2 Corinthians 4


“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. 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 Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 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 Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

The word, ‘Therefore’ always refers to something already written and should prompt us to ask wherefore? I.e. Why? In the previous chapter, Paul explained that the fading ‘glow’ of the face of Moses symbolically predicted that the glory of the old covenant would pass away, and was destined to be replaced by a new covenant the glory of which would never pass away. He adds that Moses was away from this, and covered his face so that the people might not see it.

But, to whom does he refer in 2 Corinthians 4:2ff? Notice the frequent use of the words ‘we’, ‘our’, ‘us’, ‘ourselves’. These words are personal pronouns. Grammatically they are ‘first person, singular- number, present tense’ and they occur 23 times in the 18 verses of this chapter.

Notice now, 2 Corinthians 4:5 / 2 Corinthians 4:12 / 2 Corinthians 4:14, ‘your’, ‘you’. These are also personal pronouns. Notice the expressions in 2 Corinthians 4:5 ‘ourselves your servants’. 2 Corinthians 4:12 ‘death in us but life in you’. 2 Corinthians 4:14 ‘Jesus will present us with you.’

A Distinction Between Human Reasoning And Divine Revelation

The ‘ministry’ or service that Paul, Timothy, Titus, Sosthenes and other preachers of truth had was in the new covenant, the law of life, spirit, righteousness, and liberty. 2 Corinthians 3:6 / 2 Corinthians 3:17.

The very law of liberty that Paul preached poured grace and mercy upon the deliverers of said law. Paul had persecuted the church earlier in his life, however, he now had obtained mercy through Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:9.

Paul was now a debtor to preach this message of liberty and life, Romans 1:14. Paul was entrusted with the Gospel message of liberty and would not ‘lose heart’ or fail in his delivering this message of mercy to mankind, Acts 26:13-19. Paul would endure all hardships in life so that others may be saved.

Here is where Paul’s teaching separated itself from the doctrines of the false teachers in Corinth. Paul was not ‘commending’ himself to the Corinthians with opinions, personal convictions, or human reason to gain a personal following as he was being charged, 2 Corinthians 3:1 / 2 Corinthians 4:5 / 2 Corinthians 4:7.

The Corinthians obviously had a problem with placing levels of importance upon men and following them; however, Paul never sanctioned such events, 1 Corinthians 1:10-12 / 1 Corinthians 3:3-7.

Paul, Timothy, and Titus were commending themselves to ‘every man’s conscience’ through truth. When talking to people about the gospel message we need to give book, chapter, and verse for all that we teach. We are not teachers of self-opinion, personal conviction or reason. We are to represent the name of Christ alone and through Christ alone man will be saved from the consequences of their sins. Acts 4:11-12.

Paul, Timothy, Titus, and Sosthenes had ‘we have renounced secret and shameful ways.’ To ‘renounce’, ‘apeipomen’ means to refuse, forbid. At some point in the past, Paul and his preaching companions, ‘we’ had renounced all religious thinking that is not in accordance with ‘truth.’

Inferentially, religious reasoning apart from ‘truth’ is referred to as the ‘hidden things of shame.’ Such reasoning is found shameful when brought out into the open eye of the public. Note that religious ideas that do not have their bases or foundation in truth are shameful no matter how or who delivers it.

Paul now enumerated the shameful acts, ‘we do not use deception’, ‘panourgia’ which is defined as roguery, ready to do anything, hence, crafty, cunning, artful. Another shameful act is ‘distorting the word of God.’ The idea is that some would take the word of God and use it in a ‘deceitful’, ‘doloo’ manner, to beguile, to disguise.

The idea of motive comes into the discussion. Many today are claiming that a false teacher is one whose motives are corrupt. They turn to such passages under consideration and say, ‘a false teacher is one who purposely deceives through crafty means.’

Other passages are held dear to said individuals such as 2 Peter 2:1ff. One must remember, however, that Paul is not discussing motives. Paul never had the motive to deceive by craftiness anyone with his false ways, Acts 26:9, yet here in 2 Corinthians 4:2 he used the aorist tense indicating that he and others had renounced craft and deceit!

What did Paul and his preaching companions renounce? They renounced human reasoning that was contrary to the doctrine of Christ. Therefore, any human reasoning that does not have Christ’s doctrine as its source is deceptive and crafty.

It matters not whether one is sincere and honest. Why? Because ‘deception’ and ‘distortion’ are the doctrines of the devil, 2 Corinthians 11:3. Deception and distortion are the ‘devices’ of Satan, 2 Corinthians 2:11.

Thereby Satan deceives many to think that they are preaching truth when in all reality they are doing the crafty and deceitful work of the devil, Matthew 7:15-23. Distortion and deceit are the real occurrences when a person teaches error even though he ‘sincerely and honestly’ doesn’t know it is an error.

