The Gospel: God’s Glory in the Face of Christ
2 Corinthians 4:1-18
Key Verse: 4:6 “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”
The Corinthians faced many problems in the church in and out. Their reality was not favorable. But Paul continues to encourage them not to lose heart, but to live by faith. In today’s passage Paul teaches them why they should not lose heart, but to live as ministers of the new covenant. He also teaches us why we must not lose heart but to live as missionary, shepherd, and Bible teacher.
First, we must not lose heart because we are called through God’s mercy (1-6) Look at verse 1. “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” In chapter 3 Paul explained the surpassing glory of the New Covenant. Then, Paul called the Corinthian Christians ‘ministers of the New Covenant.” But reality is reality. They received constant challenges from false teachers such as Judaizers who had demanded them to follow Judaism. They also must overcome sexual temptation and persecution from those who had different ideas and opinions. They were burdened even to be called “Christians” when they thought about their difficult situation. We often feel the same when we are discouraged by our poor human situation. We feel burdened to be called as missionary, shepherd, or Bible teacher when we think about lack of visible fruits. Paul understood their agony very well. How did he encourage them?
He said that we have this ministry through God’s mercy. In other words, we received apostleship and God’s calling by God’s grace, not by our own will or choice. Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last...” (Jn 15:16) We did not choose this ministry, but God chose us and appoint us to carry it out. Paul also said in Romans 1:5, “Through him and for his name’s sake we received grace and apostleship...” Paul equaled grace and apostleship, which means we received apostleship by God’s grace. God’s grace is not confined from human condition or ability. Jesus did not call Peter, James, and John because they were great in human condition. They were all unschooled fishermen. They were called only by God’s grace. We are free in doing God’s ministry since our calling and apostleship came through God’s grace and his mercy. We have freedom in carrying out his mission and in doing the work of God because our apostleship came through God’s mercy. So, fishing is not a burden, but a blessing to us. No one goes out for fishing on campus with perfect preparation, but by God’s mercy. God knows that we are weak and imperfect. But when we obey his command and serve God’s sheep, God blesses us and blesses those who listen to us.
Since we have this ministry through God’s mercy, what must we do first? We must repent of our sins and obey God’s word. Look at verse 2. “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” People lose their confidence when they are not right. We Christians are also not confident about ourselves because we are not right with God. John the Baptist’s message was powerful with spiritual authority because his life was holy and pure. He was right in the sight of God as a man of mission. In order to restore our confidence, we must repent of our hidden sins and have right relationship with God. We want to do great things in the sight of God. As missionary, shepherd, and Bible teachers we want to become successful with visible fruits. It will be good when we do so. But what God wants us to do first is to have right relationship with Him through our holy life. This is why Paul urged them to renounce secret and shameful ways, not using deception nor distorting the word of God.
In the book of Joshua, God commanded Joshua and the Israelites to be circumcised before they entered the Promised Land. (Jos 5:2-9) God also sent an angel to Joshua and asked him to take off his sandal in the presence of God. (Jos 5:15) After conquering Jerico, God asked Joshua to get rid of evilness from the camp. Achan, one of their leaders, committed hidden sin which provoked God to anger and brought disaster to his people. (Jos 7) Before the Israelites conquered the Promised Land, God did not ask them to grind their swords or polish their arrows but repent of their sins. The battle is the Lord’s. What could the Israelites do for their conquest war? God will fight for them. What they had to do was to trust in God and obey his word. For this reason, we have confidence when we repent of our sins and have right relationship with God. In fact, we are not ashamed of the gospel, but ashamed of ourselves when we are not right with God.
Look at verse 2b again. Paul urged them to set forth the truth plainly in the sight of God. We don’t have to add or eliminate the truth of God, because the word of God itself has power to save or to condemn. Since we preach the truth of God plainly, we are not responsible for their salvation. Whether they believe it or not, it is not our responsibility. It is their choice and their responsibility. We are not accountable for their salvation if we set forth the truth plainly. But we are accountable if we do not preach the truth of God.
There is reason why people don’t believe the truth of God. Look at verses 3-4. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” In this verse Paul explained why the unbelievers don’t believe the gospel. Their hearts are veiled, and their eyes are blinded by the god of this age. They cannot see the light of the gospel because they were veiled and blinded by the god of this age. Who is the god of this age? It is Satan, the counterfeit of God. Satan does not appear like a zombie or Frankenstein, but like very subtle and attractive form. Tim Keller describes the counterfeit God as money, sex, popularity, pleasure, and so on. These worldly attraction veils our heart and blinds our eyes not to see the glory of the gospel which displayed in the face of Christ. Some people want to serve the Lord and to do great things for the Lord. But they do not want to sacrifice themselves. They seek glory without suffering. But there is no crown without the cross. Their hearts are veiled, and their eyes are blinded by the god of this age.
