2 Corinthians 5:12-13

2 Corinthians 5:12-13

Craziness for God

“Girl, you crazy.” When I hear a woman say that to another woman, I usually laugh. It’s normally light-hearted and intended to evoke some laughter at the thought that she’d do something so strange, so unthinkable in the mind of the first woman. For instance, “I can’t believe you took that pacifier out of your baby’s mouth. Girl, you crazy!” To Paul, however, no light-heartedness was intended. Some in Corinth were saying, “Paul, you’re crazy!”

Remember that Paul has reminded the Corinthians of his full-hearted commitment to fear the Lord and persuade men. His aim in life is to love God by seeking to persuade others to love God as well. And in verse 12, he returns to the concept of recommendation or self-commendation, something he picked up in 3:1, and something he will have to comment on later in 10:12 and 12:11. With his apostleship under question, it’s not a surprise that his letter would at various points speak to the evidence of his authority. Is Paul commending himself? Are others commending him? If so, who are they really? Those are the kinds of questions that have occupied the typical Corinthian mindset. So he tells them again, “I’m not out here commending myself. I’m not out here asking you to commend me. In fact, as I said earlier (3:1), you are my letter of recommendation!” But he does affirm a desire for the Corinthians to boast about him. He wants them to have some pride in him as an acknowledgement of God’s work in their lives. Contrary to the Corinthians’ calumny, Paul is humble, and he doesn’t wish to prop himself up. If Paul’s not out for commendation or recommendation for his own sake, what’s he after? He’s actually thinking of the Corinthians! He labors for God’s glory and their good. There it is again: his love for the unloving Corinthians.

His purpose is apologetic in nature. He’s saying, “I want you to boast about me, so that you can speak up against those who oppose me and say that I don’t have the appearance of an apostle.” Paul was no stranger to opposition, as we’ve seen. On the face of it (literally, the word for “outward appearance” is simply “face”), Paul wasn’t anything special. He did not have the appearance of an apostle. He wasn’t peddling God’s word like other “super-apostles” were. He, therefore, reminds the Corinthians (and, I think, gently jabs at the Corinthians who gave credence to the opposition) that what lies in the heart is truer than that which lies on the face or surface. It’s not a stretch to say that Paul likely has 1 Samuel 16:7 in mind. Man focuses on the outward; God, the inward. Where’s the evidence of Paul’s being worthy of commendation, recommendation, and even some Corinthian pride? It lies in his faithfulness to God’s call to proclaim the word regardless of consequence. His life is an open testimony of God.

What is going on in verse 13? Pardon the pun, but it seems a bit crazy, doesn’t it? Paul is beside himself for God but rational for the Corinthians. Is Paul against the use of his reason? No. How can he be? He just said that he persuades men. And the persuasion he speaks of in 5:11 requires biblical rationality. Moreover, there are instances in Acts where we see Paul “reasoning in the synagogues” (Acts 17:17). Even in Corinth he did this. Notice both “reasoned” and “persuade”: “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). Then is he proposing some mystic experience as a way of living before God? Again, no. But the Corinthians may have had in mind Paul’s experience of the third heaven, Paradise, 14 years prior (cf. 2 Corinthians 12). For some reason, however, he’s earned the reputation of a crazy man. Perhaps it was that he was promoting foolishness to the world. In any case, Paul is essentially saying this: “You can call me and what I’m doing crazy or rational. Either way, know that I am fully committed to God and to you!” Paul’s craziness, says Calvin, was “a sober and most judicious madness,” even though he appeared foolish (Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:13).

Paul was in the good company of “crazy people.” If he were transplanted into our modern day, he might be called a Jesus Freak (DC Talk, anyone?). I’m reminded of David in 2 Samuel 6:12-23. Although he was not called crazy, his jubilant worship and dancing before the Lord was vulgarly shameless, even self-honoring, in the eyes of his wife, Michal. Such opposition didn’t stop David. His behavior was worshipful “before the Lord” (v. 21). Even Paul’s Lord, Jesus Christ, was considered insane, out of his mind, and even demonic (Mark 3:21-22; John 7:20; 8:48-52). Of course, Christ was obedient to the Father always, and it was his desire to be pleasing in the eyes of the Father, even if that meant hated in the eyes of man. Paul is simply following Christ that we are to fear the Lord and persuade men, not vice versa. Are we willing to be called crazy, foolish, even demonic, if that means we’ll be faithful to God in the process? To God’s glory be our craziness!

2 Corinthians 5:11

2 Corinthians 5:11

Fear-fueling Persuasion

Should we fear? Some say that all fear is bad. Others say that there’s a kind of fear we ought to imbibe. My answer (which I believe is the biblical answer): that depends on whom/what you fear. We’re not even examining a whole verse today, but it relates to this fear question. We’ll spend our time just on the first sentence of v. 11: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” The word “others” ought to be either “people” or “men” (ἀνθρώπους/anthrōpous). Hence the title: persuading others comes from the fear of the Lord. Although the phrase “fear of the Lord” appears all throughout the Old Testament, its occurrence is rather scarce in the New Testament (though the concept, if not the phraseology, of fearing the Lord still pervades the NT).

What is Paul talking about by saying that he has a “fear of the Lord”? And who is the Lord? Is it God in general? The Father in particular? Christ? The Spirit? The previous context makes it clear that it is before the judgment seat of Christ that all men must appear (v. 10). Because the fear of the Lord has to do with the coming judgment upon all people, it’s natural to deduce that Paul had Christ in mind. So, Paul could be translated as saying, “Therefore, because I know what it means to fear the Lord Jesus Christ, I persuade men.” Paul the apostle is keenly aware that “every day in the life of the apostolic minister is judgment day” (Paul Barnett, 2 Corinthians, 281). Paul’s ministry is an open book to the one who knows all (4:2;  5:11b). There’s nothing in Paul’s ministry that is hidden from his Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, he submits all his evangelistic activities and efforts of persuasion to the judgeship of Christ. Paul wants to hear from Christ, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23). He’s seeking the commendation from Christ his judge. Paul knows that it is a weighty and serious calling to be an apostle, to be a teacher commissioned by the Lord (cf. James 3:1). As an undershepherd, he will be giving an account to the good Shepherd-Judge soon enough for how he lived his life and taught the sheep of Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-2). Indeed, in his first letter to the Corinthians, he addresses the apostolic ministry (the very thing he defends in his second letter) and where he fits in. He straightforwardly says, “It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor. 4:4). Therefore, Paul admits that his life is being clearly perceived by God the Son. Indeed, his life and ministry are known to God even now (2 Cor. 5:11b). And it’s that kind of life lived coram Deo that fuels his persuading men.

When we talk about persuading others, we’re talking about seeking biblically grounded, Christocentric, and Spirit-empowered ways of converting an unregenerate mind to faith in Christ. Obviously, only God can take a stony heart, a hard-hearted mind, and bring it to loving, faith-filled submission to the authority of Christ. But the Lord uses his servants, as we’ve seen, as instruments in his hands for this very Spirit-wrought activity.

Read the verse again, and notice that it does not say, “Fearing men, we persuade the Lord.” It says, “Fearing the Lord, we persuade men.” I know that’s an obvious point, but failure to see and apply this truth results in a failure to love the Lord truly and be obedient to him. God doesn’t call us to fear men. He calls us to persuade them. God doesn’t call us to persuade him (what an odd thought!). He calls us to fear him. Too often, however, our persuading men (or lack thereof) is fueled by a fear of man, not a fear of the Lord. Too often we fail to be faithful in speaking about Christ for fear of what others will say to or about us (or do to us). We think, “If I share Christ with this person, I could lose her as a friend. I could be seen as intolerant, narrow-minded, and not ‘with it.’” Or even the reverse could be true for you: we seek to persuade others because we would be looked upon favorably by our church family. We long to hear others say of us, “He’s quite the evangelist, so bold! Look how many people have been persuaded by his evangelistic efforts! He sure knows his Van Tilian apologetics.” However, what God is saying to us is this: “You fear me. Love me. Seek my kingdom. Seek my righteousness. Proclaim my name and leave the rest to me. Persuade others; don’t fear them. I’ll take care of the process.”

