Grace Theological Journal 2.2 (Fall 1981) 171-89
Copyright © 1981 by Grace Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.
THE GLORY OF CHRISTIAN
AN ANAYSIS OF 2 CORINTHIANS
HOMER A. KENT, JR.
Some activities have a special appeal about them. People are drawn to
certain pursuits because of the excitement generated by the activ-
ity itself. Others are attracted by the financial rewards, by the
adulation of an audience, or by the popular esteem in which some
activities are held. The sense of satisfaction and fulfillment afforded
by such occupations as medicine, education, and social work can lead
to an entire career.
The Christian ministry was once one of those highly respected
vocations. Shifting attitudes in recent years, however, have caused
changes in society's values. Our "scientific" age tends to place on the
pedestal of public esteem the research scientist, the surgeon, and the
sports hero. Yet the reasons why the Christian minister once headed
the list of respected leaders in American life are still valid and worthy
of serious reflection.
The apostle Paul wrote in this passage about the activity that
had captivated him. He was not attracted by any financial rewards,
for it offered none to him. He gained from it no earthly pomp, no
public prestige (except the respect of the Christians he had helped,
and even this was mixed). He experienced abandonment and hatred
that would demoralize most men. Nevertheless he was so enthralled
with the privilege of Christian ministry that he made it his career and
never found anything that could entice him away from this glorious
passion of his life.
Although "the Christian ministry" is an expression often used to
a certain career, "Christian ministry" should be an activity
in which every believer is engaged. Even if it is not one's vocational
*This article will appear as chapters 3 and 4 in a forthcoming book to be
co-published by Baker Book House and BMH Books, under the title A Heart
Opened Wide--Studies in II Corinthians. It is used here by permission of the
172 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
career, each Christian can share many of the same satisfactions that
Paul describes here. The glory of this ministry can be enjoyed by
every Christian when he understands what Christian ministry involves.
Paul described the character of his ministry in a fascinating discussion
which revealed why he regarded it as the most challenging of
IT WAS A SINCERE PROCLAMATION OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF
Verse 14. At this point in the letter, Paul interrupted the descrip-
tion of his search for Titus, not resuming it until 7:5. Nevertheless the
content of this section is pertinent to the discussion, for it reveals
Paul's attitude of confidence in God's leading, even in times of
disappointment. There is no need to suspect a combination of several
Though he had been concerned at
not finding Titus in
(-13), Paul could still express thanks to God for His unfailing
leadership. Disappointment over certain details and events did not
cause the apostle to lose sight of the larger aspect of God's program.
He was convinced that God was always leading him and his associates
in the triumphant accomplishment of his glorious will. The figure is
probably that of the Roman Triumph, in which a conquering general
victorious legions would parade in
their captives and other trophies of war. In this use of the figure Paul
seems to be equating his missionary party with the victorious forces
in the triumph, rather than with the captives who would soon be
As part of a Roman Triumph garlands of flowers along the route
and the burning of incense and spices provided a fragrant aroma as
one of the characteristics of the parade. So Paul recognized that
whether he and
Titus were at Troas, or
and whether circumstances were pleasant or grim, God was using his
messengers to disseminate the precious knowledge of himself in the
gospel of Christ.
Verse 15. In verse 14 the fragrance referred to the gospel which
was proclaimed by Paul and his associates. In verse 15 the preachers
themselves are identified with the gospel they preach. They are called
a "fragrance of Christ" (NASH) because they are the deliverers of that
1 The only other NT use of the verb qriambeu<w (lead in triumph)
may be understood in the same way (Col. 2:15). See H. A. Kent, Jr., Treasures of
Wisdom (Grand Rapids: 1978) 88-89.
Paradoxically, these messengers of the gospel were a harbinger
of diametrically opposite results to two groups of people. "Those who
are being saved" and "those who are perishing" describe the two
kinds of responses to the preaching of the gospel. At the Roman
Triumph the aroma of the incense was a token of victory and honor
for the conquering legions, but was a sign of sure execution to the
captives in the parade.
Verse 16. The previous statement is further explained by this
verse. To unbelievers the preachers who announced the gospel were
proclaiming a message of eternal doom which would eventually be
experienced in the unbeliever's destruction (e]k qana<tou ei]j qana<ton,
"out of death unto death"). To those who responded in faith, the
gospel preacher had brought a message which comes from Christ the
Source of true life and produces life eternal (e]k zwh?j ei]j zwh<n, "out
of life unto life").2
The rhetorical question, "And who is sufficient for these things?"
has been answered differently by readers. Some have suggested the
answer to be, "We apostles are sufficient," inasmuch as they did not
peddle a false message (-3:1).3 Others regard the answer to be, "No
one is, if he depends on his own resources" (3:4-6). The latter
explanation is best and could be expanded as follows: Certainly the
religious peddlers are not sufficient, for they depend upon a personal
sufficiency with selfish motivation. Only those who depend solely
upon God for His sufficiency can hope to bear this heavy respon-
Verse 17. Paul and his companions were not like "so many"
(NIV),4 who were "peddling the word of God" like common hucksters.
