Summary: Finding grace in adverse circumstances to pass the torch of the gospel on to others.
PASSING THE LIGHT
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 (2 Corinthians 12:11).
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, other than in Christ. However, we have this light, this knowledge in clay jars (such as were used for lanterns in ancient times). So, the “glory” within far exceeds the vessel that contains it, “so that the surpassing-ness of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
The fourfold “but not” of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 provides an encouraging key to understanding what Paul is saying. It is so easy to moan about our circumstances, but we must learn, like the Apostle, to temper them with “but not” - or indeed ‘but God’! Without Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5): but with Him we can do all things (Philippians 4:13).
There were times when Paul (and his companions) felt, hard-pressed. Perhaps like Jesus in the place of pressing, aka Gethsemane.
1. Pressed, yes, but not totally crushed.
2. Perplexed, feeling cornered; but not utterly at a loss.
3. Persecuted, pursued; but not forsaken.
4. Prostrated, cast down; but not destroyed.
The Apostle speaks of “always carrying about in our body the death (literally, the putting to death) of the Lord Jesus, that also the life of Jesus may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:10). The word used here for “death” is only otherwise found in Romans 4:19, when Paul speaks of Abraham not considering his own body ‘already become dead’ and of the ‘deadening’ of the womb of Sarah. The second clause of 2 Corinthians 4:10 points to the resurrection power of Jesus at work in our own bodies.
In the following verse, Paul reverts to the more usual word for death. A literal rendering of the Greek might be, “For always we who live are delivered to death because of Jesus, that also the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). Those who live for Jesus, and are delivered to death for Jesus, will have witness within their own mortal flesh (for all to see) that Jesus is alive!
Finally, the death at work in Paul and his fellow-labourers in the gospel was how (by the Holy Spirit) the life of God (aka the resurrection life of Jesus) was working in the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 4:12). We thank God for those who have, down through the ages, and in our own lives, thus selflessly and sacrificially worked with God for the salvation of others. May we have grace to pass the light on to others.