That’s the attitude under which the early church operated. Look at Acts 9:26-31, perhaps the very text Paul had in mind when he penned v. 11, because it was about his reception into the church. In Jerusalem he was (understandably) feared by the Jewish Christian brothers and disciples. This was so because of his past as the terrifying persecutor of Christians. But he had been changed on the road to Damascus, and Barnabas vouches for him. He had preached boldly in Jerusalem (fearing the Lord, persuading men), and the brothers were on his side, even rescuing him from Jewish opposition (from Greek-speaking Jews) by sending him away to his hometown, Tarsus, for a time. Acts 9:31 offers us a summary statement of the state of the church at the time: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” Wouldn’t you love to see more peace in the church? Wouldn’t you love to see greater multiplication of the people of God? To some extent, and in some areas, we see both peace and multiplication. That’s what we earnestly desire, isn’t it? That’s a goal of every church, right? It ought to be anyways. How do we get there? By walking in the fear of the Lord! By depending on the Holy Spirit’s comfort in the face of opposition. There’s a reason Paul had to preach boldly. He was persecuted and opposed at every turn. What a model for church growth. A simple one, even: just fear the Lord. Walk in a daily trust in, love for, and obedience to the Lord. Seek his kingdom and righteousness. Focus on advancing the gospel in your area. Entrust yourself to his cause, not to the approvals or disapprovals of others. Focus on Christ. We all could use more fear of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:6-10

2 Corinthians 5:6-10

We Aim to Please

Whenever I read this section, in particular v. 9, I often picture a lowly servant simply doing his duty, and saying to his thankful master, “I’s aim’s to please, sir” (with a British accent normally). And that picture isn’t too far off the mark from what we read of Paul in these verses (except for the British accent, of course). This letter to the Corinthians is full of Lordship language (the word “Lord” occurs 29 times in this letter alone: 12 times “Lord” is coupled with “Christ,” and 18 times “Lord” is coupled with “Jesus”). Clearly, Paul views himself as a slave to the Lord Jesus Christ (4:5). He owes his very life to the God of the living. He works for the Master, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Away with the idea that a believer can accept Jesus Christ as Savior but not as Lord. Paul knows of no such blasphemous bifurcation. Jesus is either Savior and Lord to you, or he’s neither. How would that even work anyway? How could someone other than the Lord save you and me? And wouldn’t this Lord who saves reveal himself as both? And wouldn’t we, who’ve been given faith, acknowledge Jesus to be both Savior and Lord? Romans 10:9 anyone?

Another theme pervasive in 2 Corinthians is being of good courage, not losing heart, having confidence, being bold, etc. There’s a cluster of courage in chapters 4 and 5 (4:1, 16; 5:6, 8). Paul assures himself and others that he’s of good courage even though he will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. How can he be courageous in the presence of Christ his Judge? Whence cometh this courage? He’s told us already. From God himself. The Spirit of Christ is his guarantee (v. 5). And his life is one of faith in Christ. He walks by faith, not by sight (v. 7). If he trusts in himself, there’s no hope, no inherited heavenly dwelling (vv. 2, 10). But if he lives his life by faith in Christ whose perfect righteousness has been imputed to him by God the Father (v. 21), then he can appear before Christ with good courage. Of course, the same is true for us as well. Living a life of faith in Christ and his imputed righteousness and a life of confidence in the Spirit as our guarantee casts out all fear of a punishing judgment (1 John 5:17-19).

Putting the two themes together, what is Paul’s and our good-hearted, courageous duty? To aim to please God with the confidence that we are his, and he is ours. Whether we are in the body or out of the body, whether we are at home in the body or at our new home with the Lord—we aim to please the Lord. Our chief end, our most fundamental raison d’être, is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q1). When we say that it is our aim to please God, we’re saying that we are pleased when God is pleased. We love to please God! Like a child who loves to please his parent, we desire nothing less than the glorification and pleasure of our Father in heaven. That’s why we exist. This aim is not just for the “big stuff,” like keeping a marriage faithful, not living a life of drunken debauchery, etc. It’s also for the most ignored or taken-for-granted activities of daily living: eating and drinking (1 Cor. 10:31).

The word for “aim” (φιλοτιμέομαι) means to aspire to or be ambitious about doing something (Rom. 15:20; 1 Thess. 4:11). Our aim is our aspiration to please God. Our aim is our ambition to please God. We get to spend our days being all about God and fulfilling his will, being a part of his sovereign good pleasure. That’s what Paul says. Is that your aim as well? Paul says that it is our aim to “please” God. Literally, Paul says, “we aspire to be well-pleasing to him.” It’s a verb of being directly, and only one of activity indirectly. This is a word Paul uses many times. He speaks about Christians presenting their lives as acceptable sacrifices, and servants of Christ as being acceptable to God (Rom. 14:18). He also uses it to speak of our ability to discern the pleasing will of God (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 5:10). Finally, he reminds covenant children that their obedience to their parents is pleasing to God their Father (Col. 3:20; cf. Titus 2:9 in relation to slaves being well-pleasing to their earthly masters). The word, therefore, relates to persons and actions of which God approves, because they fall in line with his will and righteous standard.

How, then, can it be that Christians are well-pleasing to God? There’s only one way. We’re in union with the one with whom God is well-pleased (Matt. 3:17). There’s no other way to be well-pleasing. Our only hope to be approved by God is to have the imputed righteousness of the well-pleasing Son (2 Cor. 5:21). And the comfort we receive is that not only do we have Christ’s righteousness credited to our accounts (what a monumental blessing!), but we truly can be well-pleasing to God. When Paul says that it’s his aim to be well-pleasing to God, this is no wishful thinking. This is no needle-in-my-eye hope. He’s not on a fool’s errand. It’s more than a mere possibility. ‘Tis reality! Because we are in the well-pleasing Son, we are well-pleasing. And it’s the aspiration, the ambition, the heart’s desire of every believer to avail himself of the spiritual resources at his disposal, so that his life would be in increasingly greater conformity to the life of the one who perfectly pleases the Father.

Isn’t it your desire to seek the pleasure of God? Isn’t it your aim to do all things for the glorification of the name of your Lord and Savior? Should your present trial be a stumbling block to the pleasure of Christ? Must suffering get in the way of pleasing Christ? Should your present joy be overlooked and taken for granted at the expense of the pleasure of Christ? Doesn’t everything fall under the lordship of Christ? Shouldn’t you, therefore, be actively seeking the pleasure of Christ whether your life has just begun, or your life is about to be taken away from you by the Author of life? To paraphrase biblical counselor and medical doctor, Charles Hodges, do you aim to please Christ more than you aim to live? Now that’s a question to ponder.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5

2 Corinthians 5:1-5

Comfort in Our Heavenly Home

Do you groan? I’m not talking about the groaning a mother utters when her teenager has neglected to do his homework or has talked back for the umpteenth time. I’m not talking about the groaning we all experience when we hit every red light to our destination. I’m not even talking about the groan we bellow when we see yet another news story that accentuates the evil of humanity. Even though those groanings are all connected (all of which are related to sin and suffering), I’m talking about the deep eschatological moaning for your resurrected body, that you might be clothed to behold the Weight of Glory, Jesus Christ. Do you groan for that? That is the kind of soul-body groan Paul calls us to in these verses. We ought to be thankful for this reminder, especially given our tendency to busy and worry ourselves with lesser things barely worthy of a whimper.

