2 Corinthians 4

The new covenant ministry entrusted to the Apostle Paul is unfolded
to us in chapter 3. As we open chapter 4, our thoughts are directed to
the things that characterized him as the minister of it. And first of
all he was marked by good courage. Since God had entrusted him with the
ministry, He gave with it suitable mercy. So, whatever the opposition
or difficulty he did not faint. The same thing holds good for us. The
Lord never calls us to ministry of any kind without the needed mercy
being available. "Ministry" of course is just "Service;" the kind of
thing that any of us might render, though it is a word of wide meaning
and covers things that many of us might not be called to do.

The second verse emphasizes the honesty and transparency that marked
Paul in his service. He descended to none of the tricks that so
commonly disfigure the world's propaganda. Many a zealot, religious as
well as political, will stoop to a great deal of craft and
falsification in order to gain his end. The end justifies the means, to
his way of thinking. Paul was very conscious that he was proclaiming
the "Word of God," and this must not be falsified, but rather made
manifest in all its truth. His transparent honesty in handling the
truth was thus made manifest to every upright conscience.

And another thing also was gained. Things were brought to an issue
in the case of those who did not receive his message. The word, "hid"
which occurs twice in verse 3, is really, "veiled;" the same word (in a
slightly different form) as occurs several times in the latter part of
chapter 2. "If also our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in those that
are lost." (N. Tr.). There was no veil on the Gospel, for Paul declared
it in its purity and its clarity: but there was a veil upon the hearts
and minds of the perishing who did not believe; a veil that had been
dropped in their minds by the god of this world. Had Paul preached the
word only partially, or in deceitful fashion the issue would not have
been so clear.

What a word is this for those of us who preach the Gospel! Are we
rightly affected by the awful solemnity of preaching the Word of God?
Have we renounced every "hidden thing," whether of dishonesty, craft,
deceit, or anything else unworthy? Do we make manifest the truth, and
only the truth? These are tremendous questions. If we do not, the
unbelief of our hearers may not be attributable to their blindness, but to our unfaithfulness.

However, even when the Gospel is preached as it should be preached
there are found those who do not believe; and the explanation is that
the devil has blinded their eyes. The sun in the heavens has not been
eclipsed, but a very dark blind has been dropped over the window of
their little room. The light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ
shines, but it does not shine into them. The god of this age will use
anything, no matter what, so long as it blots out the Gospel: not
usually material things, but rather speculative notions and teachings
of men. During the past three-quarters of a century he has very
effectually blinded multitudes by the revival of a favourite
speculation of the pagan world before Christ-evolution. The light of
the gospel of the glory of Christ does not penetrate where the
evolutionary blind has been securely dropped. The blinded soul may
entertain miserable notions of man as the image of a monkey-or some
other elementary creature-or of a monkey as the image of man. He cannot
in the nature of things know Christ as "the Image of God," though he
may talk about a Christ of his own imagination. There are many
imaginary Christs: Christ, as men wish He had been. There is only one
real Christ, the image of God; Christ as He was and is, the Christ of
the Bible.

Christ Jesus was the great theme of the Apostle's preaching, and he
emphasized His position as Lord. He kept himself out of sight as a mere
bondman of others. Preaching Him as Lord, he of course presented Him in
His present glory at the right hand of God; and so he could speak of
his message as, "the glad tidings of the glory of the Christ" (ver. 4.
N. Tr.). Elsewhere He speaks of preaching, "the gospel of the grace of
God" (Acts 20: 24). There are not two gospels, of course. The one
Gospel of God has both the grace of God and the glory of Christ amongst
its outstanding features, and so either may be presented as
characterizing it. Here the glory of Christ is the prominent feature as
befits the context, for he had been speaking of the passing glory of
the Old Covenant which once shone in the face of Moses. We can declare
that the glory of God now shines, and will for ever shine, in the face
of Jesus Christ.

