Now this morning as we come to the revelation of God in His Word we are drawn back to 2 Corinthians chapter 4, 2 Corinthians chapter 4. We have been, over a number of weeks now, talking about the fact that there are two kingdoms in the world. There are two rulers in the world. There’s the kingdom of light, ruled by Christ, who rules by the power of His Spirit through His church by indwelling believers; and there is the kingdom of darkness ruled by Satan, who, by his demons and human agents and by the influence that he has on the human heart, rules the world that is passing away.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The kingdom of this world is evil and headed for hell. However, Jesus said, “My kingdom is present in this world.” It is the kingdom of righteousness, and the folks who are in that kingdom are headed for heaven. That’s the simple way to look at the world around you. The kingdom of darkness, manifest by sin; kingdom of light, manifest by righteousness. The kingdom of darkness ruled by Satan, and all who are outside of Christ are in the kingdom of darkness, and they follow their father the devil, who is a liar and a murderer. Kingdom of righteousness manifests in the church, the true church; the King is Christ, and He indwells every true believer. Why did the Lord leave us in the world? We have been looking at that, it’s an obvious answer. All who are in the kingdom of light are commissioned to shine the light of the gospel into the darkness so that the Lord can redeem His elect people.
Now as you look at 2 Corinthians 4, this becomes clear to us. If you look at verse 3, the apostle says, “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” I just want to focus on that incredible statement: “The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The light is just that; that defines the light that we shine into the darkness. It is the light of the gospel, the good news of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.
Says it again down in verse 6: “The One who has shone in our hearts” has done so “to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” The light is the gospel of Christ; Christ is the very incarnation and image of God. That’s why we’re here, and that’s why He says in verse 5, “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.”
Back in chapter 1, verse 19, we read, “For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” What is Paul saying there? He is saying all the promises of God are bound up in Christ; He is the yes to the promises of God.
So for us to shine the light means the light of the gospel, the good news of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Acts 4:12 says there’s no salvation in any other. Romans 10:17 says they can’t be saved unless they hear the message concerning Christ. Unlike the preachers that Jeremiah addressed, who preached the deceptions of their own mind, who speak a vision from their own imagination, “we do not preach ourselves;” we preach Christ. And you heard that even sung so beautifully today.
Now necessarily when you’re preaching Christ, you’re calling sinners to repent. I read that in Psalm 51, and you heard it in the last hymn sung by the students. It is necessary if they are to receive the good news that they hear the bad news. They don’t want that. They love the darkness rather than the light. They cherish their sins. They flaunt their sins, to one degree or another. Even Jesus said in John 7:7, “You hate Me because I tell you your deeds are evil.” That is what generates the hostility and the hate, because first of all, the dominating human sin is pride. People want to defend their goodness, their nobility. And when you unmask the wretchedness of their hearts, they’re usually angry. In the flesh they’re angry, and apart from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, they will remain angry.
In the face of opposition, then, the question is, in the face of hostility and in the face of persecution, how do we remain bold in proclaiming Christ? Which means confronting sin. Well Paul answers that in this text, as we saw last time. You’ll notice in verse 1, he says at the end of the verse, “We do not lose heart.” And then down in verse 16 he says it again: “Therefore we do not lose heart.”
So he sort of brackets the revelation here with this idea that he doesn’t lose heart. He doesn’t defect, he doesn’t give up, he doesn’t give in. He doesn’t demonstrate cowardly flight. He doesn’t give in to evil. He could actually come to the end of his life—and did—and he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished the course. Henceforth, there’s laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord shall give to me; but not to me only, but to all who love His appearing.”
All of us would want to come to the end of life and say, “I fought the good fight,” right? “I kept the faith, I finished the course.” How do you do that? Realizing that the confrontation of sinners is going to result in hostility. Jesus said, as I have pointed out, “If they hate you, don’t be surprised. If they hated Me, they’re going to hate you.” And they hated Him to the point that they actually executed Him in spite of all the good, good that had never been seen in the history of humanity and never will be seen again until Jesus comes. They killed Him anyway because He confronted their evil.
So you have to recognize that that’s a reality, and it cannot be avoided. If you avoid it, you are defecting. If you avoid the confrontation with sin, you are defecting. Now it’s to be done with love and graciousness, mercy. The very kindness of God is extended in salvation to the sinner, and we have to bring that message in that same fashion.
Now what kept Paul locked down on his spiritual responsibility no matter how much persecution he received? And, as we pointed out last week, his whole life was basically a life in which he saw people come to faith in Christ, and at the same time, hostility ramped up to the point that almost everywhere he went, the threat of jail and death followed Him. In fact, he says a little later in this very chapter, verse 12, “So death works in us, so that life can work in you.” “I live every day on the brink of execution at the hands of people who hate the gospel, so that I can get the gospel to you so that you can believe.”