Paul begins the section by reminding the Corinthians of something they’ve already been taught and therefore know (5:1; cf. 1 Corinthians 15). We have an earthly tent, and that’s our body. Paul the tentmaker reminds us of the impermanence and fragility of our earthly lives, while at the same time alluding to the earthly tabernacle which was a type of the heavenly tabernacle, the presence of God (cf. Hebrews 8:1-6; 9:11-14; 11:8-10). When we read v. 2 in light of vv. 8-9, we see that Paul is contrasting our earthly home with its heavenly, more glorious counterpart in the presence of the Lord. This heavenly home is a resurrected home. Connecting the dots from 4:14, 18 and 5:2, 4, the Father’s resurrection of Jesus meets with our resurrection when Christ comes back, and the eternal, unseen things are made visible: our inner man is clothed with glorified soul-body immortality (cf. Romans 8:18-39).

In this body that wastes away (4:16), we groan. There’s another Pauline parallel in Romans 8. There he says that the whole creation has been groaning because it was unwillingly subjected to futility by the sin of one man, Adam (Rom. 8:18-23). And with the whole creation, the sons of God are groaning and anticipating our fully realized adoption, namely, the redemption of our bodies. What we await is not a disembodied state of bliss. We await the glorification of our very bodies! This truth is highlighted in our text when Paul says, “not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed” (v. 4). Further clothed! Literally, it’s “clothed on/over.” Unlike some Corinthians who dabbled with Gnosticism (which saw the body as evil, the soul as good, and the liberation of the soul from the body as the goal of life), we desire not to remain naked (bodiless). It is not our will to be unclothed. Being clothed over is much preferred to nakedness. True eternal bliss is NOT a bodiless experience. Even in that state of existence between our death and the return of Christ, we are incomplete. Sinless, but incomplete. We will only be made complete when the resurrected Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection, comes back to reap his harvest. Our lowly bodies will be transformed into glorious bodies like Christ’s (Phil. 3:21). As soon as we are further clothed, the mortal is swallowed up by life. Paul deliberately uses language to return the Corinthians to his words in an earlier letter: “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Cor. 15:53-54).

When Jesus spoke of his resurrection, he referred to his own body as the temple. In John 2:19, he said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” At the end of his earthly life, many who wanted him dead threw Jesus’ words back at him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands’” (Mark 14:58). Noteworthily, the key words in Mark 14:58 (“destroy,” “build,” and “not made with hands”) are all used by Paul here in 5:1. The connection is clear. Christ promised our resurrection, a new home, one made without hands but that will be realized at the Resurrection’s return. The one who does not live in temples made by hands (Acts 17:24) has made a building without hands, eternal in the heavens, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever and ever, amen. Therefore, this groaning is more than an anxious spirit desirous of a body; it’s that eschatological cry from the deepest recesses of our the bodies and souls in confident expectation of the ushering in of a new eternal age begun at the second coming of Christ, who is life (v. 4; John 14:6).

If there’s to be a present comfort of a future reality, a good courage always, a right-now fortification of the soul, we need assurance of this comfort. How do we know it? The answer in these verses is twofold. First, God is the builder (v. 1). What God builds let no man rend asunder. When God constructs a building made without hands to inhabit an eternal home, no one will be able to tear it down. God has prepared his people for this very thing (v. 5). And God be damned if he should fail (Gen. 15:17). Praise be to God that all his promises are amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Second, the Spirit is the evidence/guarantee. Paul has already used the Spirit as the guarantee of our being established in Christ (1:21-22). Now Paul uses the Spirit as the guarantee of our heavenly home. Can’t get any better guarantee than a person of the Trinity, if you ask God! If the Spirit is the best guarantee and proof, why not use him over and over to encourage weak-souled Christians? If God is for us, what or who can thwart his will and plan for us? Nothing and no one!

I was able to witness this assurance a little while ago when our church family had to temporarily say goodbye to one of the dearest and sweetest saints you’d ever meet this side of glory: Helen. Even up to her final moments of life on earth, she was encouraging. She was concerned about her family, about her church, and about her beloved husband of almost 46 years. Although she battled problems that beat up her body her whole life, she was of good courage. Although her body was wasting away, her inner man was being renewed day by day, as she walked with the Lord, her Treasure. There was not a twinkle of doubt or soulish discomfort when she was passing from one degree of glory to another. Why not? Because her God had prepared her for this very thing. Because her God gave her his Spirit as the guarantee that he has made her a heavenly, eternal dwelling. What a sweet and firm comfort!

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Eternal Weight of Glory

My belly lightly chortled when I recently saw the following bumper sticker: “But did you die?” Many thoughts flooded my mind when I read that, the first of which being that of a child overreacting to a minor conflict (“He stood where I was standing!”), and the parent helping the child to see that such a reaction was wholly unnecessary (“Son, is throwing yourself on the floor the proper reaction?”). I suppose that the sticker’s intent is to humorously bring the sufferer back to reality: you’re still alive, so can your problem really be all that bad? This mindset is analogous to what Paul does in vv. 16-18, though the analogy is imperfect, and the difference will be worthy of a biblical analysis.

What the bumper sticker gets right is the downplaying of our suffering. Yes, you read that correctly. In these few verses, Paul downplays our suffering. He minimizes it. But he doesn’t minimize it by denying it. He calls it what it is: affliction (v. 17). Our “outer man” is wasting away (v. 16). Back in v. 12, he speaks about death being at work in him. You’ll recall that Paul begins this letter even by telling the Corinthians that he was so beset by affliction that he thought he had been judged to death (1:8-9). That doesn’t sound good at all. Our physical bodies, however new, strong, healthy, and well-exercised, are wasting away. As soon as a baby is conceived in his mother’s womb, the clock of life starts ticking. As the glory on Moses’ face began to fade when he departed the Lord’s presence, so too our life on earth begins to pass away as quickly as it starts. Tic-toc, tic-toc. That’s a life of affliction, and we’d be wrong to deny the real pain we experience as humans and as followers of Christ.

Then where’s Paul’s downplaying of affliction? In his adjectives “light” and “momentary” (v. 17). Before you object and say, “Paul, you don’t know my suffering and ALL that I have endured up to this point!” be reminded that this Paul is not writing from an ivory tower. He’s been schooled in the life of hard knocks, you might say. Here’s a man who recounts the significant sufferings he’s undergone in chapter 11: many imprisonments, so many near-death beatings he can’t count them all, flogged five times by his ethnic people, stoned, shipwrecked thrice, adrift at sea a whole day, in danger from robbers, Jews, Gentiles, rivers, wilderness, seas, cities, and false brothers. Does that sound like a man who stoically denies affliction, or like one who doesn’t intimately know suffering?

Still, here’s a man who has suffered beyond our measure that can say, “All this suffering is light and momentary.” Wow. Is that how you describe all the pain in your life? Labor and delivery: light and momentary? Shot on the battlefield: light and momentary? Verbally hated for standing against child-murder in front of a Planned Parenthood: light and momentary? Getting punched in the face for preaching the gospel on a university campus: light and momentary? Not your experience (because you’re alive), but being burned at the stake for your commitment to justification by grace alone through faith alone: light and momentary? Yet Paul says that the affliction is light. It is easy to bear. The word Paul uses for “light” (ἐλαφρός/elaphros) is used only one other time in the NT. You guessed it: when Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). The pain, like the yoke of Christ, can be handled by the Spirit-given grace of God. This affliction is also momentary. The idea behind this word (παραυτίκα/parautika) is that it describes an on-the-spot, in-the-moment pain. Kind of like a stubbed toe, actually. The pain is immediate but not everlasting. It hurts for the moment, and you can endure the pain. The pain doesn’t last long, and when that pain is viewed in the light of your other suffering, you’d probably wish for more stubbed toes if that meant a reduction of other, more serious pain in your life.

