2 Corinthians 4:1-18 – Going Towards The Light

Today, Lord willing, I will be continuing our series in 2 Corinthians with one of my favorite chapters in all of God’s Word.  2 Corinthians 4.  In this chapter, we see Rabbi Paul continue to give a defense of His Apostleship.  In doing so we are given a deeply personal look at how the great Rabbi from Tarsus lives and views his own life in relation to Messiah Yeshua.  For those of us reading today we can learn how we should live our lives in service to Adonai.  Like the Corinthians, we need to be taught what it means to be a Believer in Messiah Yeshua, and what that means for our lives.

Before we dive into this section of the Word of God it is important to understand the background of this letter. Corinth was a city that Paul wrote to and visited several times. What have in our bibles as 2 Corinthians is actually the fourth letter Paul wrote to Corinth.  Rabbi Paul wrote this letter after his previous letter that was strongly worded, was criticized and disregarded.  It is also important to understand that despite being a prosperous city, Corinth had many sin issues. The city of Corinth during this time was a prosperous place where individuals could become wealthy and obtain honor.  Honor in Roman society was very important and Corinth did not have the entrenched aristocracy found in other major Roman cities, allowing people to gain honor by climbing the social ladder.

Corinth was a very bustling town with people attracted to new ideas and new religions as a way to obtain honor and respect from others. The citizens of Corinth, like most people, especially desired charismatic, impressive leaders. While Paul was a formidable letter writer, in person he was a humble, unassuming tent maker. This clashed with the desire for a charismatic leader who gladly accepted the praise of others. Just like the Messiah, Paul was not impressive by the standards of society. As a result, many of the Corinthian Christians were seduced by charismatic teachers who preached a different message than Paul. Some of them even became hostile to Paul’s leadership.  This growing rebellion swelled in size after the “harsh letter” that came between 1 and 2 Corinthians.  Because of these issues a majority of 2 Corinthians is Rabbi Paul giving a defense of his work as an Apostle of Messiah Yeshua.

What I love most about this section of 2 Corinthians, specifically 2 Corinthians 3-6, is that we have this amazingly candid view on how Rabbi Paul views himself and ministry.  In giving this defense, we get a very personal, reflective view into one of the greatest men who has ever lived.  I go to 2 Corinthians 3-6 for encouragement not just in professional ministry, but in life as well.

We begin in 2 Corinthians 4:1 with the word, “Therefore”, so we need to understand what the therefore is there, for (I am obligated to make this joke).   In 2 Corinthians 3 we have a powerful case made for the glory that is found in the New Covenant.  A covenant that comes not with just external glory but with a glory that transforms us into the image of our Messiah day by day as part of an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.  This is the service or ministry that Rabbi Paul is a leader of, sharing the good news of Messiah Yeshua and the Covenant that He has established, and it is done in a very intentional way.  As we read in verses 1 and 2:

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.  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.

Rabbi Paul can serve the Lord and through God’s mercy he does not stop speaking boldly.  He refuses to back down, which is what is meant by the phrase, “we do not lose heart”.  An area of criticism for Rabbi Paul was the great boldness in which he wrote.  But he refuses to act like the peddlers of God’s Word mentioned in chapter 2.  He refuses to deceive, water-down, or do anything to corrupt or veil God’s Word in any way.

This is sadly in stark contrast to how many deal with God’s Word today.  There are too many peddlers and thieves using Scripture to swindle untold people.  So-called gospels, such as prosperity teachings that exist just for getting the people who teach it rich.

Sometimes I think we forget how this isn’t just a problem in America but is a worldwide issue.  I am reminded of a friend I made at Moody who came from Kenya to get his degree, He went back after graduating with his family to educate pastors there.  He shared with me once just how widespread these sorts of deceptive teachings were over in Africa.  How many people gave their last dollar to “pastors”, and I say that in quotations, who lived in mansions while their people lacked basic human necessities, dying as they got rich.

There are also many religions and philosophies both in the first century and today that operate by deceiving new converts.  Scientology comes to mind with their sham of psychological help and assessment, before you find out it’s a bunch of Science fiction alien nonsense.  We also of course have our human obsession with “secret truth” that the Truth of life in this world and the world-to-come is something hidden and worked for, it can’t be easily accessible or available to all freely.  In Corinth, this would have been Mystery Cults around Greek or Egyptian deities, today it is books like “The Secret” or the “The Power”.