Rather than doing the distorting and deceptive work of Satan by teaching things other than the doctrine of Christ, Paul said that he and his companions made manifest the ‘truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.’

The jealous seek to stir up a faction against preachers of truth in every generation. Truth must not be mingled with error, 2 Corinthians 2:17.

Truth will make man’s conscience clean in the sight of God, and thereby Paul ‘commends’ himself, his truthful teaching of Christ’s laws and his companions to the Corinthians.

Those who follow the apostle Paul’s teaching are doing so by divine revelation. Those who follow deception and distortion follow the devil’s doctrines.

While the Judaizers preached an adulterated mingled message of circumcision and Gospel, Acts 15:1ff, Paul preached the true Gospel. Apparently, those who would represent the ‘unbelieving’ would be the deceived false teachers and those deceived by the false teaching. These ‘unbelievers’ will indeed ‘perish’ in their sins, John 8:24. The two-fold explanation of the ‘unbelievers’ demise is here given.

1. When the whole unadulterated truth is not received and practised by individuals, it is the work of Satan!

A ‘veil’ exists over the ‘minds of the unbelieving’ that ‘blinds’ them. If one were to blindfold me, twist me round and round, and then ask me which way North was, I would not be able to tell him. Likewise, the devil works by means of distortion and deception to blind the minds of men in spiritual matters that they may lose their souls with him eternally.

2. The Gospel is represented by ‘light.’

Light makes manifest the things that would otherwise be hidden in darkness. This verse helps us understand that the veil of darkness and ignorance placed upon an individual’s mind is voluntarily accepted. Satan works to that end but does not make anyone evil. Man becomes a servant of the devil by his own lust, James 1:13ff. God is the God of light, 1 John 1:5-7.

Man can understand truth and live it; however, said actions are purposed in the mind. One who would claim that he does not understand all truth and neither can anyone else has had his mind veiled by Satan to his own perishing. Such teaching is generally at the heart of ecumenical and unity and diversity movements.

A Lesson On Authority

Paul clearly proclaimed that the message he and his companions preached was not their own. They preached divine revelation as it was revealed to them, Galatians 1:11. Paul had earlier said that no man is ‘sufficient’ to preach a message of divine origin, 2 Corinthians 2:16b.

Paul proclaimed his and others’ sufficiency to be only ‘from God’ and not their own ideas, 2 Corinthians 3:5. So again, Paul proclaimed that his sufficiency came not from his own reasoning but from divine revelation. Paul was not trying to gain a following by means of deceptive and crafty teachings.

Apparently, some in Corinth were being factious. They gained a following against Paul and his companions with a host of accusations. Paul was meticulously exposing said individuals to be workers of Satan.

God said in Genesis 1:3, ‘let there be light: and there was light.’ Apparently, Paul was using Genesis 1:3 by means of metonymy to illustrate the manifesting nature of God. Darkness represents ignorance and a lack of understanding in the Scriptures, Ephesians 4:18. Light represents the manifestation of truth. As a darkroom holds many secrets, so light exposes all the hidden things in the room.

Likewise, a dark creation would hold many secrets, however, the light of God’s Gospel message exposed all truth that ignorance and a lack of understanding would be done away with. Satan is the ruler of the world of darkness and thereby seeks to keep it dark.

Those who remain in the dark do so with their father the devil, John 8:44. Since the glorious Gospel is light and of divine origin, it is certainly worth dying for!

Who are the ‘us’ and ‘you’? And, why does he make this distinction? A correct answer to this question will reveal to whom Paul refers in 2 Corinthians 4:7, which is a frequently misunderstood verse. ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us’.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 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 also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

What is the ‘treasure’ to which he refers? The first verse takes us back again to the discussion of his personal ministry. The words, ‘ministry’, ‘minister’ and ‘ministrations’ occur 6 times in 2 Corinthians 3:3-10, and in 2 Corinthians 3:6 we have the definitive phrase ‘ministers of the new covenant’.

We recall that the subject of Paul’s apostleship and his apostolic authority was raised and dealt with in his first letter to Corinth, but the returning Titus must have informed him that there were still those who questioned his right to claim apostleship and were apparently attempting to undermine his authority.

Initially, these people had complained about that.

1. He was not one of the ‘twelve’ originally chosen by the Lord during His earthly life.

2. He was a ‘late-comer’ on the scene, and therefore did not possess the same authority as the other apostles.

3. He refused to honour tradition because he refused to accept payment for his teaching. It was considered important that a teacher should be paid for his teaching, and, if he did not accept payment, the people took the view that it was because his teaching was worthless or unsound. Paul insisted on using his trade to support himself and rarely accepted money for his work.

