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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 4

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

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Verses 1-7


Pursuing the consideration of his principles of action, Paul now shows his ministry to have been a triumphant one, notwithstanding the opposition of his enemies (2 Corinthians 2:14-17 ). The triumph however, was of God’s power and grace, and not in himself. Note the comparison between himself and the false teachers (2 Corinthians 2:17 ).

It was not only a triumphant ministry but one fully accredited by themselves (2 Corinthians 3:1-5 ).

It was a spiritual ministry as distinguished from one of legalism (2 Corinthians 3:6-18 ). This is the meaning of “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:6 ), the first referring to Judaism and the latter to the Gospel of grace. Not that Paul would disparage the former which was glorious in its revelation (2 Corinthians 3:7 ), but the latter more so (2 Corinthians 3:8-15 ). Prof. Robertson in The Glory of the Ministry gives a beautiful exposition of the last-named verses. The glory of Moses was:

1. A Real Glory “the ministration of death written and engraven in stones, was glorious”; 2. A Hidden Glory “Moses put a veil over his face; 3. A Temporary Glory “Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished”; 4. An Overshadowed Glory “if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory”; 5. A Defective Glory “who hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter but of the spirit” 6. An Ineffective Glory “their minds were blinded.”

Verses 13-14 referring to Exodus 34:33-35 , are rather obscure because of a wrong rendering of the Old Testament passage. The Revised Version indicates that the Israelites saw the glory on Moses’ face as he spake; but when he had ceased, the veil was put on that they might not look on the end, i.e., the fading of that transitory glory. They were permitted to see it as long as it was necessary to be seen as a credential of his ministry but then it was withdrawn. Thus the declaration of God’s will to them was not in openness of speech, but interrupted and broken by intervals of concealment. This was not the case in the Christian dispensation of which Paul was a minister.

It was an honest ministry (2 Corinthians 4:1-7 ), for the reason that the apostle’s life harmonized with the truth he preached (2 Corinthians 4:1-2 ); because it was Jesus Christ he preached and not himself (2 Corinthians 4:3-6 ); and because the power in which he preached was of God (2 Corinthians 4:7 ).


1. What four points concerning Paul’s ministry are here named?

2. How do you understand the distinction between the “letter” and the “spirit”?

3. Give an analysis of 2 Corinthians 3:8-15 .

4. How does the Revised Version throw light on Exodus 34:35 ?

5. On what grounds was Paul’s ministry honest?

Verses 8-18


HIS SUFFERINGS (2 Corinthians 4:8-15 )

“Troubled,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” “cast down” what a story! “Pressed on every side, yet not straitened,” not so hemmed in but that he could still proceed with his work; “perplexed, yet not in despair,” bewildered like a man going in a circle, put to it, yet not utterly put out; “pursued, yet not forsaken,” hunted like a wild animal, yet not abandoned to the foe; “smitten down, yet now destroyed,” thrown to the ground but able to rise again “The Glory of the Ministry.” But not merely resigned, he has come to rejoice in his sufferings because of his relationship to Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:10-11 ). For the meaning of these last-named verses, compare Col 1:24 ; 1 Corinthians 15:31 ; and Romans 8:36 . Indeed 2 Corinthians 4:11 is a sufficient comment on 2 Corinthians 4:10 . Death (2 Corinthians 4:12 ) was working in Paul, physical death, but it was “working out for the good of the saints who were benefited by his ministry.” He speaks this by the same faith which stirred the psalmist (compare 2 Corinthians 4:13 with Psalms 116:10 ), and it is this faith that gives him the bright outlook for himself and his faithful hearers as expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:14 , and which he amplifies in the next division.

HIS COMFORT (2 Corinthians 4:16 to 2 Corinthians 5:8 )

(1) Inward spiritual renewing day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16 ); (2) the relation between his earthly suffering and heavenly glory (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ); (3) which includes the resurrection of his body (2 Corinthians 5:1-4 ); (4) his confidence rests on the eternal purpose of God in his redemption, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in his soul (2 Corinthians 5:5 ); thus, (5) he is always of good courage whether in his physical body or out of it (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ).

His Ambition (5:9-13) “Wherefore we labor” might be rendered “wherefore we are ambitious.” “Present or absent” has reference to the Lord’s second coming. Paul might be “present,” i.e., in his physical body on the earth when He came, for like all true and intelligent disciples, he was expecting Him in his own generation; and yet he might be “absent,” in that he had passed out of the body in death. But either way he must appear before the “judgment seat” when He came (2 Corinthians 5:10 ). This “judgment seat of Christ” is not that in Revelation 20:0 , which is the last judgment and takes place at the end of the world, but it is one before which disciples only shall stand at the Second Coming of Christ. Note that they are to “receive the things done” in the body. It is not for them a judgment unto condemnation because they are already by faith “in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ). It is not to determine whether they are saved or lost, which was settled the moment of their accepting Christ, but rather that of their reward or loss of reward in the Kingdom of Heaven then to be manifested (1 Corinthians 3:11-15 ). “Terror” (2 Corinthians 5:11 ) should be rendered “fear,” and refers to the godly fear Paul had with reference to that judgment, and his reverent desire to enter upon his reward, which explained his earnestness as a soul-winner. God was his witness to this, and he trusted that the church at Corinth also was. If so, they might properly speak of it before his enemies (2 Corinthians 5:12 ) who were reflecting on him as one who was out of his mind (2 Corinthians 5:13 ).

His Motive (2 Corinthians 5:14-21 )

“The love of Christ” here means primarily his love for us as indicated in what follows. “Then were all dead,” should be, “Then all died,” i.e., all true believers had died to the guilt and penalty of sin because they are members of Christ (Romans 6:0 ). But they are now alive in Him in a new sense (2 Corinthians 5:15 ), and being thus alive they are not to live for “themselves,” their own satisfaction and glory, but for him. As a matter of fact this was Paul’s governing principle, he says (2 Corinthians 5:16 ). “Henceforth know we no man after the flesh,” means that his relationship to his fellow men is no longer that of his former unregenerated state. Indeed this includes that knowledge of Christ he then had concerning Whom he says, “Know we Him so no more.” He knows Christ differently now from the way he knew him before his conversion (Acts 9:0 ). This explains 2 Corinthians 5:17 . Now all these new “things” come from God and are the consequence of our reconciliation to Him by Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18 ). This reconciliation is enlarged upon (2 Corinthians 5:19-21 ). God himself was reconciled, God as manifested in Christ. And His method of reconciling men to Him was not to impute (or charge) their trespasses unto them. This act of grace he was able to express because He had imputed those trespasses unto His Son, mankind’s substitute, Who had no sin. The ministry of this reconciliation had been committed unto Paul who, with his fellow-preachers, was an ambassador for Christ, the mouthpiece of God, beseeching men to accept the reconciliation thus wrought out for them, by accepting the Reconciler, Jesus Christ.


1. Name the four principal subdivisions of this lesson.

2. What five considerations ministered to Paul’s comfort in the midst of his trials?

3. To what event does “present or absent” have reference?

4. Explain 2 Corinthians 5:10 ; 2 Corinthians 5:16 .

5. Analyze 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 .

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/2-corinthians-4.html. 1897-1910.
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