But being a Believer means to openly and plainly set forth the truth about our risen Messiah without deception or duplicity.  In fact, the proof of the legitimacy of Rabbi Paul’s ministry is that He boldly, openly, and freely, proclaims what the Lord has commanded him to preach.

But there are forces at work trying to stop human beings from getting right with their Creator.  Trying to stop the bold proclamation of the Gospel by Rabbi Paul and us today.

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 Messiah, who is the image of God.

Those that do not have Messiah in their lives are perishing, they are dying and they do not even realize it.  In the previous chapter we learn of the veil that lies over the eyes of every unbeliever, especially over the eyes of our Jewish people, which makes them blind to this fact.  Now we learn the source of this veil, this blindness and darkness.  Satan actively works to try and prevent people from encountering Adonai through His Son.  This is so that they are unable to see the glorious light that transforms us day by day to be more like Yeshua.  To the world, both then and now, Messiah Yeshua is seen a fool along with his followers. His sacrifice on the cross is considered shameful with dishonor.  But they do not understand how in weakness God’s power and love is truly revealed.

Rabbi Paul can speak with authority on these facts because this was how he was before the Lord struck him physically blind on the road to Damascus.  After a time, not just his physical sight was restored, but his spiritual sight as well.

The Messiah that Rabbi Paul had despised and actively tried to work against was finally understood as the true Messiah promised by Adonai and he was able to see and embrace the light of the Gospel.  But the gospel is not about Rabbi Paul, it is not about us either, it is about Messiah Yeshua.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Messiah Yeshua as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Yeshua’s sake.

This is the central message of the Good News, the essential doctrine of our shared faith, that Messiah Yeshua is Lord.  He lived a sinless life, sacrificed Himself, rose from the dead, and that He rules over all creation, including us.  As Messianic Jews and Christians, we are not the center of attention.  Our ministry is not one designed to make us rich, powerful, or well-loved.  Rather we serve others in the same way Messiah Yeshua modeled servitude for us, by laying down His life as payment for us all.  We have this model of servitude and sacrifice because of what the Lord has done in our lives.

If you are wondering what exactly He has done then look at the next verse which is one of my favorite verses in all of God’s Word.

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 Messiah.

Rabbi Paul, through the Holy Spirit, paints a powerful picture for us.  Going all the way back to Genesis 1:3 we see God in His role as Creator.  At this point the Heavens and Earth had been created, but everything was Tohu va vohu, Chaotic and empty, with absolute darkness.  Most of us have never really experienced absolute darkness.  Where we live some light always seems to peek into wherever we go.  But this is a sort of darkness where you can’t even see your hand in front of your face.  Unlike maybe being in a basement room where you know there is light just beyond the walls and door, this is a darkness that stretches on forever.  Imagine being in a place with endless darkness, a place that literally has never experienced light.  That was the universe at this time.

It is into this deep darkness the Lord makes Himself known.  Literally in the Hebrew it reads, “And God said let light be, and light was.”  Instantaneously there is an explosion of light, rushing out to fill and push away the dark.  There is no hesitation in Genesis, no buildup, God spoke light into being and so light existed.  We as human beings cannot handle much light.  To even look at the sun we need special glasses to filter out most of the light.  So, had we been there at that moment of creation floating in the emptiness of space we would have had to turn away from the brilliant light the Lord had created.

In the same way that the Lord instantaneously spoke physical light into endless darkness, He has done the same for us with spiritual light in our hearts.  That light is knowing who the Messiah is and believing in Him.  Instantaneously, when we are sealed forever in the Lamb’s Book of Life, we are filled with the light of God.  Into the endless spiritual darkness of our hearts the Lord comes in and makes us His temple.

It is not something we can do for ourselves but requires the Lord working within us as He has done in creation.  It is a precious treasure housed in our broken frail human bodies.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

If you had to pick a place to store the Mona Lisa, would you put it in your basement?  If you owned the world’s biggest Diamond would you keep it in the back seat of your car?  The light of God is more precious than these things and anything else that has been created and yet the Lord has chosen to store it in jars of clay.  He has chosen to store it in us, fragile and fallen human beings.  Clay jars are simple, inexpensive, and easily chipped and broken. Rabbi Paul does not see himself is illustrious or powerful but as a humble and simple servant of the Lord.  And are we not the same as well?  Those who have puffed themselves up in pride, Pastors and teachers who believe they are above or superior to those they serve, they show that they do not understand the work that the Lord has done in them.