Verse 6 is very striking, for it clearly alludes first to God's act
in creation, then to His act in Paul's own conversion, and lastly to
the ministry to which he was called. Of old God said, "Let there be
light," and light shone out of the darkness. That was in the material
creation. But now there is a work of new creation proceeding, and
something analogous takes place. Divine light-the light of the glory of
God in the face of Jesus-shines into dark hearts, as it did in such a
pre-eminent fashion into Paul's on the road to Damascus, producing
marvellous effects. It shines in that it may shine out. It is "for the
shining forth of the knowledge" (N. Tr.). In that way the believer
becomes luminous himself. He begins to shine, just as the moon shines
in the light of the sun, save of course that the moon is a dead body
merely reflecting light from its surface without being affected itself.

The fact we are dwelling on accounts for the wonderful character of
Paul's ministry. He was not a mere preacher-a mere professional
evangelist-throwing off so many sermons a week. He preached more than
others indeed, but his preaching was the shining out of the light that
was shining within, the telling forth of things that were thus wrought
into every fibre of his being. No one knew better than he that every
Divine excellence shines forth in Jesus, and that He dwells in light
above the brightness of the sun, for he had seen it on the road to
Damascus. That which he knew was as a precious treasure deposited
within him.

We have not seen Christ in His glory as Paul did, yet by faith we do
see him there; so that we too can speak of having a treasure. As with
Paul so with us, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels." The
allusion here is to our present mortal bodies, for as to his body "the
Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground" (Gen. 2: 7). As
originally formed, man's body was perfect, and perfectly suited to his
environment and his place in the scheme of creation. As fallen his body
becomes marred, and so the earthen vessels in which the treasure is
found are poor and feeble. But then that only makes more manifest the
fact that the power at work is of God and not of man.

In the passage before us, extending to the early verses of 2 Cor. 5,
we have many allusions to the body, and it is spoken of in various
ways. In verse 10 it is clearly mentioned apart from figurative
language as, "our body." In verse 11 it is, "our mortal flesh." In
verse 16, "our outward man." And in the next chapter, verses 1 and 4,
"our earthly house of this tabernacle," and "this tabernacle." The
whole passage instructs us as to the dealings of God with Paul as
regards his body, and it throws great light on many an event in our own

All God's dealings with us, as regards the earthen vessel of the
body, have as their object the better and more adequate shining forth
of the treasure which He has placed within. There is an "excellency,"
or "surpassingness" of power about this treasure, which was very
manifest in the case of Paul. By virtue of it not only was he sustained
under unparalleled afflictions, but life worked in those to whom he
ministered, as verse 12 shows. Now, as we know, there is truly a
surpassingness about the power of natural life which is inexplicable by
us. Seeds get buried under heavy flagstones, and lo, in the days to
come tender green shoots, filled with life, manifest
surprising energy sufficient to lift the stone and push it aside. Life
of a spiritual sort manifests even more surprising powers.

Now this power was operating very energetically in a frail mortal
man like Paul. Had he been sent into the world to serve, clothed in a
splendid body of glory, he would have been viewed as a kind of
superman, and the power largely attributed to him. As it was, the
surpassing power that wrought in him and through him was obviously of

The trouble with us so often is that we rather want to wield power
as though it were connected with ourselves. We are not content to be
like an earthen vessel containing a power manifestly not its own. Hence
very little power, or perhaps even complete absence of power, is what
marks us. This indeed is the inveterate tendency of our poor human

And it was also the tendency of Paul's heart, for he was a man of
like passions to ourselves. Verses 8 to 11 clearly show this. He was
continually faced with seas of trouble and difficulty. On the other
hand, he was continually maintained and carried through, and made a
blessing to others by the power of God.

If we examine these verses carefully we see that what he had to face
came upon him in a threefold way. First, there were adverse
circumstances. These are mentioned in verses 8 and 9. Trouble,
perplexity, persecution, castings down, all these came upon him. Verily
he was "a man," as he told the Jews, (Acts 22: 3), and hence not beyond
these things. He knew what it was to be perplexed and cast down like
the rest of us.

