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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 4

 

 

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Verse 1

‘Therefore seeing we have this ministry, even as we obtained mercy, we do not faint.’

Having such a ministry which results in the unveiling of men and women (2 Corinthians 3:18) so that they can behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6), or in unveiling Jesus Christ so that men can see Him, something which they themselves have also obtained through His mercy, how can they faint? It would be inconceivable.

‘Even as we obtained mercy.’ Paul’s life is lived in remembrance of the mercy of God, and he assumes others’ lives are too. He could never quite get over how God had reached him when he was a renegade and a rebel, working to keep the veil on men’s minds and hearts. But God had been merciful and this makes him press on against every obstacle.

‘We do not faint.’ The verb has a variety of meanings, ‘do not get discouraged’, ‘do not despair’, ‘do not cease working’, ‘do not get tired’, ‘do not have an aversion to it’, and so on. They do not let obstacles get in their way or find it distasteful.


Verses 1-7

Such A Ministry As Has Been Depicted makes Clear That Its Ministers Are Not Corrupt Because It Is Conducted In God’s Glorious Light And Reveals the Unmatchable Glory of God in Jesus Christ Even Though The Bearers of the Message Are But Earthen Vessels (2 Corinthians 4:1-7).

Paul will now argue that no one could conduct such a ministry as has just been depicted unless they themselves were genuine and sincere. For it is all about the light of the glory of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4 compare 1 John 1:5-10) which shines in men’s hearts so that no sin can remain hidden. How could they who look with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord be guilty of fickleness or duplicity? But he admits that they have this treasure in earthen vessels, like the earthenware lamps in their houses contain the light, so that all the glory might go to God. They are but the earthly containers of the true light. Indeed that explains why they are so insignificant in themselves

This last fact is then illustrated by the afflictions they face, which do not, however, concern them because their faith is placed firmly in the One who will raise them and present them before Him. Thus they can ignore their bodily decay, for they look forward to the eternal glory.

The section from 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 links back to 2 Corinthians 2:14-17. Once again we have reference to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 4:3 compare 2 Corinthians 2:15); corrupting God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2 compare 2 Corinthians 2:17) under the eye of God (2 Corinthians 4:2 with 2 Corinthians 2:17); and the communication of the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 4:6 with 2 Corinthians 2:14). But there it was the fragrance that wafted out, here it is the light.

It also refers back to chapter 3 for it expands on the idea of the light that has been veiled, a greater light than that on the face of Moses. So the whole passage is a unity.


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.’

He stresses again the honesty with which they preach. They have turned their backs on hidden and shameful things. There are no attempts at a subtle popularising of the message. They do not seek to shape their words into fine oratory, as did most speakers of the day. Compare 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:4. They do not walk with cunning. They do not change the meaning of the word of God to suit themselves (a genuine danger among Jews in Greek surroundings who like Philo interpreted the Scripture metaphorically. There may have been some such at Corinth).

Rather they speak openly and honestly (compare 2 Corinthians 3:12), they unveil the truth clearly, and thus they commend themselves to men’s consciences in the sight of God. There is nothing in what they say that can disturb people as to its truth, and they are happy that God sees all that they do and teach.

Unlike the false teachers Paul will not try to recommend himself by other means. he does it simply by the truth of his message (compare 1 Corinthians 2:4). For he knows that to hearts that are open that truth will commend itself.

4. 3-4 ‘And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in those who are perishing, in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them.’

But Paul recognises that still their message will be veiled to some, for there will always be those who do not understand, whose minds are darkened. And that is because of the veil on men’s minds placed there by the god of this world. So if their Good News is veiled it is veiled in those who are perishing, those who have rejected the light, those who choose to walk in darkness (compare John 3:16-21). But there is more to it than that. Their darkness is the result of the fact that the god of this world has blinded their minds, and that is why they do not believe.

For it is his Satanic aim to prevent the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, dawning. He keeps the curtains drawn so that the light might not flood in. And our responsibility is to draw back those curtains so that His light might shine on men and women. In one sense the coming of Jesus was the major drawing back of the curtains, but those whose hearts were veiled were unable to see. But when the curtains are drawn back in each individual life by God through His servants then they see, and see clearly.

