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2 Corinthians 4:1-4:18
Key Verse: 4:6

In 2015 we have a direction in our ministry to seek God earnestly and please him with faith. We ask God for his rich blessing upon this direction. Today we want to study 2 Corinthians 4, which contains the whole UBF direction in this year. In today’s passage we can think of the light of the gospel, the life lived by the gospel, and the speaking of the gospel.

First, the light of the gospel (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 made a contrast between the ministry of the law of Moses and the ministry of the Spirit, that is the ministry of the Lord Christ Jesus. This is a comparison between the ministry of condemnation through the law and the ministry of life through righteousness of Jesus, and a comparison of ever-fading glory and ever-increasing glory. Paul was sure that he and Timothy received the ministry of the Spirit, life and the surpassing and ever-increasing glory through God’s mercy. The mercy of God and the ministry Paul had prevented him from losing heart, despite many difficulties in doing the work of God.

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.” In Paul’s time there were false prophets, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ (10:13). We can infer in verse 2 that they used secret and shameful ways and deception, and distorted the word of God to please people and gather them to themselves. According to 2:17, many peddled the word of God for profit. When it is difficult to do God’s work, it is easy to compromise and try to do things in an impressive way, though even shameful and deceptive, just to draw people’s attention momentarily. But Paul made clear that he and Timothy have renounced secret and shameful ways, and not used deception nor distorted the word of God. Then, how did he do God’s work? Look at verse 2b. “On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” First of all, he set forth the truth of God’s word plainly. He did not complicate the word of God with humanistic ideas but plainly and openly presented the word of the truth as the word of God. He was very clear about this before God and men. He appealed to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Look at verse 3. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” We know that the gospel is the gospel of God and of Jesus Christ. The gospel is originated from God (Ro 1:1) and the gospel is regarding his Son Jesus. However, he was so attached to the gospel that he called it our gospel (1 Thess 1:5; 2 Thess 2:14) or my gospel (Ro 2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim 2:8). Especially in 2 Timothy 2:8 he said, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.” This showed his commitment to the gospel. When Paul presented the gospel, there were those who accepted the gospel and were being saved. But there were also those who rejected the gospel and were perishing. Here we can conjecture that Paul received so many rejections while he preached the truth of the gospel plainly. In such a case gospel workers tend to be negative or doubtful about their gospel work. However, Paul could clearly see what was happening to those who rejected the gospel. The gospel was veiled or hidden to them, and they were perishing.

Why did such a thing happen? Look at verse 4. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Paul knew the spiritual world very well. When one preaches the gospel, the spiritual battle is going on. He said in Ephesians 6:10, “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” At the moment the hearers of the gospel become proud and unbelieving, Satan works right away to blind their minds. Then they cannot see the light of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection gives light to mankind who are under the power of darkness of sin and death. Nothing can overcome this power of darkness, but the light of the gospel. It is a self-evident truth that light overcomes darkness. Light comes through the eyes of heart. Those who can see the light of the gospel are out of the reign of darkness and dwell in the light of life. So Satan’s main work is to blind the minds of people not to see the light of the gospel. And the gospel is the gospel of the glory of Christ, is the image of God. Whenever the gospel is preached and believed, Christ’ glory and the glory of God are revealed. But Satan does not like it. So he makes every effort to blind the minds of people.

Look at verse 5. “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” The key message of the gospel is that Jesus Christ is Lord (Ph 2:11). Those who believe this from the heart and confess it with their mouth are saved (Ro 10:9). To accept Jesus Christ as Lord is to accept him as Saviour and King. Paul made it clear that he and his gospel workers preached Jesus Christ as Lord, and regarded themselves as servants of God’s people for Jesus’ sake. When Paul peached this clear gospel message with no compromise, he confronted many obstacles and Satan tried to deter him in all possible ways. But he kept on doing so. Why?

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 the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Here two types of God’s work are clearly demonstrated. One is the work of God’s creation in the beginning, particularly the creation of light. When God said, “Let there be light” which means according to Paul, “Let light shine out of darkness,” there was light. Light shone out of darkness and the dark world became bright. It was done in the natural physical world. This same God does another work of light in the hearts of people in the spiritual world. 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light.” The light of the gospel is definitely God’s light. And God’s light shines in the hearts of believers through the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Satan blinds the minds of people so that they cannot see the light of the gospel and continually live in darkness. But God makes his light shine in the hearts of people through the gospel. This is a new creation work. And it is to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. When God makes his light shine in our hearts, the eyes of our hearts are opened to see and know the glory of God, his marvelous love and power revealed in his Son Jesus Christ. It is in accordance with what the host of angles said at the time of Jesus’ birth, “Glory to in the highest” (2:14). The whole life of Jesus on earth revealed the glory of God, healing all kinds of sick people, feeding the five thousands, and completing the task of raising 12 disciples, particularly through his death and resurrection.