Likewise, when viewed from eternity, which is what Paul has in mind in these verses and at the start of chapter 5, this present, earthly life (along with all its affliction) is quite literally “momentary.” It’s not going to last long comparatively. And when viewed in the light of the weight of glory, you can endure the present pain. Let’s use an analogy that Paul gives in another context. Remember that in chapter 3, Paul downplays the Old Covenant and its mediator, Moses. That was a bold minimalization, right, especially coming from the best Jew (aside from Jesus, of course) of the first century? And that downplaying of the Old Covenant and Moses was based on the Christological termination of both (however glorious they were) in the light of the realities and the explicitly Christ-full ministry of the New Covenant. Using that as an analogy, we can say that our affliction has been downplayed and eclipsed by the dazzling refulgence of our awaiting glory-weight. What awaits us quite literally pales in comparison to our present pain, because the glory we’re being prepared for is beyond all comparison (v. 17). We’d be hard-pressed to compare how good it will be to how good and bad we have it now. O Lord, come!

Revisiting the bumper sticker, it appears that since every affliction short of death still means life for the afflicted, one needn’t worry too much. That’s the downplaying of our pain. But here’s where the bumper sticker breaks down. The underlying worldview of the sticker is that death is the final brush stroke on the canvas of a person’s life, the last sentence in the final chapter of her life: “And she died.” But, of course, from this viewpoint, death is the worst a person can get. It means that the only thing to fear is death itself. However, to that mindset the Christian, following Paul here, ought to object.  What if that sufferer does die? That’s likely, isn’t it? What could the author of the bumper sticker say in reply? Nothing of consequence or of hope, to be sure, as the dead sufferer, were he paradoxically alive, would rightly object, “But I DID die! What now, O Bumper Sticker, can you say about my suffering?” (All this talk about a bumper sticker may seem unwarranted or strange. However, even bumper stickers promote worldviews worthy of analysis.) And what Paul is saying is that death is not the end of it all. It is not to be feared. In fact, as we get closer to death, as our bodies waste away, as our outer man is buffeted by the pains of the world, this very process is used by God to prepare us for glory, for eternity (vv. 17-18).

Two paragraphs ago I mentioned the glory that awaits us, but I didn’t specify the nature of that glory. What is this eternal weight of glory? Put simply but profoundly, it is our consummate glorification when we are given new, resurrected bodies at the visible return of Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection. Connect the logical dots from chapters 3 to 5. In 4:4 Paul says that Christ is the Image of God immediately after mentioning the glory of Christ: notice the link between glory, image, and Christ. Back in 3:18, Paul tells us that we are reflecting that glory-image as we are being transformed into it from one degree of glory to another. Then in chapter 5, Paul, still carrying on his thought from the end of chapter 4, encourages our hearts with the knowledge of the eternal building, a heavenly dwelling, with which God will clothe us (5:1-5). That God clothes us assumes a naked body in need of clothing (5:3). What else could this clothing be but our very body-soul glorification? What is this glorification? It is the consummate creaturely glory-reflection in both body and spirit of the resurrected Image of the glory of God, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2). And that is our eternal weight of glory.

All this is why Paul can say, “So we do not lose heart” (v. 16) when he considers his affliction. This is why our inner man is being renewed daily while the outer is failing. This is how we can compare an entire lifespan of pain to the fleeting discomfort of a stubbed toe. This is how we can say that our heaviest, most burdensome, worst sufferings collected amount to a lightness of affliction in the face of the weightiest weight of an eternal glory. Our God with his glory-promise is beyond all comparison.

 

 

Special Edition: Pastor Mock’s First Year’s Reflection

A Year to Remember

Michael Mock: June 10, 2019

The Mocks had a life-altering experience. One year ago today, I was ordained and installed as a pastor. Before June 2018, I had been a full-time teacher. I taught for 14 years. I taught mainly high school, but also taught junior high. I taught Spanish, Latin, religion, apologetics, and various Bible classes. And as the years unfolded, I loved that life more and more. I enjoyed my employers, my colleagues, and my students. For years, however, I had the internal call to full-time pastoral ministry, and Cross Creek Presbyterian Church (PCA) agreed with that call and offered me the position of Associate Pastor. It was sad to leave the full-time teaching profession. As sad as it was, however, I knew the Lord was taking us elsewhere, to a different kind of sweetness.

It wasn’t just a full-time teaching job that I had left. I left behind my whole immediate family: Mom, Dad, two sisters and a brother, and nieces and nephews. We left my wife’s parents as well. We left many other relatives: aunts and uncles, Grandma, cousins…and very dear friends. Leaving our church family was rough as well. It hurt (and still does) not being able to hang out with these loved ones, talk, play with the kids, go golfing with my brother, invite my mom over for late-night conversation, and all the rest that comes with living life with those dear to your heart. As supportive as they’ve all been, it is still sad that hugs are harder to come by now. But as sad as it was to leave, I knew (and they knew) that the Lord was taking us elsewhere, to a different kind of sweetness.

And that’s where the sweetness comes in. The Lord brought us to a church family that is intimately familiar with the grief and challenges of absence. We live in a military town. They know transience. They know absence from family. Their children go 6 months or a year without hugging their dad or mom. They found comfort from God and their church family, and it’s that comfort and warmth of spirit that they showed us immediately upon our arrival. I won’t recount all the people and blessings with which they’ve blessed the Mock family. That would require a book-length post. However, I’d like to highlight some things, as I reflect on my first year of pastoral ministry.

Perhaps surprisingly, I want to begin with nature. Arizona is different from North Carolina. Not really an earth-shattering idea, I know, especially since they’re at opposite sides of the country. But that difference has really hit me, and in good way. Maybe I took for granted the flora and fauna of Phoenix, but I’ve been amazed at all the plant and animal life here. Just this morning I was greeted by a cardinal, two squirrels, and a tree frog (that fell from my door and almost landed on my head). We’ve seen an opossum (alive!) in our backyard, squirrels for days, countless bunnies (even had one as a pet for a day before it found its life in the paws of another creature), frogs and toads, neighborhood chickens, the friendly neighborhood feline, Marsha, and even fireflies! And, yes, we’ve also experienced the fallenness of creation in the forms of mosquitoes, strange-looking bugs, and others. And yes, there were some hurricanes along the way, too. The Dogwood trees amaze me, along with all the other colorful foliage. I’ve gained a deeper love for the God of creation as I have beheld his manifold creativity and beauty.

I’ve also seen the care and self-sacrifice of Christ in the other pastor, Joshua Owen, and his family. This was immediate upon our arrival. Literally. Josh and his daughter met us when we finally arrived late to Fayetteville: 11pm. They welcomed us to our new home. They had turned on the lights and gotten the home ready for a tired Mock 7. Our families instantly meshed well, and not in any perfunctory well-he’s-the-other-pastor-so-we-HAVE-to-get-along-with-them way either. I’m speaking of genuine friendship, care, and mutual edification. And that’s been true the whole year. The Mock kids love the Owen kids! We’ve been blessed to hear Josh teach and preach, administer the sacraments, and care for the church. I’ve been blessed by his patiently walking with me through my first year of ministry. I still have some water behind my ears. (And I mean that in the Baptistic sense of the word.) I’m so thankful that the Lord has allowed the Mocks to enjoy the Owens this side of heaven. Would that every family have such a pleasure!

