2 Corinthians 4:1-6
Greetings, everybody! Welcome to Thursday’s edition of EDiBS, and God’s rich peace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that your week has been full of hope…full of the knowledge that your Savior is with you in all that you’re facing each day. God is always faithful as He brings us through life’s challenges you, so be sure to bring your burdens to Him and let Him minister to you by His Word and His Spirit. In our Bible study time today we’ll be moving into the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians, so let’s turn there now and then take a moment to pray.
Almighty God, you are great – alone in your splendor and your glory. There is none beside you, and in our hearts we desire to set you apart as Lord of all. Thank you for your love and mercy. Thank you for your promise to never leave us or forsake us. Today we ask that you would bless us through the hearing and study of your Word, and that you would give us understanding and application as we learn. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
As we get started today, 2 Corinthians 4 begins with more distinctions made by Paul between himself and his ministry companions and those of false teachers. Our focus: setting forth the truth — plainly.
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6For 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 the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Since I used to live in the country back in Missouri, I got used to great country breakfasts. So it is that when I decide to eat breakfast out these days, I always try to do so at country establishments a little ways out of town. Here in southeast Georgia there’s no shortage of options, and it’s always an enjoyable experience. No chain restaurants here, and none desired, thank you very much. Just give me the real stuff. If it’s biscuits and gravy, it’s a half-order please, and throw a scrambled egg or two over the top. Add a cup of coffee and some good breakfast conversation with the folks at the table next to you, and with tax and a 20% tip it will set you back a little under six bucks. If it’s pancakes, well, it’s just...pancakes. Sometimes just one, because in a country cafe your typical pancake hangs over the side of the plate. When Jenny (or Rose, or Patrice or Marnie) brings your pancake to the table, it comes to you straight from the griddle, not the heat lamp. You don’t get seven different kinds of syrup to choose from, or whipped cream and strawberries, or chocolate chips, or any other gastronomic gimmicks to up your blood sugar. It’s just a fresh, hot, buttermilk pancake with a slab of butter, a tin of hot maple syrup, and a smile from the server. There’s nothing to cover up the fact that it’s a pancake.
Verses 1-2: Aside from a craving for some good, thick-cut bacon at the moment, why would I begin our study time today with talk of a good, old-fashioned, honest breakfast? It’s simple: in today’s reading, Paul asserts the same kind of straightforward, country breakfast sensibility when it comes to describing his ministry and its message. In other words, what you see is what you get. There’s nothing to cover up the truth. It’s the Word of God in all its purity, plain and simple. Paul is telling his readers that there’s nothing about him or anything he does that obscures the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing that distorts it. Nothing that tries to enhance it or spin it, or anything else. Those things aren’t present in Paul’s preaching of the gospel, because they don’t need to be; the gospel and the gospel alone is sufficient in itself. Paul knows the efficacy and the power of his message, and so he preaches it with boldness and refuses to lose heart. He makes these things very clear in verses 1 and 2.
Verses 3-4: But what, then, of the people who hear and still do not believe? Where is the power and the efficacy of the message for them? Why don’t more people come to the knowledge of the truth and end up saved? Paul’s answer to that in the remainder of the text today is jarringly blunt. Even if the gospel is veiled – and the indication is that it’s not veiled at all, but has been announced openly and with great conviction and without any kind of agenda – it is only veiled due to the insistent, willful blindness of those who refuse to see it. Here’s the message of the text: If people do not respond to this glorious gospel, it isn’t Paul’s fault, or the gospel’s fault. Only those who are perishing miss the message. John Calvin said it this way: “The blindness of unbelievers in no way detracts from the clearness of the gospel, for the sun is no less resplendent because the blind do not perceive its light.” Spurgeon puts it in a less eloquent, but more urgent way. He says, “According to the text, he that believes not on Jesus Christ is a lost man. God has lost you; you are not His servant. The church has lost you; you are not working for the truth. The world has lost you, really; you yield no lasting service to it. You have lost yourself to right, to joy, to heaven. You are lost, lost, lost…It is not only that you will be lost, but that you are lost…lost even now.”
Verse 4 sets out to explain how this can be: it says that the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Now — let’s carefully “truth” that statement out. Does this mean, therefore, that such people are innocent victims of Satan’s blinding work? No, because Satan’s work upon them is not the only reason they’re blinded. John 3:19 says, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Did you catch that? Men love the darkness and choose the darkness, and thus are blind to the light. Satan surely works hard and in concert with the sinful nature to keep them blinded to the light and salvation in Christ, but unbelievers bear responsibility for their unbelief. And by the way, let’s keep in mind that Paul knows what he’s talking about when he writes this. He himself was completely blind to the truth until God broke through his spiritual darkness. In fact, when Paul first encountered Jesus, the Lord struck him with a literal blindness, and when his eyes were opened – both spiritually and physically – it was then that he finally came to see the glory of Jesus Christ.
Verses 5-6: Thus it is that Paul understands the importance of preaching Christ to the exclusion of any other doctrine...especially the doctrine of man. And in adamantly making that point in verses 5-6, Paul sets the focus of the letter squarely yet again on the redeeming work of Jesus Christ rather than upon himself. This is a point of dogged determination with him as he teaches the sufficiency of Christ and defends his ministry of Christ at the same time. As he says in closing things off, “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 the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
As we wrap up for the day, I should be quick to say that we’ve fallen woefully short of explicating this passage for all it is worth, and there’s much more that could be said here. This is one of those “sermon-in-every-verse” passages that preachers adore and are dismayed by at the same time! That being the case, I do encourage you to take some quiet time and go through these verses several times on your own with a prayerful heart. As you do so, I’m sure you’ll gain some additional insight that we haven’t covered here in our short few minutes together. Let’s not, however, underestimate the poignancy of what we did bring out today: it is the gospel of Jesus alone that saves. It’s a message that is clear. It’s a message that is powerful. And it’s a message for all who will hear and receive it. Therefore, it must be preached without compromise. There’s more to come on this point, so do stay with us as we walk it through in our next session together.
Thanks so much for your time today, everyone; God’s blessings to you in Christ, and I’ll see you again soon. Take care!