Once Paul’s mind was blinded under the power of darkness of sin and death, and did not see the glory of God in Christ Jesus. So he persecuted early Christians severely out of his ignorance in blindness. But on his way to Damascus to take the Christians as prisoners to Jerusalem, God’s light shone in his heart when he heard a voice, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” It was none other than the voice of the risen Jesus. It was the great mercy of God and the love of Christ Jesus (1 Tim 1:13). He was brought from Satan’s power of darkness to God’s light, and could clearly see the glory of God in Christ Jesus. He became a minister of the new covenant and received the ministry of the Spirit, the ministry of Christ Jesus. He became a servant of Jesus Christ with a new clear life purpose to live for Jesus’ sake and for the glory of God. His life was so focused that he said, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). John Newton (1725-1807) was the servant of an abusive slave trader and became a slave ship master in utter darkness of life. Through life-threatening situation in the sea and a serious illness God began to shine his light in the dark soul of John Newton. His eyes were opened to see the light of life in Jesus. He dedicated his life to God and became well-known for his pastoral care and respected by both Anglicans and nonconformists. He also produced a volume of hymns including, “Amazing Grace”, in which he confessed, “I was blind but now I see.” John Newton also influenced and joined William Wilberforce who was in the campaign for abolition of the Slave Trade in England. In February 1807, when the act to abolish the Slave Trade finally became law, John Newton, nearly blind and near death, “rejoiced to hear the wonderful news.” Thus his life glorified God. One lady was so complicated and clouded in her mind and heart because of her philosophical thoughts and legalistic life and many worries in human responsibility. For a long time she could not see the light of the gospel in her wavering and calculative life. But God in his great mercy made his light shine in her heart when she sincerely responded to one word of God. Since then her life direction became very clear to live as a gospel worker with a godly view of marriage. She has entrusted her marriage to God and dedicated herself to God’s ministry. Nowadays she has the joy of sacrificially serving God’s flock of sheep through 1:1 Bible study. May God richly bless her life as a gospel worker whom God can use to shine in the hearts of campus students for the glory of God. We cannot imagine the world without light. In the same way we cannot imagine human life with the light of God in the gospel of Christ Jesus. Then how precious the gospel servants are and the ministry of the gospel is! This is the reason Paul so fiercely fought and defended the glorious ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ, giving his life fully to the ministry for the glory of God. May God help us to devout ourselves to the work of new creation through the light of the gospel.

Second, the life lived by the gospel (7-12). 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.” Nonetheless to say this treasure is the most precious thing in the world. So those who have this treasure are the richest people in the world. Yet, we have this treasure in jars of clay. Jars of clay are common and the most fragile with no beauty. It is so that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. Paul expressed this in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not may were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one can boast before him.” So the poorer our human conditions are, the more thankful we should be. So Paul confessed, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Gospel servants should have two views of themelves which seem to be extreme. Inside they have the most precious thing in the world, but outwardly they are nothing but clays and dust. So no gospel servant should not try to be somebody apart from the treasure within. Yet, with the treasure inside a gospel servant is truly somebody in the world before God.

With these views, what was Paul’s life like? Look at verses 8 and 9. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” This showed how much he faced difficult situations as he devoted himself to the gospel work. Yet, no one or nothing could crush or destroy him, because God was with him. Then what was the meaning of all the sufferings as a gospel servant? Look at verses 10-12. “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” This indicates how he served God’s flock of sheep and how he could experience the death and life of Jesus. We remember his confession, “I die every day” (1 Cor 15:31). We are also reminded of our Lord Jesus, who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” May God help us to follow the wonderful example of Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Abraham shared in his message the story of Jim Caviezel, who acted as Jesus in the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” (2004). The movie broke box-office records around the world, becoming one of the highest grossing films of all time. When Jim was offered the role of Jesus by Director Mel Gibson, he realized that the initials of his name were the same as that of Jesus Christ (J.C.) and that he was 33, the same age of Jesus when he was crucified. He received the offer as divine calling and prayed that people might see Jesus through himself in the movie. During the filming, he experienced several kinds of suffering. For instance, his shoulder was dislocated while carrying the cross. He protested, “Lord, we’re trying to make a movie here, and I’m just an actor. Why don’t you protect me?” But his suffering continued: While filming the flogging scene, one of the whips missed the steel board on his back and cut a 13-inch gash into his back. While filming the crucifixion scene, he contracted pneumonia and suffered hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature) that almost threatened his life. He went through the filming and endured all the pain, thinking, “If I die to make this movie, many will be saved.” When he took part in Jesus’ suffering, people indeed could see Jesus through him. He testified during an interview that he was transformed through the experience. The Lord answered his heart’s prayer by drawing him into close communion with Himself. May we learn the spiritual principle that when we learn the death of Jesus, the life of Jesus can be revealed in and through us.

Third, the speaking of the gospel (13-18). Look at verse 13. “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak.” God prepared the gospel of salvation through sacrificing his own Son. He prepared all. But what if there is no one who speaks this gospel? What a loss! How pained our God will be! And without the speakers of the gospel there will be no work of light. Speakers of the light of the gospel are absolutely needed. Then, who can speak? Those who believe can speak. One condition of speaking the gospel is believing. Believing is one and all condition needed. No human title or other qualifications are needed.

Those who speak and preach the gospel are really VIPs and MNPs (Most Necessary Persons) in the world before God. So Paul preached the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection as of first importance in his life (1 Cor 15:3,4). It is written in Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news (gospel)!” When we go to campus students or to our neighbours to speak the gospel, our smelly feet become beautiful feet in God’s sight.

Gospel servants can do so with resurrection faith written in verse 14, “the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” Also, it is for the flock of God’s sheep and to the glory of God. Verse 15 says, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”

Look at verses 16 and 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 achieving them all.” In this world no one is happy with getting old and looking uglier. Most old people feel weak and hopeless. They sigh and groan. But there are different kind of people, who are still happy and hopeful with their ever-renewing inner persons as they get old. They are those who keep the treasure of Jesus and his gospel in their hearts and live by the gospel. Look at verse 18. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Thank God for making his light shine in our hearts through the light of the gospel so that we might know the glory of God in Christ Jesus. May God help us to keep the treasure of Jesus and his gospel in our words and devote ourselves to the work of new creation through the light of the gospel, carrying the death of Jesus and experiencing the life of Jesus for the glory of God.

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