The scripture refers to our bodies as earthen vessels or jars of clay.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
We have an incredible treasure inside these jars of clay, and this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. This treasure was designed to make a difference, to separate light from darkness, day from night. It set's boundaries.
Shortly before his crucifiction, Jesus, praying for his disciples, prayed the following:
14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
The greek word for "sanctify" used above means to be set apart, or to be holy. Even though we are in the earth, we are to be set apart. If you are familiar with the concept of national embassies then you will understand when I say that my earthen vessel, my jar of clay, is not American soil. It is not Canadian soil. It is not French soil. It is not Russian soil. It is not Indian soil. It is not Korean soil. I have been set apart in response to both the work of Jesus on the cross and in response to his prayers.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
In Jesus' time Israel was under Roman occupation and authority. The Jews were praying for Messiah to come and deliver them from this oppression. The Romans had slaughtered many Jews. When King Herod ordered all boys two years old and under to be slaughtered in Bethlehem it was backed up by Roman authority. This was a very bloody time. Yet when a Roman Centurion asked Jesus to heal one of his servants Jesus did not hesitate to agree, even though this Roman's faith was based on his own submission to the Roman authority that had killed so many Jews. Jesus still responded because he was not offended by the Roman. Jesus' earthen vessel was not Israel soil. He was not a Jewish patriot. He was set apart.
Paul was the same way. Paul had a fierce love for the Jewish people. He would have given himself up for destruction if it would have saved Israel. Yet he was able to say the following about a heathen government that was responsible for the slaughter of many in Israel.
1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
There is nothing about the Roman government at this time that was holy. Yet Paul did not go around criticizing the government or Caesar. Jesus paid taxes to support this government, yet he didn't criticize it. Both of them were able to fulfill their ministries because their hearts and thoughts were set on a county and city not of this world. Their citizenship was in Heaven. They were calling people to come out, to be holy, to be set apart.
Let me be really clear in saying that none of this means you can't love your county. It doesn't mean you can't fight for your country or defend your country. You can. But there are a couple of things that are important to keep in mind.
- It is not about whether or not a country is "right" or "wrong." Jesus responded to the faith of the Roman Centurion. This centurion was fighting for and defending a completely heathen nation. That didn't matter to Jesus. God honors faith. God doesn't honor our faith because we are fighting for the "right" county. He honors faith.
- In Matthew 11 and Luke 7 Jesus says that, of all men born of women none were as great as John the Baptist. That included every mighty man of valor, every warrior, everyone who had died defending their country and their people. We are talking all men, including heroes. Yet the least in the kingdom is greater than John. Not because the least in the kingdom are bigger heroes; they're not. It's because there is a different way of thinking in the kingdom of God. It's not about heros. It's about a treasure in jars of clay.
And it is an amazing treasure. Be in, but not of, the world. Be holy. Be set apart.