Now look at verse 6. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” In the past God revealed his glory through his supernatural power for his people. God revealed his glory when he had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. God revealed his glory when the tabernacle and the temple were completed. Now God reveals his glory through Jesus Christ. In verse 6 Paul says that God who said, “Let there be light” in the beginning show his glory in our hearts through Jesus Christ. He meant that when we see Jesus, we see God’s glory. John the Apostle said earlier, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) Moses wanted to see God’s glory. So, he asked God, “Show me your glory.” (Ex 33:18) But he saw only God’s passing-by glory. But now we see God’s glory through Jesus Christ full of grace and truth. Jesus’ glory accompanies suffering. Jesus was glorified through his obedience to the cross. Our glory also accompanies suffering. We will be glorified through our obedience to Jesus. When we obey Jesus’ word, God will be glorified. We’ll see God’s glory which is reflected from the cross of Jesus.
Second, we do not lose our heart because God will raise us from the dead. (7-15) In verse 7 Paul describes our body as jars of clay, and Jesus as treasure. Look at verse 7. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” A jar of clay is not strong enough to store treasure because it is made of clay, which is dirt. It is fragile and vulnerable from danger of being stolen. But Paul said that the treasure provides all surpassing power for jars of clay. This surpassing power is resurrection power which comes from God. Paul mentioned suffering and hardship which jars of clay went through and the surpassing power which we receive after the sufferings in verses 8-10. Look at verses 8-10. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” Recently in Pakistan more than 50 churches were burned down, and many Christians were killed by Muslim mob. The safety of missionary Peter Kang in Pakistan is not guaranteed.
Missionaries in the hostile Islam and communist countries carry the death of Jesus in their body. Their life and safety are not guaranteed even for five minutes ahead. They die every day and face death every single moment. They are crushed and persecuted just because they have treasure, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even though we do not suffer physically as much as they do, we also feel crushed, abandoned, and struck down when we live a godly life in this country. But we must not lose our heart. We must overcome this with resurrection faith. God provides the surpassing power through Jesus Christ, especially through his death and resurrection. God also provides for us with the surpassing power through the Holy Spirit. (Ac 1:8)
We can experience the power of resurrection and reveal God’s glory through our resurrected life. Look at verses 11-12. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” We feel like dying when we carry the death of the cross in our body. We face death every day when we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. But through our suffering and death for Jesus’ name's sake, others are saved. When God provides resurrection power for us, we are resurrected, and God’s glory is revealed. For this reason, Paul said in verse 14. “because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.” Amen! Jesus will raise you and me from the dead as God did for Jesus. So, we must not lose our heart! Do you remember what Paul said in 1:10? “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us”. Amen!
Third, we do not lose heart because we have the heavenly reward (16-18) In Romans 5;3-5 Paul explains the value of suffering in this, “suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Suffering for Christ finally results in the living hope. Paul continues, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Ro 8:18) Paul said the same thing in verses 16-17. Look at verses 16-17. “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Missionary Joseph Park works five days a week and goes for fishing to Wash U on Saturday. It is not easy for him to find one Bible student. He may feel that he was wasting time on the weekend. But this is not true. Outwardly he looks wasting time, but inwardly he is being renewed day by day into the image of Jesus Christ. Paul said, our labor in the Lord is not in vain. Our labor, tears, prayer, fishing, visiting, and all our sacrifices for the Lord and for his sheep will be rewarded. As we carry the death of Jesus, so also, we carry the glory of Jesus. We’ll be untied in his resurrection as well as in his crucifixion. Amen!
What is Paul’s conclusion? Look at verse 18. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Here what is ‘what is seen which is temporary’? They are things from this world. John the Apostle said in 1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desire pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” Amen! What is seen are things in this world which will perish, spoil, and fade away as time passes by. What is unseen never perishes, spoils, or disappears because it is kept in heaven for us. People’s eyes are blinded by the glittering things of this world, and their hearts are veiled by the god of this age. But we must not lose our hearts because we have this eternal and glorious reward which is kept in heaven for us.
In conclusion, we must not lose heart because we live by God’s grace. We are serving the Lord by God’s mercy. Serving the Lord is a blessing, not a burden. We should not lose our hearts because God will continue to deliver us, and he will raise us up from the dead eventually. Finally, we are greatly encouraged because our eternal reward awaits us in heaven. Our labor in the Lord is never in vain but rewarded in heaven. The words of American missionary Jim Eliot, who had been martyred in Ecuador with his five friends, reminds us of today’s passage: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Amen!