2 Corinthians 4:1-18

Submitted by admin on Thu, 2009-10-15 19:44.

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Despite his initially having been a violent opposer of believers in Christ, Paul became the recipient of divine mercy and, as an apostle, was entrusted with the service or ministry of the new covenant. He highly valued what had been committed to him and the inestimable benefits that would result to those who responded in faith to Christ and became beneficiaries of the new covenant. Therefore, though faced with many trials and pressures, he did not give up or yield to discouragement. (4:1; 1 Timothy 1:12, 13; see the Notes section.)

In discharging his ministry, Paul renounced “the hidden things of shame.” He determined to be free from shameful actions that one would conceal from the view of others. The apostle did not “walk” or conduct himself in a crafty or sly manner nor did he falsify or distort the word of God. He resolved to recommend himself to the conscience of all people when making known the truth about God and Christ. In his personal conduct, he endeavored to be exemplary. When sharing the “word” or message that had been divinely entrusted to him, he made sure that he did not adulterate it but conveyed it properly as God’s word. Paul spoke and acted with a full awareness of his accountability to God, and so referred to recommending himself “before God” to every human conscience. The apostle avoided everything that might needlessly have occasioned offense. (4:2)

If the evangel proved to be veiled, this could not be attributed to Paul. When referring to the good news about Christ as “our evangel,” the apostle meant the message he (and also his fellow workers) proclaimed. It was only to those who persisted in unbelief that the evangel was veiled. These unbelievers continued to be under the condemnation resulting from sin and, therefore, were identified as the “perishing” ones. (4:3)

The perishing ones continued to be part of the world subject to the powers of darkness. Satan, “the god of this age” (characterized by alienation from the true God), blinded the minds of the unbelievers, making it impossible for them to see the brilliance of the “evangel of the glory of Christ.” The evangel has Christ as its focus, revealing his glory, magnificence or splendor as the perfect reflection of the “image of God.” As the unique Son, Jesus Christ is the exact likeness of his Father, flawlessly mirroring his love and compassion. The evangel or good news about Jesus Christ shines with a brightness comparable to lightning, but to those whom Satan has blinded this brilliance remains imperceptible. The illumination does not beam forth to them. (4:4)

In no respect did Paul obscure the light of the glad tidings about the Son of God. The apostle did not draw attention to himself nor engage in any form of self-promotion. His close associates likewise introduced no distracting or obscuring elements when declaring the glad tidings about Jesus Christ. “For we do not proclaim ourselves,” Paul said, “but Christ Jesus [as] Lord, and ourselves as your servants for the sake of Jesus [diá (for the sake of) followed by ‘Jesus’ in the accusative case].” The apostle faithfully ministered to the Corinthian believers. He fulfilled the role of a servant, doing so out of regard for the Son of God as his Lord. (4:5)

According to other ancient manuscripts (including P46 [c. 200]), the name Jesus is in the genitive case and so the preposition diá would commonly be understood to mean “through.” This would signify that, through the agency of Jesus Christ, Paul and his close associates came to fill the role of servants to the Corinthians, laboring in furthering their spiritual welfare. (4:5)

Seemingly drawing on the Genesis account (1:3-5), the apostle referred to God as saying that light should shine “out of darkness.” It appears that Paul regarded this divine declaration as indicating that all forms of darkness should give way to light. In its fallen condition, the world of mankind found itself in a state of darkness, alienated from and at enmity with God. According to the divine purpose, this darkness was to end. With the coming of Jesus Christ to the earth, light entered the world, shining out of, or while surrounded by, the darkness. In Christ’s “face,” or in his person, “the knowledge of the glory of God” became visible in all its brightness. In the case of Paul and other believers, light shone brightly on their hearts, illuminating their inmost selves and making it possible for them to see the magnificence of their heavenly Father as the God of incomprehensibly great love. Their having truly come to know the Father through the Son made it possible for them to proclaim “the knowledge of the glory of God” to others. (4:6)

This “knowledge of the glory of God” is the precious treasure that had been committed to “clay vessels.” In themselves, humans, like earthenware jars or pots that may break, are frail. Commenting on why this valuable treasure had been given to him (and probably also his close associates), Paul continued, “We have this treasure in clay vessels, that the excelling power might be of God and not of ourselves.” Thus through the weakness of the vessels, God reveals his power in being able to accomplish his purpose to spread the knowledge of his glory. (4:7)

In his weak condition as a human, Paul found himself afflicted in every way, but not so constricted as to have no maneuverability. He perceived himself as being at a loss, uncertain, or in a confused mental state regarding what he should do, but he had not reached a point of despair nor had he lost all hope. (4:8)

The apostle experienced persecution (beatings, imprisonment, and stoning), but he was not abandoned. His situation was like that of a person who was thrown down or knocked down, but he was not destroyed. (4:9)

On account of the dangers he encountered, Paul spoke of always bearing in his body “the putting to death of Jesus.” The Son of God accounts the suffering of his disciples, who are members of his body, as his own. In the case of the apostle, so grave were the dangers he faced that he could speak of himself as undergoing a dying process (or as if, in his own person, the Lord Jesus Christ was being slain). The situation, though, was not without hope. Jesus Christ lived. So, just as the Son of God regards the suffering of his disciples as his own, so they become sharers in his life. In the case of believers, the life of Jesus is evident in their having the divinely imparted strength to endure distress. (4:10)

“For,” Paul said, “we who live are continually being delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that also the life of Jesus may be manifest in our mortal flesh.” It was on account of his furthering the interests of the Son of God that Paul found himself in distressing situations that could have led to his death. So he could rightly speak of being “delivered to death for Jesus’ sake.” Paul’s faithful endurance revealed the existence of an inner life in the “mortal flesh,” and this inner life was the result of his relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ and so made his participation in Christ’s life manifest. (4:11)