‘Those who are perishing’ are also those who in their hearts are the unbelieving, whose minds are blinded (the equivalent of veiled) by the god of this world. Without the truth of Jesus Christ man will die eternally (perish). The point may be that man was unbelieving (unresponsive towards God) prior to the work of blinding, and that the god of this world simply ensures the continuation of the unbelief, although both continue together. There is a hint here that those who are demonstrating in the Corinthian church that their minds and hearts are still veiled should recognise that they are still unbelievers and are therefore perishing because they have failed to see the true Good News of the glory of Christ.

‘The god of this world (aion - either ‘world’ or ‘age’).’ This is Satan. See further on 2 Corinthians 11:13-15. In the temptation narrative he was able to offer to Jesus the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them (Matthew 4:8-9), because he was the world’s god. He is also ‘the prince of this world (kosmos)’ (John 12:31), ‘the prince of the power (evil kingdom - Colossians 1:13) of the air’ who is at work in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2), ‘the air’ indicating a spiritual realm which is not heavenly. But his rule is that of a usurper who will finally be defeated by the Heavenly Rule of God. The spread of the Gospel represents God taking back His dominion by revealing His true light in men’s minds and hearts though Jesus Christ, in contrast with the false light which Satan has brought (2 Corinthians 11:14).

‘The light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ Jesus said, ‘I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness’ (John 12:46). And again, ‘I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). So the life imparted in the new covenant, is the light that shines in the hearts of those who are His. The light has shone into their hearts and they have received His life. This is the glory against which the unbeliever’s heart is blinded. And it is a far greater glory than shone on the face of Moses.

And what is the Good News? Essentially it is Whom Christ is, and what He has done to save those who believe on Him. He is ‘God’s image’, the complete revelation of God and of the light of His glory (see John 1:18; Colossians 1:15), the glory so often revealed in the Old Testament, revealed first in creation, and then in human form, and now revealed in the hearts of those who believe. For from eternity Jesus has shared that glory with the Father, ‘before the world was’ (John 17:5). And Satan’s aim is that it will not ‘shine’ on men and women, or be ‘seen clearly’ by them. For once that has happened, once they with unveiled face ‘behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 3:18), then he will have lost them. When they turn to the Lord the veil is taken away (2 Corinthians 3:16).


Verse 5

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

For the purpose of Paul and his fellow-workers is not to preach themselves. They are not concerned to be ostentatious or make much of themselves as though they had spiritual importance. Rather their aim is to preach ‘Christ Jesus as Lord’, and themselves as mere slaves of Jesus Christ. And they had also come to them as slaves for His sake. They sought nothing for themselves but service. The use of ‘your’ prevents us from seeing ‘servants’ as indicating prophetic office.

‘Christ Jesus as Lord.’ The anointed One who came into the world as a human being and was crucified for us but Who is now revealed as ‘Lord’, the Yahweh of the Old Testament, the Creator, the One Who is over all. He is the Lord of glory, the One to whom every knee shall bow, and yet also the Crucified One Who died for our sins (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 15:3. See especially Philippians 2:5-11).


Verse 6

‘Seeing it is God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness”, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’

And what has brought them to such ‘slavery’? Why should they delight in being slaves to God? It is because of the fact that the great Creator who once said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness’, has shone in their hearts to give ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ This links what they have experienced with God’s purposes in creation (Genesis 1:2-3), with the coming King (Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 9:6), with the covenant (Isaiah 42:6-7) and with world salvation (Isaiah 49:6).

And those who see that light no longer cry that it may be veiled. As they look at the face of Jesus Christ (as once Israel looked on the glory on Moses’ face) they see there the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, a knowledge that far surpasses all other knowledge, and their hearts are won for ever. They see God and their hearts are totally captured. And they go on and on looking at Him in worship and adoration.

‘Light shall shine out of darkness.’ This is not a direct quote from Genesis 1:3, although that must be seen as in the background. It is indeed not a direct quote at all, but a summing up of what God has revealed in His word. We may consider for example Isaiah 9:2, ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’, the light of the coming royal child of Isaiah 9:6; or Isaiah 42:6-7 where God’s coming Servant is to be ‘for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles’ who are in darkness; or Isaiah 49:6 where the Servant is again to be ‘for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be My salvation to the end of the earth’. This is the light which God causes to shine out of darkness.

