The Agora
Bible Commentary
2 Corinthians

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2 Corinthians 4

2Co 4:1

The ministry of preaching the gospel came through God's mercy.

2Co 4:2

Vv 2-4: In an allusion similar to Rom 16:17-20, Paul refers to those "believers" who trusted in the law of Moses. They had not "renounced the hidden things of dishonesty". They were still "walking in craftiness" and "handling the word of God deceitfully " -- thus living up (or down!) to the example of their spiritual "ancestor" -- the old serpent!

Continuing his analogy, Paul evidently has in mind again the tragic history of Eden lost. In seeking to be like the Elohim, Eve departed from her "first estate". She was reaching for "greater light". She found instead darkness -- deceived by the serpent, or the "god of this world". Her mind was blinded by "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1Jo 2:15,16), and consequently she "believed not" God. Thus was the creation plunged down to ruin.

But God's ultimate purpose with the earth would not be thwarted by a pair of sinners. The God who commanded light to shine out of darkness at the first creation (2Co 4:6; Gen 1:3), set about immediately with a plan to reclaim His fallen creation. This plan called for another "light" to shine into the world, that is, a new "Adam" made in the express image of his Father (Heb 1:3). In all the things wherein the first "Adam" and his wife failed, the last "Adam" would succeed. He would renounce the hidden works of darkness; he would handle God's word aright; he would reject the evil and choose the good. He would show forth the full knowledge of the glory of God, which had since Eden been clouded and dim. And through his work, he would redeem his "bride", from the serpent's folly.

DECEPTION: Allusion to serpent in Eden (see context).

DISTORT THE WORD OF GOD: As serpent in Gen 3:1,4.

2Co 4:4

GOD OF THIS AGE: Materialism, pleasure?

HAS BLINDED THE MINDS OF UNBELIEVERS...: An "idol" is something men "worship"... which "blinds" their minds, "preventing" the gospel and the love of God from entering, or controlling, their lives.

If we get this point right, it seems to me, then we may recognize that anything and everything, essentially, MAY BE an idol... but nothing, effectively, MUST BE an idol. Let me illustrate what I mean:

Even the most innocuous of pastimes: gardening or long walks on the beach -- MAY BE "idols" if pursued and enjoyed to the exclusion of the worship and service of our Heavenly Father. But, of course, they are not necessarily "idols"!

For that matter, the very most legitimate time-consumers -- such as family and work -- MAY BE "idols" IF our interests and concerns in these directions, and our allotments of time and energy, threaten to crowd out God from our lives. After all, Jesus said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple" (Luk 14:26). Harsh language indeed, since elsewhere we are plainly told to love our spouses and families, to provide for them, to honor our parents, etc, etc. Surely Jesus is saying, 'Don't let EVEN your family... those closest to you... who have the most legitimate claims upon you... don't even let them turn you aside from serving God!' Likewise, work -- earning one's daily bread, and providing for one's family -- is the most legitimate of pursuits (supported by various Bible passages), but if through greed (the love of money) or competitiveness (pride) our jobs become the be-all and end-all of our lives, and threaten to consume all our time and all our concern, and to squeeze God out of our lives, then the Bible tells us they are "idols"!

On the other hand, and looking at what might be called the other end of the continuum, we consider the graven images which depicted or represented false gods. Surely, we say, such images were and are ALWAYS "idols". No question there. Aren't they, invariably, "idols"? I am not so sure. Remember the brazen serpent of Moses, which Hezekiah later threw on the scrap heap, calling it -- contemptuously, I think -- "Nehushtan", a mere piece of brass! Was it an idol, or was it merely a piece of metal? I think the answer depended on how any individual viewed it. To Moses and those who were saved by looking to it, it was surely not an idol -- but a reminder of God's love and even a prophetic indicator of the Messiah who was to come -- who would be lifted up on behalf of all men (John 3:13-16). But to the superstitiously-inclined of generations after Moses, it began to be thought of in an idolatrous manner: its veneration threatened to crowd out God Himself, and for that reason it ought to be destroyed.

