Death & Life – 2 Corinthians 4

Paul heard that his opposers were also tarnishing his name and the credibility of his gospel. Defending the integrity of his message, Paul wrote this section of his letter to the people of Corinth. Unlike the other preachers who peddled the word of God to make a name for themselves or to extract monetary benefit from their vulnerable audience, Paul makes it clear that his Gospel was the unfiltered truth.

On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

2 Corinthians 4:2 (NIV)

The false preachers that were coming to Corinth did not rebuke the parishioners in the harsh way that Paul used to deal with them. They would also resort to disguising the true meaning of the scriptures lest to please the people by telling them what they wanted to hear, that they were the most righteous people and that God was on their side no matter what they do.

Often we think that the Word needs to be dressed up so that it appeals to the masses. In our attempts to conform to the prevailing standards of society, we contort the Word of God to make it more ‘convenient’. But we must remember that it is not our words or how eloquently we deliver them that makes an unbeliever put their faith in Jesus. It is the living Word of God delivered through us by His Spirit that manifests their transformation. We don’t need to adapt the message of God according to the standards of this world but speak the truth and let God take over.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God

2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV)

The God of This Age

We live in a sinful world where we seek to fulfil our most basic urges and desires by any means necessary. That selfish attitude is what caused Adam and Eve to be banished from the Lord’s presence and go out and live in the sinful world. The further we are away from God, the more we are under the thumb of satan. Even when satan attempted to tempt Jesus, he made it clear who is in charge of this present world. God gave this world to the darkness because mankind loved darkness, but He also sent His light into this world so that whoever saw it and desired it, would be given a way out of the darkness that consumes this world.

It is our actions that have made satan the prince of this world. Because people desire the things of this world more than the things of heaven, they succumb to the trap that satan lays out for them. They think that they are being blessed, when actually they are being distracted by the worldly blessings that satan temporarily provides them.

In the name of religion, satan is giving the people a false sense of righteousness and security that comes with it while keeping them at an arm’s length from their Creator. Those who fall for this are satisfied with the worldly blessings and their self-righteous deeds and do not seek to know the True and Living God.

Paul himself was blinded by satan when in the name of religion, he went around persecuting the followers of Christ. Only when Christ gave Him the true sight, was he able to discern the schemes of satan from the plan of God.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6 (NIV)

The God who spoke light into darkness has brought light into our darkened lives in the form of Jesus Christ. Christ gave us the knowledge about the true Glory. Unlike Moses, Christ’s face did not emit radiance when it reflected the Glory of God, but the truth that He spoke, gave us the everlasting light and allowed us to be part of the Glory, something Moses could not do for the Israelites.

Treasure in Jars of Clay

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)

Back when banking services were not easily accessible, people used earthen pots with a coin slot to stock up on their savings. These pots were ordinary-looking clay pots, but they held great value within them. Paul compares us and the Gospel we bring to such clay pots, insignificant vessels holding items of great value.

But what happens when we value the vessel more than its contents. We start decorating the insignificant vessels as we feel people will not pay attention to the treasure we are bringing out of our hearts. Pastors and leaders pay more attention to the lights and glamour of their Sunday service rather than focusing on the message that God is going to deliver through them. The treasure of heaven is substituted for the appreciation of mere mortals.

Only a fool would take out money from the earthen pot to decorate the outer vessel. One day the clay pot will be broken to retrieve the contents and the outer decoration would have no value. If we start thinking of ourselves as that worthless vessel that God has filled by His grace with the greatest treasure, we will not be worried about our outer appearance and dress up ourselves and the Gospel that we bring.

Death of Jesus

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NIV)

Paul is speaking from his personal experience when he says that we will be hard-pressed on every side but our troubles will not overcome us. Paul was literally struck down by the Jews in Lystra and thought to be dead. But he walked away unscathed and moved on to the neighbouring city of Derbe to preach the Gospel of Christ.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Corinthians 4:10-12 (NIV)

Paul feels that it is because of the hardships that he and the other apostles faced when travelling to these far-off lands, which helped bring the Gospel and with it the life of Jesus to those like the believers in Corinth. He is forgetting that by Jesus’s stripes we are saved and not by his endeavours,

Sometimes, pastors and full-time workers can feel this way when they see their congregation living their lives. They have the grace of Jesus and are able to enjoy a ‘normal’ family life. They might feel that because they sacrificed their lives for the ministry of Christ that is why the commoners are able to enjoy the life that comes from Jesus. They are not realising that even their calling and ability to follow through on it was only made possible by the same grace of Jesus that their congregation enjoys.

Renewing Spirit

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

2 Corinthians 4:17 (NIV)

People relate this verse to mean that the more we face trouble the greater the glory we will experience in heaven. It is true that we must keep our eye on the prize, but we must remember that even during our journeys on this earth, the Grace of God is always with us, helping us along the way. And if we have Christ as our ultimate comforter, we will not find the troubles overbearing.

Discussion Questions

  • 4:2 – How will presenting the truth validate our authenticity to the world that does not recognise it?
  • 4:4 – Why does Paul call satan the god of this world? How has he blinded the eyes of the unbelievers?
  • 4:7 – Why does Paul use the term jars of clay?
  • 4:12 – How is Paul carrying around the death of Jesus? Do we need to do the same?

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