‘The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ Herein is the Gospel, that men are so changed by the work of God within that they gaze on His glory revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. Others may speak of their spiritual experiences, even of their spiritual manifestation, but if they do not lead to this they are nothing. To be truly saved is to be taken up with Christ as true God and true man, and to recognise that the fullness of God is revealed in Him. He is the image of the invisible God, and all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him in bodily form (Colossians 1:15; Colossians 2:9).


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.’

However, although God has shined in their hearts and they therefore carry within their inner selves something of the glory of God, they do not thereby boast. For they recognise that that glory is contained in earthen vessels. The comparison is with the earthen vessel that contained the oil and the wick which gave off light in people’s homes. The earthen vessel is but a cheap container, it is not itself the light. Therefore none should look at the earthen container, they should look at the light within to see whether it is genuine or not. And if they look at the light that Paul reveals he has no doubt what their decision will be.

There may also be behind this the idea of God as the potter and we as the clay. The vessels are made by God and can be broken or not as He will. It is God Who determines all that will happen to them (Jeremiah 18:1-6; Isaiah 45:9).


Verses 8-10

‘We are pressed on every side, yet not pressed in; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body.’

As earthen vessels that bear the message of the glory of Christ they are also subject to the sufferings of Christ (compare 2 Corinthians 1:5). As He suffered in this world, so must they. They bear about in their body the dying of Jesus. But this is so that they might openly reveal the life of Jesus, both by their teaching and their behaviour, and by what they are. So their sufferings actually demonstrate that they are true bearers of His light.

‘We are hard-pressed (afflicted) on every side, but not pressed in.’ Here Paul is entering into the experience of the Psalmists. Compare Psalms 3:1 LXX Psalms 34:19. There are no escaping the surrounding pressures, but he will not allow them to box him in. This includes the pressures of the Corinthian situation (see 2 Corinthians 7:5). ‘Perplexed, yet not to despair.’ Often they do not know what to do, and wonder why they are experiencing what they are, but it does not lead them to despair. ‘Pursued, yet not forsaken.’ They were persecuted and hunted down (as once Paul had persecuted and hunted down others), but God never forsook them. ‘Smitten down and yet not destroyed.’ It is sometimes as though they have been wrestled to the ground, but they survive and rise up again. They are not destroyed (they do not perish).

‘Always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus.’ Paul may have in mind the treatment through which Jesus went from His arrest to His final breathing of His last, ‘the dying of Jesus’, which could be seen as beginning when His ‘hour had come’ (John 13:1). In His final hours He went through affliction and tribulation, and clearly bore their marks. So do Paul and his fellow-workers experience affliction and tribulation, which leave their marks on them, and even face the threat of constant death.


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.’

There is now a swift movement from ‘dying’ to spiritual ‘dying’ (compare 2 Corinthians 1:9 with 2 Corinthians 1:10). Through their experiences ‘we who live’, that is have spiritual life in Him, are ‘delivered to death’. They are given the opportunity to die to self and sin, to die daily, and this is for Jesus’ sake (compare 2 Corinthians 5:14). This significance is demanded by the phrase that follows. And the purpose is so that the life of Jesus may be openly revealed in their mortal flesh, that they may be revealed as alive in Him, and he alive in them, that Christ might be seen in them (compare Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:4; Philippians 3:10-11). Their self dies that their ‘life’ might shine through.

Note the reference to ‘mortal flesh’. The body is weak and could die at any time, and yet through it is manifested the life of the risen Jesus, which will continue on when the body in its fleshly form is there no more.


Verse 12

‘So then death works in us, but life in you.’ A further contrast is given, that the death that works in them, crucifying their flesh with its worldly hopes, affections and desires (Galatians 5:24), results in life working in the Corinthians.

The picture of the faithful servant of Christ ministering in difficult conditions is aptly described in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11. Things can press them in, bear down on them, perplex them, almost crush them, even seem to knock them down, but always God is there to stop them from being boxed in, to stop them being crushed, to prevent despair, to enable them to get up again and carry on. And as they experience these things they may rejoice in that they are sharing the sufferings of Christ, so necessary for the ongoing of His work, and that through their dying with Christ their lives are being purified so as to ensure that their experience of ‘dying’ results in life in the church.

It is noteworthy that in this section Paul refers constantly to ‘Jesus’. He is closely aligning his words with Jesus’ earthly life and death. They walk as He walked.


