2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Paul was the founding pastor of the church at Corinth, a cosmopolitan city on the Isthmus of Corinth (an isthmus is a narrow strip of land that connects two land masses) connecting the mainland of Greece (Northern Greece) with the Peloponnese (Southern Greece). Paul spent approximately eighteen months in Corinth on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18:1-11).
After leaving Corinth, Paul traveled extensively (Acts 18:18-23), settling in Ephesus for an extended period of time (Acts 19). During that period, he wrote at least four letters to the Christians at Corinth. His first letter has been lost to us (see 1 Corinthians 5:9). His second letter is the letter that we know as 1 Corinthians. He wrote a third letter—a severe letter—”out of much affliction and anguish of heart” (2 Corinthians 2:4) so that when he visited Corinth he “wouldn’t have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice” (2 Corinthians 2:3). He wrote a fourth letter, which we know as 2 Corinthians. He visited Corinth again after writing this fourth letter (2 Corinthians 12:14). (NOTE: There is considerable scholarly debate as to what constitutes which letter, but that goes beyond the scope of this commentary.)
In the verses leading up to our lectionary reading, Paul defends his ministry to the Corinthians. He and his companions “are a sweet aroma of Christ, in those who are saved, and in those who perish” (2:15). They are not “as so many, peddling the word of God” (2:17a), but they speak sincerely (2:17b).
Paul needs no letter of introduction to the Corinthian Christians. They are well acquainted with Paul and his companions. Paul likens them to “a letter of Christ, served by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tablets of stone, but in tablets that are hearts of flesh” (3:3).
Paul speaks of Moses’ shining face when Moses came down from the presence of God on Mount Sinai. “The children of Israel could not look steadfastly on the face of Moses for the glory of his face” (3:7). In that story, well-known to all Jews, Moses had to wear a veil in the presence of the people, because they were not prepared to deal with the full force of God’s glory as reflected in his face (Exodus 34:29-35). Paul says that this veil remains intact as Jewish people read “the old covenant” (3:14)—meaning that their understanding has been obscured—”but whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away,” bringing freedom (3:16).
2 CORINTHIANS 4:3-4. EVEN IF OUR GOOD NEWS IS VEILED
3Even if our Good News is veiled, it is veiled in those who perish; 4in whom the god of this world (Greek: aionos—age) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them.
“Even if our Good News is veiled, it is veiled in those who perish“ (v. 3). In the verses just prior to this one, Paul declared the openness and honesty of his ministry. It is by God’s grace that he is engaged in ministry (v. 1). He says, “But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (v. 2).
If the gospel which Paul proclaims is veiled, then, it is not his fault. Nor is the gospel veiled to everyone. It is veiled only “in those who perish”—to those who refuse to see—to those whose minds have been blinded by “the god of this world” or “the god of this age” (v. 4).
“in whom the god of this world (aionos—age) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving“ (v. 4a). Who is “the god of this age”? The Jews of Paul’s day divided time into two ages (Matthew 12:32; Ephesians 1:21)—the present age under Satan’s rule and the age to come under God’s rule. The “god of this age,” then, would be Satan.
The present age is evil, but Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4). However, those who refuse to believe in Jesus Christ remain blind and enslaved.
“that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them“ (v. 4b). Light and darkness are used in both Old and New Testaments as metaphors for good and evil—order and chaos—security and danger—joy and sorrow—truth and untruth—life and death—salvation and condemnation (Isaiah 5:20; John 3:19-21; Ephesians 4:17-18).
In this verse, Paul uses light as a metaphor for the “Good News of the glory of Christ.” Satan is committed to keeping people from seeing the light of Christ’s glory, because Satan is the prince of darkness.
As noted above, Moses asked to see God’s glory, but God said, “man may not see me and live.” However God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with his hand while God’s glory passed by. Moses saw God’s back, but not his face (Exodus 33:18-23). Nevertheless, that bit of exposure caused Moses’ face to shine brightly—a reflection of God’s glory. Moses had to veil his face to appear before the people (Exodus 34:29-35).
God shared this glory with Jesus Christ. Like God’s glory, Christ’s glory is revealed in his presence with us, in his salvation work, and in judgment. We saw Jesus’ glory revealed at the Transfiguration, where “the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became white and dazzling” (Luke 9:29)—and through his death and resurrection (Luke 24:26). At the parousia (the Second Coming), Jesus will return“in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). Then “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and …every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
2 CORINTHIANS 4:5. WE PREACH CHRIST JESUS AS LORD
5For we don’t preach (Greek: kerusso) ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants (doulos) for Jesus’ sake;
“For we don’t preach (kerusso) ourselves” (v. 5a). The Greek word kerusso means proclaim or preach or announce. Preaching is critical to the evangelistic task, because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
Throughout his correspondence with the Corinthians Paul has emphasized his weakness (1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 12:5, 9) rather than his strength. However, God has promised Paul that God’s grace is sufficient, “for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
There is an implied contrast here between Paul, who does not proclaim himself, and “those who commend themselves” (10:12). The latter would be those whom Paul speaks, tongue in cheek, as “the very best apostles” or “false apostles” (11:5, 13)—those who have been critical of Paul—those who have proclaimed “another Jesus than the one we proclaimed”—and those who have conferred a different spirit and preached a different gospel (11:4). Later in this letter, Paul will defend himself to the Corinthian Christians, saying, “I ought to have been commended by you, for in nothing was I inferior to the very best apostles, though I am nothing” (2 Corinthians 12:11).