In a similar vein, it’s been a real encouragement working with the Session and Diaconate. Cross Creek’s Elders and Deacons love the church, love sound, biblical teaching, and desire to see Christ’s church grow into the mature stature of Christ. The Deacons have been patient with me as I’ve had to transition from a teacher to a minister (tax laws are different for ministers, and they still baffle me). They’ve sought ways to handle some of my more mundane requests as well. The Elders have been kind, supportive, and patient with me, even as I had to moderate a Session meeting during the illness of Josh. And they’ve loved me by helping solve a problem I’ve had with the Lord’s Supper. (More on that in the next paragraph.) They’ve encouraged me, sought my counsel, and are truly wise, godly, and hard-working men who know themselves to be undershepherds of the Good Shepherd. Would that every church got to know the leadership of Cross Creek!

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the love that I have for the church members of Cross Creek. There are too many names to mention, so for sake of space, I won’t mention anyone by name. But we’ve been blessed beyond measure by the love of Cross Creekers, as I call them. They’ve been warm and supportive of me and my family from the very start. We’ve been welcomed into their homes, blessed by meals, groceries and a functioning vacuum, godly conversation, and authentic friendship. They knew of my military ignorance when they called me to be the Associate Pastor. But they’ve lovingly explained (and re-explained!) important terms, jobs, and the culture of the military that is foreign to me (still foreign now, but a little less so, thanks to them). They’ve been patient with my musical ignorance as well. One Sunday I had picked some difficult songs and did not lead them well, but they joyfully sang to their Lord anyways! They’ve been patient with me as I occasionally choke on the bread for the Lord’s Supper. In fact, the first time I administered the Lord’s Supper, a piece of bread was lodged in my throat, and that bread interrupted my speaking more than once that first time…and a couple times since! Before becoming a pastor, I read a lot of books to help prepare me for the ministry. There is a lot of practical wisdom in those books. But I NEVER would have guessed (nor was I ever warned) that I’d have to struggle to eat the bread without choking! O the simple ways the Lord humbles his servants. (And thanks to the Elders, we’ve gone to a different bread now in part because of their care for me.) The church has supported my teaching and preaching, weekly blog, and has loved my family well. Whenever there’s a new pastor in any church, there’s talk of a honeymoon phase. I’d be a liar if I said we didn’t experience that phase this last year. It’s my prayer that in my ministry, I’ll never look back nostalgically missing the “good ol’ days” at Cross Creek, but that I’ll always see the love, compassion, sacrifice, and care of Christ in his sheep. Would that every church know the Cross Creekers!

Speaking more about the church, I give thanks to God for the Christlike courage of these members. I’ve seen this courage in many ways. They’ve been courageous to seek the Scriptures as God’s authoritative and benevolent direction for their lives. They’re like the Bereans who search the Scriptures to see if things the pastors say are so. They’ve shown courage as they fight to live for Christ. In just 2019, I’ve counseled formally over 50 times, not to mention the informal counsel during all the lunches, coffees, sit-downs, phone calls, emails, and “foyer fellowship.” I’ve been encouraged to see how Cross Creekers care about fighting sin for the glory of God and the purity of the church. In our Covenant Group (like a small group), I’ve seen men and women open up, share their sin and suffering, and urgently cry out for help from God and his people. I’ve also seen their courage in the revival of a pro-life ministry. Some in the church every month faithfully face the opposition that comes with being a voice for the voiceless. Would that we all have similar Christlike courage!

In this last year, we’ve experienced the gamut of emotions. We’ve rejoiced in the many blessings of birth and adoption. We’ve delighted in God’s grace and faithfulness in the covenant sign of baptism. We’ve celebrated with graduates. We’ve congratulated men and women for their military promotions and at change of command ceremonies. We’ve laughed a lot. And we’ve cried. We’ve lamented the remaining sin in our lives and the effect it has on us and others. We’ve had to say goodbye to many military families and singles who were with us for a short but significant time, and now off to other areas. We’ve cried over the many sufferings a church goes through. We’ve even had to say goodbye to one of the dearest members this church has ever known. We said goodbye, grieving with hope, knowing that she’s with the Lord in unceasing worship and joy. We have rejoiced with those who rejoice; and we’ve mourned with those who mourn.

You might get the impression that I think Cross Creek to be the perfect church, especially as I’ve ended most of the preceding paragraphs with “Would that…!” I’m not delusional or starry-eyed. I know the challenges, sins, sufferings, and heartaches that come with pastoral ministry. And Cross Creek is no exception in that regard. We are not a perfect church. There’s sin. There’s suffering. And that’s sad. But the sadness is outweighed beyond measure by the sweetness of our Lord Jesus Christ in and through Cross Creek. Would that every church be a Cross Creek!

P.S. I’d be remiss to the 3000th degree if I did not mention the loving support from my wife, Elizabeth. She has been nothing but supportive. It would take 365 days to mention how much of a blessing she’s been over the last 365 days, as each day was just another day of her self-sacrifice, giving of herself for me: keeping watch over the kids during my late-night Session meetings, having my divided attention as we watch a show and I do a little work on the computer, being a wonderful cook and Covenant Group hostess, inviting people to our home, helping me sort out who’s who and who has which children, encouraging me when I ask her how I taught and preached, and all the million other big and little ways she reminds me of the self-giving of Christ, our Savior. Would that everyone have an Elizabeth! (But you can’t have her; she’s mine!)

 

2 Corinthians 4:13-15

2 Corinthians 4:13-15

The Psalm 116 of the New Testament

Did you know that Psalm 116 is in the New Testament? It appears in brief form in 2 Corinthians 4:13 with the short phrase, “I believed, and so I spoke,” but all of Psalm 116 is in view in all of 2 Corinthians 4. In fact, the psalm might be in the back of Paul’s mind even as he begins his letter to the Corinthians. Thematic and terminological parallels abound between Psalm 116 and 2 Corinthians 4. Read Psalm 116, then 2 Corinthians 4, and note these parallels:

Psalm 116 2 Corinthians 4
3: Deadly affliction 4:8-12; cf. also 1:8-9
4: Call on name of God 4:7; cf. also 1:9-10
5-8: Gracious dealings from God 4:6
8: Deliverance 4:14
9: Walking in land of living 4:11-12
10: Believe and speak 4:13
11, 13: Alarmed but encouraged 4:1, 16
14: Presence of all his people 4:14
15: Precious is the death of saints 4:11 precious life and death of Christ in the saints
16: Servant 4:5
16c: Bonds loosed 4:4 (its converse), 6
17: Thanksgiving 4:15
18: Praise the Lord 4:15c “to the glory of God” is a praise

 

Now that you’ve read those passages and examined the parallels, you can see clearly that even though Paul cites just a tad of Psalm 116, the entire psalm is in the background of chapter 4 in his letter. When we notice that Psalm 116 is full of sufferings, and that Paul lists his own experience of suffering before quoting Psalm 116:10, the connection is clear. There’s no need to marvel at why Paul would quote from Psalm 116. He shares the sufferings of his fellow saint the psalmist, and he shares his psalmic counterpart’s confidence and faith in the Lord. Let’s see how both the suffering and faith are played out in each Testament.

