David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 4
Our Light Affliction
A. How a more glorious covenant should be presented.
1. (1-2) How Paul preached the more glorious gospel.
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, 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.
a. Since we have this ministry . . . we do not lose heart: Paul preached his gospel boldly. When Paul considered the greatness of his calling, it gave him the heart to face all his difficulties. We often lose heart because we do not consider how great a calling God gives us in Jesus.
i. The idea behind the ancient Greek word for "lose heart" is of the "faint-hearted coward." The ancient Greek word has the connotation of not only a lack of courage but of bad behavior and evil conduct.
ii. "The preacher should either speak in God's name or hold his tongue. My brother, if the Lord has not sent you with a message, go to bed, or to school, or mind your farm; for what does it matter what you have to say of your own? If heaven has given you a message, speak it out as he ought to speak who is called to be the mouth of God." (Spurgeon)
b. As we have received mercy: Paul preached his gospel humbly. He knew his glorious calling to ministry was not due to his own works but by mercy. Mercy, by its very nature, is undeserved.
c. Renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully: Paul preached his gospel honestly. The ancient Greek word translated to deceitfully is a verb only found here in the New Testament, meaning "to dilute or adulterate." Paul didn't preach a concealed gospel (renouncing the hidden things of shame) or a corrupted gospel (craftiness . . . deceitfully), mixing the message with human ingenuity or watering it down to accommodate his audience. Paul preached an honest gospel.
i. Many preachers fail on this exact point. They have the true gospel, but they add to it things of human ingenuity and wisdom. Often, they add these corrupting or diluting things to the gospel because they think adding them will make the gospel more effective or give it a greater hearing. They are still doing what Paul insisted he would never do, handling the word of God deceitfully.
ii. "Certain divines tell us that they must adapt truth to the advance of the age, which means that they must murder it and fling its dead body to the dogs . . . which simply means that a popular lie shall take the place of an offensive truth." (Spurgeon)
iii. Craftiness speaks of "a cunning readiness to adopt any device or trickery for the achievement of ends which are anything but altruistic." (Hughes)
d. By manifestation of the truth: Paul preached an openly true gospel. Anyone could look at what Paul preached and see the plain truth of it. He did not preach an elaborate system of hidden mysteries.
e. Commending ourselves to every man's conscience: Paul preached a gospel of integrity. Anyone could look at Paul's gospel and ministry, then judge it by his or her own conscience and see that it was full of integrity.
i. Some men attacked Paul with words and some attacked him with actions. Nevertheless, Paul knew both his ministry and his message found approval in the conscience of every man, even if he would not admit it.
f. In the sight of God: Paul preached his gospel before God. It was important to Paul to know every man's conscience would approve his manner of ministry, but it was far more important to know that what he did was right in the sight of God.
i. "There is a higher scrutiny than that of the human conscience: It is to God that every minister of the gospel is ultimately and eternally answerable." (Hughes)
ii. Later in this chapter, Paul will reflect again on his sufferings. In these first two verses, he makes it clear that he did not suffer because he has been an unfaithful minister of the gospel. It was easy for Paul's enemies to claim, "He suffers so much because God is punishing him for his unfaithfulness," but that wasn't true at all.
2. (3-4) Why don't more people respond to such a glorious gospel?
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
a. Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing: If people do not respond to this glorious gospel, it isn't Paul's fault or his gospel's fault. Only those who are perishing miss the message.
i. "The blindness of unbelievers in no way detracts from the clearness of the gospel for the sun is no less resplendent because the blind do not perceive its light." (Calvin)
ii. The King James Version translates the end of verse four: hid to them that are lost. Spurgeon well says, "According to the text, he that believes not on Jesus Christ is a lost man. God has lost you; you are not his servant. The church has lost you; you are not working for the truth. The world has lost you really; you yield no lasting service to it. You have lost yourself to right, to joy, to heaven. You are lost, lost, lost.. It is not only that you will be lost, but that you are lost . . . lost even now."
b. Whose minds the god of this age has blinded: Those who are perishing and for whom the gospel is veiled have been blinded by Satan, the god of this age.
i. It doesn't mean they are innocent victims of Satan's blinding work. Satan's work upon them is not the only reason they are blinded. John 3:19 says, this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Though men love the darkness, and choose the darkness, Satan still works hard to keep them blinded to the glorious gospel of light and salvation in Jesus.