The Greek term occurs only here in the NT. It is derived from the
term for "retailer," and carried the suggestion of trickery, deceit, and
falsehood. The verb meant "to sell at illegitimate profit, to misrepresent,
to hawk." The picture comes to mind of the cheap huckster haggling
over prices and cheapening his goods when necessary to make a sale.
On the contrary, Paul's proclamation of the gospel was done
with complete sincerity. The term (ei]likrinei<a) always denoted
2 Another view of these two e]k . . . ei]j phrases regards them as simply
indicating continuous progression as in Rom ("from faith to faith") and
2 Cor ("from glory to glory). J. H. Bernard, "Second Corinthians,"
Greek Testament (
3 R. C. H. Lenski The Interpretation of
Epistle to the Corinthians (Columbus: Wartburg, 1946) 902.
4 Greek: oi[ polloi>. It is not always necessary to press this to its
extreme sense of "the majority."
5 ka<phloj. See Hans Windisch, "Kaphleu<w," TDNT 3 (1965) 603-5.
174 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
moral purity and was apparently derived from the words for sun
(h!lioj) and test (kri<nw). Hence the sense is "tested by the light of
the sun, spotless, pure."6 From the subjective side of Paul's own
mind, he had spoken with purity. Objectively, the source of his
commission was from God (tIC OŁou). Furthermore, he and his
companions had carried on their ministry "in the sight of God," that
is, with full consciousness that they were responsible to him and were
being watched by him. Finally, they had spoken "in Christ," being
fully aware of their 'position as members of Christ's Body and
drawing power from their vital union with Him. Such a ministry left
little room for suspicion.
ITS BEST RECOMMENDATION WAS THE LIVES OF THE CORINTHIAN
CONVERTS (3: 1-3)
Verse 1. At this point Paul felt a bit of awkwardness over the
possibility that his previous statement might have sounded self-
serving. The use of "again" could imply certain prior claims about
himself made in previous contacts with the Corinthians or perhaps
may reflect accusations made against him by the religious "peddlers"
who caused him trouble (). Lest the wrong impression be left, he
quickly added another question which should have shown how
baseless such a suspicion was. Surely Paul did not need letters of
recommendation at this point, either to them (he had led many of
them to Christ and had founded their church), or from them (as if he
depended on them for acceptance elsewhere). Letters of recommenda-
tion were a common practice when persons were otherwise unknown.
The Corinthian church had once received one regarding Apollos
and Judas (Acts -27). Paul himself had written many such
commendations (for example, Phoebe, Rom 16:1-2; Timothy, 1 Cor
on grounds that no one recommended him, then let the Corinthians
pause to remember a few things.
Verse 2. The Corinthians themselves were Paul's letter of recom-
mendation, far better than formal credentials. Furthermore, they had
formed such an important part of his ministry that it could be said
they were actually inscribed in the hearts of the missionary party.
Hence Paul and his companions had the interests of the Corinthians
close to their hearts wherever they went. This living proof of Paul's
authority and effectiveness as a minister of Christ should have been
6 F. Buschsel, "Ei]likrinh<j, ...," TDNT 2 (1964) 397-98.
perfectly obvious to all persons who would take the trouble to examine
the transformed lives of the Corinthians.
Verse 3. Actually, it had been made clear7 that they were Christ's
letter. Paul and his helpers were more like amanuenses8 whom Christ
had used to communicate his message. Christ was the one who had
wrought the change in the Corinthians' lives. Through his power they
had become his letter to the world as to what the gospel could do. As
such they were no mere document written with ink but had been
acted upon by the Holy Spirit in regeneration. Nor were they like the
inanimate tablets of stone in the old covenant of law given to Moses.
Rather, Christ had written his message on tablets of human hearts.
This concept was undoubtedly based on the OT prophecy of the new
covenant (Jer 31:33, compare Heb 8:8-12). The new covenant mediated
by Christ through the Spirit produced an inward change whereby
God's Word was actually implanted in believers, not just externally
imposed. This transforming work made the believers Paul's greatest
IT MINISTERED THE NEW COVENANT (3:4 -18)
The source of Paul’s competence (3:4-6)
Verse 4. The confidence Paul had that Christ was speaking
through him was no mere personal boasting. It had not resulted from
any self-satisfaction based on strenuous effort, skillful performance,
or unusual human competence. It was rather a conviction supplied by
Christ himself and was a confidence that would stand up before God.
Verse 5. Here Paul answers the question he raised in .
Whatever adequacy or sufficiency he and his companions possessed
was not the product of their own ability or origination. He did not
deny that a competent piece of work had been done in their midst,
but "he disclaimed all personal credit. Adequacy for the task had come
Verse 6. It was God who had made his ministers competent for
their task. Their ministry was the proclamation of the new covenant.