Verses 12-18

Consideration of the Consequences of the Difference In the Two Covenants (2 Corinthians 4:12-18)

Having been described as earthen vessels, the practical application of this is now made. As earthen vessels which bear the message of the Glory of Christ they can expect nothing but trouble from the god of this world, for he who drove Jesus to His death will surely seek to drive them to the same destination eternally. But again he will fail for behind them is the One Who raises the dead, the Victor over death.

That is why they are unafraid, because they know that whatever afflictions he brings on them they will be as nothing compared with the glory that awaits.


Verse 13

But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed, and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and therefore also we speak.’

But, he points out, these things do not defeat them, for they have the same spirit as the Psalmist who said, “I believed and therefore did I speak’ (Psalms 116:10). This is taken verbatim from LXX, where it refers to a time of great affliction as here. What the Psalmist did was based on his faith. So the thought is that because of their faith in the resurrection (2 Corinthians 4:14), their words match their faith and enable them to triumph over affliction.


Verse 14

‘Knowing that he that raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also with Jesus, and shall present us with you.’

For their certainty finally lies in their faith in the resurrection. It is that that makes all else explicable. They know that He Who raised up the Lord Jesus, will also raise them up with Jesus. The ‘with’ may indicate the expectation of the Parousia but can equally refer to the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). This is the final goal of Paul’s ministry that makes all worthwhile, the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ, the transformation of the living Christians, the opening of the graves and the resurrection of those who sleep, and the final presentation before God. For then He will present them before Him along with the Corinthian Christians who will share in the Parousia.

We note that in his presentation of the glorious hope awaiting them he includes the Corinthian Christians. His confidence is that they too will be presented before God. His ministry through suffering will not have been in vain. It is after all for them, as well as for others, for whom he undergoes what he does. (Some powerful authorities omit ‘Lord’. That may have been to align this with the other references to ‘Jesus’).


Verse 15

‘For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.’

For, he points out, all that he has described as being what he and his fellow-workers are going through is for the benefit of the Corinthian Christians. It will result in God’s unmerited favour and active compassion being multiplied ‘through the many’, resulting in thanksgiving that abounds to the glory of God. ‘Through the many’ may simply mean in them, or may have the added meaning that that grace will then reach out through them. Either way God will be glorified.


Verses 16-18

‘For this reason we faint not. But though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory, 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.’

And it is because of his concern for the welfare of their spiritual lives, and, we could add, for the welfare of the spiritual lives of all their converts, and because of the grace of God that he knows to be at work, that he and His fellow-workers do not faint or get discouraged. They consider that what they are going through is nothing in the light of eternal blessing, and is momentary in comparison with eternity. Their outward body may be decaying, but what does that matter? Their inward man is being renewed day by day ready for the day of full renewal.

We must not, however, see this as distinguishing body from soul. Paul does not see things that way as he has clearly demonstrated in 1 Corinthians 15. That was the view of his opponents. What Paul means is that a man’s body is composed of physical and spiritual elements, and that while the physical elements are decaying and will cease (for flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingly Rule of God - 1 Corinthians 15:50), the spiritual element is being constantly renewed ready for its resurrection at the last day.

And he then goes on to ask, what is their present ‘light’ affliction in view of its glorious purposes and results? Why, it is only temporary and is ever more and more producing for them, to a greater and greater abundance, an eternal weight of glory. Here ‘glory’ indicates all the blessings of God of the future, their treasure laid up in Heaven and added to by God. Note the contrast between the ‘light’ affliction, and the eternal ‘weight’ of glory. What comparison is there between the one and the other?

Thus in view of this they are not looking at what can be seen, they are looking beyond them to the things which cannot be seen, to the attitudes of heart, of love, faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13), which are preparing them for the coming day of glory, and to the multiplied blessings that await them once that day has come. And this is because the things that can be seen are only temporal, and passing away, while the things that are not seen are eternal.

In other words, they are setting their minds on things above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God, and not on things on the earth (Colossians 3:1-4). While on earth their spiritual lives are lived in the heavenly places, in the spiritual realm with Christ (Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:6), in faith, love and hope. And they are always looking forward to the time when they will be transformed and become men and women with spiritual bodies in heaven, enjoying His perfection for all eternity, enjoying the resting place He is providing for them (John 14:2).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-corinthians-4.html. 2013.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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