But how do you have that kind of bravery? How do you have that kind of courage? It comes from convictions. It comes from down inside, related to the things that you believe that are non-negotiable. And we’ve been looking at those, and today we’ll take a few of them—I don’t think we’ll finish the chapter.
But I just want to remind you of the first one. The first thing that was a conviction, a certainty in Paul’s mind, was he was certain about the superiority of the New Covenant. In verse 1, “Since we have this ministry.” What ministry is he talking about? The one he just described in chapter 3. You go back to chapter 3, and you look, for example, at verse 7. He describes the Old Covenant, the law, as, “the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones.” It had “glory so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was.” If there was glory in the law, which only condemned, “how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.”
So he is saying that the New Covenant in Christ has far more glory than the Old Covenant law. He had no—this is important—he had no hesitation regarding the truth of the gospel. That’s where everything starts. That’s why we make such an issue out of you understanding the gospel. You must understand it, you must believe it. You must understand its superiority and its absolute uniqueness and excellence. He knew as a former Pharisee who had lived in extreme bondage to the Old Covenant—and that, of course, didn’t save him, it only condemned him. But he knew what it was to live at the most extreme level under the law. And when he came to Christ, he found that the righteousness of God, a free gift to him by faith, far surpassed the bondage of his effort at self-righteousness.
I think it’s true to say that the people who have been delivered from the worst are more likely to be eager to talk about the best. Many of us kind of grew up in a Christian family where we were delivered from our sins, but not in the way that someone is delivered who has lived virtually a lifetime in lies and error and bondage. I think it’s true to say in the church the people who have been saved from the most, as Jesus said, are the most thankful, and likely to talk the most about the glories of the New Covenant. For the rest of us, we have to gain that conviction not from our own experience, but from what we know about the truth.
Paul had certainty about the superiority of the New Covenant. From personal experience, he was passionate about making sure sinners heard the good news. Secondly, he was certain that ministry was a mercy. He says, “We have this ministry, as we received mercy.” That is to say, he never lost sight of the fact that this was an overwhelming mercy to allow him to preach this message. This is not something that you earn by your education. This is not something that you earn by your erudition. This isn’t something you earn because you have a gift for speaking. Any of us who has ever been given the privilege of proclaiming the gospel knows it is a mercy. We preach a far better message than we can live. But we also understand that if God couldn’t use flawed people, He couldn’t use anybody because we’re all flawed. Paul never got over the mercy of putting him into the ministry, as we saw in 1 Timothy.
The third certainty in his life that we looked at last time was, he was certain of the need for a pure heart. And that’s what he says in verse 2: “We’ve renounced the things hidden because of shame.” There’s no secret life. There’s no hidden life. There’s nothing to be discovered. We have been exposed to the uncovering of an evangelist and apologist who died; and after his death there’s an unbelievable explosion of wretchedness that comes out of the testimonies of the people whom he abused. “Some men’s sins follow after them,” Paul says. Paul had no fear of that, no fear of that. No fear of a postmortem episode where the truth would come out, because he had no hidden life of shame. He said his conscience was clear, and he was winning the spiritual battle on the inside. And if you want to be useful to the Lord, you need to be a clean vessel.
And we saw, fourthly, that he was certain of the duty to accurately preach the Word. He says, “Not walking in craftiness”—or deceptiveness—“or adulterating the word of God, but rather by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” “Not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word”—that’s the negative—“but by manifestation of the truth”—that’s the positive. He was commending himself even to the unbelievers and in the sight of God.
That brings us to a fifth point: The apostle was certain that salvation was the sovereign work of God—and this is where we stopped last time. Paul was certain that salvation is the sovereign work of God.
Immediately in verse 3 he says—and this is so helpful to us, because we’re asking the question—“So we have a pure life, so we’re faithful in handling the Word of God, proclaiming the truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. Why don’t we have results? Why don’t we get the results we want?” Paul immediately says that “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing”—to the category of people who by nature are perishing. Those who are perishing. To them, he says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, the gospel is foolishness; it is not understandable, 1 Corinthians 2:14—the natural man understands not the things of God, they’re foolishness to him. It’s incomprehensible, because the people in the category of the perishing, those who are on their way to hell, are by definition dead in trespasses and sins; they have no mechanism to respond to the truth.
Further, not only are they perishing, but “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving.” The very category of perishing is a consistency or a state of blindness. But he adds a kind of double blindness, a satanic kind of blindness, so people can’t see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. So this is the resistance we have. They resist us because they’re offended. They resist us because they’re bound in death. They resist us because they’re satanically blinded. Romans 11:8 says, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not.” They can’t see. The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, they can’t comprehend. They are stone blind.
Just a comment on that phrase “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Christ has glory as the image of God, right? He has glory, He shares the glory of the Father. Hebrews 1, He’s the exact representation of the Father, the image of the Father. In Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. He is the fullness of God’s revelation. John 1:14, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory,” and it was the “glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” So He has glory in His incarnation as God. He has glory as the image of God.
