…so that you may approve the things that are excellent,
in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;
Philippians 1:10 NASB
My enjoyment of fine art began with making mud pies in the back backyard – the narrow strip of muddy lawn that ran between the backyard fence and the next door neighbor’s property. I loved it back there. It was the home of a couple of pie cherry trees, my beloved ‘pithy’ willows, and mud. Throw in a few foil pie tins and cottage cheese containers, and I became a mini-Michelangelo. That lasted till I turned five.
Then there was the second-grade clay ‘something’ that I created. It was the last day of school and the teacher was handing out our Spring pottery pieces to take home. Mine was missing and I got stuck with a cheap knock-off made by the stinkiest boy in the class. I fumed every time I looked at that lump of clay that was not MY work of art! To make matters worse, it was ugly brown, not the beautiful indigo blue with which mine had been fired. It was relegated to collecting bobby pins and dust.
Fast forward (in slow motion) forty-eight years later. By now, my fascination with clay had taken on a more spiritual grip as I had many times read the book of Jeremiah, especially chapter 18, kneading it into my soul. Now transitioned from a lengthy career to working alongside my husband in Shammahs Field (God’s pun noted!), one of the first things I experienced was going to the Listen To My Life facilitators retreat in Texas. I had never been to either. But God had. He was waiting for me there at the demonstration of clay on a real potter’s wheel given by one of the LTML founders, herself a potter.
In the above three scenarios the clay was being formed in someone’s hands: small, inexperienced hands of a child simply enjoying playing in the mud; still inexperienced hands but putting some soul into creating something pleasing to the eye; and lastly, an experienced potter’s hands forming a pot gone to flaw, only to scrape it off the wheel and start over, finishing with a beautifully shaped round, open piece.
Each is a picture of sincere Christianity because they were “without wax.” Let me explain …
Though long disputed as a fable, the following centuries-old tale is told of pottery sold in the marketplace. As potters made their pieces, some who were less than reputable tradesmen would fill in the cracks and mars with wax, melting it slightly and painting over it with bright, eye-catching colors.
Unsuspecting buyers would be attracted by the pottery’s appearance, purchase it and take it home, only to find it completely unusable. Once something hot was poured into it, it leaked as the wax melted. Similarly, sculptors working in marble would fill cracks and imperfections with wax colored to match the vein. Whether cheap pottery or a pricier piece of artwork, the wax was used to cover-up and hide flaws.
On the other end of the scale, reputable potters who produced and sold un-flawed vessels began to etch on the bottom of their pieces without wax as proof of their authenticity. Some even put without wax on the signs that hung over their shop’s doorway to let buyers know at a glance that here, they would get a genuine piece from a legitimate businessperson.
As shoppers began to wise up (you know the adage, once burned…), they found that holding the pot up to the sun would reveal either the soundness of the vessel, or the cracks and flaws hidden by the wax.
When Paul wrote the verse above (Philippians 1:10), he used the word sincere – derived from both Greek and Latin as sin meaning without and ceras meaning wax. Without wax. Pure, genuine, not mixed.
What convinces me that the above story may not be as much fable as led to believe on the internet, is that the word approved in the verse means to test, examine, or discern, ie. (ap)prove. And the word sincere is from a Greek word meaning the sun’s ray and judged by sunlight , that is, tested as genuine.
When it comes to spiritual development, I’m glad that Paul said “…in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” Because sincere Christianity is just that – developed within us as we learn to test, examine, and ultimately prove what is the genuine from that which is mixed clay, masked over.
As I sat watching the wheel whirl that day, I was no longer a little girl playing in the mud. Now a grown woman with years of living life stretched out behind me, I was and continue to be deeply grateful for the Lord’s wax removal process in my development of sincere Christianity.
The day of Christ, forthcoming, will reveal Him in all His glorious brightness. We too will be revealed as we are judged by the Son’s light. I join Paul in his prayer that, in growing our life, we each may approve (put to the test) the things that are excellent (surpass, of more value) in order to be…
Pottery Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net