The Gospel-Message of Light and Life. 2 Cor. 4, 1-18.

Paul uses frankness in delivering his message: V.1. Therefore, seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not, v.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 man’s conscience in the sight of God. V.3. But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; v.4. in 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. V.5. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. V.6. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our heart s, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. To be a minister of that office which he has just praised so highly was Paul’s privilege: Therefore, having this ministry, even as we have received mercy, we do not become faint. It was an unmerited act of God’s mercy which made him a minister of the Gospel, Eph. 3, 8. He had received this ministry, not for any reason for which he might boast, but by a free gift of God. This fact sustained him amidst the difficulties and trials of his official duties and kept him from becoming finally and definitely discouraged. Humble heroism was the key-note of Paul’s character; his exalted position did not fill him with pride. The mercy and the grace of God, whose strength is made perfect in weakness, was the inexhaustible fount of his strength and courage.

But not only has Paul a certain remedy against discouragement and faintness, but also against the evils which he saw in the case of the false teachers: But we have renounced, disclaimed, the hidden things of shame. He wanted openness, candor, frankness to stand out most prominently in all his work. For unless the work of a pastor is at all times carried on in this manner, he will become identified with hidden things, with matters which shun the light of the sun, and which thus produce or bring dishonor upon him and his office. This behavior is almost invariably associated with such false prophets as try to break into organized congregations and steal the hearts of the members. And with reference to the same people Paul writes: Not walking in craftiness nor handling the Word of God deceitfully. He was not found engaged in, not busying himself with, intrigues and schemes by which men without a conscience sought to make a way for themselves and to acquire influence; he did not try to insinuate himself into powerful positions by false ambition. Nor did he adulterate the Word of God for such ends by preaching so as to obtain favor with the people, instead of proclaiming the Law in all its severity and the Gospel in all its beauty, 2 Tim. 4, 3. Rather by the manifestation of the truth he commended himself, literally, to every conscience of men in the sight of God, to every possible variety of the human conscience. In his public and private teaching he brought out the truths of the Gospel plainly, so that no one could be in doubt as to the way of salvation. To every variety of human conscience he thus commended himself; they must needs acknowledge his sincerity, they must give him this testimony, that his motives were above reproach, that his teaching conformed to the highest ideals of truth and duty. He knew also that all his work was being done in the sight of God, that God was present at all times to hear him. Men recognized the truth and the honesty of his preaching, and before God he had a clear conscience.

This fact being established, Paul can once more refer to his words in chap. 1, 15. 16 and 2, 12-18, by saying: But even if our Gospel is veiled, in them that are perishing it is veiled. The Gospel in itself is anything but dark and obscure, chap. 3, 13; it is a light that shines in the dark place of this world, intended to illumine the hearts of all men. But the opposition of men, their refusal to accept its simple statement of grace, places the veil of willful ignorance before the bright beauty of the Gospel, thus preventing its clear rays from entering into their hearts. Thus it is the punishment of their own guilt that they are lost, 1 Cor. 1, 18; they are judged already, John 3, 18. “But it must be so, the Word of God must be the most peculiar thing in heaven and earth; therefore it must do both things at the same time, enlighten and honor in the highest degree those that believe and honor it, and blind and disgrace in the highest degree those that do not believe it. To the former it must be the most certain and best known: to the latter it must be the least known and most hidden. The former laud and praise it in the highest degree; the latter blaspheme and disgrace it in the highest degree, so that its works bear full sway and are not unimportant, but peculiar, terrible works in the hearts of men.” 15).