This covenant was God's promise to deal In grace with his people by
forgiving their sin and granting them new hearts. The covenant was
validated by the
death of Christ (Matt 26:28). Although national
7 Greek: fanerou<menoi. The term denotes making something
visible which is invisible.
8 An amanuensis was a stenographer or copyist, who did the actual
writing for an author.
176 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
has not yet experienced the fulfillment of the covenant, the spiritual
benefits of it are available to every believer through the gospel. It was
as a proclaimer of this new covenant, which offered regeneration to
men that Paul was carrying out his ministry.
The new covenant is "not of the letter but of the Spirit." We
must not suppose that the common English contrast between "letter"
and "spirit" as distinguishing "the letter of the law" from its underlying
spiritual principles is meant. Paul certainly did not mean that the
literal meaning of the OT was harmful and that only spiritual
principles or allegorical interpretations were valid. On the contrary,
he was contrasting the two covenants, as is clear from the context. By
"letter" he meant the old Mosaic covenant which was a document
externally imposed upon its adherents. "Spirit" characterizes the new
covenant which provides an internal change wrought by the Spirit of
The contrast between the two covenants is noted in their results.
"The letter kills" clearly refers to the Mosaic covenant, as v 7
indicates. It killed in the sense that it confronted man with God's
righteous standard but left him condemned to death. The law could
not of itself provide righteousness. Regeneration, however, is produced
by the Spirit and provides life for everyone who by faith comes under
the provisions of the new covenant. This is not to imply that no one
in the OT had spiritual life. What it does indicate is that life comes by
the action of the Spirit, not by human ability to keep God's standards.
OT saints were saved by faith in the transforming power and grace of
God, just as NT believers are.
The great glory of the new covenant (3:7-11)
Verse 7. As Paul continued to describe his ministry as involving
the preaching of the new covenant, he showed its superiority over the
old covenant. Doubtless the opposition he continually received from
Judaizing teachers who stressed the Mosaic law made this emphasis
especially important. The argument was based on the admitted glory
of the old covenant, called here "the ministry of death." In view is the
giving of the law on Sinai with its glorious accompanying circum-
stances. It is called the ministry of death because it "killed" (3:6) by
placing its offenders under condemnation.
In spite of its death-dealing results, the old covenant was
nevertheless a product of God and was initiated with impressive
phenomena. One of those remarkable displays was the appearance of
Moses' face. When he descended from the mountain, his face shone
with a supernatural glow so that he had to put on a veil (see Exod
34:29-35). Paul reminded his readers, however, that this glorious glow
was a fading thing, and later he expands this thought to symbolize the
temporary nature of the old covenant (
Verse 8. The question is then asked, to which the answer should
be obvious: "Will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more
glorious?" (NIV). If the former dispensation had a covenant which
ministered death, surely the new covenant, which provides regenera-
tion by the Spirit9 of God (3:3, 6), should be regarded as even more
Verse 9. The argument is reinforced by another comparison.
Once again Paul argues from the assumption that the old covenant,
here termed "the ministry of condemnation," possessed a genuine
glory. This was true even though it was a covenant that placed man
under condemnation because no one was ever able to keep it perfectly.
The new covenant was a different sort, and not only did not
leave its subjects under condemnation, but provided something
positive. Paul calls it "the ministry of righteousness" because it
supplies its recipients with God's approval instead of condemnation.
"Righteousness" is a legal term which denotes the judge's pronounce-
ment that the defendant is acceptable without any broken law to
accuse him. In the new covenant which is based upon Christ's
substitutionary death for sinners, all who believe are provided with
God s verdict of righteousness— His approval and acceptance, based
not on the merits of the sinner but on the perfect righteousness of
Christ. Surely a ministry that involves such a covenant must abound
Verse 10. Paul now reaches the climax of his argument by
pointing to the temporary character of the old covenant and the
evident superiority of that new covenant which was planned to take
its place. The Greek text at this point does not translate easily into
clear English. Both NASB and NIV have paraphrased somewhat, but
the sense is made clear. "That which has been glorified" (literal) refers
to the old covenant mediated by Moses which had certain attendant
glories already mentioned. "Has not been glorified in this respect"
indicates some limitations upon the glory which it did have. "The
glory which surpasses it" refers to the greater glory of the new
covenant which the apostles were ministering. Paul's point is that the
glory of the old has been eclipsed by the greater glory of the new. Just
as the moon becomes invisible in the overpowering sunlight of the
day, so the glory of the old covenant and its ministry has faded away.
9 tou? pneu<matoj (of the Spirit) is regarded here as an objective
genitive, parallel with the other objective genitives tou? qana<tou (of death)
in 3:7, and th?j katakri<sewj (of condemnation) and th?j dikaiosu<nhj
(of righteousness) in 3:9.
