Molded by God — Are you allowing God to shape and mold you in His image?  In his writing, Paul asked (Rom. 9:21), “Does not the potter have power over the clay?”  I believe all of us would answer that question with a yes. How could the clay ever have power over the potter?

In today’s sermon I want to take a look at both the potter and the clay.  There is a lesson that God had for Jeremiah that we find carries over into New Testament teaching.  In New Testament teaching, the idea is for the Christian believer is to become a vessel that is prepared for and used for God’s purpose (2 Tim. 2:21).  So, let’s take a moment to today to take a look at this lesson about the potter and the clay.

The potter and the clay

Let’s look at the clay first.  First off, we know that clay is essentially mud.  I’m not sure if there is anybody that thinks highly of mud outside of those who deal in the art of fashioning clay and doing pottery.  My first thoughts about clay goes back to when I was in art class in elementary school and we got a chance to play with the stuff.  My brother didn’t have to wait for art class because he was a big fan of making mud pies when we would go outside to play! We would go outside and mom would always have to warn about playing in the dirt and getting in the mud.  

Clay does not really have a shape until someone molds it into something; it also has no life whatsoever unless someone gives it purpose.  That being said, we know that clay has its usefulness. The ancients learned that they could mold clay into any shape and use it to make plates and bowls to eat out of, or for cups to drink out of, or for large pots that could hold water.  They also learned that they could bake the clay into bricks and made their homes out of clay brick. 

Clay does not have its own will and cannot turn itself into any of these things on its own.  The clay does not put itself onto the potter’s wheel to be molded into a cup, plate, or pot. Clay does not put itself inside of an oven to be baked into brick.  In order for clay to serve a valuable purpose, it needs for a potter to have a purpose for it and to then mold it into the vessel and as he or she desires it to be.

The potter’s rule  

It is the potter that goes out into the mud, finds a purpose for it, and digs the clay from the mud.  The potter is the one that puts the shapeless and lifeless clay onto the spinning wheel. It is the potter that then digs his or her hands into the clay or around the clay to form it and give it its purpose.  So, who is it that has the power and is sovereign here: the potter or the clay? The sovereign one in this situation – the one that has all authority and power – is the potter.

In Jeremiah, we find a lesson for what Paul was teaching in his letter.  God had a lesson that he needed to show Jeremiah so that the prophet could then share that lesson with the children of Israel.  During the time of Jeremiah, the children of Israel were living in great sin and they had forgotten who their ruler was.

In struggling to understand the sovereignty of God, this lesson would show them God’s power and authority (His rule) over all individuals.  This is a lesson that many of us need to consider as we go about living in our world today. You could think of this lesson in Jeremiah as a live version of a parable.  (Parable – a spiritual lesson taught using a common task everyone is familiar with.)

At the potter’s house

As we open to Jeremiah 18, we find that God tells Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house (Jer. 18:1-2).  Again, there was a lesson that God was going to show to Jeremiah and I want you to see that lesson play out as we take a visit to the potter’s house.

So, Jeremiah goes down to the potter’s house and let’s take a look at what he finds there.  Let’s make a quick note: When he gets there, Jeremiah finds that the potter is already hard at work.  We are told (Jer. 18:3) that the potter was making something at the wheel. I’m not sure at what time of day this took place but Jeremiah clearly did not have to wait for the potter to get started working.

Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi on Unsplash

I say that this potter was hard at work from the standpoint of someone who knows an artist and someone who has been self-employed.  Both individuals can find themselves working some around the clock! I happen to look at those who do pottery like how I would look at a painter painting a picture – they are artists.  

Artists view things with a different eye and they can find purpose out of anything when it comes to their art.  At the very same time, artists are some of the most detailed people you will ever find when it comes to their work.  They constantly aim for perfection when it comes to their artwork; what looks fine to you may simply be alright in their eyes.  So, I imagine that this potter is bent over at the knees looking over the clay with a very detailed eye as he worked to mold it and shape it to his desires.

Struggling with the clay

And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.

key verse – jeremiah 18:4 nkjv

As Jeremiah studied the man, we are told that the clay he was working with on the wheel was marred in his hands (Jer. 18:4).  This means that there was something wrong with the vessel he was making.  Maybe the clay was too tough for the potter to mold and shape it as he saw fit.  Or it could have been that the clay was too soft and, again, it was something that the potter could not shape and mold as he purposed.  

So, what does the potter do with this clay that is marred?  Does the potter throw it to the side? Does he throw the clay away?  Let us note the potter’s actions here in this scripture. We are told that the potter simply made it – the same clay – again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.  If the clay was too hard, he found a way to soften it or, if it was too soft, he made it a bit firmer so that he could finally shape and mold it into a vessel.