The cause for this condition is very distinctly not in the Gospel itself, but in man, due to the machinations of the devil: In whom the god of this world, of this present age, has blinded the minds of the unbelieving. Satan is the god, the prince, of this present age, chap. 2, 11; John 12, 31; 14, 30. He has his work in the children of unbelief, Eph. 2, 2; 5, 6; 1 John 3, 10; they give him willing obedience. But he, in turn, as a fitting wage, has blinded the minds of the unbelieving. Because they were guilty of rejecting the truth, the blinding could make progress in their hearts, could be a judgment upon them; for Satan could not perform this wickedness in the hearts of the believers, of them that are being saved, because to them the Gospel is not veiled. And the purpose of the devil in blinding the hearts of the unbelieving is: That the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine forth, should not dawn upon them, or that they should not see it clearly, it should remain hidden before them. The sum total, the content, of the Gospel is the brightness of the glory of God in Christ Jesus, the glorious revelation of Jesus as the Savior of the world. But so well is the design of Satan realized in the children of unbelief that this glory of Christ, who also in regard to His work is the perfect image of God, is not seen by them, does not penetrate into their understanding.

To justify his calling the Gospel which he preached the proclamation of the divine glory, the apostle now writes: For not ourselves preach we, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for the sake of Jesus. If Paul had been preaching himself, his own wisdom, if he had been seeking honor and glory for himself, it would have been wicked presumption on his part to condemn those that refused to accept his teaching as being on the way to perdition. But his one thought, his one object, was to set forth Christ Jesus before his hearers as the Lord, to whom they owed the obedience of faith by reason of His redemption. And far from asserting any authority, power, or lordship over them, he stated, on the contrary, that he considered himself and his fellow-teachers the servants of the congregations, not absolute slaves bound to do their will as they dictated, but servants for the sake of Jesus, ministers of Christ, stewards of the mysteries of God. And in this sense also every true preacher of the Lord Jesus Christ is a servant of the congregation entrusted to him, as he becomes all things to all men in order to gain souls for Christ, 1 Cor. 9, 19.

There is another reason also which causes Paul to be so fearless and frank in his ministry: For it is God that said, Out of darkness light shall shine, who has shined in our hearts for the enlightenment of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It was in the beginning of the world that the creative power of God’s word caused the light to shine out of darkness, Gen. 1, 3. And the same God who thus created the physical light is the Author of the true spiritual light. It was not merely that he blew a dying ember into flame, as Luther remarks, but that he brought forth light out of darkness. There was darkness in the heart of Paul, as in that of all men by nature, spiritual darkness and death. But God created spiritual life and light in his heart in his conversion; and this reflection of the glory of God is now used to illuminate others; God has given to the preachers of the Gospel the ability to give to others the light of the knowledge of God through Christ, as manifested in Christ. Note: This function of the converted people is not confined to the pastors, but every believer that has experienced the illuminating power of God in his own heart will, in turn, act as a light tower to lead others to know Christ as their Lord and be saved. Mark also the contrast in the entire passage: The god of this world, the devil, blinds; the ministry of the Gospel gives light. Without the Gospel and its illuminating power the heart of man will remain forever in spiritual darkness; but if that power removes the darkness, there is a fullness of light and glory.

Paul’s bodily weakness: V.7. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us. V.8. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; v.9. persecuted; but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; v.10. 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. V.11. For 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. V.12. So, then, death worketh in us, but life in you. Here the great humility of Paul is again evident, since he says that the glorious ministry with which he is identified was entrusted to weak and decaying vessels. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God is borne by the ministers in earthen vessels, as the apostle calls their bodies, vessels made of clay, cheap and fragile. The description fits the human body in general, and that of the apostle in particular, as his humility prompts him to write. It may seem strange that so great a treasure should be kept for distribution in so frail and perishable a vessel as that of the human body, but the fact shows the principle of the divine purpose: That the exceeding greatness of the power (which is exhibited in the work of the Gospel) may be God’s and not from ourselves. “Our hands and tongues are indeed perishable and mortal things, but through these means, through these perishable and earthen vessels, the Son of God wants to exhibit His power.” 16) The very fact of the weakness and insignificance of the human vessels of God’s merciful proclamation therefore makes His own glory stand out all the more prominently by contrast. “Not the excellence of the vessel, but the great value of the treasure; not the person of the preacher, but the name which the preaching proclaims; not natural strength and ability of man, but the grace of God and God’s mighty Word: behold the superabundant power triumphing over the substance of this world, which goes forth from the preachers of the Gospel and elevates them above the sufferings of their calling.” 17)