178 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Verse 11. After acknowledging that the law existed with a
genuine glory for a time, while at the same time noting that it was a
transitory, fading instrument just as the glow on Moses' face (3:7),
Paul drew the significant conclusion: How much more should we
understand that the new covenant which replaced the former one
remains in glory. It should be obvious that anything which God has
given to supersede a glorious covenant must be even more glorious.
The openness of the new covenant (3:12-18)
Verse 12. The previous reference to the fading glory of the old
covenant and the experience of Moses led Paul to emphasize another
important feature of the new covenant-its openness in contrast to the old.
"Having such a hope" is Paul's statement of assurance that the
provisions of the new covenant will all be realized. Therefore, he and
his assistants had no hesitancy in proclaiming its truth with great
boldness. They were not fearful of the Judaizers, even though it was
surely a startling message in Jewish circles to proclaim that the
Mosaic law as a system for God's people had been replaced by
Verse 13. Paul used the incident at Sinai where Moses placed a
veil over his face (Exod 34:33-35) to illustrate his point. The KJV
translation of Exod 34:33 implies that Moses wore the veil while he
"till" has been corrected to
"when" in ASV,
of the passage is that
radiant face of Moses when he was conveying God's word to them,
but that he covered his face when he was finished. Paul correctly
understood the reason to be that Moses did not wish the Israelites to
be watching his face each time the glory faded away.10
Verse 14. This dramatic procedure of Moses, however, was
confronted by the spiritual hardness of Israelite hearts. Most of them
failed to understand the true nature of the glory of Moses' face. Paul
explains that the same spiritual dullness existed among the Jews of
his day. Just as the veil hid the fading glory of Moses' face from
Jewish observers, so the same sort of obscuring veil seemed to hide
meaning of the old covenant when it was read by
10 This is the view of most modern commentators. P. E. Hughes, however
rejects this explanation and suggests Moses' action as merely intended to prevent
sinfulness. Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962) 107-10.
were unable to see that it was transient, that it pointed to Christ, and
that it would be replaced by a new covenant.
The obscuring veil of unbelief
remains unlifted for
it is removed only in connection with Christ and his work. Only by
faith in him can the glory of the new covenant be seen, as well as the
replacement of the old by the new.
Verse 15. The previous verse described the veil as resting upon
the old covenant and obscuring the proper understanding of it. Here
Paul makes it clear that the fault was not with that covenant, but
with the people. The veil was actually over their hearts. The old
covenant was not misleading. The problem lay in the unbelief of
Jewish hearts. This circumstance was true at the writing of
2 Corinthians twenty-five years after Christ's resurrection. It still
Verse 16. The language of this verse is adapted from Exod 34:34.
There it described Moses who took the veil off when he went to speak
with he Lord. Paul used that terminology to illustrate what happens
when anyone turns to the Lord. Faith in Christ removes the obscuring
veil from the heart and there is open communion with God under the
terms of the new covenant as announced in the gospel.
Because no subject is given in the original text for the verb
"returns," the KJV has supplied "it," referring presumably to "heart"
as the antecedent. NASB supplies "a man" and NIV uses "anyone."
Contextually it is likely that "the heart of a Jew" is meant. However,
the statement could also be regarded as a general one, "whenever one
turns. ..." The truth is the same for Jew or gentile: turning to the
Lord in faith removes the separating veil of obscurity, and the true
understanding of the old covenant can be gained.
Verse 17. There is a clear relationship of this verse to 3:6 and 8.
There it was stated that the new covenant proceeds from the Spirit, it
is life-giving, and is more glorious than the old covenant. Paul then
illustrated from the life of Moses the transitory character of the old
covenant, in contrast to the open unveiled nature of the new. Now he
points out that the Lord Himself is the Spirit about whom he has
been speaking. On the understanding that "the Lord" is a reference to
Christ, as is usual with Paul, the thought is that Christ and the Spirit
are one in essence, just as Christ and the Father are one (John )
in that mysterious union of the Trinity. In the new covenant Christ
brings about the inner transformation of believers by the action of the
Spirit (called in 3:3 the Spirit of the living God).
This activity of the Spirit of the Lord brings liberty, not deadness
(3:6), or bondage. New birth by the Spirit has infused believers with
180 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
new life, and brings freedom from enslavement to sin's guilt and
power (Gal 5:1-5).
Verse 18. Consequently, all Christians, not just the apostles,
behold God's glory with an unveiled face. Because they have turned
to the Lord, the veil has been removed from their understanding and
they have open access to the revelation of God in Christ.
Our versions vary between the concepts of "beholding as in a
mirror" or "reflecting" as translations for a Greek word appearing
only this once in the NT.11 Although the idea of reflecting fits the
parallel with Moses who reflected the glory of God, the translation
"beholding" is usually preferred. The ancient versions' commonly
understood it this way. There is no clear instance of the verb having
the meaning "reflect" unless it is in the active voice (it is middle here).
Furthermore the passage speaks of believers who can now see clearly
because the veil has been removed from them.