The psalmist centers his soul with the firm confession that he is loved by Yahweh, which love is demonstrated by his being able to bend the divine ear (vv. 1-2). Such knowledge emboldens the psalmist with crying out to the Lord when he faces various and sundry afflictions. These are weighty and moribund trials at that (v. 3). With confidence he draws nigh to the heavenly throne room and cries, “O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!” (v. 4). Even though Sheol seeks to lay claim to the psalmist’s soul, he can rest himself (and plead for that divine rest) in the grace of the Lord who deals bountifully with him (v. 7). Now because he has been the mercied object of divine deliverance, he is alive, walking in the land of the living. He was taken from death to life (v. 9). Living in the life of the One who is, the psalmist, even when he is greatly afflicted, even when he is alarmed, still believes (vv. 10-11). Trials don’t escape him, to be sure. But neither does life from his preserving and gracious God. The psalmist has rightly considered himself, his death and life (his whole existence) precious in the sight of his Lord (v. 15). He is a forever servant whose bonds have been broken by the all-powerful arms of the Lord (vv. 15-16). As a servant to Yahweh, he will always render obedience, vows, thanksgiving, and praise to the God of all glory (vv. 12-19).

You can see the same train of thought with Paul, I trust. Of course, Paul begins his letter with reference to his death sentence of an affliction, but he revisits his suffering in the fourth chapter. Paul is afflicted in every way: perplexed, persecuted, and struck down (v. 9). This affliction may alarm or perplex him, but he is encouraged by his God. He has no reason to lose heart (vv. 1, 16). It’s true that with the gospel proclamation comes its transportation in jars of clay that contain death: the death of Christ (vv. 10, 12). Even though death is at work in and through Paul, so is life and light (vv. 6, 11-12)! Like the psalmist, he’s walking in the land of the living, because wherever he goes, he’s carrying the life of Christ and the life-giving message of Christ in his very body. Paul does this from the perspective of a servant. Like the psalmist, Paul’s been set free; the veil of the Old Covenant has been lifted. The light of the gospel has shone in his heart, dispelling the darkness from within. He is now a servant to the Lord Jesus (vv. 4-6). As a servant to the Lord, Paul is aware that all that he’s received has been from the hands of his gracious God (v. 6), for which the former gives God great thanks, to the praise of his glory (v. 15).

Of course, there’s also the direct quote of Psalm 116:10 in 2 Corinthians 4:13, and then the strong allusion to Psalm 116:14, 18 in 2 Corinthians 4:14. In Psalm 116:18, the psalmist says that he will make his thanksgiving vow to God “in the presence of all his people.” He clarifies the people’s presence in v. 19 as “the courts of the house of the LORD,” that is, “Jerusalem,” the very presence of the Lord. Interestingly, back in 2 Corinthians, something a little different is going on. As Paul the servant of Christ is carrying the death and life of Christ through his dying body to his hearers, it is God himself (not Paul) who will “bring us with you into his presence” (v. 14). The God who raised Jesus from the dead is going to bring his people into the very presence of the Lord. As the psalmist ends his psalm with, “Praise the LORD!” (v. 19), it is equally appropriate for Paul to break out in doxology with his phrase, “to the glory of God” (v. 15).

And finally to the direct quote, “I believed, and so I spoke.” Recall that the psalmist says that in faith. He’s confident that the Lord has heard his cry, and that the latter will deliver him from his Sheolish suffering. Paul likewise begins vv. 13-15 with his own faith commitment: “Since we have the same spirit of faith….” Even though we are afflicted, Paul says—even though we are alarmed, and that all mankind are liars (Ps. 116:10-11); even though Satan the deceiver has blinded the eyes of many (2 Cor. 4:4)—none of that will stop us from praising the God of the resurrection and sharing the open statement of the truth! Certainly, since the Father has raised the Son, he will likewise raise us and place us into his presence forevermore. Paul can say this because of something he said in his first letter to the Corinthians. Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection: the evidence of the resurrection, and the very ground on which confident expectation of our resurrection is based (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). And so it is for Paul, and for us as well, that all our hope, our very raison d’être, is the resurrection.  

 

 

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

En-Clayed Treasure

You know you’re a 90’s kid when you read “jars of clay” in 2 Cor. 4:7 but think immediately of the Christian rock band Jars of Clay. (If you, like me, didn’t know, they’re apparently still a band pumping out music.) Although I was not a nursing infant in the 90’s, my Christian-music-immersed family was fed in part by Jars of Clay. Hence this cheesy introduction. Pardon the cheese and allow it function as the transition into what Paul speaks about in these comforting verses.

Back in the start of chapter 4, Paul mentions that he does not lose heart. Such a statement inspires the reader to ask, “Why would you lose heart, Paul? What are the temptations that would distract you or pull you away from such a glorious mercy-ministry of the New Covenant?” We saw some temptations in vv. 1-6 in an earlier post, and now more appear in vv. 8-12, which we can summarize with Paul’s word in v. 8: “afflicted.” There’s that word again. Affliction is the perfect situation or living condition that our flesh, the world, and the devil would commission into service to deceive us, veil our eyes to the gospel, and set our minds off the face of Christ and direct them to earthly things instead. Christians are often afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down (vv. 8-9). Such is the life for the Christ-follower.

Despite being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, Paul is not crushed, despairing, forsaken, or destroyed. He doesn’t lose heart (v. 1). How can that be? How can someone have such fortitude of faith? Answer: Treasure, which is Christ. In v. 7, Paul speaks of the “treasure,” which is another way for Paul to speak of the ministry of the New Covenant. Notice the parallel between “Therefore, having this ministry” (v. 7), and “But we have this treasure.” But “treasure” is also referring to the verses immediately before v. 7, wherein Paul says that he proclaims the Christ who has shone in our hearts. The treasure is in jars of clay, and the light is in Paul’s heart. Let’s connect the dots. Paul proclaims the New Covenant Ministry, the Substance and Minister of which is Christ himself, who has enlightened the hearts of believers by means of the Spirit-worked application of the gospel. The resultant “cardiac illumination” is the treasure stored in the very ensouled bodies of believers.

Christ is that treasure. Lest we focus on the jars of clay themselves without first focusing on the treasure itself, let’s remember that what Paul is speaking of is a treasure! Obvious, to be sure, but the attention that this popular passage normally receives is on the jars, not the treasure. The treasure is the knowledge of the Glory of God, Christ. Treasures are those which pirates seek and expend all their energies to acquire. Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price (Matt. 13:46). He is our Great Reward (Matt. 5:12; Col. 3:24; Heb. 10:35; 2 John 8). As one song puts it, Jesus is our “All in All.” Christ is the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), because Christ is Wisdom from above, and he is Knowledge of the Glory of God.

This treasure is in our bodies, our jars of clay (skueos: frangible, earthen vessels/jars). The life of Jesus is in our bodies. We can say this because (1) jars of clay are our bodies, and (2) the death and life of Jesus are carried in and manifested through our bodies (v. 10). Therefore, the risen, ascended, and seated Christ is in us. When the Father shined the light of Christ in our hearts, he implanted the Glory of God, Jesus as true Image of God, into our very lives, and now we carry that Image in us. As Meredith Kline says, “formal-physical glory-likeness is man’s bodily reflection of the theophanic and incarnate Glory” (Images of the Spirit, 31). Clear as mud, right? Kline is seeking to recover the original image-likeness man was of God. And one aspect of that image-likeness was his physical form, his body. With the Fall, man no longer reflected the theophanic Glory, that is, the Glory-appearance of God. With regeneration, adoption, sanctification, and glorification, the new creature in Christ increasingly reflects in his own bodily person the Original Image and Glory of God, the Son of God. That’s really a fundamental part of our own glorification: conformity to the Son of God, the Glory. And it’s that Glory-Treasure that we carry within us by the Glory-Spirit.