These sufferings with which the servants of the Lord are obliged to contend are now pictured by the apostle in his usual, effective manner: On all sides hard-pressed, but not hemmed in; bewildered, but not altogether despairing: pursued, but not outstripped; thrown down, but not destroyed. Paul, in these figures probably has the Isthmian games in mind once more, as in 1 Cor. 9, 24-27. He and his fellow workers, and all Christians, for that matter, are like wrestlers. Their opponents may press in upon them from all sides and threaten to obtain a death-grip, but they never fully succeed in obtaining the fatal hold; they may sometimes become puzzled by the skill exhibited by the adversaries, but they do not give up the struggle, they are not overcome. They are like runners in a race, with the goal almost before their eyes, whom their opponents try to outdistance and leave behind; but they manage, after all, to come in first. They are like boxers whom the adversaries might occasionally strike down, but who nevertheless rise with undaunted courage to resume the struggle and to become victors. All this the ministers of the Gospel experience in rich measure, and all faithful Christians are likewise partakers of like difficulties. In tribulations, in perplexities, in persecutions, in losses and trials of every kind the conflict goes on; defeat seems impending in a thousand circumstances, but the end is always a victory for the Gospel and its adherents.

And now the apostle reaches the climax of this burst of eloquence: Always bearing about the dying of Jesus in the body, in order that the life of Christ may also be manifested in our bodies; for always we that are living are delivered into death for the sake of Jesus, in order that the life of Jesus also might be manifested in our mortal flesh. Because they preached the Gospel, because they distributed the treasure of the Gospel, the messengers of the Lord were always subject to the sufferings which Christ also endured, for the disciple is not above his Master. To be delivered to death daily, hourly, for His sake, 1 Cor. 15, 31, to be killed all the day long, Rom. 8, 36, that is the privilege of the men that have devoted their life to the Lord and His work. For only by such absolute denial of self in His service does it become possible for the true life of Christ, with the fullness of His strength, to show itself in the ministers of Christ, Phil. 3, 10; Col. 1, 24. Their flesh may be mortal, subject to death and decay, but in their spirit lives the undying, almighty power of the Ruler of the Kingdom of Power, of the King of Grace, and therefore they go forward from strength to strength, preaching the Gospel, building up the Kingdom, seeking God’s glory only, without thought of self. And the result, so far as their hearers are concerned, is: So that death is operative, active, in us, but life in you. Death was working in the apostle, because he was always exposed to death and desired nothing more; that was a necessary concomitant of his work for the Lord, he expected nothing more. This satisfied him, moreover, because, incidentally, life, true, spiritual life, was active in them through his ministry, as the effect of his preaching. It was the life of the risen Christ, which had its beginning here on earth, and would be fully accomplished in the realm of glory. Such is the example of Paul’s sacrifice for his Lord.

How the apostle rose above every handicap: V.13. 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, v.14. knowing that He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. V.15. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. V.16. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. V.17. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, v.18. while 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. The mention of the life in and with Christ raises the apostle to the very heights of an exultant declaration: But since we have the same spirit of faith (as the Psalmist), according to that which is written: I believed, therefore I also spoke, we also believe, and therefore also we speak. The apostle quotes Ps. 116, 10, where the Easter joy of the Old Testament believers is expressed, declaring that the same spirit of joyful and confident faith lived in him also. His faith, being grounded so firmly, and being so sure in its hope, could not remain silent; it must break forth in a confession of the mouth. As one commentator says: No sooner does faith exist than she begins to speak to others, and, while speaking, recognizes herself and grows in power. Just as the Psalmist was surrounded by enemies, so Paul was in the midst of dangers; but in either case their faith would not hold its peace; it is impossible for the true believer to be quiet concerning the wonderful things which he has seen and heard, Acts 4, 20 And faith is not an uncertain hope, based upon mere feeling, but upon knowledge grounded in the Word of God: Knowing that he who raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also with Jesus, and shall present us together with you. As Paul had shown at great length in chap, 15 of the first letter to the Christians of Corinth, so he here repeats briefly: The resurrection of Christ is a guarantee of our own resurrection; it is our surety that we shall share in the life of the risen Lord. As God raised up Jesus, our Lord, so He will, on the last day, raise up also us, to become partakers of His resurrection, and all believers will be presented together before the throne of the Father and of the Lamb. All these glorious facts are contained in the message of which Paul is a bearer, although he considers himself a weak and unworthy vessel. Note: The hope and faith of the believers of the Old and the New Testament is based upon the same foundation, the Word and promises of God; it exacts the same confession of belief, and looks forward to the same glory.