For those who are in Messiah, as we see more of the glory of the Lord and know His ways better, our sins and brokenness is exposed as well.  Despite this truth, the Lord has chosen to make us His servants and give us the priceless treasure of redemption and eternal life.  It is this great contradiction in the World’s eyes that is at the heart of our faith, that the Lord has chosen for Himself those who are humble, broken, and without power.  This is to show that our power is from God and not us, that we have no place for pride and that there are no second-class citizens in God’s kingdom.  This puts to shame a blinded world that puts its trust in human power and things that will fade away.

But we should not understand ourselves as worthless because we are jars of clay.  Rather, our self-worth is not in our money, power, beauty, or popularity online.  Instead our self-worth comes from being made in the image of the living God and that we are His servants sharing in the priceless treasure of His Holy Spirit.  As we read in 2 Timothy 2, clay items can be more precious than Gold if the purpose they are being used for is special and holy.

As we become more like our Messiah, dealing with our sins, growing in our walk with Him, we move from common to Kosher, set aside for God’s plans and purposes.  We can be used to accomplish a few things like the disobedient Samson, or even more like faithful Samuel.  We may be bruised and battered but we are jars that are never truly shattered.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

Rabbi Paul was a man who understood suffering.  He was run out of towns, hated by His people, hated by strangers, and attacked throughout His ministry.  We know of how he was imprisoned several times and mistreated by government officials.  Later, he will go into more specifics about the sufferings he has faced but here we see it in a general sense.  Every which way it seems as if he is being attacked and perhaps you have felt this way before as well.  Maybe you feel like this right now as we read this chapter.  You should know that you are in very good company, with all of God’s people through time.  Though Rabbi Paul was attacked on all sides, he was not overcome internally, he continued to press on and refused to stop boldly carrying out his mission.

However, though he was very close with Adonai, it was possible for even the great Rabbi from Tarsus to become discouraged.  I think discouragement isn’t just something professional ministers struggle with but all of us as well.  We can all go through the “Dark Night of the Soul”, times where we are depressed and confused about what God is doing in our lives.  Yet, it never gets to the point where Rabbi Paul abandons His faith or His work.  There is a bit of a play on words going on here in the Greek that doesn’t carry over into English, basically you could translate this phrase as “Stressed, but not stressed out.”  So, it is normal to experience stress, sadness, and even confusion sometimes in our lives or for seasons, but with the Lord’s help we can hang on and continue to do what He has called us to do in our lives like Rabbi Paul.

We may also experience serious persecution like Rabbi Paul did, we may be abandoned by society and even people we love, but we can be assured that our heavenly Father will never abandon us.  Though we may be physically attacked like Yeshua and the Apostles were, there is something eternal inside us that can never be destroyed.

It is in these sorts of moments, when we are being attacked, confused, and suffering that we ask why we are going through it.  There can be many reasons why we suffer, but one of the major reasons is given for us in the next few verses.

10 We always carry around in our body the death of Yeshua, so that the life of Yeshua may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Yeshua’s sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

This suffering Rabbi Paul states was constant and we can see in his ministry that it was.  The troubles he was dealing with in Corinth were nothing new.  All the Apostles letters were written to deal with specific issues in the communities they were writing to.  Being rejected and despised, even by believers, was sadly a common occurrence for the Apostles of the Lord.

But the suffering and service Rabbi Paul endured for others produced life by showing the glory of the Lord at work inside him. This is what gave him comfort in the face of great hardship and it can hopefully give us comfort as well.  To know that our troubles, our suffering, is not in vain and without purpose.  It is used by the Lord in ways we can see and even in ways we may not know until we get to heaven.  To be vulnerable and human allows us to connect with people around us.  We cannot relate to perfect people, but when we can appropriately share our struggles and suffering we can connect on a very deep level with those God has put in our lives.

To go back to the analogy of being a clay jar, without any cracks no light would seep out.  It is in our cracks, in our suffering, weakness, and brokenness that the light of Messiah is revealed.  In this way, we are also connected to the death and suffering of Messiah Yeshua.