This text is about Christ the Treasure, but it’s also about Christ in our afflictions. Recall that these verses are intended to bring comfort to the afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. In that light, a brief word on the word “surpassing” (hyperbolē) in v. 7 is in order. We saw it back in 1:8, and only Paul uses it in the NT, with its use predominating our letter. Back in 1:8, Paul connects his affliction with a burden beyond his strength. Here in 4:7, there’s affliction (which is perplexing, persecuting, and striking), but it’s God’s power that is beyond or surpassing Paul’s despair. Then in 4:17, Paul again contrasts affliction with the weight of glory that surpasses the light, momentary affliction. It is “beyond all comparison.” Last, in 12:7, Paul speaks of the “surpassing greatness of revelations” he received from God coupled with affliction, and this time in the form of the thorn in the flesh. Whenever we see this word “surpassing, abundance, beyond,” (hyperbolē) in 2 Corinthians, feet-crushing affliction is set in contrast and nipping at its heels (Gen. 3:15).

Why does this surpassing v. affliction conflict matter? Getting there; bear with me. Look at another connector piece in Acts 9, the account of the conversion of Saul, the apostle Paul to the Corinthians. In Acts 9:10-16, the Lord and Ananias have a conversation. The Lord tells Ananias to go and lay hands on Saul, that he might regain his sight (v. 12). Ananias, confused because Saul is not a sympathizer but a persecutor of the early church, questions God. The Lord assures Ananias that Paul has been changed, and that Paul will suffer as a chosen instrument to Israel and the Nations. The word for “instrument” is the same as “jar” in 2 Cor. 4:7 (skeuos) by the way. In this brief illustrative episode, we have both light and affliction. Ananias was used by God to regain Saul’s eyesight, which is reflective of the light that has already shone in the darkness of Paul’s heart: Acts 9:17-18 with 2 Cor. 4:6. But then there’s affliction for the sake of the gospel: Acts 9:16 with 2 Cor. 4:7-8. Light and affliction. Paul knows what he’s talking about. His very life illustrated the truth that with the light of the gospel comes affliction for the gospel.

The interplay of light and affliction is pronounced and fulfilled in the irony of Paul’s words in vv. 10-12. Paul is essentially saying, “Our suffering, our life of death, is for you, Corinthians.” His suffering existence was for the benefit of the Corinthians, for their life. Wherever he went, he carried in his own body the life and death of Christ, just like when he says that he carries the aroma of Christ as he speaks with people about the Aroma of God, the sweet sacrifice which is Christ. If Paul is an example of one who brings light while afflicted, of one who carries the death and life of Jesus in his body, there must be the Exemplar of which he is an example. Of course, this Exemplar is the original Light-bearer, the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53). Jesus, the true Light, enlightened men, yet he was afflicted. It was Christ whose heel was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5, 10). It was Christ who was perplexed (Ps. 22:2; Isa. 53:11). It was Christ whose soul was cast down (Ps. 42:5-7, 11; Isa. 53:4). It was Christ who was persecuted (John 15:20). It was Christ who was forsaken (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46). It was Christ who was struck down (Isa. 53:5). It was Christ who was destroyed (Matt. 27:50). The seed of Satan truly did crush the heel of the seed of the woman. But with that crushing came a greater crush, the crush of Christ on the head of the serpent by the cross of Christ. With his death and resurrection, Christ is victorious. And it is that victory from Christ our Treasure that comforts us in all our affliction, so that we need not be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, and destroyed. Beloved, in affliction, we don’t lose heart (we don’t lose our hearts even), because in our hearts we have the treasured glory of God, the Image of Glory, the humiliated-then-exalted Christ himself. What a Treasure Christ truly is!

Even though Paul speaks of himself as afflicted, he’s not the focal point. Yes, our suffering is real. But our suffering is about God. God is glorified. The passage is Godward (v. 7), and at the center is Christ. You can imagine Paul, with his arms up in the air and fingers pointing to the heavens, saying, “This is all of God.” The surpassing power of the knowledge of God that is proclaimed through the ministry of the New Covenant—this abounding power isn’t Paul’s; it’s God’s. The New Covenant is God’s covenant, so the power accompanying it is God’s as well. What a comfort these verses are. Even in Paul’s application of God’s truth is God the center. It is God who is the God of all comfort. Soli Deo Gloria!

2 Corinthians 4:4-6

2 Corinthians 4:4-6

Blinding or Shining

To see or not to see? That is the question. That is the contrast that Paul is making in this section. The open statement of the truth (v. 2), the gospel, is veiled (v. 3). That’s an odd image. How can an open statement be veiled? That’s like unzipping a backpack for all to see, but covering it with a blanket draped over the opening. It’s open yet veiled. It’s public yet obscured. How? The answer lies in v. 4, and with it comes bad news.

Bringing us back to the imagery of the triumphal procession and of Christians being an aroma of death to those perishing (2:14-17), Paul communicates something of the same idea here. To those who are perishing, the open statement of the truth is veiled. The Jewish people who traded Jesus in for a false Moses (for a Moses who didn’t speak of Christ)—these people fall in this category of covenant breakers. The gospel is shrouded by darkness. But by whom is the gospel veiled? Verse 4 tells us: “the god of this world” (though “age” is my preferred translation). Who is this “god”? The Triune God or Satan? Both actually, but not in the same way. Hear me out. I’m NOT saying that the God of the Bible is Satan. Certainly not! And, granted, v. 4 is directly referring to Satan. He’s not the real God, the only God that is. Satan is doing the blinding. He’s covering up the truth. He’s deceiving people, and they do not believe in Christ as Lord and Savior. Satan is the father of lies and there is no truth in him (John 8:44). However, saying that Satan is the god of this age who deceives is not getting the true God off the hook for what is happening to the wicked. There are passages in both Testaments of Scripture that clearly show us the sovereignty of God in how his revelation is received. There are places also that remind us that Satan is not independent of God’s plan of revelation and eternal decree.

We could go all the way back to the Garden, but space forbids such an exhaustive treatment. Consider King Saul’s life. After the Lord rejected Saul, God would periodically send a harmful spirit upon Saul (1 Sam. 16:14, 16, 22-23; 18:10; 19:9). Did Saul know the Lord? Yes, but not savingly. Did Saul trust in the Lord’s revelation and appropriate it to himself by faith? No. Through the harmful spirit, God was tormenting and judging Saul for his rejection of Yahweh. Because Saul has rejected Yahweh, Yahweh has judged and rejected Saul. This is similar to the account with Pharaoh, though admittedly Pharaoh was no Israelite. Nevertheless, the Lord made himself clearly known to Pharaoh and all the Egyptians. The Lord himself prophesies, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Ex. 7:5). There is no question about whether or not Pharaoh and the Egyptians received the revelation from God about who he is and what he has done. Having said that, however, we also acknowledge that the Lord himself hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 7:3; Rom. 9:17-18). Moreover, when God judged King Ahab, he revealed his secret counsel through the true prophet Micaiah against all the false prophets in that day. The Lord sent a lying spirit to Ahab, so that Ahab would be judged and killed for his wickedness and unbelief (1 Kings 22:13-40). But didn’t Ahab know the truth? Absolutely. The prophet Micaiah revealed to him the divine council wherein God determined the disaster of Ahab (1 Kings 22:19-22). We have, therefore, a king who knew but was deceived.

The situation, furthermore, is no different in the NT. Look at 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. In that text Paul speaks of the coming of the man of lawlessness (a fulfillment in the first century on the unbelieving Jews). He will come by the activity of Satan. With this Satanic activity comes deception. No surprise there, of course. Notice also the similar language between 2 Thessalonians 2:10 and our text, 2 Corinthians 4:3: “to those who are perishing.” People are being deceived. They’re denying the truth of the gospel. They’re perishing. In 2 Thessalonians 2:11, however, it is God, not Satan, who sends the strong delusion, with the result that these wicked and unbelievers continue to believe what is false and are thereby condemned. They’re condemned because they did not believe the truth (v. 12), and because they “refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10). Make no mistake. These unbelievers are morally responsible for their rejection of the truth, of the open statement of the truth. They are “unbelievers” (2 Cor. 4:4). They “refuse to love the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10). That’s intellectual, volitional, and moral. The punishment due their rejection is on them. Because of their unbelief, God judges them by sending a strong delusion, by veiling the public proclamation of the gospel, by not opening the eyes of those steadfast in their hatred for the truth and the God of the truth.

