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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 4

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

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Verses 1-18

5. The Character of the True Ministry.


1. The Gospel of the Glory of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6 )

2. The Treasure in Earthen Vessels; Weakness and Power. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12 )

3. Resurrection and Coming Glory. (2 Corinthians 4:13-18 .)

This ministry which the apostle mentions is the ministry of the Gospel. And those who know it by having received mercy are to be the witnesses. Every Christian who has obtained mercy, who is saved by grace, is called to witness to this blessed fact in some way. “We faint not”--we are not discouraged, but encouraged to go on in its proclamation, knowing that it is a sweet savor unto God and the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. The hidden things of shame, the methods of the flesh, craftiness, the deceitful handling Of the Word of God, were renounced by the apostle: he avoided those things. All carnal things, all artifices, human wisdom and rhetoric, by which men’s minds might be captivated and their applause gained, were unknown to the apostle. His commendation to every man’s conscience in the sight of God was by the manifestation of the truth. He had implicit confidence in God’s Word and in the Gospel of the glory of Christ. This confidence is sadly lacking in our days among the professed preachers of the Word. As a result the methods of the flesh are used and the holy things are dragged down into the gutter. What abominable methods are used by professional “evangelists” to gain notoriety, secure large crowds and large collections! And the falsifying of the Word, the deceitful handling of the Scriptures, which go along with those methods! No wonder the world applauds such methods and the defense of the cross lies ceased.

And the gospel is here called “the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And this gospel shines in all its radiancy. In the first epistle we had a blessed definition of what the Gospel is (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ). There we read of His death for our sins, His burial and His resurrection. But here we are lifted higher; the Christ who died and rose again is in heaven crowned with glory and honor. He is there at the right hand of God as our representative, and all the love, the grace and power which are for His people shine out in His blessed face. A glorified Christ in all His fulness and glory, is the gospel in its highest meaning. But if this gospel, which Paul calls “my gospel” is hid, that is, veiled, it is in those that are perishing. They are unbelieving, and unbelief puts them under Satan’s power. He is called here the god of this age (the word world means age), that is our age. The age rejected Christ, and that has made Satan the god of the age, a title which he did not possess in the previous age. And he blinds the eyes of them that believe not. As they refuse to see the light which now shines in the gospel of the glory of Christ, they become blinded by the father of lies by various methods and means. He blinds the eyes by the age itself over which he domineers. He makes it appear as if this age is fast making for better things. Righteousness and peace are impossible during the present evil age; this age is one of darkness, ending in a complete manifestation of the mystery of iniquity in the person of Satan’s man, the Antichrist. Righteousness and peace can only come through the Return of the Lord Jesus Christ and by His enthronement as King over this world. Satan hides the real character of this age and this is one of the ways by which he blinds the eyes of them that believe not. He leads man to exalt himself, and nourishes self-trust and self-exaltation.

But what is the message of the true servants of Christ? Do they exalt man, or themselves, or the age with its boasted progress? “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. Because it is God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, who hath shined in our hearts for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” As it was in the hour of creation when darkness covered all, so it is in redemption. God hath shined in His grace into the hearts of them who believe. And He hath shined, in that, through us, the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ may shine forth to others. This unspeakable treasure and glory is in earthen vessels that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God and not of us. As the ancients kept the most valued treasures in earthen jars, so all those glorious things God has given in the gospel, as well as the ministry of it, are deposited in earthen vessels. The believer, with a body of humiliation, weak and frail, though no longer in the flesh, yet the flesh, the old nature, still in him, is the earthen vessel. The term reminds us of Gideon and his men with the torches in earthen pitchers (Judges 7:16-25 .). The pitchers had to be broken to pieces so that the light could shine, and thus in that dark night the victory was won. The old man has to be kept constantly in the place of death, self must be judged and broken to pieces, that the light may shine forth. This is a truth which is more than suggested by this statement, though the outward man in his weakness and frailty, subject to affliction and suffering in the world is principally in view.

Then follow statements which illustrate the earthen vessels in their weak and helpless condition, and the exceeding greatness of the power of God. The power is manifested through the earthen vessels in trial and affliction. The earthen vessels may be troubled, afflicted on every side, but the power keeps them from being straitened or distressed. Perplexed, persecuted, smitten down--such is the condition of the earthen vessels. But God’s gracious power is manifested in all these earthly and trying circumstances.

“Always bearing about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus (made like Him, in that the man as such was reduced to nothing), in order that the life of Jesus, which death could not touch, which has triumphed over death, should be manifested in his body, mortal as it was. The more the natural man was annihilated, the more was it evident that a power was there which was not of man. This was the principle, but it was morally realized in the heart by faith. As the Lord’s servant, Paul realized in his heart the death of all that was human life, in order that the power might be purely of God through Jesus risen. But besides this, God made him realize these things by the circumstances through which he had to pass; for, as living in this world, he was always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, in order that the life of Jesus might be manifested in his mortal flesh. Thus death wrought in the apostle; what was merely of man, of nature and natural life, disappeared, in order that life in Christ, developing itself in him on the part of God and by His power, should work in the Corinthians by his means. A thorough trial of the human heart, a glorious calling, for a man to be thus assimilated to Christ, to be the vessel of the power of His pure life, and by means of an entire self-renunciation, even that of life itself, to be morally like unto Jesus. What a position by grace! What a conformity to Christ” (Synopsis).

How little of all this is known experimentally in our easy-going days among God’s people! In 2 Corinthians 4:12 we read, “So then death worketh in us, but life in you.” Different explanations have been given of this statement. True ministry in self-denial and self-forgetfulness works death to the servant. His self-forgetting love brought him constantly hardships and suffering; he followed the Lord in all this and knew the fellowship of His sufferings. But through it the people of God were helped, comforted and blessed. In this sense life worked in them through the self-sacrifice of the apostle.

And what sustains in all this? It is faith. And faith reckons on God who raiseth the dead. “Knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise us up also with Jesus, and shall present us with you.” The faith of the believer and the servant looks forward to the glorious consummation when Christ comes for His saints and the great presentation (Jude 1:24 ) takes place. This is the glorious goal when we shall no longer see in the glass darkly, when we shall know as we are known, when we shall see Him as He is and be like Him. Therefore, “we faint not; but if our outward man be consumed, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Faith always looks upon things seen as temporal. Unseen things, the things above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, are eternal; with these faith is to be occupied. But who is able to say what awaits us there? Who is able to tell out the meaning of that wonderful sentence, “A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory?” There is a surpassing, an unspeakable, an indescribable, an unfathomable and eternal glory for the Saints of God. In ages to come God will display the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7 ).

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/2-corinthians-4.html. 1913-1922.
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