NOTES II Corinthians
4:1-12 (click here for study)
Paul has just completed one of the New Testament's most picturesque explanations of the new covenant and of the difference between it and the old. He has also stated boldly that "even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." (3:15-16)
"Therefore," he begins his discussion of what it means to live in the new covenant, "since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart." (4:1)
Paul has clearly explained that the ministry of the Spirit, the new birth that comes to all who believe and accept Jesus' sacrifice for their sins, is glorious, far surpassing the old covenant in power and freedom and "ever-increasing glory." He has called the old covenant, the law with its regulations and its curse for the non-observant, "the ministry that brought death."
Now Paul acknowledges God's call on his life and owns his position before God as a minister of the new covenant. The false teachers that had infiltrated the Corinthian church had been accusing Paul of not being a true apostle of Jesus. They had been undermining his authority and his credibility. They had been attempting to turn the new believers' loyalties against Paul and to gain for themselves the flattery of having these people follow them. They were not truly ministers of the gospel; rather they were imposters who wanted power for themselves. Paul did not view his ministry as one of gaining a following or building a power base. He merely preached the gospel-God's commission to him. He nurtured and cared for the people to whom he preached, and it hurt his heart for them to be believing the claims of his detractors.
Preaching the gospel was not a route to fame or popularity for Paul. It was, rather, a serious calling which required total commitment. Although many people attacked him, including many who knew and loved him but now questioned his sincerity, he still saw his call to preach the gospel as an act of God's mercy toward him. He never perceived his "job" as one he got because he earned it or deserved it, nor did he view it as a life sentence to thankless labor. He always saw himself as a product of God's mercy. His position before Jesus was never something for which he felt pride or privilege.
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life," he wrote to his friend Timothy. (1 Tim. 1:15-16)
Because he knew God had chosen him and had given him the work of preaching the gospel, Paul refused to lose heart when he was confronted by criticism, attack, and persecution. God was with him in his work, and God's strength would uphold him no matter what people did to him.
Renouncing Secret and Shameful Ways
Paul continues by stating his commitment to integrity. "Rather [than losing heart]," we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God," he declares. (v.2)
Overtly, Paul is addressing the dishonest behavior of his detractors and of the false apostles that had been insinuating themselves into the church. Unlike them, Paul is not quietly subverting the work or teaching of others. He acknowledges the legitimacy of other teachers, and he does not attempt to take over their missions. (see 1 Corinthians 3:5-7)
Neither does Paul use the scriptures out-of-context or in a dishonest way to support heresy. Unlike the Judaizers and the gnostic teachers, Paul preaches the word of God as it is and clearly teaches how Jesus was the fulfillment and embodiment of the entire old covenant. He also shows how living as a Christ-follower by the power of the Holy Spirit is the mystery that was hidden for generations: the mystery of God in us-the mystery of Jews and Gentiles being one in Him. (see Ephesians 3:2-11)
Not only has Paul renounced the shameful craftiness of the false teachers, he has also renounced the secret and shameful practices of his past. Although as an observant Jew he had been highly religious and fervent, he had perpetrated evil among the young Christian church. He writes to the Romans about Christ-followers being "set free from sin." When people are slaves to sin, as he was when he was zealously persecuting the church, they are "free from the control of righteousness" and slaves to "impurity and ever-increasing wickedness." (Romans 6:19-22)
In 1 Corinthians Paul talks about God bringing to light what is hidden in darkness. (1 Cor. 4:5) The secret motives that drove Paul before his conversion he has renounced as a follower of Christ. He has given them over to the ministry of the Spirit so God can cleanse his heart from sin.
Paul writes to his young protege Timothy that he himself once was "a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man." But Christ came to save sinners, he continues, "of whom I am the worst." The miracle of Jesus is that "in the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus display[s] his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." (1 Timothy 1:13-16)
Paul reminds this contentious church that he is true to the gospel, true to God, and true to those he serves. He has renounced sinful and shameful activities and manipulations. His whole purpose is to represent the truth about Jesus and the adequacy of his sacrifice that fulfilled the old covenant.
