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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 4

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Verses 1-6

The Light of the Gospel

2 Corinthians 4:1. It might appear that Paul wrote some theory in the third chapter. However the fourth chapter dispels this impression. In the third chapter Paul called himself a minister of the new covenant (2 Corinthians 4:6). His ministry was connected to the Spirit (2 Corinthians 4:8) and righteousness (2 Corinthians 4:9). In this fourth chapter you see what a tremendous effect this had on his life.

He begins this chapter with the word “therefore” and this means that he is connecting to what he said earlier. The ministry he received was a powerful incentive to move forward, to persevere and not to get discouraged. There were lots of resistance and hostility. But he was full of inner vigor. That was because he was always conscious of the Lord’s abundant mercies that were shown to him. That was the secret behind the motivating force and the zeal that were operative in his service for the Lord.

Nothing really gives so much power to live for the Lord, as the consciousness you personally have of the mercy that was shown to you. In the parable of the Good Samaritan we find a magnificent illustration of mercy (Luke 10:30-Zephaniah :). The Lord Jesus narrates this parable in which He Himself is that Good Samaritan. You see how he took pity on the man who fell victim to robbers and was wounded severely. This is the exact picture of yourself; it portrays your condition when you did not know the Lord. That was your situation when the Lord Jesus found you and that’s the way He showed mercy to you. The more you are conscious of your past miserable condition, the more you will have the zeal in your service for the Lord. It was so with Paul. With all the resistance he faced he simply moved forward.

2 Corinthians 4:2. Paul did not work secretly. The false teachers did that. False teachers are people who claim to be true servants of God, but they seek their own advantage. Their tactic is to seek the church members who are not strong in the faith. They first implant their false teachings into them. Once they gain influence enough they move out publicly and then cause untold misery to people. Paul did not adopt this insidious method.

His message was straight, clear and bright. He never distorted the word nor used any other cunning method in his teaching. He conveyed the truth he received from God. Everyone was allowed, yea, had to listen to his message. Everyone was allowed to prove it and examine his life to see whether he practiced what he preached. Otherwise his message is only a beautiful story worth nothing for practical life.

Unfortunately there are lots of Christians whose mouth pours down all sorts of biblical truths in pompous and grandiloquent language, but their life shows nothing of it. Their great sermons do not have a lasting effect on their listeners. Your life must express what your mouth speaks. Then you can touch the conscience of the people you address. When you live before the face of God and are conscious of His presence, the truth that you speak will impact the life of your audience.

2 Corinthians 4:3-Numbers :. The one who rejects the clear testimony of the gospel shows that he is completely blind. He cannot see because his eyes are covered. Is it your experience that you lined up your words and tried to share the gospel with someone, but you could not push the message across? In your opinion you expressed very clearly but everything bounced back. Why is it?

It is because people, just as you were in the past, are blinded by satan the god of this world. Once your eyes become open to the glory of the gospel you will be surprised to see that so many cannot see it. But you know how cunning satan is to prevent people from deciding for Christ. He has got innumerable methods: luxury, success, wealth, richness, career, but he also uses great worries, sickness or any other misfortune, that people are obsessed with these things so that they cannot look to Someone else in life. How sad that “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God” cannot shine on them!

How glorious is the content of this passage! You must let the words of this passage work in you. What a malicious monster is the god of this world, bent on denying God’s blessings to people! These are people of whom it is said that they “are perishing”. Their end will be horrible. We must be ready to reach the lost ones with the gospel. A sharp contrast is presented here and in 2 Corinthians 4:6 it is even sharper.

2 Corinthians 4:5. But first Paul comes back to his message. He focuses his message not on himself but on Jesus Christ. He does not want to bind people to himself but to the Lord Jesus. He does not preach Him as Savior or Redeemer but “as Lord”. But he does not do so without reason. Paul’s conviction is that the Lord Jesus has all the rights over all people. Of course it is nice to present Jesus as the Savior before the lost people, but it is also essential that He is presented as Lord. No one can escape His rule.

