Summary: We must be careful whose image we reflect in our lives.
DARKNESS AND LIGHT
The Apostle Paul likens the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to a perfume, which to some people - “the saved” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16) - is a source of sweetness, light and life. To others - “the lost” (2 Corinthians 4:3) - it is the poignant poisonous smell of darkness and death.
When we ‘half-believe’ and try to appropriate the law of God in our lives by our own strength, that which was meant for our good becomes the “ministration of death” to us (2 Corinthians 3:7). This is the work of “the god of this age” - the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4)!
In such a situation we know nothing beyond the law’s condemnation (Romans 7:8-11). Paul spoke of being a “wretched man” (Romans 7:24) - but thankfully he does not stop there. Deliverance comes “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25) - and there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
When the children of Israel escaped from Egypt, the presence of the LORD was manifested to them in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). Before the Red Sea was parted, the pillar stood as darkness to the Egyptians, and as light to Israel (Exodus 14:19-20).
Now the sinister “god of this age” was standing (as it were) at the preacher’s left hand, seeking to obscure the gospel he preached, blinding the minds of the hearers (2 Corinthians 4:4). So many things conspire together to distract people from the right course that, even in church, ‘listening they hear not, neither do they understand’ (Isaiah 6:9-10). “He that is of God hears God’s words,” says Jesus: “the reason that you hear them not is because you are not of God” (John 8:47).
The great fear of the powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:12) is that “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine” upon the hearers of the word of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). When we see Jesus, we see the exact expression of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3). This is a perfect imprint, answering to the Father with whom He was “face to face” before Creation (John 1:1).
We must be careful whose image we reflect in our own lives. “Take heed therefore,” says Jesus, “that the light which is in you be not darkness” (Luke 11:35).
Paul had been concerned by some self-made ‘ministers’ who were nothing better than peddlers “making gain by corrupting the word of God” (2 Corinthians 2:17). Paul and his fellow-ministers, by contrast, were neither dishonest nor manipulative. They were “not handling the word of God deceitfully” (2 Corinthians 4:2): and they were “not preaching themselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
It would have seemed appropriate here if Paul had now made mention of his team of ministers being “slaves” to Christ, as he does elsewhere (Philippians 1:1). However, he names them the Corinthians’ bondsmen, “for the sake of Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:5). Later, and in three separate places, he will list the trials he has gone through for the advancement of the gospel - ‘boasting,’ he says - but only because they have pushed him to it.
Paul reminds us that the God who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness in creation (Genesis 1:3) is the same God who shines the light of the gospel into the hearts of believers when He would make us a new creation (2 Corinthians 4:6). This is the experience of Paul and his ministry team, and of all who have trusted in Jesus down through the ages.
“The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). In the gospel, this promise is in process of fulfilment. The light which we receive is the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Such light, and such knowledge, is found nowhere else.