Messiah’s life was filled with suffering as our suffering servant, and then He died what was considered a very shameful and dishonorable death, crucifixion.  But after his suffering was complete, He was raised from the dead and is now Lord over all.  This movement from suffering to perfection is the same for us as well.  Right now, we may be despised as our Messiah was, and we may be suffering, but we are in very good company with Messiah, Paul, and all of God’s anointed throughout time.  Right now, we may be weak but eventually we will truly experience His glory and be transformed just as Messiah was.  So, as we press on to the goal that is set before us we need to be faithful in the tasks God has called us to, just as Rabbi Paul was faithful in his.

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Yeshua from the dead will also raise us with Yeshua and present us with you to himself. 15 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.

Rabbi Paul, and us as well, share in the same spirit of faith as all of God’s people throughout time.  Just as God’s prophets believed and then spoke, Rabbi Paul, displaying the suffering of Messiah Yeshua in his life, continues to boldly speak.  He has confidence that he too will be raised from the dead along with all those who die faithful to the Lord.  All the suffering and preaching in his life has a purpose, it is for the benefit of those he ministers to. This will cause God’s grace, His unearned and undeserved favor, to continue to spread and cause joy.

This is an important point that I think gets missed here.  That Rabbi Paul’s suffering and preaching in ministry produces joy in those who experience it for the glory of God.  I also believe that our suffering and preaching, sharing our faith and what God’s Word says, ultimately produces joy and glory to God.  Even if we cannot always see it and even if we do not know who is receiving that joy, the things we do and endure for Adonai have real lasting purpose.

We now move to the conclusion of this chapter, and the conclusion and application for understanding all these things.  If we understand the glory of the New Covenant, if we have truly become followers of our Lord, Messiah Yeshua, experiencing the light of His glory in our lives filled with suffering and service for His purposes, we can have great boldness, courage, and peace beyond our circumstances.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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.

To the world it seems as if we are falling apart, but beneath the surface something miraculous is taking place.  Every day the Lord’s blessings are new and every day in Messiah we are being renewed and transformed.  When taken all together Rabbi Paul’s sufferings seem to be very large and overwhelming from a human perspective.  But looking it from a heavenly perspective it all seems to be light and temporary.  They are simply tools being used to achieve eternal glory and that weighs much more.

The final verse of this chapter gives us the application for how we should live our lives and what sort of perspective we should have.  We need to keep our eyes fixed on Messiah.  To keep our eyes fixed on the spiritual and not the physical.  To chase after the physically invisible but very real light of the glory of Adonai.  We need to understand that the things of this world will fade away.  There is nothing from this place we can take with us when we die.  I am reminded of Yeshua’s words to store up treasures in heaven that will last and not treasures on Earth that will rot.  If we can have this sort of perspective then we can also experience the boldness and peace Rabbi Paul had in his life.  We can have a peace that passes all understanding, a peace in the middle of suffering that seems absurd to a blind and fallen world.

Rabbi Paul, through the Holy Spirit, wrote this chapter to the Corinthians for them to understand who he really was and what his ministry was really all about. They did not comprehend that all the criticisms of Rabbi Paul’s nature were Godly strengths that showed who was the source of his power.  They failed to understand that the New Covenant wasn’t about gaining honor, power, or anything else in this life.  Instead, it was focused on seeking after the things above, the things of God, eternal but invisible, and the only things that truly have any worth.

For us today the principles and truths found in this chapter should shape not just how we do professional ministry, but how we live and understand our lives.  Whether you are a Rabbi, Pastor, teacher, Mother, Father, worker, or anything else, everything we do is ministry.  Everything we do is for the service of the one who has saved us and purchased us for a price.

Our lives are precious and though we will experience suffering, even great suffering, we can take courage in the fact the Lord is with us and that all these things will fade away.  Not only will these sufferings, and this world fade away, it is being used to prepare us for everlasting life and glory as the Lord renews us day by day.  The good work that He has started within us He see through to perfection.

I will end with a prayer found in The Pursuit of Godliness, by A.W. Tozer, a prayer I wholeheartedly agree with.  “Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly ministration. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.”

May each of us experience the brilliant, eternal, and overwhelming light of Messiah Yeshua in our lives. May each of us persevere through our sufferings as Rabbi Paul did.  And may each of us live our lives each day in service to the Lord, opening ourselves to the working of His Spirit who transforms us day by day to be more like Him.