Another Old Testament picture is of God as the refiner of silver. ‘But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appears? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap (Malachi 3:2). The picture is of a silversmith sitting watching a lump of metal or stone, purifying it of dross until only silver is left. The refiner knows that the metal is purified when he can see his own reflection in the metal. So God works in the lives of his people. Again he is watching all the time, except this time he does not appear gentle but takes his people through hard times, although we must not forget he is working to a plan.
Ephesus was one of the major cities of the ancient world. As in all such cities there were statues to the gods, and as far as Ephesus was concerned their goddess was Diana. Remember the trouble that Paul faced in Ephesus from those who made images of Diana (Acts 19:24ff.). Craftsmen were employed to reproduce images and models of these statues of pagan gods. Perhaps Paul is referring to such things here, except that in contrast to paganism, the God of the Bible was the worker remaking his people.
It may be best for us in order to capture Paul’s illustration here to combine both the Old Testament concept of the potter and the refiner, along with the sense of beauty and dignity of ancient sculpture. Then we can see that it is a hands-on approach by God – not formation from a distance as it were. There is happiness in the activity for the Creator because he has a purpose in view. There is hope for us, because God is capable of finishing what he commences.