“Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:1-6).
We have already noticed that this is preminently the epistle of Christian ministry, and in the section beginning with these verses the apostle undertakes to open up the nature of that ministry and the responsibilities connected with it.
Notice first, it is something that we have received from God. “Seeing,” he says, “that we
have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.” I know that the gospel is from God because no man would ever have imagined such a message. I am somewhat familiar with most of the religious systems that have occupied the minds of men. For over forty years this subject has been my study above every other. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have read literally thousands of volumes setting forth the different religious views that have prevailed in this world for the last three or four thousand years of human history, and I want to say that you may put them all together, lump them together in one group, and then put the testimony of the Word of God in another by itself. All human religions teach men that there is something they can do and must do whereby they can placate God and earn their own salvation. The gospel, and the gospel alone, tells men that they are utterly helpless, that they can do nothing to merit divine favor, but that they do not need to do anything, for God Himself has come out in loving-kindness in the Person of His Son to save men by grace alone. This is no human thought; this did not come from the human mind; this is a revelation that came from heaven. We have received this ministry, and having received it we are accountable to God to pass it on to others. It was in His mercy that He made it known to us, and we ourselves have been saved through believing it.
Paul could say that there was a time when he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, when he hoped to work out a righteousness of his own, sufficient to admit him un-condemned into the presence of God. But there came a day when God in infinite grace revealed to Saul of Tarsus his own sinfulness and guilt, when he saw himself, not as a self-righteous Pharisee, but as the chief of sinners, and then in his deep, deep need he turned to Christ alone and found in Him a righteousness for his soul. It meant something to him when he said, “We have received this ministry.” He was referring to a very definite personal experience that he had gone through. I am wondering whether you know something of that; I wonder whether you have ever been brought by the Spirit of God to see your own innate sinfulness, your guilt, your lost condition, and not only your lost condition but your utter helplessness. I wonder whether God has ever revealed to you His own blessed Son in whom “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), who came in grace from the heights of glory to the cross of shame and there gave Himself a ransom for all. “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace
was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Receiving such mercy, what a responsibility now rests upon you to make it known to others. The apostle is speaking not merely of what we may call the official ministry of the Church, of a man who proclaims the gospel from the public platform, when he says, “As we have received mercy,” but every Christian is the object of mercy, and therefore should boldly go forth to proclaim the gospel of the grace of God to others. We are not afraid now, we do not lose heart, as we go to men telling of great grace for great sinners.
On the other hand, the apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of living the gospel. He says, “We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty.” It is not merely an intellectual thing with us. It is not simply that we come to the conclusion, after the process of logical investigation, that Jesus Christ is the divine, eternal Son of God, and confess that as a creedal statement, but we have turned to Him in heart, and turning to Him we have been delivered from our sins, and we have renounced those things in which once we lived, in which once we gloried, the activities of the flesh fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. The cross of Christ has brought these things to an end. In other words, the pro-claimer of the gospel must himself be a holy man,
he must live the truth that he preaches to other people. “We have renounced the hidden things of shame (margin), not walking in craftiness,” not walking in guile, nor hypocrisy. There is nothing that is unreal, nothing that cannot bear the light in our behavior, but there is only that which can have the approval of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Nor handling the Word of God deceitfully.” Somebody has translated that, “Nor huckstering the Word of God.” We go to men and proclaim the gospel and tell them we are doing it for love of their souls. What a sinful thing if, when I profess to proclaim the gospel for love of the souls of men I should, after all, simply be preaching it for love of the money which might come to me, because Christ has said that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel. If I am going to devote all of my time to the preaching of the gospel, it is necessary that I be supported in some way, but if I make that the object, if I go out to preach as though simply performing something for which I am looking for temporal support, then I am a hypocrite and a sham, I am dealing with God’s truth as though it were butter and eggs and groceries. The apostle says we are not to do that. Paul might have been a wealthy man if he had pursued the path for which he was trained in early life. He might have been one of
the most widely-recognized professors in Judea. He chose to become poverty-stricken in order to go out and preach Christ, and he was even ready to work with his hands making tents, when necessary to support himself and his companions. The preaching of the gospel was a commission given to him by the risen, glorified Lord, and he could say, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”
“Nor handling the Word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” I know it is possible to preach the gospel and to say things that are perfectly true, and yet the life that is back of the speaking be contrary to the message delivered. In a case like that there is no real power. The power of the Word is found when a man is walking with God in communion with the Holy Spirit. I have prayed thousands of times, and I dare to pray again, knowing that God may take me at my word if I fail, “O God, keep me from ever being able to preach the gospel without a clear conscience and the power of the Holy Ghost.” To attempt to do it is but to mock God, and to mock men for whom Christ died. “By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