The potter did not toss the clay out; he did not give up on it.  The potter continued to work with the clay! Even though the clay would initially not cooperate with him, he managed to still find a purpose for the clay.  I don’t know how you feel about this lesson but it’s a very beautiful lesson to me. As I said, we could read this as if it’s a parable because there was certainly a spiritual meaning behind it.

The parable realized

Let’s break this down with spiritual sight so that we can see the moral of God’s lesson in this live illustration.  In our text, we would understand that the potter is representative of God and that we, mankind, are all represented by the clay.  This example is fitting because after all, God formed mankind (man and woman) out of the dust of the ground and created us in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26; Gen. 2:7).  

Yet, I would also tell you that God’s work with mankind was not completed at that moment.  Why? Because man sinned in the garden; we became marred in His hands in other words.  So, there was still some work that God needed to do on man. He needed to continue shaping, molding, and fashioning man on his pottery wheel.  Let’s compare God to this potter for a moment.

God, the artist

Where the potter was sovereign over the clay, God is sovereign over both you and me – He has absolute power!  God took the clay (you and I) that was without form and without life and breathed a piece of His soul into it to give it life!  Like the potter, we find that the Lord does not rush His work but that He is very diligent and very patient when it comes to His work.  

God is an artist and it does not matter to Him how long it will take for His art piece to meet His idea of completeness (or satisfactory).  Have you ever seen an artist work? Most artists are very detailed and very diligent when it comes to their work. Another trait that I have noticed about artists is their patience.  When my brother paints a picture for fun, he could paint on that piece of work for months. When he works to sell his artwork, he goes over his work with very great detail because it is representative of his craft.

In the lesson, we see that this potter was no different, he cared a great deal about his work.  Because he cared about his work, I believe that means he took his work very seriously. If he did not care or take his work seriously, he would have settled for the vessel of clay that was marred in his hands.  That was definitely not the case because we saw him start over with the clay.  

The potter’s work meant something to him and he took great satisfaction with the end result.  God is no different! He takes His time with His piece of art and you are that piece of art that’s currently on His pottery wheel.  This may be annoying to some because we get tired of God’s patience but I feel like this view of God gives such a great insightful view of His inner working.  I would watch my brother start on a piece of art and would have no idea what he was doing on the canvas until weeks later!

Marred in God’s hands

In our illustration, we saw that the potter was already at work with the clay when Jeremiah showed up.  We don’t realize this but God has been working on us before we were even formed in our mother’s wombs. We are on His pottery wheel and only realize that until later on in our lives.

The potter was working with clay that was void of life; it could not decide to get off the pottery wheel or question what the potter was doing.  Yet, God is constantly working with clay that is full of life and even has its own will at time; it gets up and moves around and will even question what authority God has over it!  It gets to a point that the clay can become marred in God’s hands not because He made a mistake but because we, the clay, is not cooperating with Him!

Does God cast us to the side or throw us away?  Let me also ask, why do you believe God continues to work on us over and over again?  The potter had an intended purpose for the vessel he was making and I tell you that God has an intended purpose for us.  God is constantly fashioning us in a way that we can be a completed work that meets His eye of satisfaction.

The purpose of His molding

We are on God’s pottery wheel being molded by God.  I believe that many of us question the Lord’s purpose and wonder what type of vessel He is making us into.  As I cannot fully see my brother’s vision until it is near completion, I do not believe we fully understand the vessel that God is molding us into until He is ready for us to know.  

I will say, however, that I do I believe part of the answer has already been given to us in scripture.  God ultimately wants us to fully be in His image and likeness. In the lives we live, God puts on His finishing touches and will one day show off His artwork in His heavenly kingdom.

In the book of Revelation, it is revealed that the Lamb’s wife (the church) will be like the most precious jewel of the new heaven.  The apostle John wrote that the Lamb’s wife would have the glory of God and that her light was like a most precious stone and clear as crystal (Rev. 21:9-11).  We cannot become that most precious stone of God’s heavenly kingdom if we are not molded by God!

Yes, we endure struggle and yes, we go through some things while living in this world.  But I truly believe that this is what God is molding us into today. The goal is for us to one day be perfect as God is perfect and righteous.  By molding us into this vessel we become a vessel that the Lord can use in our world today to edify others as well!

Again, I say, we cannot become those things if God does not have His work with us today.  If we do not cooperate in the hands of God, how can we become such a vessel? Sometimes the Lord has to wet the clay so that He can loosen it up to mold it and shape it.  Sometimes God has to make the clay firm so that He can mold it and shape it into the vessel He requires it to be. We may not see nor understand His purpose for us now, but one day it will become clear and we will see His good work and God will be glorified.

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