By Sam E. Stone
Paul’s suffering is mentioned throughout this second letter to the Corinthians, especially in chapters 4, 6, and 11. When the Lord called him into his service, he revealed his plan to use Paul as a “chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles.” He added, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15, 16). The apostle’s sufferings began at that time and continued for more than 30 years. “While Christ’s service may lead to suffering and even death, viewed spiritually, it leads to ever-increasing life, culminating in celestial and eternal glory” (J. W. McGarvey).
Glory of the Gospel
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
Contrary to what his accusers had said, Paul declared that he did not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. His goal was to set forth the truth plainly. All who have been entrusted with the divine message can rest assured that the Lord blesses every faithful presentation of the gospel. The Corinthians had seen this firsthand when Paul lived among them for some time (Acts 18:11).
The apostle acknowledged that the gospel sometimes appears to be veiled to those who are perishing. Those who rejected the truth of his message had been blinded by the god of this age—Satan (see 1 Corinthians 5:5-8). Satan seeks to distract all who might accept the message. Jesus warned of the devil (John 12:31; 14:30). Paul did so elsewhere (Ephesians 2:2, 6:12), as did John (1 John 5:19). Satan blinds the sight of those who refuse to believe the truth. The heart of Paul’s message is the lordship of Jesus.
Seth Wilson, longtime dean of Ozark Christian College, used to suggest verse 5 as the ideal text for a preacher to use when he begins a new ministry: What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. It is hard to find a better summary of the work of God’s messengers.
Humility of the Messenger
2 Corinthians 4:7-12
The unlimited power of God revealed in the gospel is limitless, but it is stored in very unlikely receptacles. Baked clay jars were the most common, simple, and inexpensive containers of that day (see Romans 9:20, 21) and were very fragile. This only serves to underline the fact that all the power of the treasure (the gospel message) is inside the clay jar, not in what is outside (the messenger).
J. W. McGarvey added, “The apostle is here supposing that someone will object to his high claims for the Christian ministry, asserting that the humiliations and sufferings endured by the apostle refute the idea that he can be an ambassador of God. His answer is that God put the treasure in an earthen vessel in order that the survival of the perishing vessel . . . might prove the value, in the sight of God, of the treasure within it.”
Paul freely admitted that he had been pushed to the breaking point—hard pressed on every side, but not crushed . . . persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. The one who serves Christ must follow his example. Jesus laid down his life for others. We are to lay down our lives for him as we serve others. When we do so, his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
Persistence of Faith
2 Corinthians 4:13-15
Paul suffered for Jesus. What’s more, he did it willingly, gladly. Later in this letter he declared what Jesus had told him—“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10). Then the apostle affirmed, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. . . .
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
William Barclay wrote, “However narrow a man’s circumstances may be, he need never feel cabined, cribbed and confined . . . . There is always an escape route for his spirit to the spaciousness of God.”
God’s power was demonstrated for all time when he raised Jesus Christ from the dead. If God can do that, he can do anything. Paul believed that God will raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. This is the Christian’s assurance.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.