This acknowledgement is essential for salvation. In Romans 10 this condition is made clear (Romans 10:9). Whoever does not confess Him as Lord now will be forced to do so later (Philippians 2:9-1 Kings :). The one who acknowledges Him as Lord will show it in his life. This is what Paul did. He made himself not only a slave of the Lord Jesus, but even a slave of the believers because he loved the Lord Jesus and he wanted to serve Him in everything.

2 Corinthians 4:6. He comes to this attitude because the light shone in his heart. It happened in his heart as it happened in creation and it happens in every heart in which the light shines. The heart of a man who thinks he doesn’t need God and Christ is dark. It is just as dark as the earth was before God brought order out of chaos and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (cf. Genesis 1:1-Exodus :). In the same way the Spirit of God begins His work in the dark and evil heart of a sinner. Then the voice of God is heard, Who says: “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).

In the same way a powerful and an unstoppable work of God has taken place in your heart. The light has penetrated your heart and your eyes saw “the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”. This again is a statement with a rich content. What a gigantic change! What happened in your heart shines out of yourself.

After this personal testimony of Paul (and you can repeat that) you will learn from the verses following how this glory can be made visible in your life in the best way possible.

Now read 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 again.

Reflection: How can you equip yourself against discouragement in the service of the Lord?

Verses 7-15

The Treasure in Earthen Vessels

2 Corinthians 4:7. The opening words of 2 Corinthians 4:7 show a clear connection with 2 Corinthians 4:6. In order to understand the value of this passage first you must know what is meant by “this treasure” and “earthen vessels”.

2 Corinthians 4:6 gives an exact description of ‘this treasure’. The word ‘treasure’ indicates that it is something very valuable and precious. Is not the knowledge of God seen in Jesus Christ something overwhelming? How great it is! It is really unimaginable. In the past you lived without God, wandered around blindly; you had no hope and your heart was empty. Now you have a treasure in your heart and it is invaluable. You know God because you had an encounter with the Lord Jesus and accepted Him. In “Christ … are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). What more do you want? To have more than this is simply impossible!

And what is meant by earthen vessel? The Bible refers to a person or a person’s body as a vessel. The Lord calls Paul: “A chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15). This word ‘vessel’ is used in the same sense in other places (1 Thessalonians 4:4; 1 Peter 3:7). In this verse vessel has a prefix. It is called earthen (made of earth). This is to emphasize its fragility. Unlike a treasure that represents something precious, an earthen vessel is of little value.

That Paul presents these things in this way is not without reason. This is reminiscent of the history of Gideon in Judges 7. There we see a small army of three hundred. This little army had to fight against a formidable enemy who held the Israelites in slavery. What are the kinds of weapons Gideon hands out to his men? Trumpets, empty pitchers and torches inside the pitchers (Judges 7:16). In the verses following you read how they use these weapons. They blow the trumpets, break the pitchers and make the torch visible (Judges 7:19-Proverbs :). Thus the enemies got the impression of being surrounded by a huge army and took to flight.

Do you see a parallel in this to 2 Corinthians 4 (2 Corinthians 4:7)? The torch is the treasure (‘the light’) and the pitcher is the earthen vessel. This treasure in all its glory must be revealed in your life. The important thing is not your own life and your own person. The earthen vessel cannot have a high opinion of itself and it does not seek its own interests. Self-importance is out of place. You have no strength in yourself to let the light shine. The more you are aware of your own inadequacy, the more visible will be the power of God in you and the brighter the light shines forth from your life.

2 Corinthians 4:8-1 Samuel :. These verses describe how this works. There you read on the one hand how the earthen vessel is broken and on the other hand you read of the power of God which makes the treasure visible outside. The enumeration in these two verses is as follows:
1. On the one side “afflicted in every way (the earthen vessel is broken),
2. on the other side “not crushed” (because the power of God gives a way out).