Even though Paul preaches the truth with a heart open to the Holy Spirit, he still acknowledges that some will not respond to the gospel. He returns to his earlier metaphor of the veil to explain his point.
"Even if our gospel is veiled," he says, "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 of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (v.3-4)
Dovetailing on the point he made in chapter 3 regarding the veil remaining on hearts that cling to legalism instead of turning to Christ, Paul says here that the gospel is veiled to people who are not saved. They simply do not "get it." The truth of their own need, of Jesus' sacrifice, and of life in the Spirit does not take root in their hearts and minds. "The god of this age has blinded" them.
Historically, the Jews believed that time was divided into two segments: this age, which was evil and destined to perish, and the age to come in which goodness would reign. "This age," according to references scattered through the New Testament, is the present time in which evil has a claim on this world.
"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age," Paul greeted the Galatians. (Gal. 1:3-4)
"Where is the wise man?" he further writes to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 1:20; "Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?"
Jesus made several references to this age. In his parable of weeds sown in the field of grain, Jesus explains his metaphors and says, "The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are the angels." (Matthew 13:39)
Near the end of Jesus' ministry, his disciples asked him, "When will this [the destruction of the temple] happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3) In this question the disciples were reflecting the Jews' understanding that a messianic age would come.
Jesus answered their question without being specific, but he did tell them the signs to expect before the end. After listing signs such as wars, famines, earthquakes, betrayals, and an increasing lack of love, he said, "But he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."
While he did not directly address the issue of this age or an age to come, Jesus did acknowledge that an end would come to the age we know.
Just before his ascension Jesus spoke one of his strongest statements that this age will end. He commissioned his disciples to "go and make disciples of all nations," and he ended by saying, "Sure I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)
God of This Age
The "god of this age" is not the almighty God of the universe and beyond, although the "god of this age" functions for now inside God's sovereign will. The "god" to whom Paul refers is Satan, the fount of evil. There are several references in the New Testament to an evil ruler who clams authority over the world. Luke 4:5-6 establishes the identity of this evil ruler as the devil:
"The devil led [Jesus] up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, 'I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.' "
After Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he predicted his death. "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." (John 12:31-32)
Shortly after he made this statement, he comforted his disciples and promised to send them the Holy Spirit after he would leave. In his talk with them he said, "I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me." (John 14:30-31)
Satan would attempt to defeat Jesus and secure his control over this world, but Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was outside Satan's claim. Satan would try to kill Jesus, but he would not be able to conquer him. He had no hold on Jesus.
Jesus further identified the god or prince of this world in John 16:8-11: "When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgmentin regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned."
In 1 John the apostle John also identifies the god of this age. "We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one." (1 John 5:21)
Peter, the brash, impulsive disciple who succumbed to temptation and betrayed Jesus, then repented received God's forgiveness, writes from intimate understanding in 1 Peter 5:8: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
Paul is very specific in identifying the source of evil in humans. "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used tolive when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." (Ephesians 2:1-2)
When Paul says "the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ," he is not speaking metaphorically. He is specifically referring to Satan, the evil one who has been given power over this planet until the end of the age-until Jesus returns and establishes his physical kingdom. The implications of this statement in v. 4 are serious. Paul is asserting that there are two categories of people: believers and unbelievers. Unbelievers, he is saying, are under the deceptive power of Satan. They are not neutral; there is no "no-man's-land". Because humanity is born in sin with their spirits dead and separated from God, they are under the jurisdiction of Satan, the god of this age, the prince of this world.
But, texts such as John 16:11 and Colossians 2:15 proclaim, Satan is already defeated by the blood of Jesus. Even though he still remains at large on this planet, he is essentially a "lame-duck" ruler. The god of this age has been conquered by the God of the universe, and his days are numbered. Those who are blinded by him are ultimately under the authority of God Almighty. The blinded ones are not necessarily destined to perish. God's truth can break through the veil of darkness Satan deliberately weaves around their hearts and minds.
