2 Corinthians 4:1-18
© 2000, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
This study will take a look at how to overcome difficulties in our lives. This letter to the Corinthians was predominantly meant to thwart a threat brought on the church by false teachers. These men claimed to be apostles and tried to discredit Paul, calling him fickle, full of pride; accusing him of confusing preaching, a weak personality, impolite speech, a contemptible attitude, dishonesty, mental unsoundness and false apostleship. This church was founded in the largest and busiest city in Greece, an ungodly country with an ungodly culture. Much of that culture came into the church though power-hungry people who were bent on moving the church in the direction that they wanted to go.
This criticism of Paul and his message created a great conflict in the church with people choosing sides on the issue, aligning themselves behind the leaders they agree with, splitting the fellowship. Many of the faithful members were becoming discouraged and doubtful. This letter was an attempt by Paul to defend his position against the impostors he would try to expose, and to encourage the church to return to the true gospel message.
2 Cor 4:1.
Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not;
What is Paul talking about here? Why would Paul, if anyone, have grounds to lose heart and become discouraged in his ministry? Certainly, Pauls life since his conversion, was filled with conflict. As he sought to be obedient to the call of Christ on his life, he was continually persecuted and rejected, and most significantly so by leaders of the chosen people, the children of Israel. This had to be tremendously discouraging and disheartening.
What is the reason that Paul states that he does not lose heart? God has given the call of obedience to the church by his grace and mercy with the promise that he will never leave us.
2 Cor 4:2.
But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every mans conscience in the sight of God.
In verses 1-2, Paul again reminds us that he has nothing to hide, that his life and ministry, and that of those disciples that minister with him, are transparent and that his handling of the word of God is honest and forthright. Paul's critics accused him of dishonesty and deceitfulness in his version of the Gospel. What is Paul's response? He renounces secret, shameful and deceitful ways. He states that he does not distort the word of God. How, do you suppose these positions relate to those in the church who are creating the conflict? One can probably assume that the church antigonists are secretive, using shameful ways, using deception, and distorting the Word of God to suit their own use. Often when someone is falsely accusing one of something, they are projecting: they accuse the other of their own self-diagnosed inadequacies in an effort to justify their own failures. For example, a perfectionist who sees himself as imperfect will be very quick to criticize someone who he envies for their more perfect life. By criticizing them, he brings them lower than himself, justifying himself.
Sometimes when criticized, we (due to a lack of self confidence) listen to the critic and begin to believe their position. We then follow by demonstrating feelings of inadequacy in those areas where we actually exhibit our strength to others. The critic can't stand this strength and seeks to tear it down.
We get discouraged and lose heart under such criticism (or through witness of the criticism of others) when our focus is on ourselves, on those others being criticized, or on the critic.
2 Cor 4:3-4.
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
In verses 3-4 Paul refers to a veil that keeps people from seeing. The scripture states that those who are not in the body of Christ lack the leading of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual discernment that the Spirit provides. Consequently, the lost find spiritual matters to be utter foolishness and sincerely cannot understand how those who call themselves Christians really believe such things.
What is Paul saying about those who are dividing the church? Because they are veiled, they cannot see the light of the gospel. Who is this that is blinding the minds of unbelievers? It is Satan who is empowered by the unbeliever as he/she submits to his lies. Recall that Satan has no power over those who are filled with the Holy Spirit when they call upon God for protection. However, the lost are utterly defenseless against him.
2 Cor 4:5.
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake.
One characteristic that is common to those who seek power and control is their penchant for proclaiming their own authority. Such people will expend their energy in self-adulation, placing themselves or the leaders they are lifting into positions of spiritual authority. This is a common characteristics of all cults. The leader takes upon himself authority that is intended for Christ. It is his writings and teachings that the cult follows, and it is the cult leader who is treated with the highest level of respect. It is evident that those who are creating the conflict in the Corinthian church are trying to do this. This also happens on a lesser scale when church leaders try to use the church fellowship as a platform to attempt to achieve elevated spiritual or social status when they bring attention to themselves. Paul reminds the Corinthians that he never preached about his own authority or position, that only Jesus is Lord, and we are servants for his sake alone. Paul sought to live a life of humility, quite a contrast to those spiritual antagonists that Paul is addressing.
2 Cor 6-7.
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
Verses 5-7 contain some of the magnificent pictures in this epistle. It is a picture of clay jars containing treasures. In ancient times this was one way of hiding valuables. In one of the great museums of the world, there was a row of earthen vessels that had been removed from a pharaohs tombs. In the tomb, they had been placed among the golden vessels and other articles. The excavators wondered why these clay jars had been placed with the golden vessels. They were brought to the museum and stored with other vessels. One day, an employee of the museum stopped in front of one of the clay jars. The sun was shining from the back side directly on one of the clay jars. Seeing something glisten through a crack near the bottom of the jar he carefully examined this jar and discovered that the bottom was three inches thick, and embedded in it were some of the pharaohs crown jewels. The other vessels were also examined and found to contain jewels as well. There were treasures in these earthen vessels.
Like the jewels in the clay, what is the treasure that is within us? God has placed in the heart of every believer His Holy Spirit. That light that is within each of us is infinitely greater than that which can be illuminated by any man. For anyone to control us, that one has to convince us that we are only clay jars, mass-produced, and of no intrinsic value. However, we know the truth that within this common earthen jar is a treasure that has a value beyond imagination.