All these glories, however, are proclaimed by Paul, as he declares: For all things are for your sakes, that grace, being made abundant, through the greater number of you, may cause the thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. In all his work the apostle had in mind the blessing and benefit of his readers, the Christians in whose interest he was working; it was all done for their sakes. But the end and aim which he had in mind as the final end was that the grace which had been multiplied to him, which gave him such wonderful strength and endurance, should by the force of their many additional prayers result in the more abundant thanksgiving to the glory of God. The greater the number of those that partake of the blessings of God’s gifts and offer up the thanksgiving of their lips and hands to Him, the more emphatically would the glory of the Lord stand out before the whole world and beyond the end of the world, into eternity. In this way “the gratitude of the multitudes which have been converted may keep pace with the blessings which they have received, and abound, as these blessings have abounded.”

Paul now returns to the thought of v.1. Because he is sustained by this glorious hope, he does not give way to faintness, he does not give up: Rather even though our outward man is decaying, yet our inner man is renewed day by day. The contrast is not between flesh and spirit, but between the gradual decay of the bodily organism and the corresponding growth of the spiritual self. The hidden man of the heart, 1 Pet. 3, 4, receives nourishment and strength from the Word of God day after day, and thus gains continually. At the same time the mortal body, the earthen vessel, is making steady progress toward physical death; the dawn of every new day means one day less until the inevitable end; the final dissolution is always only a matter of time. But since the emphasis of the apostle’s sentence is on the second part of his statement, the thought is evidently not causing him any distress. His attitude is rather that of every true believer that regards this entire life merely as a preparation for the everlasting life to come.

Therefore he writes, in the same strain of exultation: For our present momentary, light burden of tribulation works out for us from one excess to another an eternal heavy burden of glory. All the troubles which can come upon us Christians are with us only at this present time, for the length of this fleeting life, at the worst, for a moment as compared with the coming eternal life. And it is light, easy to be borne, comparatively speaking. But the time is coming, and that soon, when the eternal glory will be revealed to us, and this is so wonderful, so great and extensive, so weighty and endless that the slight oppression of the life on earth will be forgotten, Rom. 8, 18. The miracle is so great which is to follow this present tribulation as though produced by it, though it is a reward of grace, that Paul cannot find words enough to express the thought that is clamoring for utterance. Exceedingly, abundantly, from one excess to another, will God give us the glory which He has prepared since before the foundation of the world for them that love Him.

And the result is that we, with the apostle, no longer look upon, no longer pay any attention to, the things that are seen, to the visible forms of this present universe, but to those which we cannot see, except in hope, by the eye of faith. For all the things which can be seen, which we can conceive of by our senses, are temporal, they were made for this present world and age only. But the things which are not seen, which are invisible to us at this time, are eternal. Cp. Rom. 8, 24; Heb. 11, l. To be concerned about the transitory, perishable things of this world and thereby to lose the true and lasting values of heaven argues for a false estimate of values, for a loss of the substance in the vain effort to catch hold of the shadow. Paul, as a preacher with the Gospel-message of light and life, wanted his readers ever to keep before their eyes the great end and aim of their existence, the life with God in the fullness of heavenly glory.

Summary. The apostle disavows all connection with craftiness and adulteration of the Word; in spite of the many perils that beset him he proclaims the Gospel of the knowledge of the glory of God; in doing so, the faith of his heart is uttered in the confession of his mouth, and he looks forward to the final deliverance and the glory eternal.