Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 4

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

[Having shown that the Christian ministry is superior to the Mosaic, Paul, in this section, enlarges upon the two antithetical phases of that ministry, showing that viewed carnally it leads to the severest suffering and to death, while, viewed spiritually, it leads to ever-increasing life, culminating in celestial and eternal glory. The prospect of this blessed culmination enables the minister to sustain his present distress without fainting.] Therefore seeing we have this ministry, even as we obtain mercy, we faint not [having been forgiven for prosecuting the church, and having been graciously called to this glorious ministry of the open vision, we are moved and inspired to holy courage and perseverance]:

Verse 2

but we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. [This verse contrasts the true Christian ministry with that false form of it employed by Paul’s enemies. They, preaching from selfish motives, had sought to undermine Paul’s influence by calumny, by crafty perversions of his statements, and by adulterating the gospel with obsolete Judaism. Paul, on the contrary, had practiced nothing which shame would prompt him to hide, had used no crooked or partisan arts, had taught nothing in private which he did not teach in public; and had, by his open, candid frankness in presenting the truth, commended himself to every variety of conscience, behaving himself as in the sight of God.]

Verse 3

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish:

Verse 4

in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them. [These words are called out by the word in "every" found in 2 Corinthians 4:2 . The apostle anticipates that some Jew would challenge his statement, asserting that the gospel was as much veiled to him and his brethren, as Paul had above asserted the law to be (2 Corinthians 3:7-18). Paul replies that their failure to acknowledge the truth may indeed form an exception, but does not weaken his general assertion, since the obscurity lies in their own bigotry-closed eyes and not in the truth presented to them. The fault lay, not in the nature of the gospel, but in their own nature. By unbelief they had fallen into Satan’s power, and he had blinded them (just as, conversely, those who believe are enlightened by the Spirit). The completeness and hopelessness of their blindness is made most apparent by the glorious luminosity of the divine gospel which they failed to perceive. Some have been needlessly puzzled by this passage, because Paul called Satan a "god." The apostle does not mean to attribute divinity to the devil. Satan is not a god properly, but is merely one in reference to those who have sinfully made him such. Paul calls him a god as he would call an idol a god; it being only such in the eyes of its worshipers. (Comp. Philippians 3:19) The phrase is equivalent to "prince of this world," found at John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11; though in John the word kosmos, or space-world, is used, while here it is the word aioon, or time-world. He is prince over this world of space, and prince also over that time-world which began with the fall of Adam and closes at the second advent. One of the methods by which Satan blinds the eyes will be found at John 5:44 . South pithily remarks, "When the malefactor’s eyes are covered, he is not far from execution" (Est. 7:8).

Verse 5

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Verse 6

Seeing it is God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness [Genesis 1:3; Isaiah 60:1-2], who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. [From such passages as 1 Corinthians 2:6-7; 1 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 3:9; Galatians 4:12; Philippians 3:17; Paul might have been accused of preaching himself; but he had preached himself as a servant (1 Corinthians 9:19). Paul’s rivals had preached themselves and had sought to make the preaching a contest between him and them. Paul declines this contest, and declares that it is his business to reflect the light of Christ which has shone in his heart; for God sent his Son to be the light of earth’s darkness. The apostle here alludes to the glorified face of the Christ which appeared to him on the way to Damascus. After such a vision it was impossible that Paul could look upon himself as any other than a reflector of the true Light which was sent from God. It was also impossible that he should regard the face of Moses as comparable with it. Moreover, the prophecy spoke of but one light, and took no account of Moses.]