Second, there was the spiritual exercise and experience expressed in
the words, "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord
Jesus." The dying of the Lord Jesus was abidingly impressed upon the
mind of the Apostle, so that he bore it about with him continually. But
these words seem to convey more than this, for as a consequence the
dying of Jesus laid its finger, so to speak, upon every faculty and
every member of his body, controlling all his ways. It laid its finger,
for instance, upon his tongue, repressing many an utterance that would
have been unworthy. The thing was not perfect with him, as we know. Yet
it was characteristic with him, marking him normally, in spite of
occasional deviations and failures.

Third, there was God's disciplinary action which he describes as
being "alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake." God permitted many
a thing to come upon him, such as that episode at Ephesus, which he
described in chapter 1 as "so great a death," by which he was delivered
to death in his experiences amongst opposing men. In this way the
inward and spiritual experience of which he speaks in 2 Cor. 1: 10, was
supplemented by outward experiences, sent of God to further help him in
his service. By these things he lived, and his light the more brightly

We have only noticed so far one side of the matter. The other side
is concerned with the wonderful results, with the way in which the
surpassing excellence of the power of God was displayed in and by means
of these things. Though circumstances were continually against him yet
he was not distressed, not in despair, not forsaken, not destroyed.
Obviously a sustaining power was working in him which counteracted all
that was working against him. He was rather like one of those
self-righting lifeboats, pounded by the stormy seas and even
overturned, which nevertheless comes up, the right side up, when the
thundering billows have passed. It was indeed the power of the divine
life in Paul that accomplished this.

Again, whether the action of faith and love in his own experience,
leading him to bear about in his body the dying of Jesus, be in
question, or whether God's disciplinary actions in keeping with that
experience be in question, the same end was achieved, and a wonderful
end it was. The life of Jesus was made manifest in his body, his mortal
flesh. In verse 2, referring to his service, he had spoken of the manifestation of the truth. Again in verse 6, still referring to his service, he had spoken of the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Now we have something additional to this, for the manifestation of the life of Jesus is not just service. It is character. In his unconverted days Saul of Tarsus manifested himself, as
a man of imperious energy and self-will, in his mortal flesh. Now all
was changed. The dying of Jesus was so applied to him that the Saul
character was effectually stilled in death, and the life of Jesus manifested.

Nothing less than this is true and proper Christian testimony.
Behind preaching and service lies the life. Christ in His glory should
be clearly manifested in the preaching, but that manifestation will only reach to its maximum of power and effect as Christ is manifested in the life. And
this is as true in regard to ourselves today as it was for the Apostle
Paul. Without a doubt here lies one of the main reasons for the
ineffectiveness of so much modern preaching, even though the preaching
itself is correct and sound.

Verse 10 and 11, then, show us that, as the result of death working
in Paul, life wrought in him, and the life of Jesus was lived by him.
Verse 12 shows that there was a further result-life wrought also in
those to whom he ministered, and notably the Corinthians. Some years
before life had worked to their conversion. Now he was rejoicing to see
further evidence of life in their genuine repentance as regards their
wrongdoing, and their affection for himself in spite of his rebukes.
And lastly he looked forward to the resurrection world where they
together with him would be presented in due season. Verse 14 mentions

The words, "I believed, and therefore have I spoken," are quoted
from Psalm 96: 10. If that Psalm be studied it will be seen that the
circumstances of the Psalmist when he wrote were very similar to those
of Paul. He had been confronted by death and tears and falling, but had
been delivered; and now he had the confidence that he would "walk
before the Lord in the land of the living:" that is, he had the
resurrection world in view. Believing that, he was able to open his
mouth in testimony. Now Paul was just like that. He had "the same
spirit of faith." The resurrection world was full in view for him.

Is it fully in view for us? It should be. Life and incorruptibility
have come to light by the Gospel: and that which was known partially to
the Psalmist may be known in full measure by us. It is only as we live
in the light of resurrection that we can be content to bear about in
our bodies the dying of Jesus; and only as we do that is the life of
Jesus manifested in our bodies, and does life work in others whom we
may serve.