ii. We notice also that it is the minds of the unbelieving that are blinded. Of course, Satan also works on the heart and the emotions of the lost, but his main battleground is the mind. Can't we see a strategy of Satan in working hard to make people think less and learn less and use their minds less? This also is why God has chosen the word to transmit the gospel, because the word touches our minds and can touch minds the god of this age has blinded.
c. The god of this age: The title god of this age is not used of Satan anywhere else in Scripture, but the thought is expressed in passages like John 12:31, John 14:30, Ephesians 2:2, Ephesians 6:12 and 1 John 5:19.
i. There is a significant and real sense in which Satan "rules" this world. Not in an ultimate sense, because, the earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein (Psalm 24:1). Yet, Jesus did not contest Satan's claim to rule over this present age (Luke 4:5-8), because there is a sense in which Satan is the "popularly elected" ruler of this age.
ii. "The satanic world sovereignty is in fact apparent rather than real; for God alone is the 'King of the ages' (1 Timothy 1:17, Greek), that is, of every age, past, present, and future" (Hughes). "It is the devil who is here called the god of this world, because he ruleth over the greatest part of the world, and they are his servants and slaves . . . though we no where else find him called the god of this world, yet our Saviour twice calls him the prince of this world." (Poole)
iii. The Biblical truth that Satan is the god of this age can be understood in a wrong way. Some later Christians (like the Manichaeans) promoted a dualistic understanding of God and Satan, and emphasized this phrase the god of this age. Their idea was that God and Satan were "equal opponents," instead of understanding that in no way is Satan the opposite of God. In reaction to these false doctrines, many early Christian commentators (like Augustine, Origen, Chrysostem, and others) interpreted this verse strangely to "remove ammunition" from the heretics. But this is wrong. Just because someone twists a truth one way, it doesn't mean we can twist it the other way to "compensate." Calvin well remarks of this approach, "being hard pressed by their opponents they were more anxious to refute them than to expound Paul."
iv. Instead, Calvin gives a good sense of what we should understand by the phrase the god of this age: "The devil is called the god of this age in no other way than Baal was called the god of those who worshipped him or the dog the god of Egypt."
d. Who do not believe: Satan can only blind those who do not believe. If you are tired of having your mind blinded by the god of this age, then put your trust in who Jesus is and what He did for you. Then Satan can't blind you anymore.
i. "The god of this world is able only to blind the minds of the unbelieving . . . Refusal to believe is the secret and reason of the blindness that happens to men." (Morgan)
e. Lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ . . . should shine on them: To see this glory is to be saved. Therefore, Satan directs his energies into blinding men from ever seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.
i. Understanding Satan's strategy with unbelievers should affect how we pray for the lost. We should ask God to shine His light, to bind the blinding work of Satan, and to give faith to overcome the unbelief that invites the blinding.
f. Paul knew what he was talking about when he wrote this. He himself was completely blind to the truth until God broke through the darkness. In fact, when Paul first encountered Jesus, the Lord struck him with a literal blindness that was healed, and his eyes - both spiritually and physically - were opened to see the glory of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-19).
i. The light mentioned here isn't the normal ancient Greek word for light. It is a word used in the Septuagint in Psalm 44:3 for the light of Your countenance and in Psalm 78:14 for In the daytime also He led them with the cloud, and all the night with a light of fire. Hodge observes, "The word therefore signifies the brightness emitted by a radiant body."
B. Treasure in clay pots.
1. (5-6) The topic of Paul's preaching: Jesus, not self.
For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
a. For we do not preach ourselves: Paul didn't climb into the pulpit or stand before an audience to preach himself. He wasn't important and he wasn't the focus. Jesus was the focus, so Paul could strongly say, we do not preach ourselves. Instead, the focus must be on Christ Jesus the Lord. He is the one to preach about!
i. Not everyone who opens a Bible and starts talking is preaching Christ Jesus the Lord. Many well-intentioned preachers actually preach themselves instead of Jesus. If the focus is on the funny stories or the touching life experiences of the preacher, he may be preaching himself.
ii. Often, people love it when the preacher preaches himself. It seems revealing and intimate, and it is often entertaining. It is also tempting for the preacher because he sees how people respond when he focuses the message on himself. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the preacher himself can't bring you to God and save your eternal soul; only Jesus can. So preach Jesus!
iii. Is it wrong for a preacher to tell a joke or to use a story from his own life? Of course not, but it is all a matter of proportion. It's like asking, "Is it all right to put salt in the soup?" Of course, but don't put in too much. And if week after week too much of the preacher is in the sermon, it is wrong. A.T. Robertson said the preaching of one's self was "Surely as poor and disgusting a topic as a preacher can find." Don't we have a greater message than ourselves?