Verse 7

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves [We, in our mortal bodies, hold the divine and heavenly truth. God has thus committed his gospel to men that it may be evident to all that it is from him. The power of the gospel so transcends that of the human agent who preaches it as to make it apparent to all that the preacher is but an agent performing duties which are beyond the compass of his own unaided faculties. Farrar sees in this a reference to the torches of Gideon’s pitchers, but the word "treasure" evidently changes the figure, so that Paul no longer speaks of the gospel as a light. Besides, the Gideon incident conveys the idea of concealment, which is not in Paul’s thoughts. The apostle is here supposing that some one will object to his high claims for the Christian ministry, asserting that the humiliations and sufferings endured by the apostle refute the idea that he can be an ambassador of God. His answer is that God put the treasure in an earthen vessel in order that the survival of the perishing vessel when subjected to all manner of vicissitudes might prove the value, in the sight of God, of the treasure within it];

Verse 8

we are pressed on every side, yet not straitened; perplexed, yet not unto despair;

Verse 9

pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed [The apostle again changes his figure, and describes the Christian minister as a warrior defending a divine treasure. His enemies press upon him very closely, yet still leave him room to wield his weapons. He is greatly disturbed in mind because of his imperiled position, yet does not lose hope; as the conflict grows more strenuous he seeks refuge in flight, but feels that Providence has not forsaken him; finally the overtaking enemy strikes him down, and would overcome him, did not God deliver him for the sake of the treasure committed to his defense];

Verse 10

always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body.

Verse 11

For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Verse 12

So then death worketh in us, but life in you. [The apostle has been speaking of having and holding the knowledge of God in a mortal body. But the knowledge of God brings with it the eternal life that is within God, so that to have divine knowledge is to have divine life (1 John 1:3; 1 John 5:19). The knowledge of 2 Corinthians 4:6; therefore, gives place in this passage to the life which it produces. The minister of Christ, having in him the life of Christ (Galatians 2:20), becomes in a large measure a reduplication of the life and experiences of Christ. He is, as it were, constantly dying and being resurrected. With Paul death was a matter of daily experience (1 Corinthians 15:31). But by thus constantly dying and yet continuing to live, Paul typically re-enacted the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord. By surviving so many trials he made it evident to the world that he was sustained by a life other than human, viz.: the life of Jesus. Moreover, the daily sacrifice of the life of Paul, like the sacrifice of Christ, worked out life and blessing for others, notably the Corinthians, to whom he wrote.]

Verse 13

But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written [Psalms 116:10], I believed, and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and therefore also we speak [having the same spirit of faith which was in the Psalmist who proclaimed his faith despite his afflictions, we preach right on despite all opposition];

Verse 14

knowing that he that raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also with Jesus, and shall present us with you. [The daily preservation of his weak body was to the apostle an earnest, as it were, of the final resurrection, and the hope of this resurrection, in company and fellowship with the Corinthians, as the fruit of his labors, encouraged him to speak out and proclaim the gospel despite all forms of persecution.]

Verse 15

For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound unto the glory of God. [The whole gospel ministry is for the sake of the believer, for the believer is the recipient of the grace of God, and the returner of thanks to God. God is glorified in him both by the grace which he bestows upon him and the thanksgiving which he receives from him. It therefore follows that the more believers there are, the more grace there is bestowed and the more thanksgiving there is received, and hence the more God is glorified.]

Verse 16

Wherefore [because each death is followed by a co-ordinate resurrection] we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. [The sacrifice of the carnal ever tends to the increase of the spiritual. The apostle knew that the transfiguration described at 2 Corinthians 3:18 was perfecting itself daily].

Verse 17

For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly [Literally, in excess unto excess: a Hebraism: a method of expressing intensity by repetition of the same word. It might well be rendered "an abounding upon an abounding," thus suggesting the idea of progression by upward steps] an eternal weight of glory;

Verse 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. [We have here the same law for the Christian which governed the life of Christ (Philippians 2:7-11). If afflictions are viewed with regard to temporal affairs, they seem heavy and profitless; but when we look upon them as part of God’s discipline which prepares us for an unseen world, then they seem light and momentary. In proportion as we keep our eyes upon the future kingdom of God, with its glorious circumstances and modes of existence, our afflictions increase our faith and enlarge our character, and so work out for us a more glorious future. The phrase "eternal weight" suggests a royal garment, richly freighted with ornaments of gold and jewels. Trapp quaintly observes, "For affliction, here’s glory; for light affliction, a weight of glory; for momentary affliction, eternal glory."]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/2-corinthians-4.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.