Paul's ministry and service are still in view in verse 15, and the
"all things" of that verse refer to the treasure with which he had been
entrusted, the mercy that carried him in triumph through the
persecution and discipline, the resurrection world which lay at the
end. All these things were not matters purely personal to Paul, but
through him were for the sake of the whole church of God. Consequently
the Corinthians had an interest and a share in it all, and could add
their thanksgivings to Paul's to the greater glory of God. We too may
join in the thanksgiving though nearly nineteen centuries have passed;
for what great blessing has reached us through his inspired epistles
which sprang out of these experiences, written for our sakes as well as
for the Corinthians. We too shall be presented with Paul and the
Corinthians in the resurrection world.

There is nothing like having the resurrection full in view as an
antidote against fainting. That glorious hope sustained the Apostle and
it will sustain us. In the last verse of 1 Corinthians 15, we see how
it inspires to active labour in the work of the Lord. Here, we discover
how it sustains and encourages under the severest trials which threaten
the perishing of the outward man: that is, the dissolution of the body
in death.

And not only is there resurrection in the future but also a work of
renewal in the present. "Our outward man" is the material body with
which we are clothed. "The inward man" is not material but
spiritual-that spiritual entity that we each possess, and which (since
we are believers) has become the subject of God's new creation work.
The current usage of this phrase in the world is a total misapplication
of it. A man speaks of paying attention to "the demands of the inner
man" when he means having a good meal to satisfy his stomach; and thus
even the inner man is turned into a part of the anatomy of the outward
man. This of course is symptomatic of the fact that the spiritual does
not come within the range of the natural man.

The outward man is subject to all kinds of buffetings and wear and tear, yet it may in
the mercy of God receive a certain amount of renewal, which may stave
off for a time that ultimate perishing which we call death. The inward
man IS renewed day by day. This renewal is doubtless produced by the
gracious ministry of the Spirit of God, who indwells us.

What an extraordinary and inspiring picture is presented to our
mental vision by this passage. Here is the Apostle; he has years of
strenuous and dangerous labours behind him. He is continually being
troubled and persecuted and battered by men, and again and again
"delivered unto death" in the providential dealings of God. Yet he is
pressing forward with undaunted courage, with the light of the future
glory of resurrection before his eyes; and though he is worn as to his
body, and signs of decay are appearing, he is being renewed daily in
his spirit so that he goes forward with unabated or even increased
spiritual vigour. He felt all the trouble that came upon him, yet he
dismisses it as "our light affliction."

The affliction is not only light but also only "for a moment." In
Paul's case it lasted from the days shortly after his conversion, when
the Jews of Damascus took counsel to kill him, to the day when he
suffered martyrdom: a period covering thirty years or more. This period
is only a moment to him because his mind is set on an eternity of
glory. What tremendous contrasts we have here! The coming glory is
weighty and not light: for eternity and not merely for a moment: and it
is this in a "far more exceeding" way. It might have seemed enough to
say it was exceeding. To say it is "more exceeding" seems almost superfluous. But, "far more exceeding!"
Paul piles on the words. It is something excessively surpassing! He
knew it, for fourteen years before he had been caught up into the third
heaven and had glimpses of it. He wishes us to know it too.

The secret of the Apostle's wonderful career is found in the last
verse of the chapter. The "look" of which he speaks is, of course, the
look of faith. He was passing through the scenes and circumstances of
earth, which were very visible, yet he was not looking at them. He was
looking at the eternal things, which are not visible to mortal eyes.
Here doubtless is discovered to us where much of our weakness lies. Our
faith is weak like Peter's was when he essayed to walk on the waters to
go to Jesus. He looked at the raging waves which were so very visible,
and he began to sink. If, like Paul, we had our eyes upon Christ, upon
resurrection, upon glory, we should be upheld by divine power and
inwardly be renewed day by day.