Pulling these texts together, we’re saying that yes, it is Satan who deceives. But it is God who uses Satan and his agents of deception to blind the minds of unbelievers. Satan is an instrument in the hands of the Judge. This is crucial to understand, if we’re going to recognize God as sovereign even over his rational and volitional creatures. Satan is NOT doing his own thing outside God’s eternal decree. May it never be! Satan harmed Job, but not without God’s decree. Likewise, Satan blinds the minds of many, of those who love the god of this age; and Satan does so not apart from God’s eternal decree, not as a rogue. God is on his throne, always and forever. He hardens whom he wills; he mercies whom he wills (Rom. 9:18). Satan, by virtue of being a creature, is only the secondary cause of this blinding activity. That then leaves God as the primary cause. However hard a pill that is to swallow, it is the biblical witness. And to deny it is to deny God as the author and determiner of his revelation, his creatures, and how they receive his revelation. So much for the bad news.

The good news is that this same God as Revelator course-corrects moribund creatures from death to life. Paul in v. 6 takes us to the very beginning, day one of creation. By divine fiat, God speaks light into existence ex nihilo: “Let there be light, and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). What a powerful and mighty act of God! Who but the God of Light alone could make light? And it’s this God of Light who uses his light of revelation, his saving and redemptive truth about himself, to bring us from darkness to light (cf. also Peter’s similar language in 2 Pet. 1:19). The God who created earthly light has created new hearts full of the light of himself. We who have received this new light, this new creation, are now called new creations ourselves (2 Cor. 5:17). Our hearts are now full of the knowledge of Christ himself, who is the glory of God (4:6). The light we now behold, we do so by faith with spiritual eyes mediated by the Spirit gazing at the face of Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World. Christ’s promise for all who have eyes to see (for it’s in God’s light that we see light: Psalm 36:9) is that they will have the light of life: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12). Such very good news indeed!

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

The Right Ways to Let the Light Shine

“I don’t care how you do it; just get it done!” You’ve heard something like that, no doubt. What matters for that person is not so much the means as the end. It’s pure pragmatism. As long as the desired result is achieved, does it really matter how we get there? For Paul, the answer is that it absolutely matters how we get there. But where is “there” for Paul in this context? It’s the faithful ministry of God’s Word (vv. 1, 5).

So why does Paul say in 4:1 and later in v. 16 that he does not lose heart? Why would he lose heart? Wouldn’t doing good be its own motivator? Isn’t righteousness its own deterrent from lawlessness? Of course, but sin still lurks. Temptations to put forward another (false) ministry, or to put forward the right ministry but in the wrong way(s), are always present, because the deceiver is active in the world (v. 4) and sin is still present in the heart of man. Clearly, some false apostles/super-apostles caved from pressure and selfish motives, but not Paul (2 Cor. 11:12-15). What was the difference? God’s mercy, plain and simple. That’s why Paul didn’t lose heart. This verb “lose heart” (ἐγκακέω) is typical of Paul’s vocabulary. It’s used 6 times in the NT (5 of which are from Paul). In all these uses, the people of God are exhorted to keep on keeping on, to persevere in holiness, in prayer, in well-doing, even in the face of sufferings, which themselves are temptations to wander away from God and his directions for godly living (Luke 18:1; 2 Cor. 4:1, 16; Gal. 6:9; Eph. 3:13; and 2 Thess. 3:13). God has mercifully kept Paul in his grip. Paul as minister of the New Covenant, literally, has been mercied by God (Greek has a verb “to mercy”). If you know the story of Paul, you definitely know that he has been the object of much mercy from God. Paul himself would call himself a blasphemer, persecutor, insolent opponent to God, and the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:12-17). But the light of God has shone in his heart (v. 6) when that very light of Christ blinded him and knocked him to the ground (Acts 9:3-5).

Paul is moved by the mercy and light of God (vv. 1, 6). That divine mercy-movement for Paul translates into avoiding some ways of ministering on the one hand, and following others on the other, as he proclaims the mercy ministry of the New Covenant. Let’s look at these ways in brief. By the mercy of God, Paul is emboldened to renounce “disgraceful, underhanded ways” (v. 2). Literally, he’s saying that he has forbidden from use “hidden things of shame” (that is, shameful and secret things). Those are general descriptors on which he expounds as he continues. He contrasts the secret ways of the deceivers with his openness. He says that he is not walking in (though the ESV says “practice”) “cunning.” Always in the NT the word for cunning (πανουργία) is used of the wicked and their crafty work of deception against believers and God (Luke 20:23; 1 Cor. 3:19; 2 Cor. 4:2; 11:3; Eph. 4:14). This language ought to remind the reader of the crafty serpent, the devil, back in Genesis 3. Of course, that is who Paul has in mind, for as he continues, he calls this deceiver the “god of this world” (v. 4). Coupled with the cunning of the deceivers is tampering with the word of God, which Paul refuses to do. By tampering with God’s Word, the unbelievers adulterate and falsify it. They seek to make it appear to teach that which is contrary to God’s plain teaching. Again, this is the work of the god of this world. You can hear the serpent saying, “Did God really say…?” How have you seen these shameful, secretive methods of deception in your own life? I think immediately of the cults, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter-day Saints in particular. They’re so sneaky with their cunning. They’ve adulterated the Word of God and supplanted it for other “uncorrupt revelation.” I think also of the Prosperity Gospel, which is a false gospel. Proclaimers of this gospel craftily tamper with Scripture to make it say what God never said: that God’s desire for us all is to be physically healthy and wealthy, provided that we have enough faith and sow a monetary seed. This, folks, is shameful and underhanded indeed. This is the kind of craft, I mean crap, that Paul refuses to engage in as he shares the light of Christ.

Rather than keeping the true message a secret, Paul puts before all people the “open statement of the gospel,” or literally, “the manifestation of the truth” (v. 2). Paul loves the truth. It was the Truth that set him free. This freeing message, therefore, must be out in the open. Everyone needs to hear it! Beloved, you should be suspicious of those who hide God’s Word from you, who don’t want Scripture to speak into their lives, or who say that you’re not ready for the deeper things of God. Did you know that the LDS missionaries are actually taught to withhold their “deeper doctrines” from potential converts? Even white lies are permitted, if the listener can be persuaded to make a commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is duplicitous and a sign of Satanhood, not sainthood. Be drawn, instead, to those who invite an open examination of the Scripture. Listen to those who say, “Let’s see what God has said in the Bible.” That’s a good sign! That’s what the Bereans were known for, and they were called noble for doing so (Acts 17:10-11). The openness of the gospel light is what people need for their salvation. We mustn’t hide that light under a bushel—no! It’s the truth that changes. It’s the truth that people need. So, it’s the truth that we must give them.

Finally, we see Paul’s humble and submissive approach. Not only does Paul openly proclaim the light of Christ, but he does so as a servant in the clear sight of God. He does so by proclaiming not himself as Lord but Jesus Christ as Lord (vv. 2, 5). Contrary to the hubris of the super-apostles, who would lord it over the sheep of Christ, Paul commends himself as a servant even to the Corinthians (v 5). Christ must increase, Paul must decrease. Everything he does, he does in the presence of his God and for the good of the Corinthians. The light he shares isn’t his own to proclaim. It’s a deposit from God the gracious Revelator for the mercied objects of his special revelation. There’s no other proper way to receive God’s light than a humble and public proclamation of the same.

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