The distress and persecution to which Paul was subjected repeatedly brought him into mortal danger. From this standpoint, death was at work in him, but life was at work in the Corinthian believers. The very ministry that led to Paul’s coming into situations that could have spelled his own death brought life to the Corinthians. Their response in faith led to their being forgiven of their sins and liberated from the condemnation of death. No longer dead in trespasses and sins, they came to enjoy a newness of life as beloved children of God. (4:12)

Like the psalmist, the apostle experienced distress and quoted from Psalm 116:10 (115:1, LXX). The words of the quotation are the same as those in the Septuagint. Paul introduced the quotation by commenting on having “the same spirit of faith” as the written words of the psalmist indicated, “I believed [had faith]; therefore I spoke.” Continuing with the application, the apostle added, “And we believed; therefore we also speak.” The “spirit of faith” could denote the faith that has God’s spirit as its source. It is more likely, however, that this relates to having the same impelling or motivating disposition or inclination to believe. When he was greatly afflicted, the psalmist maintained his faith in God and did not hold back from expressing it, realizing that humans were of no help. Likewise, because Paul had faith in God and Christ, he continued to speak, making known the glad tidings about Jesus Christ despite the distress and persecution to which he was subjected. (4:13)

Although he was fully aware that he could be put to death for advancing Christ’s cause, he did not yield to fear. He, like his fellow workers, knew or had the firm assurance that God, who had raised the Lord Jesus, would also raise him “with Jesus” and present (parístemi) him (and also his close associates) with the Corinthians. Being members of Christ’s body, believers could be spoken of as being raised with him as their head. The words “with Jesus” have also been understood to mean that God would resurrect believers just as he had resurrected Jesus, that he would raise them to life so that they would be with Jesus, or that they would be raised together with Jesus. According to numerous later manuscripts, God would do the resurrecting “through” Jesus. The Greek word parístemi literally means “stand beside” and can denote “place beside,” “make available,” “present,” “offer,” or “bring before.” In this context, Paul seems to have meant that, at the time of the resurrection, God would have him, his fellow workers, and the Corinthians stand before himself as approved. (4:14)

When mentioning “all things” the apostle likely meant everything he and his fellow workers endured when furthering the interests of the Son of God. Their faithful service accompanied by distress and hardships benefited the Corinthians spiritually and thus proved to be for their sake. (4:15)

Paul then added the words, “that the favor, having been increased through the increasing number [of believers], may cause the thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.” In this case, the “favor,” unearned kindness, or grace may be understood to refer to the divine aid Paul and his close associates received in order to be able to bear up under severe trials when carrying out their ministry. Through their ministry, which was accomplished because of their being recipients of divine favor, many more persons became believers. As the fruit of the faithful labors, the increasing number of believers proved to be an evidence of God’s unearned kindness. In view of the addition of many new believers, the divine favor may be understood as having been increased. Paul, his close associates, and those who had become believers through their ministry would be moved to give thanks to God for all that he had done for them. In this way, thanksgiving abounded or increased, to the glory or praise of the Most High. (4:15; see the Notes section.)

The distress and persecution Paul experienced affected the “outer man” or his physical organism (which wasted away or proved to be in a state of deterioration). Nevertheless, he did not give up in faithfully discharging his commission when faced with hardships. This was because, as he explained, the inner man was being “renewed from day to day.” The inner man, the real self of Paul as a servant of God and Christ, continued to be renewed, with God’s spirit continuing to energize or to strengthen him. (4:16)

Viewed from the standpoint of eternity and the future blessings to be enjoyed in the ages to come, the apostle regarded the distress that he was then undergoing as brief and light. When faithfully endured, the affliction “works out” or leads to a “glory” that makes the existing distress seem light. This glory is not brief or passing but lasts forever. The greatness of that eternal glory is evident from its being described as having “weight,” whereas the distress is called “light.” For the believer (like Paul), the eternal glory includes having a permanent relationship with God and Christ as an approved “son” or child of God and all the privileges and blessings associated with that relationship. (4:17)

The “things seen” refer to the afflictions or distressing troubles, and the “things unseen” designate the future blessings to be enjoyed in the sinless state. Paul set the example in keeping his eyes focused on the unseen realities to come and not the visible hardships he had to endure. He recognized that the things seen would not continue. They were momentary or transitory, but the things unseen, which were yet to come, would prove to be eternal. (4:18)


The first person plural verbs in this chapter (as in previous chapters) always apply to Paul. It is not possible, however, to determine in each case whether the plural is to be understood in an editorial sense or whether the apostle meant to include either his close associates or the larger community of believers.

The meaning of the Greek text of verse 15 is not readily apparent, and this has given rise to a variety of renderings. “Indeed, all this is for your sake, so that, as the abounding grace of God is shared by more and more, the greater may be the chorus of thanksgiving that rises to the glory of God.” (REB ) “We wish you could see how all this is working out for your benefit, and how the more grace God gives, the more thanksgiving will redound to his glory.” (J. B. Phillips) “You see, everything is for your benefit, so that as grace spreads, so, to the glory of God, thanksgiving may also overflow among more and more people.” (NJB) “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.” (NIV) “All of these things are for your benefit. And as God’s grace brings more and more people to Christ, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.” (NLT) “All these things are for you. And so the grace of God that is being given to more and more people will bring increasing thanks to God for his glory.” (NCV) “For everything is for your sakes, in order that grace, being more richly bestowed because of the thanksgivings of the increased number, may more and more promote the glory of God.” (Weymouth)