You find these two sides subsequently in
1. “perplexed” (the earthen vessel), “but not despairing” (the power of God provides a way out);
2. “persecuted” (the earthen vessel), “but not forsaken” (God is there with His strength);
3. “struck down” (the earthen vessel), “but not destroyed” (God prevents by His power).

When the weakness of the earthen vessel is felt, God gets the opportunity to make tangible the excellence of His power. Otherwise we would get the honor and not God, while the whole point is that He gets the honor.

We read the same thing in Judges 7. God wants to prevent Israel from usurping the honor which belongs to Him alone (Judges 7:2). Therefore He reduces the army to three hundred men and then says: “I will deliver you with the three hundred men” (Judges 7:7). We understand one thing for certain: the more thoroughly the vessel is broken, the brighter shines the light of the torch.

Here you get an explanation (I do not say the explanation) for the trials you perhaps are going through or you might see in others. They serve to make visible God’s treasure while we disappear from view.

2 Corinthians 4:10. So the servants of God are constrained by the force of extreme circumstances to have “the dying of Jesus” in their mind always. If you look at that, you see your own death. This view prevents you living for yourself. This creates room for “the life of Jesus”. His life is then seen in all your walk and talk, in your behavior and manners.

2 Corinthians 4:11-2 Kings :. Well, that is why Paul always was delivered to death. You see he says “always”? Whatever happened to him did not happen occasionally. His dedication to the service of God took him to the greatest dangers. Think again on what he said in chapter 1 and read about it in chapter 11. All that happened to him had a wonderful result for the Corinthians. He risked his life so that others (among them the Corinthians) partake in the true life.

2 Corinthians 4:13. There is only one way to persevere in life like Paul and that is only in the power of faith. He had the same spirit of faith as the believers in the Old Testament had. That is why he cites Psalm 116 in 2 Corinthians 4:13 (Psalms 116:10). Where true faith is present, it will be spoken about, whatever the opposition is. You simply cannot keep silent.

2 Corinthians 4:14. When you remember God always has the last word then things cannot go wrong. God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, didn’t He? The Lord Jesus had to pay with His life for the testimony He gave. Of course much more is connected with His death than His testimony. By His death He saved us from judgment. But the point here is that in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus there is a great encouragement.

God raised Him. Then the encouragement is that certainly God will raise you too when you testify at the cost of your life. Then you will stand before Him along with Paul. No circumstance in your life can change that. It is anchored in the power of God.

2 Corinthians 4:15. When you view the difficulties in your service for the Lord Jesus Christ in this manner you will see the grace of God shining. The more fellow believers you serve in the midst of your trials and difficulties the more praises to the glory of God there will be. Is not the breaking of the earthen vessel worth it when you think of the fact that finally God will be glorified in those who belong to Him?

Now read 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 again.

Reflection: What is your experience in having ‘a treasure in an earthen vessel’?

Verses 16-18

What Is Temporal and What Is Eternal

2 Corinthians 4:16. If you can see your Christian life with all the difficulties as Paul described it in the previous section surely you will not be discouraged. There is no reason to be discouraged. It can be that our outer man, the body, is wearing out because of our sufferings for the Lord. At all times in Christian history many believers have forfeited many things as they wanted to remain faithful to the Lord. If you want to glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:20), you must reckon with the fact that it is done at the cost of your body.

Living for Christ is suffering for Christ. It demands all the available energy in your body. It consumes a prohibitive quantum of energy when you swim against the current, especially as a new believer, in school or at work or may be in the family every day. To be a Christian is not a matter of relaxed life. At the same time this also does not mean that you can be irresponsible or careless with your health. You are the steward of your body. The Lord is the owner.

Here I would like to place a warning against mysticism. Your body is not a prison or a shell which prevents the mind to unfold. Mysticism postulates such a theory and offers all kinds of grotesque techniques to have the body under control so that the mind can have a free movement. Colossians 2:23 condemns asceticism with the utmost and unsparing severity: “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, [but are] of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:23).

