One day Alexis, a young man of the ancient city of Corinth, was pouring hot water into a colorful clay vessel. It began to leak and then suddenly broke apart in his hands, spilling its contents on his feet. Looking closely at the broken pottery, he discovered that the clay was mixed with wax.
When the hot water melted the wax, it revealed the inferior quality of the vessel. Alexis had bought a piece of junk.
Corinth was famous in its day for its fine pottery. However, many dishonest merchants plied that trade. If a vessel were cracked, some deceitful potters would melt wax and carefully wedge it between the cracks. They would then skillfully paint over the flaw so it couldn't be noticed by an unsuspecting customer.
Careful shoppers found they could expose the cracks by holding the pottery up to bright sunlight. They could see the flaws under the paint in much the same way an X-ray device might work.
What does wax in a piece of pottery have to do with our lives as Christians?
We can draw an analogy from this simple account that applies to every Christian's life. A man or woman of God is sometimes referred to in the Scriptures as a vessel, as in one of the apostle Paul's letters to Timothy. We are to be "a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work" (2 Timothy 2:21). God says He is the potter and we are the clay He is forming into His vessels (Romans 9:21-23; Isaiah 29:16).
The practice of covering up poor workmanship with wax was common in Corinth in New Testament times. Perhaps Paul had this in mind when he wrote to the Corinthian church concerning the Feast of Unleavened Bread: "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:8, emphasis added throughout).
The meaning of the Greek word eilikrinia translated "sincerity" is "purity." In the Bible it is used in referring to purity of motive. Sincere appears two times in the King James Version. Sincerely appears three times and sincerity 10 times. They are translated from Greek words meaning "genuine," "without deceit," "unmixed" and "unadulterated."
The English word sincere is a good translation of the original Greek. This word in English comes from two Latin words, sin-e and cere. Sin-e simply means without, and cere means wax. So sincere can mean literally "without wax" (John Ciardi, Browser's Dictionary and Native's Guide to the Unknown American Language, Harper & Row, New York, 1980, p. 360). An honest merchant in the ancient city of Corinth when presenting his product to a buyer might say that it was a sincere piece of pottery.
When you buy a jar of honey, it may say pure honey on the label. Honey is considered pure if the beeswax has been removed. The little pieces of wax from the beehive have been strained out. Pure honey is honey without wax. It would be technically correct to call it sincere honey. Pure honey is not mixed with wax.
In the case of honey, the wax wasn't deliberately placed there; it was already there because of the way the bees made it. But its presence lessens the purity of the honey.
Wax in building materials
In ancient times unscrupulous workmen sometimes used wax in construction of buildings. This lowered the quality of the product and deceived the buyer.
Many impressive buildings stood in the city of Corinth. It was a great commercial center, a hub of trade and industry, a prosperous city. Much construction took place during the time the apostle Paul visited there.
Huge marble pillars were commonly seen as both support and adornment in public buildings. Some stoneworkers of the day lapsed into the habit of producing inferior marble to increase their profits. They would use wax to get around the time-consuming process of polishing the marble surfaces. They would give a pillar a rough polish and then rub wax into the cracks, the areas of imperfection, making it look smooth and shiny. It looked like expensive work—until the first unusually hot summer day.
As with the potters of the day, an honest stonemason would refer to his work as a sincere column; that is, one without wax.
Christians are compared to a building. We read in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that "your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit." We as Christians are to come to Christ "as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house . . ." (1 Peter 2:4-5).
Notice how God wants us to build this spiritual house: ". . . Laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (verses 1-2, King James Version). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary lists one of the definitions of sincerity as "freedom from hypocrisy."
The Christian is expected to live a life of sincerity. Paul prayed "that your love may abound" and "that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness . . ." (Philippians 1:9-11, emphasis added throughout).
What can we learn from these analogies that will help us "abound" by growing in sincerity?
Two ways to reveal wax
Let's consider the pottery analogy. Did you notice the two ways of discovering poor workmanship by the deceptive use of wax? One way is to expose the vessel to sunlight. A second method is to expose it to heat. You can then reveal the crack by melting the wax in it.