Similar points might be made about the symbol of the cross: an object whose meaning changed for people (at least, some people) over time.

Likewise, Paul in Romans and 1 Corinthians deals with the question of meat offered to idols, real idols of wood or stone or metal, by pointing out -- essentially -- that every person's conscience might be different in regard to the "realness" of such "idols". He says (I'm paraphrasing) that we know (or should know) that such objects are not gods at all; in other words, such a "god" is, really, "no god" -- it's just a lifeless material thing, with no mystical powers, and no evil connotations... unless we endow it with such powers! But for those who cannot help themselves, but view such an image as truly an idol, or have felt or seen its "power" in their lives or the lives of others, then... yes, it's a "god" or an "idol"... and such scruples ought to be respected by other, "stronger" brethren.

So, it seems that even what we might at first glance agree is, very definitely, an "idol"... may NOT be an "idol" either -- unless we make it so!

I subscribe to BAR magazine (Biblical Archaeology Review). A few years ago, BAR ran ads for replicas of certain "gods" and "goddesses" -- little images of various statues and images that had been unearthed by archaeologists in and around the Holy Land, accompanied by descriptions and explanations of their Biblical significance. It was quite interesting to see the sorts of reactions these ads produced: some folks were vehemently angry because BAR was promoting "idolatry"; there were cancellations of subscriptions, and charges of idolatry and blasphemy if even a picture of such images were printed in the magazine.

Were such little images truly "idols"? Or not?

2Co 4:5

WE DO NOT PREACH OURSELVES: Paul's response to those who had been questioning his apostleship. This charge is replaced with an exposition of how the glory of God can be seen in Jesus -- and consequently in us if we are followers of Jesus rather than followers of Paul or Apollos, etc.

2Co 4:6

See Gen 1:4; Mal 4:2. The light has been there right from the first day of creation. Jesus is described as the light too, in the context of beginnings in John 1:7-10. This light, we are now told, must shine in our hearts. Eph 5:8; 2Pe 1:19; 2Co 3:18.

"Thou Whose Almighty word
Chaos and darkness heard,
And took their flight:
Hear us, we humbly pray,
And where the Gospel day
Sheds not its glorious ray,
Let there be light."

FACE OF CHRIST: Ct face of Moses, veiled (2Co 3:13). "Jesus casts no shadows" (MP 5).

2Co 4:7

JARS OF CLAY: "Earthen vessels" (AV). In recent times precious scrolls have been found preserved in earthen jars (Dawn 42:49). Jeremiah commanded Baruch to take legal evidences of a purchase and put them in an earthen vessel, "that they may continue many days" (Jer 32:14). Archaeology has shown that if vessels containing valuables are stored in a safe place, both the vessels and their contents will be saved from the ravages of time and weather. The urns and vases of antiquity testify to the durability of potter's clay!

We have a "treasure" within ourselves to share to others, so that they may know of the glory of God. God knows we are but earthen vessels, be He has chosen us to carry His name. So with confidence we can let His light shine forth. He will manifest His will through us if we use the gifts He has given us in whatever small way to show His loving and merciful plan to others. We do not need to fear our inadequacy for the Father knows the vessel He has created. He knows our strengths and our limitations. We need to acknowledge the strength He has provided to us, and use that in service to him, so that His light may surely shine through our works. Then may His glory abound even more.

2Co 4:8

HARD PRESSED ON EVERY SIDE: Historian Shelby Foote tells of a soldier who was wounded at the battle of Shiloh during the Civil War and was ordered to go to the rear. The fighting was fierce and within minutes he returned to his commanding officer. "Captain, give me a gun!" he shouted. "This fight ain't got any rear!"

2Co 4:14

See VL, Christ's resurrection, reality.

2Co 4:17

OUR LIGHT AND MOMENTARY TROUBLES: "The discipline of human parents partakes of the limitations of human nature; it is exercised as 'seemed good to them', and with the best of intentions it is not always wisely applied. But God's training has none of the deficiencies of the human training: it is directed with unerring wisdom for the benefit of the subjects of it. God's aim is that His children might be partakers of His holiness. When the end is reached and the bodies of His sons are made 'glorious', and when those children exhibit divine holiness in every word and act, it will be seen that the present trial is but a light affliction compared to the eternal weight of glory then enjoyed" (CHeb 260,261).