With faces (and hearts) unveiled, believers may behold the glory
of God as they are brought into relationship with him through Christ
(see also 4:6). Those who press the imagery may identify the mirror as
the Word, or Christ, or something else. Inasmuch as mirrors in Paul's
day were polished metal giving somewhat imperfect images, the
thought is explained as indicating that even though our vision of
Christ's glory is vastly superior to the OT experiences, it is still
something less than the final vision when we see him face to face
(1 Cor ; 1 John 3:2). It is not necessary, however, to push the
interpretation this far, since the emphasis in the statement is not upon
the mirror but upon the beholding.
As believers behold the Lord's glory, now that the veil of spiritual
dullness is removed, they are continually being transformed12 into his
image. The word describes a change of form which is intrinsic. The
true nature of the child of God is progressively revealed, just as the
process of metamorphosis transforms the true nature of the caterpillar
into a butterfly. Paul is referring to the progressive sanctification of
believers whereby as they behold Christ and increase in their under-
standing of him, they become more and more like him, from one
stage of glory to the next. We perceive Christ's glory as we seek
spiritual nourishment in the Word of God, the Scripture. The
transformation is then accomplished in us supernaturally by the
Lord, identified here as the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the
new covenant its distinctive character (3:6, 8). No wonder the apostle
11 The verb katoptri<zw in the active means "to produce a reflection" and
in the middle "to look at oneself in a mirror." It is the middle voice which
appears in . So BAGD, 425-26; TDNT 2 (1964) 696.
12 The present tense of the verb metamorfou<meqa denotes progressive
exulted as he did at being involved in Christian ministry which could
accomplish such a feat!
The glory of the Christian ministry which Paul has been describing
did not, however, mean that it always enjoyed uninterrupted successes.
Its glory pertained chiefly to its spiritual significance, and this feature
is not seen by everyone. Those who tend to judge the value of
anything solely by immediate results, outward trappings of "success,"
or by physical and temporal benefits need to realize another aspect of
true Christian ministry.
The sobering fact is that Christian ministry is faced with obstacles.
The accomplishment of God's work is no easy task. Paul informed
the church that his own ministry was beset with various kinds of
accusations and criticisms. Furthermore, he and his assistants lived
constantly under the threat of death. Their physical bodies were
paying a price for their commitment to this ministry. The secret of
their steadfastness lay in their unshakeable faith in God's revealed
truth and in the eternal value of Christ's cause. In this vein Paul
continued the description of the character of his ministry which he
began in .
IT WAS CARRIED OUT OPENLY (4: 1-6)
Verse 1. This paragraph not only is a positive assertion of the
openness and candor with which Paul and his assistants had ministered,
but seems also to be a response to criticisms leveled against him by
certain Corinthians (see , 17; 3: 1).
"This ministry" to which he referred was the ministry of the new
covenant (3:6). It was the task of proclaiming and teaching the gospel
of Christ, the glorious news that sins have been forgiven through
Christ's death, and that his perfect righteousness has been made
available to those who will trust him for it. Paul had previously
disclaimed any personal adequacy that had made him worthy of this
responsibility (3:5). Now once again he evidences deep humility by
saying "we received mercy" in being given such a task. Does this imply
of the religious peddlers at
Paul and his associates were too high-handed or authoritarian when
they preached among them? Then let them know that Paul's ministry
was no display of ego or personal vanity, but the response of one who
viewed his position as an instance of God's mercy on undeserving
Consequently, Paul and his men did not "lose heart"
(e]gkakou?men). In spite of accusations and difficulties, they continued
performing their ministry without cowardice or discouragement. A
firm conviction of the nature of their mission kept them going.
182 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Verse 2. Paul claimed an openness about his ministry with
complete absence of any sort of secrecy or subterfuge. There had been
a renunciation or disowning of those things which one hides because
of a sense of shame.13 As ministers of God, there had been no trickery
in their methods or their message. They had done no falsifying or
adulterating of the Word of God when they proclaimed the gospel.
They were not guilty of giving wrong emphases or withholding
significant parts of the truth. .
Again, one can imagine that certain criticisms of Paul may be
alluded to here. Had Judaizing teachers accused him of omitting
certain teachings regarding compliance with Mosaic rites? Were they
accusing him of enticing gentiles with a watered-down message of
salvation at the outset, with the scheme in mind of adding the other
essentials later? Paul's clear answer was that the Word of God had
been handled in such a way as to display its truth to every open-
minded listener. It has been taught not only for intellectual stimulation,
but its moral and spiritual implications had been clearly aimed at the
conscience of each hearer. This in turn should have commended the
preachers themselves to the conscience of every Corinthian as being
faithful messengers of God. These words reflect no self-seeking on the
part of Paul, but rather were his solemn recognition that his ministry
was carried on "in the sight of God," who was not only guiding his
labors, but was also enlightening the consciences of those who were
open to his truth. How refreshing it would be if it could be said of
every preacher that his chief commendation was his fidelity to the
truth of God's Word and the impact which he makes upon the
consciences of his hearers.