A wise shopper in Corinth would buy a piece of pottery only after holding it up to the sunlight so he could see through the layer of paint on the surface.
The vessel (the Christian) must look for the wax (the insincerity) by holding his life up to the light shed by the Word of God. God Himself is compared to the sun. In Psalm 84:11 we see that "the Lord God is a sun and shield" (see also Isaiah 60:19-20). God is light (1 John 1:5) and the source of light. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights . . ." (James 1:17).
Revealed by sunlight
Notice what Paul says to the saints at Philippi. He prayed "that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve [test] the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ . . ." (Philippians 1:9-10).
The English word approve here comes from a Greek word that means to judge or test for genuineness by sunlight or to examine by the rays of the sun. "Genuineness" is one of the many definitions of the word sincerity.
You've no doubt heard phrases such as "I can see through that person's motives," or "I can see right through what he is trying to do." Maybe these sayings had their origin in the testing of pottery for its sincerity by sunlight.
Do we look for the flaws in our character by holding ourselves up to the light of the Word of God? Do we really desire to know the truth about our character? God's Word will reveal it to us.
Our weaknesses can be exposed by the true light. Paul, in another epistle, tells us that "all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light . . ." (Ephesians 5:13).
A Christian must judge his conduct every day by the light of God's Word. We read that God's Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105), and God's commands are "a lamp, and the law is light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life" (Proverbs 6:23). We are "all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness" (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
Sincerity and truth
The scripture we read earlier from 1 Corinthians 5 told us we are not to be leavened with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but to strive for the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (verse 8).
As important as sincerity is, we must also live according to the truth. That truth comes from the Holy Scriptures. Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).
Millions of people have many of the traits of sincerity we have discussed here, but they do not know the truth about themselves because they have rejected the source of all truth. They cannot understand true sincerity. This applies even to many outwardly religious people.
Blindness to insincerity will afflict any of us if we don't allow God's Word to lead us. A Gospel writer shows us that the sincere worship of many is in vain because they are "laying aside the commandment of God" and "hold the tradition of men" (Mark 7:8). God tells us that those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
Revealed by heat
Wax can be revealed a second way: exposure to heat. This is not always the most pleasant way. Remember what happened to Alexis.
God is described metaphorically as fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Revelation 1:14). He often helps us come to see our character flaws by exposing them to heat. He allows the trials in our lives to act as this fire. He allows trials so that you, through "the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory . . ." (1 Peter 1:7).
Our true character is often revealed in our handling of the trials we face. We see a person's mettle when the heat's on. This should not frighten us. God often uses our trials to reveal our weaknesses and show us what we need to overcome. "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you," wrote the apostle Peter, "as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12-13).
But Paul warns us that "each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
God will deal with the sins of whole nations by heat and fire. "For behold," wrote the prophet Micah, "the Lord is coming out of His place; He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him, and the valleys will split like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place. All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel" (Micah 1:3-5).
This retribution will be the result of mankind's attempts to cover up its sins with the wax of hypocrisy, deceit and guile. "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (John 3:19-20). "He who covers his sins will not prosper . . ." (Proverbs 28:13).
If we don't try to wax over our sins, and if we do our part with God's help to remove the wax, we will have nothing to fear from the test of heat and fire when it comes.
Get rid of wax
Remember the analogy of the honey. We saw that the wax was not put there deliberately. It was already present because that's the way the bees make it.
The same is true of human nature. Much wax needs to be put out of our lives simply because we are human. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).
Paul knew about the natural mind of man: ". . . The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
The scripture we began with in 1 Corinthians 5 tells us that we are to "keep the feast" with "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (verse 8). The festival referred to here is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. God appointed this feast to be kept forever by His people (see Leviticus 23:6-8; 2 Timothy 3:16). It pictures the need for Christians to put out leaven by turning away from sin.
Ultimately all our deeds must stand up under the clear light of day and the scrutiny of the Sun spoken of in Psalm 84:11. Every work will be judged for authenticity by that ultimate source of light, Jesus Christ.
Then we will be ready when "the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God" (1 Corinthians 4:5).
Let's do our part to remove the wax of insincerity from our character and life, and our praise will come from God. GN