinking about honor and dishonor the way most humans do. The world’s thinking is false. In Christ we all stand equally blessed and honored by God.
• (v14) Our essential differences are not under our control. We have been designed by God to function differently. When it comes to serving Him our
calling and giftings differ widely (Ro 12:3-8).
• (vs15-16) We must not allow human thinking to determine the way we view ourselves or other believers.
1) We must not devalue ourselves by comparing ourselves to those in
more honored roles.
2) We must not devalue others by being proudly independent or despising
those who serve in what we assume to be less-honored roles (v21).
• (vs17-19) For the Church to fully carry out the ministry of Jesus Christ our different gifts and callings must work together harmoniously and in mutual respect.
• (vs20-21) Each of us is formed differently and called to serve in different roles. Every function is essential and in God’s mind there is no hierarchy of honor. The vessel is “honored” by carrying the Holy Spirit.
• (v22) This diversity is absolutely essential, but it is only a diversity of function, not a diversity of significance. God views us as a “corporate entity” (a Body), not a loose collection of individuals. Not understanding this is what causes so much pain and discouragement.
• (v23) Not only does He want us to understand that every gift and calling is essential, He wants us to take deliberate steps to see that honor (encouragement, thanks, assistance) is given to those who tend to be overlook. He wants us to “wrap” them in honor.
• (v24) Some people already get so much honor by virtue of their visibility or role they don’t need extra affirmation or care.

Paul is primarily talking here about ministry in the church. He’s addressing the fact that some roles seem more important than others, but given the breakdown between rich and poor that was also present in Corinth (1Co 11:17-22) I think he is also exhorting us to give practical help (honor) to those in need. The word “feet” (v21) may be an indication of this.

What does this “honor” look like? It’s making the effort to tell someone: “Here’s how God used you in my life.” It’s covering them in prayer as they do their ministry. It’s intentionally watching to see how God uses someone.

• (v25) Paul says the Church is to live in a culture without “hierarchy.” We are to have a “team mentality” which doesn’t give celebrity status to some and ignore the contributions of others.

We are to consciously avoid thinking that way and deliberately honor those who serve “beneath the radar.” Our goal is to see that everyone is equally honored and their gifting and calling given place so that no one ends up saying: “God why did You make me like this?”, but rather, “Thank You God for making like this!” as well as, “Thank You God for making him or her like that!”

When I was young I thought to myself, “I can do whatever I choose, I just have to work hard enough,” but as time has passed I’ve discovered how wrong I was. Some things have come easily, while others have not. For a long time I tried to improve my weaknesses rather than develop the gifts God has given me (see: Now, Discover Your Strengths, Buckingham and Chifton, The Free Press, 2001). I defined for myself what success would look like and drove myself to achieve it, so when God interrupted and revealed His will, instead of joy I reacted with sadness because the path He showed me led downward into humble service of others (see: The Selfless Way of Christ, Henri Nouwen, Orbis Books, 2007). His path totally disregarded what the world would think of me. The Potter called me to be a vessel He “honored” not compete and validate myself in the eyes of others. And only when I embraced that call, and embraced who He had made me to be did I find peace, strength and genuine effectiveness. I realized He was calling me to discover who He had made me to be, not decide who I wanted to be, to submit to the fact that I was the clay and He is the Potter who has the right to do with me anything He wants.

1) Heri Nouwen uses the term “downward mobility” as opposed to “upward mobility.” His point is that God calls us downward in the world’s eyes to greater service and humility. Where has this been true for you?
2) Paul describes Christ’s church as His Body. What part of that Body has He made you to be (eye, ear, hand, foot, mouth…)?
3) Have you ever said, “God, why did You make me like this?” Why were you frustrated? What have you learned? 

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