b. But Christ Jesus the Lord: It wasn't only that Paul did not preach himself. He also did not preach a gospel of moral reform or a list of rules you must follow to be right with God. He preached Jesus, presenting Christ Jesus the Lord.
i. Paul's goal in preaching was to bring men to Jesus, not to make moral changes in men. "To make the end of preaching the inculcation of virtue, to render men honest, sober, benevolent and faithful, is part and parcel of that wisdom of the world that is foolishness with God. It is attempting to raise fruit without trees. When a man is brought to recognize Jesus Christ as Lord, and to love and worship him as such, then he becomes like Christ. What more can the moralist want?" (Hodge)
c. Ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake: When Paul did present himself, this is how he did it. Not as a lord, not as a master, but simply as your servants for Jesus' sake.
i. It is important that Paul also considered himself a servant of the Corinthian Christians for Jesus' sake. If it were for his own sake or for the sake of the Corinthian Christians themselves, it wouldn't last or it would turn fleshly pretty easily. Paul always served others for Jesus' sake. He did it primarily to please Jesus, not to please man.
d. The God who commanded light to shine out of darkness: Paul is saying, "The Lord God who created light in the physical world can fill your heart with spiritual light, even if you are blinded by the god of this age." Satan's work of blinding is great, but God's work of bringing light is greater.
i. Paul directly quotes the idea of Genesis 1:3: Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. Paul really believed the account of creation as described in Genesis 1. Genesis 1:3 says that God created light with a command, and Paul believed that is exactly how it happened.
e. Who has shone in our hearts: This describes Paul's own conversion accurately (Acts 9:1-9). On his was to Damascus to persecute and kill Christians, suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. This was the first encounter with Jesus in the life of Saul of Tarsus (also known later as the Apostle Paul).
i. This should be a good way to describe every Christian: people with shining hearts. God shone in our hearts, and it should show in shining lives for Jesus Christ.
f. To give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God: What exactly has God shone in our hearts? It is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. Every Christian should have some knowledge of the glory of God. If one is a Christian and can say, "I really know nothing of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God," then he or she should seek God earnestly so that He would shine it in their heart.
i. To give us the light: God gives us the light of the knowledge of God, and we have the responsibility to get it out. He "shined it in" so that we could "shine it out" instead of "shining it on" as some Christians seem to do.
ii. Imagine a man in a sunny room who enjoys the sunshine so much he wants to keep it all to himself. He says, "I'll shut the curtains so that none of this light gets out!" and puts himself back into darkness. When we try to hoard up the light within ourselves, we will certainly lose it.
g. In the face of Jesus Christ: We come to the knowledge of the glory of God by seeing it in the face of Jesus. God gave us a display, a picture, a representation of His glory: His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:9). He also prayed that we would see His glory, the glory of God the Father: that they may behold My glory which You have given Me (John 17:24).
2. (7) A great treasure in such a humble container.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
a. This treasure: The treasure is the greatness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the glory of God made evident through that gospel. It is the very light of God and the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, reflected in the face of Jesus Christ. This is the greatest treasure in all creation!
b. We have this treasure in earthen vessels: When Paul considers us as earthen vessels, he isn't disparaging the body or considering it merely a receptacle for the soul. Instead, Paul simply compares the "value" of God's light and glory and the "value" of what He chose to put His light and glory into. When you compare the two, it isn't hard to be amazed that God has put such a great treasure into clay pots.
i. Who is worthy to be a "container" for God's light and glory? The smartest person isn't smart enough, the purest person isn't pure enough, the most spiritual person isn't spiritual enough, and the most talented person isn't talented enough. We are all just clay pots holding an unspeakably great treasure.
ii. Earthen vessels: Earthenware vessels were common in every home in the ancient world. They were not very durable (compared to metal), and they were useless if broken (glass could be melted down again). "They were thus cheap and of little intrinsic value." (Kruse) God chose to put His light and glory in the everyday dishes, not in the fine china.
iii. We almost always are drawn to the thing that has the best packaging, but the best gifts often have the most unlikely packaging. God did not see a need to "package" Jesus when He came as a man to this earth. Jesus was not embarrassed to live as an earthen vessel. God is not embarrassed to use clay pots like us.
c. That the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us: Why does God put such a great treasure in such weak vessels? So that the greatness of the power may be of God and not of us. So that it would be evident to anyone who had eyes to see that the work was being done by the power of God, not the power of the vessel.
i. Why did God choose risky, earthen vessels instead of safe, heavenly ones? Because "perfect" vessels are safe but bring glory to themselves. Earthen vessels are risky but can bring profound glory to God.
ii. In the story of Gideon, it was the breaking of vessels that made the light shine forth and bring victory to God's people (Judges 7:20). In the rest of the chapter, Paul will show how God "breaks" His clay pots so that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
3. (8-12) The suffering in Paul's ministry brought forth life.