In 2 Corinthians 3, he reveals that his critics have complained that he did not bring with him a ‘letter of commendation’ when he arrived in Corinth! In 2 Corinthians 3:1, he records his incredulous reaction to this complaint! But he feels it necessary to return again to the subject of his apostolic authority.

He insists that he has been divinely appointed to become the apostle to the Gentiles, and in 2 Corinthians 3:6 he states that ‘God, made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant’.

Notice the plural ‘us’. It reveals that Paul identifies himself with the other apostles of the Lord. He is not boasting or parading his apostleship when he writes these things. On the contrary, in 2 Corinthians 4, he makes two important points.

1. He recognizes his own unworthiness.

He says he has ‘received mercy’. How could never forget that he had been a fierce persecutor of the Christians and was responsible for the sufferings and deaths of many because believes to be himself ‘the chief of sinners’. See 1 Timothy 1:12-15

2. He is aware of the difficulties and the hardship he must face in the fulfilment of this ministry.

Nevertheless, he declares that it is God who shone into the hearts of His ministers, ‘to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ’. The word ‘knowledge’ has special significance here. This inspiring message is the ‘treasure’ of 2 Corinthians 4:7, which ‘we’ have in what he describes as ‘jars of clay’.

The references are given earlier stress that the ‘we’ and ‘ourselves’ and ‘our’, etc. refer to the Apostles. God’s inspired messengers, whilst the ‘you’ and ‘your’ refer to the Corinthians themselves. This was brought out quite clearly when, in his first letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 3:9 he said, referring to his fellow apostles, “WE are God’s fellow-workers, YOU are God’s field’.

Many sermons have been preached in which the ’treasure’ has, in some way, been made to represent either salvation or the presence of the Holy Spirit, but this is not taught by this passage!

Paul is affirming the divine inspiration of the men whom He has called to be His special servants, the Apostles, and the ‘Call’ brings both authority and accountability beyond that which was borne by the members of the congregation.

The ‘treasure’ is divine revelation. The ‘jars of clay’ are the human frail body. Paul and his companions possessed the divine message of truth that represented the ‘all-surpassing power from God.’ That power had a divine origin and was not of any man, Galatians 1:11.

Therefore, when Paul preached the truth, he did not seek to gain a following on his behalf but on behalf of Jehovah God and the souls of men.

The Suffering Due To Preaching Truth Is Well Worth The Reward

Paul and his preaching companions were ‘pressed on every side.’ To be ‘pressed’, ‘thlibo’ is to squeeze, metaphorically to oppress, afflict, distress. Though Paul and his companions were distressed on every side, they were not ‘distressed.’

The word ‘distressed’, ‘stenochoreo’ is to hem in closely, to be crowded together. So it appears that Paul was saying that though they found themselves in distressful situations, they did not allow themselves to become distressed due to the glorious message they were armed with.

Paul said that he and his companions were ‘perplexed, but not in despair’. The word ‘perplexed’, ‘aporeo’ is to be at a loss, be in doubt, or be puzzled.

It may have been that Paul and his companions found themselves in distressful situations at times and did not know how to handle the situation. These men were never in ‘despair’, without hope, because the hope of the Gospel kept them pressing forward.

Paul and his companions were ‘persecuted’, ‘dioko’, that is, to chase across the plain, to be a follower of a person, attach oneself to him. On more than one occasion was Paul pursued by his enemies as he once pursued Christians yet he was not so pursued that he believed himself ‘abandoned.’

God was always with Paul, Acts 27:23-24. On occasion, these men found themselves ‘struck down, but not destroyed.’ Paul was beaten at Lystra to the point of near-death yet he was not destroyed, Acts 14:19. Paul would later tell Timothy, ‘In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’. 2 Timothy 3:12

When Jesus went about compassionately performing miracles, Matthew 14:14, He preached words of repentance, Luke 13:3, exposed man’s sins, Matthew 12:33-35, proclaimed His deity, John 8:58 and was thereby persecuted even to the point of death, John 8:59. The world hated Jesus because he exposed their sinfulness, John 7:7 and the world hates all those who follow Jesus, John 17:14.

Therefore as we do our duty of love as did Jesus, compassionate and preaching truth, we will be ill-treated. This is our fellowship in the sufferings of Christ, Philippians 3:10. We do not despair; however, because there will always be souls that want to hear the purity of the truth.

As Paul and his companions preached, they were persecuted physically and mentally, however, the message was preached. The message preached was the ‘light of the gospel’, 2 Corinthians 4:4 and this light brings ‘life’ to all who obey its words.