The remarkable thing is that one can preach this gospel and yet not have men understand it; it does not seem to appeal to them. In the third chapter we read that when Moses is read there are certain ones who are blinded, and they cannot see that he speaks of Christ. But the same thing is true in the New Testament. You can preach it, men may sit down over the New Testament and read it carefully, and still it seems hazy, it seems that there is a veil over it. How do you account for that? Is the gospel then no clearer than the message of the Old Testament? How do you account for the apparent veil that hangs over the hearts of men as they read or hear the gospel? He explains it for us by saying, “If our gospel be hid (or veiled), it is veiled to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not.” The god of this world, or the god of this age, is Satan. That is a wonderful expression to use of him. The Lord Jesus called him the “prince of this world,” and now the apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit goes farther and calls him the “god of this age.” The devil is the only god that Christless men know; they are led by the devil captive to his will. There are men who even deny his existence, but the very fact that they refuse the gospel message shows that they are under his power. “If our gospel be veiled, it is veiled to them that are lost.” Do you say, “I do not understand; I have heard this all my life, but it means nothing to me; I have heard those words over and over and over again, but they do not register with me, they do not mean anything to me”? Is that true of you? Then let me tell you seriously, tenderly, earnestly, the reason that you are lost, lost deliberately, wilfully, is because of your own sin. That is why you cannot see nor apprehend the beauty, the preciousness of the gospel. “If our gospel be veiled, it is veiled to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” It is Satan that holds you in his control. The reason you cannot believe is that you do not want to believe. If you would believe, it would mean the judging of those things in your life that are contrary to the Word of God. If any man says, “There are things in the Bible that I cannot believe,” I can tell him why. It is because there are things in his life that the Bible condemns, of which he does not wish to repent. There are sins that mean more to him than Christ. He would rather indulge in them than be delivered from them. The moment a man comes to the place where he desires God’s will above all else, and says, “I am ready to renounce my sin, to be freed from it,” that man will not have any trouble believing the gospel. Judge yourself in the presence of God, and you will be able to believe Him. Face your sins before God, and there will be no difficulty about believing.
Someone said to Sir Isaac Newton, “Sir Isaac, I do not understand; you seem to be able to believe the Bible like a little child. I have tried, but I cannot. So many of its statements mean nothing to me. I cannot believe; I cannot understand.”
Sir Isaac Newton replied, “Sometimes I come into my study and in my absent-mindedness I attempt to light my candle when the extinguisher is over it, and I fumble about trying to light it and cannot; but when I remove the extinguisher then I am able to light the candle. I am afraid the extinguisher in your case is the love of your sins; it is deliberate unbelief that is in you. Turn to God in repentance; be prepared to let the Spirit of God reveal His truth to you, and it will be His joy to show the glory of the grace of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Those who believe not do not desire this knowledge, “lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” It says in our Authorized Version, “The glorious gospel.” That is precious, but it does not really give us the whole truth. It is not only that the gospel is in itself glorious, but the gospel that we preach is not a gospel of earth but it is the gospel of the glory of Christ. Christ is up there in glory at God’s right hand, and from the risen, glorified Christ comes this message of reconciliation to sinful men. That is why the apostle speaks of it in the way he does. Christ is the image of God, the manifestation of God. How Satan wants to keep men from coming into this place, and how God is yearning to have men know Him as revealed in His Son.
The gospel is not just a philosophy. What are men’s philosophies after all? Philosophy is the acting of mind upon mind, trying to explain things in a logical, reasonable, human way, and the stronger the mind of the speaker the more it impresses other people, and brings them to think as he thinks. Men depend upon logic, rhetoric, and eloquence in order to impress their fellows. But it was not so with the apostle Paul. He was afraid that mere human reason might overrule the power of the gospel, and so said, “Not with wisdom of words” (1 Cor. 1:17). Men like to hear lovely figures of speech expressed in beautiful language, but the business of the gospel preacher is not simply to reach the mind of man but to reach his conscience and his will, and when man’s conscience is exercised and his will is turned toward God, then his soul is saved through faith in Christ. But this is not the result of human effort, this is the work of the Holy Spirit, and that is why the servant of Christ needs to put his dependence entirely upon the Spirit of God.
Notice how the apostle closes this section. “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” He could not say in plainer words, “We are not trying to attract attention to ourselves, we do not want the result of our ministry to be that men will go about and say, ‘What a wonderful preacher Paul is! What an eloquent man is Apollos! What a marvelous exhorter is Simon Peter! How wonderful these men are!’” I have often felt ashamed at the foolish things well-meaning men have said in introducing servants of Christ to an audience. They make so much of the man, they have so much to say about his ability and his accomplishments, when it is only through the power of the Holy Ghost that he can do anything at all. We should never forget that it is the Saviour who counts, and the Word that God uses in the power of the Holy Ghost. So Paul says, “We preach not ourselves,” we do not want to attract attention to ourselves. Like John the Baptist we say, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). “We preach Christ Jesus the Lord,” and it is only as He is exalted that men and women are blessed. It is only as He is exalted that sinners are saved. But what of the preacher? “Ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” That is all; just “your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Away back there in the beginning God looked upon a world of chaos wrapped in night, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the deep, and God said, “Let there be light, and there was light,” and He who “commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This is our ministry, to bring all men to see the beauty of Christ, to see that, “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), that He is indeed the light of life.
“I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise,
And all thy days be bright.’
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk,
Till traveling days are done.”
Have you seen “the glory of God in the face of Jesus”?