2 Corinthians 4:5-12


Note: The word doxa (glory) occurs with higher frequency in 2 Corinthians 3:7-4:17 than anywhere in the New Testament, fourteen times. The word is used with several meanings all the way from "glory of the Mosaic covenant" to the "glory of everlasting life." Doxa  occurs once in our text, verse 6: "the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." In verses 1 and 16 Paul says: "Therefore, we do not lose heart."

This is a wonderful text for the tired preacher. Let it revive him and, through him, the congregation.

2 Corinthians 4:5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.

Some summarize verses 5 and 6 with "the source of glory."

Lenski: If we preached ourselves, we might well faint and give up in discouragement . . . But 'we are not engaged in preaching ourselves' at all, in seeking any worldly advantage from our whole work of preaching.

Ministers only proclaim a message not their own. The word order is important. "Jesus Christ" is thrown far forward. "But" introduces what is truly preached. "Jesus Christ as Lord." Here "Lord" is used in full soteriological sense.

Lenski: The one who redeemed, purchased and won our salvation. Far more is meant than majesty and rulership . . . Christ Jesus as Lord is not only the center, but the entire sphere; not only the central doctrine, but the sum of all doctrine.

"Ourselves" refers to what Paul and his associates are, not to what they proclaim. Only here in Paul's epistles does he say they are "your slaves" but he immediately explains why he says that: "for Jesus' sake." They consider themselves the slaves of the listeners because of Jesus. Note that here Paul calls Him "Jesus" not "Jesus Christ." It is the humble name by which He was known on earth. Paul is referring to the servanthood of fellow men, but always for the sake of Him who is his sole Master.

The business of the preacher is to draw attention not to himself, but to Christ.

Lenski: 'Slaves for you,' not 'slaves owned, commanded, ordered about as slaves, to do your will' . . . but for you listeners to receive the whole benefit of our slaving (preaching). This is the sense, because at once the Master of these preacher-slaves is named in the significant phrase: 'on account of Jesus.'

2 Corinthians 4:6 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.

Lenski: With 'for' Paul states the subjective, personal reason why he and his helpers preach Christ Jesus as Lord, and themselves as slaves for the Corinthians because of Jesus.

The devil blinds the minds of unbelievers. But Paul and his hearers had experienced the light of the Gospel. Paul quotes Genesis 1:3. God spoke a command, and it is stated in Genesis as a future fact. Here we have the creation of physical light.

God Himself shone in our hearts. God is the Author and Creator of physical light. But He Himself is a spiritual light and enlightens dark minds.

"To give us" shows the accomplished purpose. "With a view to illumining men with the knowledge of the glory of God." God did not allow darkness to rule in the beginning. When sin entered into the world He did not allow Satan and his darkness to rule men. God's Son brought us the knowledge of the glory of God which enlightens us. It is all "in the face of Jesus Christ." Christ is the Mediator and He alone brought it to pass.

Hughes: It is the knowledge which is advancing from glory to glory until at last, in the heavenly perfection, he will know even as he is now known by God and his glory will be that of complete assimilation to the image of Christ himself, 3:18; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2.
Plummer: Christ is the image of God, and in His face is revealed so much of the Divine glory as can be communicated to men, and it is this which the Apostles know and have to make known.
Lenski: The glory of God was only reflected on the face of Moses, the mediator of the law; the glory of God is embodied in Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the Gospel. The former glory was that of the divine law and its judgment on sin and sinners, and the face of Moses could only reflect it, since he had been with God only for a few days. The other glory is that of the divine Gospel and grace for sinners, and the face of Jesus Christ radiates this glory because he is its very embodiment, he who came from God, the very Son of God, and returned to God as our Savior-Lord forever.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

The subject of "we have" is Paul and his associates. This verb is used in 3:4 and 12; 4:1 and 7 and 13; 5:1; 6:10, and 7:1 to denote the pastor's possession of good things.

A treasure is a valuable possession. Here "this treasure" denotes the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in verse 6. It is the Gospel.

Paul describes himself and his associates as "clay jars," weak and fragile instruments. Note the utter contrast between the treasure and its container. The word denotes the whole person, not just the body.

"All-surpassing power" is translated "transcendent power," "supreme power."

Plummer: May be perceived to belong to God and not to originate with ourselves.
Kretzmann: The weakness and insignificance of the human vessels makes His own glory stand out all the more prominently by contrast.
Tasker: This striking paradox makes it clear that the Gospel is not product of human ingenuity . . . but a revelation of the power of the sovereign God.

Paul's detractors had tried their best to discredit him, 10:10; 11:6; 12:7, but Paul's weaknesses presented no barrier to what God was accomplishing, 12:9.