“It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 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.” 2 Corinthians 4:13-15

Paul was reminded of Psalms 116 where the Psalmist praised God for His mercy and kindness during distressful days in his life. The Psalmist proclaimed, ‘Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants’. Psalm 16:15

The body man may kill; however, the soul belongs to God! Though the eye of scorn awaits the child of God who would boldly proclaim the message of the cross, let us speak and hold not our peace. Paul’s motivation and all of ours is that we will be raised from the dead as was Jesus. Those found faithful will live with the Lord in paradise forever.

The distress that Paul and his companions went through was for the sake of the Corinthians and all others who would hear and obey the words of Jesus. God’s gracious offer of salvation is to be preached to the many and received. Through the work of preachers of truth, the name of Jehovah God will be praised.

“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 outweighs them all. 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”. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Though the outward and inward trials of stress did cause the messenger of the Gospel to decay outwardly, as with years of life, so the inward man of faith grew stronger and stronger.

As the years go by we grow feebler outwardly, yet, inwardly we are gaining in strength according to wisdom. The divisive and jealous will do their best to tear us down yet let us press onward knowing that there are souls to save and eternity to greet.

Though the struggles against Satan’s devices leave us outwardly battle-weary, it is not to be compared with the eternal glory we shall have if we continue to give diligence, 2 Peter 1:10-11.

Paul and his preaching companions had suffered to the point of death for the sake of the Gospel message, 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, but he knew that the ultimate victory rested in Jesus, 2 Corinthians 2:14.

Paul had his priorities straight as one would say. He viewed the present stress as lasting only momentarily in relationship to eternity. The apostle John would later write, ‘Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown’. Revelation 2:10


2 Corinthians 1-3 reveals much about preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its purity. When the authoritative Gospel, 2 Corinthians 2:17, is preached with an attitude of love, 2 Corinthians 2:4, individuals will be moved to sorrow and repentance, 2 Corinthians 1:23 / 2 Corinthians 2:2 and thereby experience hope in this life, 2 Corinthians 1:1ff. Authoritative teaching is designed to test individuals, 2 Corinthians 2:9.

The Gospel has divine origins and is a superior message to that of Mosaic Law and human reason, 2 Corinthians 3:9. 2 Corinthians 4 continues the distinction between human reason and divine revelation.

Also, 2 Corinthians 4 reveals a struggle between good and evil and the rewards for the faithful who would overcome Satan and his devices.

A Distinction Between Divine Revelation And Human Reason

2 Corinthians 4:1-7. Paul established the divine origin of the Gospel message and its superiority over the Mosaic Law in 2 Corinthians 3, 2 Corinthians 3:9.

Paul’s approach toward the Gospel message in 2 Corinthians 4 was that it indeed is true and offers real hope. Revelation is a divine message that is certainly pure with absolutely no corruption, 2 Corinthians 2:17.

One who would therefore preach a message that did not represent the entire purity of the divine Gospel message is a representative of Satan. Satan’s ‘devices’, 2 Corinthians 2:11 are ‘distortion, and deceit’, 2 Corinthians 4:2.

The pure Gospel is viewed as ‘treasure’, 2 Corinthians 4:7, as opposed to preaching worthless human reasoning, 2 Corinthians 4:5. One’s true being is revealed in the message he preaches.

At one time in the past, Paul preached a message of ‘distortion’ and ‘deceit,’ though it was not his intention to do so, the word ‘renounced’ in 2 Corinthians 4:2. Having now renounced the ‘hidden things of shame’ 2 Corinthians 4:2, he preached the ‘light of the Gospel’ 2 Corinthians 4:4.

Two ways to preach are therefore revealed in these first seven verses

1. One may preach the ‘light of the Gospel’ in all its purity, 2 Corinthians 2:17 / 2 Corinthians 4:4.

2. One may preach a message of ‘distortion’ and deceit’ associated with human reason, 2 Corinthians 4:2. Nothing is said about ‘honestly mistaken preaching.’

Real hope rests in the pure ‘light of the Gospel’. 2 Corinthians 4:8-18. Those who preach the purity of the gospel are armed with the ‘exceeding greatness of the power of God’, 2 Corinthians 4:7

This fact being firmly established gives way to Christian confidence that we may endure all of Satan’s workings in good faith. Paul and his preaching companions were ‘pressed,’ ‘perplexed,’ ‘persecuted,’ ‘struck down,’ and ‘always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus’, 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, however, they never gave up the fight.

What motivated them to continue and what shall motivate us today? Paul answered, ‘knowing that he that raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also with Jesus.’ 2 Corinthians 4:14

Knowing these things brethren, let us continue to give diligence and never grow weary of our labour in the Lord.

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