We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
a. We are hard pressed: This has the idea of "hunted." Paul was a wanted, hunted man because of what he was for Jesus. In Acts 23:12, 40 men conspired together to not eat or drink until they had murdered Paul. Paul knew what it was like to be hunted.
b. Yet not crushed: Living as a wanted, hunted man means terrible stress, experienced every moment of the day. Yet Paul was not crushed by this stress. He could still serve the Lord gloriously.
c. Hard pressed . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . struck down: Paul's life was hard, and it was hard because of his passionate devotion to Jesus Christ and His gospel. Yet look at the triumph of Jesus in Paul's life: not crushed . . . not in despair . . . not forsaken . . . not destroyed. Paul knew the power and victory of Jesus in his life because he was continually in situations where only the power and victory of Jesus could meet his need.
i. When we talk about suffering like this today, it is easy to think we are just saying "spiritual things," because some of us live very comfortable lives and do not suffer much at all. Nevertheless, we should remember that everything Paul said about suffering, he said as a man who probably suffered more than you or anyone you will ever meet. This was not theory to Paul but real life experience.
d. Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested: Paul, like any Christian, wanted the life of Jesus evident in him. Paul knew this could only happen if he also carried about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. There are some aspects of God's great work in our lives that only happen through trials and suffering.
i. By writing always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, Paul meant that he felt as if the death of Jesus was being spiritually worked inside of him. He is saying that the death of Jesus was not only a historical fact, it also was a spiritual reality in his life.
ii. In Philippians 3:10, Paul speaks about the glory of knowing Jesus: that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. Many long to know the power of His resurrection but want nothing to do with the fellowship of His sufferings or being conformed to His death. However, there are certain fragrances God can only release through a broken vial, so Paul rejoiced in knowing both the suffering and the glory. He knew the two were connected.
e. Always delivered to death . . . death is working in us, but life in you: Paul knew the spiritual riches that he brought to the Corinthian Christians came in part through the death-like suffering he endured in ministry. God made Paul more effective in ministry through his suffering.
i. Sometimes we think that if someone is really spiritual or really used of God they will live in a constant state of "victory" that means life will always be easy. Understanding what Paul wrote here not only tells us that God's servants may experience death-like suffering but that God has a good and glorious purpose in allowing it.
ii. G. Campbell Morgan tells the story of a great young preacher who was impressive early in his ministry. Once he had the young man to speak at his church, and after the sermon Morgan asked his wife, "Wasn't that wonderful?" She quietly replied, "Yes, but it will be more wonderful when he has suffered." Morgan adds: "Well, he suffered, and it was more powerful."
f. Death in us, but life in you: Here is the irony. The Corinthian Christians despised Paul because of his great sufferings and because of what they thought was their great lives of "victory." They did not see that their lives of victory were only possible because God made Paul such an effective servant through suffering.
i. "Very good interpreters think these words a smart ironical expression, by which the apostle reflecteth upon a party in this church who from his sufferings concluded against the truth of his doctrine, or his favour with God." (Poole)
4. (13-15) Paul's faith in the life-giving God.
And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
a. We also believe and therefore speak: This is a great principle - that faith creates the testimony. Paul really believed God had a purpose in his death-like sufferings, and really believed he lived and experienced the resurrection life of Jesus. Therefore, he wasn't hesitant to speak about it.
i. If you can't say "we also believe," then you should not speak. "That is one great secret of power and success in the Christian ministry. If you do not believe, shut your mouth. That is a word for young ministers. If you do not believe, do not talk." (Morgan)
b. Knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus: Paul knew this; therefore, he didn't despair in his sufferings. Every death-like trial was just the prelude to resurrection power.
c. All things are for your sakes: This was the immediate goal of Paul's ministry. His heart was to serve the Corinthian Christians and the Christians in other cities. Paul's ministry also had an ultimate goal, that it may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Ultimately, Paul was motivated by the glory of God.
i. Some forget the immediate goal and have a "pie-in-the-sky" super-spirituality. Others forget the ultimate goal and are man-focused, becoming either proud or discouraged. We need to keep both in mind, just as Paul did.