Verse 3. Paul recognized, however, that not everyone responds
favorably to the gospel. The reference to "every man's conscience" (4:2)
was a generalization with many exceptions. "Even if our gospel is
veiled" (NASB, NIV) states a condition which he was willing to
assume as true.14 He quickly explained, however, that the problem
was not with the gospel nor its preachers but with the unbelieving
hearers. It is veiled to "those who are perishing”. Paul has moved in
his figure from the veil over the face of Moses (3:13) to the veil over
unbelievers are concerned.
Verse 4. This veiling of the gospel was not because Paul had used
secrecy in his preaching or deviousness in his methods. Rather it was
13 This is BAGD's translation of ta> krupta> th?j ai]sxu<nhj ("the
hidden things of shame"). The translation "hidden things of dishonesty" (KJV)
reflects the obsolete English usage of "dishonest" in the sense of "shameful."
14 A first class condition, using ei] with the indicative mood.
because the thoughts of perishing unbelievers had been blinded by the
"god of this world”. The reference is to Satan, who is called elsewhere
by the similar titles "prince of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and
"prince of the power of the air" (Eph 2:2). He is "god”, not in any
dualistic sense as equal to and Independent of the true God, but only
in the limited sense that his followers so regard him, and at present
God allows him to utilize this power over the minds of sinners.
Because of Satan's action in blinding the minds of sinners, they
are not able to see the illumination of the glory of Christ which the
gospel provides. The good news about Jesus Christ as Lord, his
unique Person, his stupendous works, and his incomparable
teachings— all are minimized, explained away, or otherwise perverted
so that the spiritual enlightenment which could save their souls from
destruction is disregarded. The glory of Christ is essentially his
unique person as the image of God, the one who is the revealer of the
invisible God (Coll:15; John 1:18), on whom men must depend if
they would see the Father (John 14:9) and receive salvation.
Verse 5. Paul will not let his readers escape the real issue
involved in Christian ministry. It was not a promotion of the
preacher, directly or indirectly. He and his associates had never
preached themselves. The heart of their ministering the gospel was
their proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord.15 This acknowledgment is
basic to the gospel (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3) and thus lay at the heart of
Paul's message. One should beware of drawing categorical distinc-
tions between accepting Christ as Savior and accepting him as Lord.
Both are clearly involved in any true commitment to Christ.
Just as Paul had been faithful in presenting Christ as Lord in his
preaching, so he and his associates had been careful to maintain their
own position as servants among the Corinthians. He did not mean
that the Corinthians were the masters, for Christ was the Master
whom they served. But he did mean that as Christ’s servants, they
had followed his orders and that had Involved ministering to the
Verse 6. The reason why the messengers gave no thought to
promoting themselves was due to the overwhelming grandeur of the
Source from which their message came. God, who had once brought
physical light out of darkness by his creative command (Gen 1:3), had
himself shone with spiritual enlightenment in the hearts of believers.
At creation, light resulted from a command of God. At regeneration,
God himself shines as the illumination.
15 Word order suggests that ku<rion should be regarded as a predicate
usage, "Jesus Christ as Lord." If it were simply part of the title, one would have
expected it to be first in the series: "Lord Jesus Christ."
184 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
This light from God is explained as the knowledge of God as
revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. Sin hardens the heart (),
makes it unbelieving and insensitive to God (), and is utilized by
Satan to keep men in the spiritual darkness of unbelief (4:4). The
great mission of Christ is his role as the image of God to reveal the
Father's glory to men when they have a spiritual encounter with
For Paul this transforming encounter had occurred on the
been struck down with an overpowering light and had seen the
glorious Lord who identified himself as Jesus (Acts 9:1-9; 22:5-11;
26:12-18). Some of the phenomena of that occasion probably
influenced Paul's language here ("light," "glory of God," "face of
Christ"). However, one must not limit the thrust of this verse simply
to the miraculous physical happenings on that day. The use of the
plural "our hearts" shows that more than one person was in the
apostle's thought, and the reference to God's action of shining in
"hearts" applies to the spiritual experience of every believer.
IT WAS PERFORMED, HOWEVER, IN BODILY WEAKNESS (4:7-18)
Present trials of Gods messenger (4:7-12)
Verse 7. Paul's ministry of proclaiming the new covenant (3:6)
carried with it certain burdens. Not the least of them was the presence
of various trials which God's messengers must undergo. "This
treasure" refers to the light of the knowledge of God in Christ as
explained in the preceding verse. This sublime truth is contained,
however, in "earthen vessels" ("jars of clay”, NIV). The figure depicts
pottery jars used as storage for all sorts of items. Household lamps
were made of clay to hold oil and a wick. Valuables were stored in
such jars. The Dead Scrolls were found in pottery jars after being
hidden for nineteen centuries. Paul used the figure to depict either the
human body with its frailties, or perhaps the entire human per-
sonality16 inasmuch as body, soul, and spirit are a unity, and all are
subject to weakness, suffering, and discouragement.