Those who refuse to acknowledge truth, however, are yielding to the deceptive control of Satan. Even though their lips may proclaim a form of godliness, if they have not embraced the true, unperverted gospel, they are perishing. If they have not received Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives, if they have put anything ahead of Christ in their hearts, they are condemned to eternal death.
Light Out of Darkness
Paul reiterates that he is preaching Christ, not promoting himself. He preaches Christ, he says, because God has extended his acts of creation in the hearts of believers. Paul compares God's creative word in Genesis 1:3 when he said, " 'Let there be light,' and there was light," to God's shining the light of his truth into the darkness of our hearts. God's light penetrates the veil that keeps people from perceiving the gospel, and it reveals the "knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (v.6) When God's light penetrates the veil and people begin to see Jesus, the veil comes off completely.
The light of knowing Christ and experiencing his glory completely transforms us. We are born into sin and darkness. God's light illuminates reality, and we begin to see that what we understood as natural humans, unsaved by Christ's atoning power that reconnects us to God, was a limited glimpse of what is real. We begin to understand the existence of the spiritual realm that includes our personal Savior and Father. We begin to know Jesus and to experience the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. We become aware that evil is real, and Satan, the god of this age, is real. We learn that we can trust Jesus to overcome the power of Satan in our lives. We can know truth from error. We can experience eternal life. We can know what it means to be born again.
When God shines his light into the darkness of our hearts, our resulting new birth is as much an act of original creation as was God's calling light from the darkness and forming the universe. What results is something completely new. It is something that could not naturally occur. A new birth is literally a new reality created out of nothing. As children of God born from above, we do not reflect merely our inheritance from Adam and Eve. We become God's personal masterpiece, called to life by the resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead. We are spiritually alive, and we are united with God our Father.
Jars of Clay
Now Paul uses another of his picturesque metaphors. "We have this treasure in jars of clay," he writes, "to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."
Our physical bodies are the jars of clay. Job's miserable comforter Eliphaz used this figure of speech as he remonstrated with Job as he suffered. "If God places not trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust?" (Job 4:18-19)
Isaiah also used referred to us as being clay in God's hands. "Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Is. 64:8)
Our origin as dirt God shaped into Adam and brought to life by his breath will always define us. Even after we are physically glorified at Christ's return, our original state as creations molded from the dust of the earth will follow us through eternity. Jesus himself will share this identity.
Paul uses an apt play on words by calling himself a jar of clay. We are all originally from the dirt, "clay jars" holding the precious treasure of the gospel inside us as it transforms us. Clay jars, however, had an additional meaning for the Corinthians. Pottery jars were hiding places for valuables in Paul's culture. They were common and of little value. People often hid their treasures in clay jars because they did not attract attention, and people would be unlikely to look inside one to find something valuable. Hiding treasure in clay jars was the first century version of hiding money in a sock.
The treasure we hold within us is the good news of the gospel. The priceless quality of the gospel, however, is not simply the information it brings regarding Jesus and his sacrifice. What makes the gospel a treasure is the transformation it brings to the receptive heart. When we receive the truth of the gospel and accept our own depravity and the redemption and holiness of Jesus as our salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to us. The miracle and power of the Holy Spirit in us is the true treasure of the gospel. The God of the universe makes his home in our hearts, and we in his.