C. Our light affliction.
1. (16) Why we do not lose heart.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.
a. Therefore we do not lose heart: Paul began the chapter (2 Corinthians 4:1) by declaring since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. Then in the chapter he described all the death-like sufferings he had to endure in the ministry. It is as if Paul now anticipates the question, "how can you not lose heart?"
i. Therefore is part of the answer, because it points us back to what Paul just wrote. Paul just explained that his death-like trials made for more effective, life giving ministry for the Corinthian Christians. Knowing this made him not lose heart in the midst of trials and suffering.
b. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day: Another reason why Paul does not lost heart is because though all his suffering takes a toll on the outward man, yet the inward man is being renewed and blessed.
i. Outward man has the same idea as earthen vessels in 2 Corinthians 4:7 and mortal flesh in 2 Corinthians 4:11. The message is the same: "On the outside, we are suffering and taking a beating, but on the inside, God is blessing and renewing us!"
2. (17-18) A coming glory that outweighs any of today's difficulties.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
a. Our light affliction: When Paul writes "our light affliction," we might wonder if he ever knew any "real" trials. Some might think, "Well Paul, your affliction might be light, but mine isn't. If you only knew how I am suffering! Why, it's unbearable!"
i. Paul didn't write as a kindergartner in the school of suffering - he had an advanced graduate degree. He described some of his suffering with these terms in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28:
Perils of waters
In perils of my own countrymen
In perils of the Gentiles
In perils in the city
In perils in the wilderness
In perils in the sea
In perils among false brethren
In weariness and toil
In sleeplessness often
In hunger and thirst
In fastings often
In cold and nakedness
ii. Those were just the physical, outward sufferings - what about the spiritual burdens he bore and spiritual attacks he faced? "This rich theology of suffering was forged on the anvil of his own experiences of 'the sufferings of Christ.' " (Harris)
iii. So when Paul writes our light affliction, we can know God means our light affliction. If Paul could say his affliction was light, then what is ours?
b. Our light affliction: Why is our affliction light and not heavy? Because even the worst of it, by the measure of eternity, is but for a moment. This is partially true in the sense that most of our troubles come and go, and "this too shall pass." It is also true in the sense that even a long life by this world's standard is nothing on the scale of eternity. Even if one were to live for a hundred years and suffer every day, by the measure of eternity it is but for a moment.
c. Our light affliction: Why is our affliction light and not heavy? Because of what God accomplishes in us through our affliction: a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
i. The Scriptures are clear: if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:17). Glory is tied to suffering, and God will accomplish in us a glory far heavier than any affliction we have suffered here. "Affliction is not something to be endured in order to reach glory. It is the very process which creates the glory. Through travail comes birth." (Morgan)
ii. It is as if Paul says, "Go ahead and get out the scale. Put all your afflictions on one side of the scale, and even put your thumb down on that side. Then let me place the weight of glory on the other side of the scale, and you will see what a light affliction you really have."
iii. Yes, our affliction is light!
Our affliction is light compared to what others suffer
Our affliction is light compared to what we deserve
Our affliction is light compared to what Jesus suffered for us
Our affliction is light compared to the blessings we enjoy
Our affliction is light as we experience the sustaining power of God's grace
Our affliction is light when we see the glory that it leads to
iv. Understanding this we really can say with Paul, "our light affliction."
d. Weight of glory: It isn't easy to appreciate the weight of glory because it is an eternal weight. Often, the problem isn't so much in what we think about our light affliction but in that we think so little of our coming weight of glory.
i. "It is everywhere visible what influence St. Paul's Hebrew had on his Greek: chabad, signifies to be heavy, and to be glorious; the apostle in his Greek unites these two significations, and says, weight of glory." (Dodd, cited in Clarke)
e. We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: Paul meant this especially about his own life and ministry. In the world's eyes, Paul's life was an incredible failure. At the height of a career that would reach much higher, he left it all for a life of hardship, suffering and persecution, with eventual martyrdom. Paul recognized that the world only sees the outward, not the unseen eternal things.
i. When we look at the things which are seen, all we see is our light affliction, and then it doesn't seem very light! But when we look at the things which are not seen, then we see and appreciate the eternal weight of glory.
ii. Paul isn't saying that all afflictions automatically produce glory. It is possible to allow suffering to destroy us and to let affliction make us bitter, miserable, and self-focused. However, if we will look to the things which are not seen then our affliction will work in us an eternal weight of glory.
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