2 Corinthians 4:8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;

There are four pairs of participles in verses 8 and 9. In each case the first one denotes the suffering and fragile nature of Paul and his associates. In each case the second one denotes the help and power of God exhibited in these clay jars.

Plummer: The frailty of the instruments might have been fatal to any other cause, but in this case were not allowed to be so. These are all the actual experiences of Paul.

"In every way" or "on every side" very likely goes with the first, third, fifth and seventh participle. Note that all participles are present tense of continued action. "But not" introduce the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth participle.

The first two participles in verse 8 denote external difficulties. The second two denote mental anxiety. In Greek there is a play on words, a similar sound and sense, between the third and fourth participles. We could preserve this by translating "being at a loss, but not having lost out."

Lenski: 'Sheep among wolves', Matt. 10:16, and yet the sheep win! Death all around, yet so many given life!
Hughes: These two verses are illustrative of the great principle that the excess of power working in the Christian is all of God. . . to be at the end of man's resources is not to be at the end of God's resources.
Tasker: Never, it seems, are his enemies allowed to do their worst.
Kretzmann: Paul, in these figures probably has the Isthmian games in mind once more as in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

2 Corinthians 4:9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

"Pursued but not abandoned." Men persecuted Paul but God did not abandon him. On the second participle compare Hebrews 13:5. Some find the word occurring in the LXX in God's promises not to forsake His own, Deuteronomy. 31:6-8; Joshua 1:5; 1 Chronicles. 28:20; Psalm 36:25. Compare the incident at Lystra in Acts 14:19ff.

The second set of participles means "thrown down but not perishing." This could very well be a reminiscence of wrestling. Here, of course, it is metaphorical.

Plummer: Whatever hostile agents, whether human of diabolical, may do, the earthen vessels are able to bear the shock and continue to render service.

2 Corinthians 4:10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Plummer: The fifth illustration sums up the preceding four, and carries the climax to the supreme point, 'always dying, yet always alive.' The four kinds of suffering are condensed as 'death,' and the four kinds of deliverance as 'life in Jesus.' This refers to Paul's constant exposure to death.
Bengel: Paul uses the name 'Jesus'alone more frequently in this whole passage than is usual with him; therefore here he seems peculiarly to have felt its sweetness. Note that 'Jesus' occurs twice in verse 10 and in verse 11.
Tasker: The fourfold mention of the name 'Jesus' in this verse and in the following is most significant, for it shows how constantly the story of the earthly life of the Savior was in his mind.

KJV, NKJV, and NASB render the word "dying," while TEV, NIV and RSV have "death."

ATT translates: "We are in our bodies always being killed with Jesus so that you can see in our bodies the life of Jesus." People see the life and strength of Jesus in the suffering of Paul. That is truly paradoxical. There is definitely a note of optimism in the suffering of a Christian pastor. He must be a model of patient suffering. The members of the church see Christ in all this.

2 Corinthians 4:11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

Plummer: While the first half of verse 11 elucidates the first half of verse 10, the second half intensifies the second. In just that element of our nature which is liable to death, the life of Jesus is to be manifested . . . To whom is the life of Jesus thus made manifest? Not so much to 'us' as to 'you, to the converts rather than to the missionaries.. This is plain from verse 12. He translates 'we are ever a living prey.'
Bengel: The apostle wonders that he has escaped so many deaths, or even survived others already slain for the testimony of Christ, as Stephen and James.
Kretzmann: Their flesh may be mortal, subject to death and decay, but in their spirit lives the undying, almighty power of the Ruler of the Kingdom of Power, of the King of Grace, and therefore they go forward from strength to strength.
Hughes: Between Master and follower there is a certain unity of experience and destiny. It was Christ who said: 'A servant is not greater than his lord; if they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you' (John 15:20).
Lenski: Jesus is himself 'the life' (John 14:6), the Fountain of Life, the source of all spiritual life and of life eternal for us . . . . our life is our life everlasting, which death cannot touch.

RSV has "for while we live." TEV: "Throughout our lives." AAT: "While we're living."

2 Corinthians 4:12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

"So then" introduces a final paradox.

Plummer: The antithesis is mainly verbal, for 'death' is wholly physical and 'life' is chiefly spiritual: '-WE- have the physical suffering and loss; -YOU- have the spiritual comfort and gain.
Hughes: Paul is reminding them again that he, who through many afflictions brought them this transforming message, is their genuine Apostle.

A good observation. Paul was accused of being phony.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts, Series B, Sundays after Pentecost,
Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 11-13

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