2 Corinthians 4
Paul’s dangerous mission
It’s not about us1 So we want you to know we’re not discouraged. I’ll tell you why. First, God showed us mercy. Then, he gave us a job: this ministry. 2 As ministers, we’ve decided to say no to the kind of bad behavior folks do in secret because they’re ashamed of it. We’re not going to work the angles and try to manipulate people. We’re not going to put words into God’s mouth. We tell the truth, plain and simple. With God watching, let your conscience be the judge of what kind of people we are.
3 If the good news we preach gets blacked out, as though someone threw a blanket over it to hide it, rest assured that the message will be hidden only from the folks who aren’t willing to believe it, and who will be lost without it. 4 This will happen because the god of this world has brainwashed unbelievers, and twisted their thinking. They don’t get the good news we preach. They don’t see the light. They don’t see the wonder of the Messiah. And they don’t recognize him as the very image of God on earth.
5 This ministry isn’t about us. We’re not preaching about ourselves. We’re talking about Jesus, telling people that Jesus the Messiah is our leader. As for us, we’re servants, here to help you. We’re doing it for Jesus. 6 It was God who said, “It’s dark. But here comes the light.” This same God has flooded our hearts with spiritual light. We now know how wonderful he is because we’ve seen him in the face of the Messiah.
God’s wealth in a clay pot7 We carry a treasure  inside of these fragile clay containers we call our bodies. So you’ve got to understand that the incredible display of power you have seen from us belongs to God. It doesn’t come from the likes of us.
8 We're getting hit from all sides, but we’re still standing. We don’t have a clue what to do, but we’re working on it. 9 We’re hunted down and harassed, but God is here with us. We’ve been knocked down, but not out. 10 Our bodies carry the marks of suffering. It’s a reminder of the dying body of Jesus. But it’s also a reminder that Jesus rose from the dead. 11 We’re constantly in danger of getting killed because of Jesus. But we want people to see Jesus in us even as we die. 12 Death is at work chipping away on us. But life is at work building you up.
13 We’re not going to shut up. We’re going to keep preaching because we have the same spirit of faith inside of us that the songwriter had when he wrote, “I believed, so I talked about it.” 14 We know God raised our leader, Jesus, from the dead. We know God’s going to do the same for us. One day he’ll bring us all together, and we’ll stand before him. 15 Everything we’re doing and suffering is for your sake. Because of our ministry, we believe that God’s kindness is going to reach more and more people. When that happens, there’s going to be a lot of happy noise as people give thanks to our wonderful God.
Bodies wearing out, spirits revving up16 We haven't given up hope. Our body might be wearing out, but our spirit is revving up—strong and getting stronger every day.
17 The temporary troubles we’re going through now are lightweight. The spectacular and eternal glory of what’s coming is heavyweight. No comparison. 18 We’re not focused on what we can see here and now. We’re looking ahead to what we can’t see. What we can see right now is temporary. But what we’re looking forward to is still out of sight. Once we lay our eyes on it, though, we’ll never lose sight of it again.
Paul was probably thinking of Satan, according to many Bible experts.
Paul seems to have been paraphrasing the first part of the Creation story. “Darkness cloaked the deep water. God’s Spirit cruised through the darkness, above the water. God said, ‘Lights.’ Lights came on” (Genesis 1:2-3).
By “treasure,” Paul may be referring to the spiritual light that reveals God to us, in all of his splendor. See 4:6.
Paul seems to have been quoting Psalm 116:10.
Take a look at 2 Corinthians 4:2. Venture a guess. Why do you think Paul told the Christians in Corinth that he was taking a pledge against bad behavior, manipulating people, and distorting God’s word?
Paul is a bit cryptic when he assures the Christians in Corinth that the story of Jesus might, in fact, be hidden from some folks but that it “will be hidden only from the folks who aren’t willing to believe it, and who will be lost without it” (4:3). We can only guess what he meant by that. If you had to pick from one of the following, what sounds best to you?
- This illustrates the problem of listening in on only one side of the conversation, and trying to make sense of it. We don’t know who Paul was talking about, so why bother guessing?
- Paul may have been talking about Jews, critics of his who almost exclusively rejected his teaching that Jesus was the Son of God. One of their most basic teachings is that there’s only one God: “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” (Deuteronomy 6:4 New Living Translation).
- Maybe Paul was talking about the kind of wise-guy scholars who laughed him out of town in neighboring Athens: “When they heard Paul say that someone actually rose from the dead, they laughed at him….So Paul left the meeting place” (Acts 17:31-32).
Bible scholars might be stretching it, but some of them say they see Paul describing Christianity as a new creation. Paul apparently draws from the Creation story, quoting God bringing light into existence: “It’s dark. But here comes the light” (4:6). Some Christians who grew up in the faith don’t think of themselves as a new creation because they’ve always had God in their life. But for those who became Christians as adults— as may have been the case for most of the people in Corinth—how might they think of themselves as new?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says people don’t believe the story of Jesus for many reasons. Take a look at the bullet list he provides in 4:4. Then add a few of your own to describe why people today don’t believe the story of Jesus.
- Satan has twisted their thinking.
- They can’t relate to the preaching.
- They don’t see spirituality as enlightening.
- They don’t think Jesus is anything special.
- They don’t consider him a god.
Paul is sometimes so poetic that it’s hard to figure out exactly what he’s saying. He uses some parallelism in 4:12. How would you take the poetry out of what he’s saying, and put it in the plain English of a plumber working under your sink?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says that we mere human beings have been entrusted with “a treasure” (4:7). Many Bible experts say that treasure is the knowledge of God, revealed in the story of Jesus—a story we’re supposed to pass along to others. What other treasures can you think of that seem remarkable when you realize that God has entrusted them to mere humans?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul describes several kinds of suffering that he is going through. From the following bullet list taken from 4:8-9, which bullet points do you think most Christians today would connect with best?
- “We’re getting hit from all sides, but we’re still standing.”
- “We don’t have a clue what to do, but we’re working on it.”
- “We’re hunted down and harassed, but God is here with us.”
- “We’ve been knocked down, but not out.”
LIFE APPLICATION. If a Christian is feeling down and in need of a spiritual lift, what do you think might be the most helpful line from this chapter?