II Corinthians 4:1-18 (click to display NIV text)
August 26, 2012
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“For God, who said, ÔLet light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”
It is the season for the box elder bugs to inhabit the church office and to perch on the south-facing walls of the church, both inside and out. This year the herd is especially thick. They are interesting insects, quiet and with no particular odor, and they do not bite or sting. They like to walk; on windows, walls and across my desk. They seem to enjoy Bible study, as they quietly join my devotional times on their “Walk through the Bible.” So I observe these little friends in the few weeks they are with us. In their walking, they seem purposeful at first, but if you watch them, you soon discover they are wandering aimlessly. They wander during the day, and then each morning I find a good number of them on the floor, having passed on from their earthly existence.
In II Corinthians chapter 4, Paul writes about his ministry to wandering people. There were so many in that ancient culture that seemed at first glance to be confident, determined, and even spiritual. But Paul sees that their lives are mostly aimless wandering. They have no hope pulling them forward to an eternal goal. It is a culture that is puzzling to Paul, a culture based on appearances. There is much interest in new ideas and behaviors, but little interest in truth.
Here Paul shares his life and mission, as he proclaims the hope of Christ to a culture that in many parts is not listening. Yet he is patient, persevering, willing to speak of the glory of Christ. He too had been a confident wanderer. One day he found himself marching with determination to Damascus. He knew what he was doing, why he was going there. He was putting an end to a new teaching, a teaching about Jesus, a Risen Lord. He was met by a light, and an appearance of the glory of Jesus. The light made him blind and it gave him sight. The light of Christ showed him how to stop living aimlessly, and how to live for the purposes of God, for the Kingdom of God.
The Gospel he proclaimed was clear, direct and understandable. He speaks it in several places in chapter 5.
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those how live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!”
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
But to be a messenger of this Gospel was not easy, for many people did not listen and many resisted forcefully and continued to follow other stories and philosophies. Paul spoke into a culture that for the most part was not interested and was hostile to him.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
To explain his experience in ministry he uses a variety of images, all of which are centered in sight. In chapter 3 he goes back to the Old Testament, and to Moses, who after he received the Ten Commandments had to cover his face in a veil, because he was radiant from being in the presence of the glory of God. The people could not stand to look directly at him because he shone so brightly. So he needed a veil when he talked to them. Paul says that veil never was taken away. There was something that blocked their hearts when they read Moses, so the Word of God became difficult to understand and follow. Only Christ can take that obstacle away, when in repentance a person turns to the Lord. Christ is able to bring the Word of God alive in us. Then the Word of God forms our lives in Christ, and we become readers of God’s Word in a way that nourishes our souls.
Not only that, he says his gospel message was also veiled. The people had trouble embracing Paul and his message. They demanded eloquence from their teachers, and Paul was plain spoken. They demanded celebrities whose lives were well rewarded, and they could only see the suffering of Paul. They saw the cross of Jesus as a defeat, and they wanted victory, so they resisted and placed a veil on the Gospel.
Sometimes we are tempted to think we must compete with the bright lights of our culture in order to be heard. Somehow we must tell stories of great success, of fame, of excellence rewarded. But Paul was willing to carry the veil of his brokenness when he gave witness to Christ. He did not have to meet the demands of the philosophers. He just preached Christ crucified and allowed the Holy Spirit to touch hearts and remove the obstacles of those who were willing to believe. Scott Hafeman writes, “The power of God is revealed more in endurance in the midst of adversity, rather than in miraculous deliverance from it.” Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel. Don’t feel you must portray yourself as something you are not. God works through our broken and ordinary lives. The message of the cross needs to be spoken in our day as well.
Then Paul says that even more than a veil around the Gospel, the problem is that “the god of this age” has blinded the minds of unbelievers. The people who follow the god of this age cannot see the glory of Christ. The god of this age is anything that leads people to sin, to addiction, to lose their souls. It can come as the promise of fame, or wealth or fun or acceptance. It comes with bright lights that blind people to Christ. So Paul recognized the unbelief that is caused by spiritual blindness, and so he went about his ministry of bringing Christ to people with great patience, with forbearing love, with forgiveness, with a willingness to explain again and again. Paul knew what it was like to be blinded by a bright light. He knew what it was like to be led around by someone else, to be helpless. He had sympathy for those who could not see Christ. He did not give up too soon. He was not demanding, but he was careful and persistent in speaking the Gospel.
Paul knew that God must remove the blindness. Hafeman writes, “God delivers his people by removing their blindness to his gloryÉ only the God of creation, the one who originally called forth light out of darkness, can overcome this blindness.”
So Paul says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” There was so much focus in his day on appearances, just like today. But Paul was not a person of outward appearance. He was very ordinary and plain spoken. Sometimes we get caught in perfectionism. We try too hard to make the outward appearance just so. We put too much attention on the jar and not enough on the treasure. Paul keeps his focus on the treasure.
It has been said in another context that when we get to a certain point in our lives we need to move from developing competence to sharing the accumulated treasure of the years. You move from learning to mentoring. In business you move from performance to sharing the wisdom you have gained through experience with those who are younger.
It is the same in our Christian lives. We come to a place where we share the treasure Christ has put in us through experiences of blessing, or protection, or hardship. We stop worrying so much about outward appearance and share what the Lord has placed in our hearts. We take the focus off of ourselves and what we can do, and put our faith in God, who is able to save. Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” We do not want to live like the box elder bug, always walking and never getting anywhere, always scurrying to no purposeful end, living entirely for external appearance, but without a soul.
We want to place our eyes on that which is eternal, to see Christ at work in us and others, to be drawn by hope to a future that is eternal.