None of us could live in the light, heal our own emotional wounds, or change our self-indulgent motives. Only a power bigger than we are-only the power of our Creator-could begin to make us what we could never naturally be. The fact that the creative power of the Word lives in us and makes us new and different proves that these changes in us cannot be self-generated. They can only be from God. Our human selves, our clay bodies and unreborn hearts, could never live with the power and authority and peace and joy and patience that can be ours because of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This treasure we hold in these clay jars is the living Word-the Word that called light out of darkness at the beginning of time. It is the Word that shines his light into the darkness of our hearts and reveals to us the "glory of God in the face of Christ." (v.6)
Death and Life At Work
Because of the amazing treasure Paul carried in himself, he could say, "We are hard pressed one very side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (v. 9)
The suffering and persecution and physical privations Paul experienced were beyond what most of us ever have to bear. He was beaten, stoned, repeatedly imprisoned, and often alone. Physically, Paul faced death continually. Yet the Holy Spirit spared him-sometimes even when he would have welcomed being taken out of the struggle and going home to Jesus. (see 2 Cor. 5:8; Philippians 1:21-24)
Spiritually, too, Paul was "always being given over to death for Jesus' sake." Every day Paul had to die to his natural self; he had to surrender to Jesus his desires to avoid suffering and his desires for self-protection and indulgence. "I die every day," Paul wrote earlier to the Corinthians. (1 Cor. 15:31) Paul, like we, had to die to his natural impulses and surrender to Jesus his plans, his control over his circumstances, his reactions to people's hostility and dishonesty, his desire for approval and comfort. He had to surrender these things-die to them-in order to allow the Holy Spirit to take the place in his heart where these normally lived. He had to die to his natural impulses in order to experience the power and authority of Jesus' resurrection life in him.
Paul even went one step further than merely explaining that he experienced death in order to be surrendered to life. He declared that he suffered this continual death for Jesus' sake so the Corinthians and all those for whom he worked would be able to experience life. Paul was willing to sacrifice himself to Jesus in order that through him Jesus could reveal his resurrection life to the lost. He was willing to suffer continual death in order that those to whom he ministered could live.
God is asking you to let the treasures of salvation and of living by the Spirit fill your jar of clay. As you experience your spirit being filled by the presence of God, you will find that He is asking you to renounce secret and shameful ways. In some cases, the things he is asking you to renounce are not necessarily intrinsically wrong, but they are things you hide and do in secret.
When we accept Jesus, he calls us to a life of openness. He calls us to be integrated in our hearts and our heads. He asks for us to surrender to him everything which we savor in secret. If we horde personal indulgences which we don't want others to know, we are operating at least partly from guilt and shame. The desire to keep secret certain things we do should be a warning flag for us. Those things are "treasures" we need to surrender to God. We must be willing to acknowledge the source of the shame and guilt which drives us to secrecy. We must be willing to let God heal the damaged places in our memories and emotions which motivate us to hide and to avoid reality.
God is calling you to carry his death in yourself. He is asking you to trust him enough to give up your rights to the things that define you or soothe you. He is asking you to risk letting go of the things that make you feel powerful or in control. God is calling you to release the things you do to avoid reality and to avoid pain. God is asking you to trust him enough to let him begin to help you know the truth about yourself. He is calling you to die to the self-destructive habits and attitudes behind which you hide.
God, however, does not ask you to die to yourself and your secret "treasures" without promising you new life in return.
When we give to God the things he asks us to surrender, we feel as if we will be abandoned and bereft. There is no subjective assurance in advance that we will not fall apart if we give up what we love. Our surrender is always an act of faith.
When we take the risk of acting in faith, God's response is always unexpected peace and strength and assurance. The love and sense of identity that fills us when we surrender our treasures to Jesus changes us forever. We experience the treasure of God himself living in our jar of clay.
The paradox of dying with Christ is that we come to life-new life with him. Our death to ourselves gives us new identity. Instead of being enslaved to secret habits and attitudes, we become free in the love of Jesus. Jesus himself replaces the secrets in our hearts with his own Spirit. Jesus defines us instead of our weaknesses defining us.
Ask Jesus to show you the things in your life from which he wants to free you. Ask him to help you see what he wants you to see and to know what he wants you to know. Ask Jesus to replace your compulsive behaviors with the peace of his Spirit. Ask Jesus to help you to grow in truth.
Praise God for being both just and merciful.
Praise Jesus for dying for our sins, both the secret ones and the shameful ones.
Praise the Holy Spirit for bringing out spirits to life and for placing peace and eternity n our hearts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Copyright (c) 2002 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted April 6, 2002.