We see here a picture of who we really are. Is it not amazing that God would entrust such a treasure as the Holy Spirit to those as frail as we. Why has God done this? God loves us and has provided a plan and opportunity for us to have fellowship with Him, and to abide with Him in eternity. If we accomplish anything on this earth for His glory, it is only through Him that we do it. That alone brings honor to God.
2 Cor 8-9.
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
Some of us have experienced crushing pain and hurt. We've experienced defeat. There were times when we did not want to go on. Look how Paul describes our situation: Hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. This certainly describes Paul's life after his conversion.
Some think that a Christian's life is supposed to be free from such experience. There is no scriptural basis for such a doctrine, and a short-sighted look at the lives of the apostles even shows a life of joy in the Lord that is characterized by difficulty. We see example after example of lives of the faithful being similarly pressed, persecuted, perplexed and struck down. Each of the apostles lived lives of persecution that eventually led to violent deaths. There is no Biblical character who was faithful to God who did not experience devastating hurt and/or pain. So, why should we be any different? The truth is quite the contrary. If we are not experiencing similar rejection by the lost of this world, we are not making a significant impact on them for the gospel. When we exercise our call to witness, we will invite times of conflict and stress.
How do we maintain during times of such stress? Paul states that we are not crushed, and we are not in despair, neither are we abandoned, nor destroyed. The Holy Spirit has placed a wall of protection around us. Consider 1 Cor. 10:13
1 Cor. 10:13. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
This scripture, also written by Paul, reminds us that what we experience is not unique, and when we endure testing that comes from obedience, we will never be taken to a point where we cannot bear it with Gods help. God will always provide the resource to overcome these difficult times when we place our trust in him for that help. God will never fail.
Romans 8:28. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Life may knock us down, But it will not knock us out. When we stand again, we stand stronger and wiser; better prepared for a closer fellowship with God, and better prepared to be of use in His kingdom here on earth. Every experience we have is used by God to prepare us for a purpose. Often we ignore that purpose that is identified in the next verse in this passage from Romans.
Romans 8:29. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
God is eternal, and from His position in eternity he knows all of the events of our lives, providing these experiences so that we will become conformed to the image of Christ, so that we will be more Christ-like. What are some ways that God has used the difficulties of our lives for His good and ours? Through these difficulties we learn to trust God, to accept the caring ministry of others, we become empowered to help others who also experience such difficulties, etc. The list goes on.
2 Cor 4:10-12.
Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. 11For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. 12So then death worketh in us, but life in you.
We carry the death of Jesus around with us every day. What impact does that have on us? When we continually remember what Christ has done for us, we will be able to better humble ourselves and submit to Him in obedience, living a life that seeks obedience to God. Just as an apple tree bears only apples, the faithful Christian will bear spirityal fruit, and by so doing, Jesus' life can be revealed in us.
2 Cor 4:13-14.
We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; 14Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.
What, do you think, is the worst thing that can happen to anyone? Most people would answer, "death." Paul describes that we will be raised as Jesus was raised. Even death has no victory over us. We think of death as being something terrible. Consider how God will view your death: as a homecoming. Would God grieve your death when through it you are coming home to Him? That would be like the father of the prodigal son grieving his son's return. What did the father do when the prodigal returned? He responded with joy and forgiveness. This parable describes Gods desire to have one some home to Him. Surely God has compassion on those left behind who grieve the loss of a loved one, as it is appropriate to grieve the loss.
Many lost medical workers have observed how Christians approach death different than anyone else. God has manifested himself many times on the death bed of a believer, glorifying Himself and bringing others to him. Even when presented with the prospect of impending death, the Christian is empowered to overcome the conflict when the truth of Gods purpose is fully revealed. God has provided the resource to overcome every conflict in our lives.
2 Cor 4:15.
For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.
Certainly salvation is for our benefit. The Spirit of God within us is for our benefit. How can suffering be for our benefit? The letters of James and 1 Peter were written to encourage suffering Christians. In these we learn the doctrine that suffering and persecution produces within us a strength and patience that can only come from God's working in us as we go through the experience and culminates with the receipt of wisdom. James says, "let suffering complete its work." We often seek any way to get out of our troubles. James teaches that we are to go completely through them with Jesus, not around them on our own. We ultimately receive the benefit of being more mature in the faith, and being able to better serve God in our ministry to others.
2 Cor 4:16.
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
Are you outwardly wasting away? Since any of us can look at anyone else and estimate their age by their appearance, the rate of our wasting away is rather predictable. However, the spirit within us renews us day by day, giving us the strength to face the trials of each day. However, our trials are only momentary when compared with the eternal glory that awaits us after this time. The trials that might beat down and defeat the body serve only to build up and strengthen the spirit. The body will pass away, but the spirit will last forever.
2 Cor 4:17-18.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
When one runs a race, where are the eyes focused? Most likely, on the road ahead. If one drops their eyes to their feet, focusing on where they are, rather than where they are going, they will invariably wander off the intended path or run into unseen obstacles. This is very true for the Christian life. When we place our focus on Jesus, and run the race He has placed before us, he will empower us to overcome the hurdles and obstacles on the path. It is when we take our eyes off of Him and place them on ourselves or the obstacles then we crash.
If we keep our focus on Jesus, listen to His Spirit, abide in the scriptures, and continue to pray, we will be able to overcome (with God's strength) all of those experiences we face in this world as those experiences are used by God to bring us closer to Him.