Paul wanted no mistake to be made about the true nature of the
Christian message in comparison to the significance of the minister.
The human instrument is weak and expendable; the message is vital
and of inestimable value. By utilizing frail human ministers, God
demonstrates that the "surpassing greatness of the power" (NASB)
which transforms men's lives is from God and not from any preacher.
16 Alfred Plummer, Second Epistle of
(ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1915) 127.
Verse 8. In a series of four contrasting parallels, Paul shows what
he and other true ministers were continually facing. "Troubled on
every side, yet not distressed" (KJV) has been also translated "hard
pressed...but not crushed" (NIV). The idea is that in spite of
pressures that would thwart their effectiveness, they were never
completely crushed so that their ministry totally failed. In Paul's
experiences were multiplied. At
he was arrested and imprisoned; yet the gospel was not stopped, for
and his household were converted (Acts 16). At
had been arrested and accused before the provincial governor, but
dismissal of the case gave new opportunities for the gospel.
"Perplexed, but not despairing" is a play on words17 which is
not easily preserved in English. One has rendered it "being at a loss,
but not having lost out."18 These contrasting phrases emphasize
human inability as offset by divine enablement. Perhaps Paul was
experiences like his recent one at
in the city left him powerless to act, and yet God still preserved his
Christian witness (Acts 19).
Verse 9. They were continually being persecuted by opponents of
the Christian message, but they were never abandoned by the Lord
who had sent them. Paul regularly experienced pursuit by one group
or another. He was frequently a hunted man (Acts 9:23-24, 28-29;
13:50; 14:5-6, 19-20; et al.). yet never did they conclude that God had
forsaken them, and for this reason they continued their ministry.
From time to time adversaries might succeed in casting them down,
but never would this result in their destruction before their mission
was accomplished. God's enablement was still in operation, even
though great obstacles were faced by his messengers.
Verse 10. Here Paul begins an explanation of the preceding
paradoxes. The sufferings which the apostolic party experienced,
along with the successful accomplishment of their mission in spite of
impending disaster, must be interpreted as Paul here indicates. Their
sufferings were actually a "carrying about in the body the dying of
Jesus." The next verse (4:11) is parallel in thought and makes it clear
that Christ's physical sufferings and death were in view. Paul and the
other apostles were constantly under threat of physical death just as
Jesus was. Now the hatred of men for the Son of God was being
directed against Paul and others as they attempted to carry out their
Christian ministry. The word "dying" (ne<krwsin) does not mean
simply "death”, but the process of dying. He chose this term to
17 Greek: a]porou<menoi a]ll ] ou]k e]caporou<menoi.
18R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of I and II Corinthians, 977-78.
186 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
emphasize not just one act, but the repeated sufferings which were
directed against his life in order to put him to death.
Nevertheless Paul could look beyond the trials to the grander
purpose which was being served. God's suffering servants not only
showed their identification with Christ by their willingness to suffer
as he did, but they also displayed his life in their bodies. It was Christ
living in them that enabled them not to be crushed, be despairing, feel
forsaken, or be destroyed. They ran the risk of death in order to
proclaim the new life in Christ, and they did this by personal
demonstration of Christ's life in their own lives.
Verse 11. In this parallel expression, Paul's meaning in the
preceding verse is more fully explained. As ministers of Christ he and
the other apostles were continually exposed to the danger of physical
death. This was what Paul meant by carrying about in his body "the
dying of Jesus”. He had learned at the very beginning of his Christian
life that persecution directed against Christians was regarded by Jesus
actually directed against him (Acts 9:4-5; cf.
purpose, however, was not to undergo suffering for suffering's sake,
but that "the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal
flesh." The proclamation of the new life in Christ became more
clearly manifested when it was set forth against such a dramatic
background. The eternal life provided by Jesus who said "I am the
life" (John 14:6) enabled his messengers to be victorious in spite of
physical weakness and would ultimately make them triumphant even
though many of them would experience a martyr's death.
Verse 12. In summation, death was an ever-present reality with
Christ's messengers, but his purposes were being accomplished because
eternal life was being received by the Corinthians and others who had
responded to the gospel.
Paul was not describing explicitly the experience of every
Christian in this passage, but primarily that of himself and the other
apostles. In the context he was not talking about the Corinthians, but
about those who had preached to them. Nevertheless the principle
was set forth that God's servants have his truth in earthen vessels that
are fragile and subject to damage. By application of this principle
every Christian may recognize that physical weakness and opposition
from adversaries can cause hardship in the performance of any
Importance of faith to Gods messenger (4:13-18)
Verse 13. It must not be supposed, however, that Paul's previous
words were a bitter complaint about the personal difficulties of his
ministry. What sustained him and his companions was the same
viewpoint and attitude which the psalmist expressed in Ps 116: 10,
"I believed, therefore I spoke." The context of these words in the
psalm reveals the writer to have been in great adversity (116:3,6, 8).
