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Chapters 4 and 5 now show some of the precious, practical results of this ministry, seen in those entrusted with it; for it is such a ministry itself that works powerfully in them to enable them to communicate it. Considering the marvel of the ministry they have, and receiving mercy from God, they faint not. Why should one be discouraged when he has goods to freely give which are infinitely better than all that for which man is willing to pay dearly? Of course there is Satanic opposition, but the mercy of God far outweighs this.
The pure truth of the ministry too, causes the true servant to thoroughly renounce the hidden things of dishonesty. It allows no cunning manipulation, no deceitful use of the Word of God: these things, though seen always in every false religion, and all the imitations of Christianity, are totally foreign to the ministry of Christ. Transparent honesty is the only normal attitude then for him who has this ministry; and the apostles by their conduct commended themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. Men might not approve of them, but their conscience at least could not be offended by the honest conduct of these servants of God.
Their gospel did not involve secretive mysteries: it was clearly, plainly declared. If hidden at all, it was so only to those who are lost, whose minds are blinded to clearly published facts. It is Satan, the god of this world, who so blinds them, not that he is able to do it without their being willing: he uses such bait as the attractions of this world, with its present gain and pleasure, and the glitter of such passing vanities blinds men's minds to the infinitely greater gain and pleasure in Christ. Men will easily reject facts in favour of fantasy that attracts their feelings for the time. "The gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" has no radiance for them: they simply "believe not."
Observe here that the gospel is not designated as that "of the grace of God," but "of the glory of Christ." It is the same gospel, but it is not here its gracious benefits toward man emphasized, but its revelation of God's glory in the face of Christ. This is good news indeed. His glory is supreme, and far more important than our blessing. It is not so much here the question of Christ being in glory, but of the glory that is in Christ. He is "the image (the full representation) of God."
But it is "Christ Jesus the Lord" who is preached, His official title in resurrection, He to whom every knee must bow. As to the apostles who did the preaching, they were simply "your servants for Jesus' sake." And this precious name Jesus used alone reminds us of His lowly path of suffering on earth, in which character they are glad to be identified with Him as to their willing service.
Verse 6 doubtless refers to Genesis 1:3, where the voice of God in majestic power brought light immediately to displace the darkness. Just so, the darkness of our sinful hearts has been as miraculously dispelled by the Word of God entering as radiant light, to reveal to us His own blessed glory in the face of Jesus Christ. It is no doubt the power of the Spirit of God working in conjunction with the Word of God that so enlightens the darkness of one who bows his heart and trusts the Lord Jesus. In chapter 3 the Spirit's work was emphasized, but in chapter 4 it is rather that to which the Spirit bears witness, the glory of the Person of Christ; so that the Spirit is not mentioned in this chapter.
How splendid a treasure to have in earthen vessels! The vessel is nothing in comparison to the treasure it contains. God has so designed the vessel in its utter weakness, in infinite contrast to the light of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ; so that such light would more beautifully shine out as having its source only in the Living God. "The surpassingness of the power" is clearly of God, and not of the vessel.
The apostles were not displaying their own ability to do things for God; but rather showing themselves to be simply controlled by the power of God. It is the creature taking his own place, in order to give to the Creator His place of pre-eminence.
In order for the light to shine more brightly, the vessel must be humbled. One is reminded of Gideon's three hundred men, who were told to break their vessels in order for the light to shine from within (Judges 7:16-25). This process of breaking is seen in verses 8 to 10. "Every way afflicted, but not straitened" (New Translation), that is, not to the point of frustration. "Seeing no apparent issue, but our way not entirely shut up." This is far from easy, yet God always made a way. "Persecuted, but not abandoned." However great the persecution, to have God's presence in it is far more than compensation for it. "Cast down, but not destroyed." This was deep suffering to the flesh, but as Proverbs tells us, a righteous man may fall seven times, and rise up again (Proverbs 24:16).
But how could one possibly endure constant pressure of this kind? Does verse 9 not give the answer? Their Lord Himself in lowly grace and submission, had suffered even unto death; and the precious sense of their identification with Him is involved in "bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus." The constant remembrance of this is a marvellous source of endurance; and this patience in humiliation made manifest in their body the life of Jesus, the same life evident in Him in His path of suffering, life that could shine out most sweetly in circumstances of death.
Does verse 12 not imply that the apostles willingly took this path of death working in them, in order that the results might be seen of life working in those for whom they laboured? They sought not results in themselves, but in others.
Verse 13 quotes Psalms 116:10. The psalmist had been brought very low, yet God delivered him from death, and faith brightly shines out, a faith that means implicit confidence in God, and no confidence in the flesh. This gave decided boldness in speaking; and the same spirit of faith moved the apostles in their speaking as with the authority of God. For they spoke from the viewpoint of vital, assured knowledge. Just as God had raised up the Lord Jesus out of death, so there was absolutely no question that He would raise up the apostles "with Jesus," to be presented in glory together with the Corinthians, the fruit of their labour.
And it is not the Corinthians alone he would include in this. Verse 15 is more correctly translated, "For all things are for your sakes, that the grace abounding through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God." The willing suffering of the apostles was for the sake of the saints, and "the many" to whom grace abounds would certainly include the entire body of Christ. Do we not also today profoundly thank God for the faithful representation of Christ on the part of the apostles in their many afflictions for the truth's sake? Through this thanksgiving abounds to the glory of God. This itself to Paul was most precious fruit.
Verse 1 has shown the ministry of Christ itself gave courage: verse 16 shows that the results of it encourage the servants in not fainting. If the outward man was brought down by opposition to the dust of death, yet there was inward renewal, by means of communion with God, whose miraculous power and grace, day by day, they thereby experienced. And there was future, eternal compensation before them. In view of this, Paul's triumph of faith is precious, in speaking of his present affliction as only "light." And even his abundance of adjectives here, "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory," does not fully describe the glory that shall be revealed. Things eternal alone are worth our real interest.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25