You should never try to be ‘more spiritual’ by renouncing the natural needs of the body. For instance you cannot sleep less and less everyday denying proper rest to the body. Such abuse of the body is the result of a wrong way of thinking. God places high value on the body.

In this passage it is made clear that man in his enmity against God can only aim at the believer’s body. But the encouragement is that though the outer man of a servant of God is perishing, there is something present inside of him that never breaks down. The inner man undergoes a continual renewal by its daily communion with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Perishing means to go backward and renewed means advancement. Each time he is attacked there is an inner awareness and assurance that the power of God is present.

The attacks of the enemy and the difficulties you have to go through will bring you closer to God. The new experience you gain with Him each time will empower you to repel and overcome all difficulties. The result is that you receive new spiritual strength to go forward in your spiritual journey. This renewal you can experience every day. In this way 2 Corinthians 4:16 is a great encouragement in your service to the Lord.

2 Corinthians 4:17. This verse contains even more encouragement. This verse tells us to see things in the light of eternity. The picture here is a weighing scale. Something is said about “light” (i.e. not heavy) and “weight”. On one side of the scale Paul places “affliction” and on the other he places “glory”. What happens to the balance? Does it swing up and down? Is it such that at one time suffering is slightly heavier and at another time glory? Not at all! Look how the scale on the side of glory goes down. It is incomparable. Of affliction Paul says it is momentary and light in weight. Of glory he says it is “an eternal weight … far beyond all comparison”.

Then, was Paul’s tribulation short in duration and light by weight? Sometimes believers have to go through years of bitter persecution; can we then say it is short and light? Is all that you have to bear sometimes really short and light? Paul does not trivialize sufferings here as though they meant nothing. He also does not draw parallels for different grades and intensities of sufferings. What is severe trial for one believer is not so for another. Circumstances differ for each believer. Therefore it is impossible to make comparisons.

Paul does not make any comparison between kinds of sufferings. But he does one thing. He compares suffering with which each servant of God has to do in his own unique way with the future glory. Of this comparison each believer ultimately will confess that his suffering, however hard and long it may be, is nothing compared with what he will soon receive.

Each suffering works out its glory. That means the more intense the affliction is felt, the more overwhelming the experience and the enjoyment of the glory will be. If you do not have physical pain and you enjoy good health then you will be grateful for that. But your appreciation of your health will not be greater than immediately after you are delivered from an excruciating pain.

2 Corinthians 4:18. Of course this is a poor example, but this is how it works in the comparison between affliction and glory. If you consider well the balance mentioned in 2 Corinthians 4:17 you will have no desire for the things that are seen. What you see, is all temporal. There is a time coming when everything will perish by fire. Nothing will be left. Would you be excited about the things in the world like the people in the world without God? They possess nothing else. Your eyes have seen other things, eternal things. It is important that your eyes are always focused on them.

There are a lot of things in the world which demand your attention. All the visible things in the world try to catch your attention, to bewitch you and to hold you captive. Sin entered the world through the eye: “The woman saw that the tree was good for food” (Genesis 3:6). However it is not enough to turn your eyes away from something or not to look at a thing. As a child of God you need something where you can fix your eyes on. In general terms it is said here with what things you can be occupied. They are the things that are not seen. You are free to be preoccupied with these unseen things.

What kind of things are these ‘unseen things’? These are things you cannot see with your physical eyes; but you can see them only with the “eyes of your heart … enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18). With this enlightened understanding of your heart you can see all the riches you have already received from the Lord and all that you will receive further. Look to the Lord Jesus Christ Who is now seated in heaven. God has glorified Him and has made Him “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). This means that all things are subjected to Him – He is Lord – and all plans of God will be fulfilled in Him – He is Christ. Is this information not sufficient to fill your whole field of vision?

Now read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 again.

Reflection: How are your eyes focused?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 2 Corinthians 4". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/2-corinthians-4.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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