Yet his faith In God caused him to pray for deliverance (116:4), and
he continued to bear his testimony, believing that God ultimately
brings vindication to his saints whether in this life or the next
(116:2,9, 10, 15). This same "spirit of faith”19 permeated Paul and his
suffering companions. It. was because they had an abiding faith in
God who had revealed his Son to them that they continued to speak
forth the gospel in spite of continual risk and frequent affliction.
Verse 14. A firm faith in the resurrection made Paul willing to
risk death in order to carry out his ministry. He was convinced that
had raised Jesus for he had seen him on the
road. He also firmly believed that Christ's resurrection had guaranteed
the resurrection of all others who were united to him by faith.
Consequently, no fear of death could divert him from his mission of
proclaiming the new covenant that God has provided for men (3:6).
Does it seem that Paul had earlier expected to avoid death
through the rapture (1 Thess 4: 13ff.), but has now become resigned to
dying and looks only to the resurrection? It is better to understand
Paul's view as exactly what our Lord had taught: namely, that his
coming was imminent, but unpredictable. Every believer should be
ready at all times for either eventually. We should long for the
Lord's return and the prospect of meeting him by whatever route he
may require of us.
Verse 15. So firm was Paul's faith that he could look with joy at
the outcome of his labors, even though they were being done at
tremendous cost. "All things" that he and the other ministers were
undergoing were for the benefit of the Corinthians and other
Christians. His eye of faith saw beyond the immediate trials. What he
saw was God's saving grace being multiplied through a continuous
stream of new converts. As the grace of God in the gospel was
received by more and more people, the thanksgiving of their grateful
hearts would overflow and bring glory to God. It was faith that
enabled him to have God s perspective.
19 Some interpreters explain this phrase as "the Spirit of faith," a direct
reference to the Holy Spirit; others have suggested an indirect reference to the
Spirit as the bestower of a gift of faith. However, the expression is more
generally understood here as denoting a spiritual state or disposition. Compare
the similar phrase of Paul, "a spirit of meekness" (1 Cor 4:21, Gal 6:1).
188 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Verse 16. In spite of great obstacles, therefore, Paul and his
associates did not "lose heart" (e]gkakou?men). The same verb is used
as in 4:1. No amount of discouragement could make him abandon his
mission. He freely admitted that his "outer man" was decaying. He
had previously spoken of physical life as "earthen vessels" (4:7) and
would later refer to it as an "earthly tent" (5:1). Furthermore, the
hardships of travel and the heavy burden of the care of the churches
placed great strain upon his physical body. His various imprisonments,
beatings, and continual harassments had left their scars.
Nevertheless, of far greater significance in Paul's eyes was the
"inner man”, and here the story was far different. His inner man was
being renewed as each day passed by. The reference is to the
Christian's regenerated spiritual existence which can grow stronger in
spite of physical weakness. This inner man is also called by Paul the
"new man" (CoI 3:10), and is described as experiencing continuous
renewal as believers increase in their understanding of God through
the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (Eph 3:16). As Paul's Christian
life progressed toward its inevitable earthly close, his physical
capacities might lessen, but his spiritual awareness of God's program
continued to develop. He understood more clearly the values which
should govern the Christian's outlook, and he shared them with his
Verse 17. Because of the spiritual insight which his inner man
now understood, he could refer to his incredible trials as "momentary,
light affliction." Humanly considered, they could have been regarded
far differently, and Paul himself did not minimize their severity
(4:8-12). Yet Paul here was looking at them in the light of Romans
8:28 and the eternal purposes of God. He understood that, severe as
they were, they were momentary and light in comparison to the
"eternal weight of glory" which lies ahead for all who trust the Lord
and serve him faithfully. "Weight" (ba<roj) is probably used in
contrast to "light" or "lightness" (e]lafro>n). Human assessment would
call physical afflictions a heavy weight. Paul said they were actually
light in comparison to the glory that "far outweighs them all" (NIV).
Faith enabled him to view his life this way.
Verse 18. This statement gives the essence of Paul's ability to see
the glory of Christian ministry rather than to be disillusioned by the
obstacles. He and others like him had learned not to focus their gaze
on things which are seen, but to fix their attention with eyes of faith
on things which are not seen. They had learned the basic truth that
the matters of this present world, including even the most serious of
human afflictions, are only transitory. It is the unseen things of the
spiritual life that are of eternal value. The regenerated life, the
continuing ministry of the Spirit, the growing comprehension of God
through dally communion with him, the promises of God for the
present and the future—all of these and many more are things not
seen, but they are just as real as the visible objects of this world and
are far more permanent. With this kind of spiritual emphasis in
Paul’s life, no earthly obstacle could blur his vision of the glory of
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Grace Theological Seminary
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: firstname.lastname@example.org