MOMENTARY: "The whole history of mankind does not constitute a fraction of eternity. The realisation of this fact helps us to see something of God's point of view, and we can understand why that which seems like the most awful suffering to us can be described as a 'light affliction which endureth but for a moment' " (IC).

LIGHT... OUTWEIGHS...: Both these words make a word play on the HEBREW (not the Greek) word for "glory", which is "kabod", literally "weight"!

2Co 4:18

WHAT IS SEEN IS TEMPORARY: "There can be no comparison between a temporal and an eternal object, since the finite can never be compared with the infinite. It is a fact, however, that in all temporal objects men pay great regard to the time required for the endeavour and the durability of the finished work. Who would not be willing to endure a single second of suffering in order to secure some substantial advantage for the rest of life? Yet even a second is a proportion of our allotted span. The fraction can easily be expressed in figures, and not such an appalling array of figures either. Sixty seconds to the minute, sixty minutes to the hour, twenty-four hours to the day, 365 days to the year, and then seventy years for a human life. But the whole history of mankind does not constitute a fraction of eternity. The realization of this fact helps us to see something of God's point of view, and we can understand why that which seems like the most awful suffering to us can be described as a 'light affliction which endureth but for a moment' [2Co 4:17]" (ConCon 125,126).

WHAT IS UNSEEN IS ETERNAL: "Get out of this world into God's world. Take everything worthwhile with you, and get rid of all the rest. Don't have any ties or possessions here: they divide the interest, and dilute the attention. God's world is the real, eternal world. This world is a passing, meaningless, animal world. There is nothing about it real, lasting, or satisfying. It's made up merely of dull, repetitious games, which grow increasingly boring as we grow older: travel games, getting-things games, seeing-things games, beating-a-little-ball games, pride games, dressing-up games, collecting-things games, 'nice' home games, 'nice' car games. What a weariness at last! God's world is an increasingly interesting and satisfying world. It has to do with working toward perfection and permanence, beauty and joy that does not fade. God's world is ever brighter, ever stronger. This world is a gradual running down and wearing out until at last it is a cold and endless night. See it as it really is -- and leave it all behind" (GVG).

WHAT IS UNSEEN IS ETERNAL: "A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for one whom he has never seen; talks familiarly every day to someone he cannot see; expects to gain eternal life because of the virtue of someone else; empties himself in order to be full; admits he is wrong so he can be declared right; goes down in order to get up; is strongest when he is weakest; richest when he is poorest; and happiest when he feels the worst. He dies so he can live; forsakes in order to have; gives away so he can keep; sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passes knowledge. The man who has met God is not looking for anything; he has found it. He is not searching for light, for upon him the light has already shined. His certainty may seem bigoted, but his assurance is that of one who knows by experience his religion is not hearsay. He is not a copy, not a facsimile. He is an original from the hand of the Holy Spirit" (AWT).

"The spiritual is real. If we would rise into that region of light and power plainly beckoning us through the Scriptures of truth we must break the evil habit of ignoring the spiritual. We must shift our interest from the seen to the unseen. For the great unseen Reality is God. 'He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him' (Heb 11:6). This is basic in the life of faith. From there we can rise to unlimited heights. 'Ye believe in God,' said our Lord Jesus Christ, 'believe also in me' (Joh 14:1). Without the first there can be no second. If we truly want to follow God we must seek to be other-worldly. This I say knowing well that that word has been used with scorn by the sons of this world and applied to the Christian as a badge of reproach. So be it. Every man must choose his world. If we who follow Christ, with all the facts before us and knowing what we are about, deliberately choose the Kingdom of God as our sphere of interest I see no reason why anyone should object. If we lose by it, the loss is our own; if we gain we rob no one by so doing" (AWT).

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