“but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants (doulos) for Jesus’ sake“ (v. 5b). Preaching is helpful only if its content is faithful to the truth that God has revealed—the truth of Jesus Christ as Lord. It is true that Jesus came to this earth as a servant—that he “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). But it is also true that, because of Jesus’ faithful service, “God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Now Paul is saying that he, unlike the “false apostles” who are his opponents in Corinth, has kept the right perspective in his preaching. He has not engaged in self-promotion, but has proclaimed “Jesus as Lord.” When he has drawn attention to himself, it was only to speak of his weakness or his status as a slave (doulos)—a slave “for Jesus’ sake.”
The word doulos can be translated servant or slave, but suggests involuntary servitude. A doulos is subservient to his/her master and is expected to obey the master’s command. Slavery was common in Jesus’ day, is mentioned frequently—often metaphorically, as it is here. The apostles often referred to themselves as douloi of Christ (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1).
A gentler word, diakonos, is also used in the New Testament. A diakonos is a servant, but the word has less of a sense of involuntary servitude than doulos. The English word “deacon” is a transliteration ofdiakonos.
2 CORINTHIANS 4:6. LET WILL LIGHT SHINE OUT OF DARKNESS
6seeing it is God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
“seeing it is God who said, ‘Light will shine out of darkness'” (v. 6a). This is an allusion to Genesis 1:3, where “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” See more about light and darkness in the comments on verse 4b above.
“who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6b). The same God who created light in the beginning has filled Paul’s heart with “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The Father “delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).
Just as the glory of God was reflected in Moses’ face (Exodus 34:29-35), so also it is revealed “in the face of Jesus Christ.”
1. “The god of this age” continues to blind people to the light of Christ. “The god of this age” reigns supreme in Hollywood and in many other places. Consider the violent video games that are so popular with young people—especially young men. How does it affect a young man to sit in front of a computer monitor hour after hour inflicting virtual violence on virtual enemies? Is it possible that some of these young men might become violent? I can’t answer that definitively, but it is an issue that we should be studying.
Consider the drug (and alcohol) culture—and pornographic web sites. If it is true that what we eat has a profound effect on the health of our physical bodies, it is also true that what we watch on a movie screen or TV screen or computer monitor has a profound effect on our souls. The same is true for the books and magazines that we read—and the company that we keep. We need to avoid the smorgasbord of tempting material that “the god of this age” places in front of us daily.
And consider the demonic tyrants that rule so much of the world. “The god of this age” is well-represented in nations (and companies) large and small.
2. Parents bear a responsibility to insure that their children grow up in “the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ” (v. 4b). The idea that parents should not have a hand in the spiritual development of their children—that they should wait for their children to grow up and make a decision at that time concerning their religious beliefs—is a seed planted by “the god of this age.”
If something is important, good parents try to insure that their children do the right thing. Good parents insist that their children eat healthy foods—and go to school—and avoid drugs. Good parents encourage their children to make friends with children whose values are positive. Good parents try to steer their children to the light—and to insure that their children’s lives are not guided by “the god of this age.”
Laissez-faire parenting—”hands off” parenting—is not good parenting. While it is true that parents have to give their children opportunities to make some decisions on their own, it is also true that parents need to “train (their) child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
3. Paul faced opposition in Corinth, but he didn’t give up. Yes, he found that the gospel was veiled to some of the people—those who were blinded by “the god of this age” (v. 4)—but he continued to preach “Christ Jesus as Lord” (v. 5). We need to be persistent in our proclamation of the gospel, knowing that God is doing important things behind the scenes. We have no reason to be discouraged.
4. Note the centrality of Jesus Christ in Paul’s preaching and writing. He preached “Christ Jesus as Lord” (v. 5). Yes, he was involved in sending “relief to the brothers who lived in Judea” (Acts 11:29-30; Romans 15:25-32; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; Galatians 2:10)—but his charitable activity was always secondary to the proclamation of Jesus Christ.
In the past century, the church has been divided among those whose focus was evangelism (the proclamation of Christ crucified) and those who were focused on social welfare or social justice. Which should we be doing? The answer is that we should be doing both. However, the proclamation of Christ crucified should be our central focus, and efforts to achieve social welfare or social justice should be an outgrowth of that focus—and not the other way around. Jesus gave us our marching orders as follows:
“Go, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you.
Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
But Jesus also made it clear that we should be involved in feeding the hungry—and drilling wells to provide clean drinking water for primitive villages—and welcoming outsiders—and clothing the naked—and visiting those in prison (Matthew 25:31-46).
Some Christians will be involved primarily in the proclamation of the Gospel, and other Christians will be involved primarily in meeting the physical needs of people in need. However, there is no reason why every Christian can’t be involved in both kinds of ministry—and there is no reason for us to fight over whether God calls us to evangelism or social justice. God calls us to do both.
5. “God who said, ‘Light will shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). The same God who created the miracle of light also creates the miracle of faith. We might be tempted to get discouraged, because it so often seems that little or nothing is happening in our churches. We feel weak—and we are. But we are not dependent on our strength, but on God’s power. We need to do what God has called us to do, but we also need to remember that it is God who shines in people’s hearts “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2012, 2017, Richard Niell Donovan