But there’s a second kind of glory being talked about here, and it is this: He has the glory of the gospel. Yes, He has glory as the image of God; that’s His intrinsic glory. That belongs to Him eternally, that’s why in John 17:5 He said to the Father, “Restore to Me the glory I had with You before the world began.” That glory He eternally possessed, the divine glory of the eternal Son of God. He always possessed that intrinsic glory as God.
But in the gospel, His glory is manifested in a new way, in a new way. The gospel allows the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ to be demonstrated in a new way. And I think the most wonderful way to understand that perhaps is to look at Ephesians chapter 1. In Ephesians chapter 1 we have a repeated phrase. If you look down to verse 6, you’ll see a phrase: “to the praise of the glory of His grace,” “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” That is really the new revelation of His glory. He is glorious as the image of God, but there is a new manifestation of that glory, the glory of His grace. By His death and by His resurrection He triumphed to provide regeneration for His people. He defeated Satan, conquered death, satisfied divine justice, propitiated God’s wrath; redeemed, reconciled, rescued His people from judgment and hell; and so perfectly fulfilled that assignment God gave Him, that God gave Him a name above every name, the name Lord, at which every knee should bow.
When we go to heaven, no doubt we will celebrate the glory of Christ as a person. But when you look at the saints in heaven you see particularly that they are praising Him for the glory of His grace. Revelation 4, you have twenty-four elders, they come before Him who sits on the throne, the One who lives forever and ever and ever, and they sing of how worthy He is. He has glory, honor, and power as the Creator. But when you come down to chapter 5, the twenty-four elders and the angelic beings sing a new song, a new song, a new expression of the glory of God.
“Worthy are You”—singing to the Lamb—“to take the book and break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” And then the crescendo, verse 12, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. . . . To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
Forever we will be worshiping Christ as the sacrificed Lamb. That is the glory of His grace. Yes, we will worship Him as the Creator. But the celebration crescendos past creation to the glory of His grace. This is the high point of His glory. Do you understand that? When we get to heaven, He will be the slain Lamb with the scars. Salvation grace will be the primary theme of heaven. As glorious as He is, as brightly as He shines, as wondrous as His eternal light of perfection, and as blessed as the glory of His grace appears in the gospel, the perishing and the blind cannot see it. Do they have any hope? This is where we turn to verse 6.
How can the dead sinner, the blind sinner, believe? For God said—he’s looking back to Genesis 1:3—“Let there be light.” “Light shall shine out of darkness.” That’s creative. God spoke light into existence in creation. And the One “who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” How do you come to a correct understanding of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ? Because God does a creative miracle. God shines in our hearts. “Light shall shine out of darkness.” Salvation is the light of Christ shining in the darkened heart. It’s a creative act; that’s why 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new”—what?—“creature.” You have been created, you’re a new creation.
And again, thinking of Ephesians chapter 1, unmistakably the apostle Paul gives all credit to God: “Blessed be the God and Father”—verse 3—“of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to the adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” God willed to speak life to us.
Jesus is talking to Nicodemus in John 3, and Nicodemus says, “How can a man experience a new birth, regeneration, being born from above?” And our Lord doesn’t say, “Well, pray this prayer, and that’ll take care of it.” The Lord says, “Well, it’s like the wind, it blows where it will. You don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going, but you feel it. So it is with the Holy Spirit.” Regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit, a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit.
What role does the sinner have? The sinner’s role is to believe, to repent and believe. Can an unaided sinner repent? No, that’s why Paul says God has to grant repentance. Can an unaided sinner believe? No, that’s why you’re saved by grace, and that not of yourselves; even the faith is a gift of God. God gives you the gift of repentance and faith because He wills to give you life.
So what are all these people doing trying to come up with mechanisms that are going to save people? I saw that most bizarre statement about a Christian singer who died, that his greatest achievement was leading millions to Christ. What? That’s not a human achievement. I don’t know what that even refers to. There’s only one way that people will ever be redeemed and taken out of their death and darkness, and that is by a sovereign creative miracle of God, which produces in them repentance and faith at the hearing of the gospel. So, what do we do? We preach not ourselves, we preach Jesus Christ as Lord. And then God does the rest.
At least I can move on to one other point this morning. Number six: We’re just slaves. He ends verse 6 by saying, “We are doulos”—or rather, verse 5—“we are doulos, we are slaves for Jesus’ sake.” We’re nothing more, we’re nothing more than that. We’re slaves who have been given the responsibility to deliver the truth; God does the saving.
And that introduces us to the next conviction. This is conviction number six. Paul was certain about his own insignificance. He was certain about his own insignificance. And the contrast is just extreme. He’s been talking about the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, this grand phrase about deity, eternal glory. And then he says in verse 7, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels,” clay pots. This is a startling contrast. The shining glory of the majesty of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ—this is pure, heavenly, holy glory. He is fully aware of the unparalleled glory of God shining in the face of Christ and in the gospel. He’s also fully aware of this: that he has no glory; that he is a frail, weak, common clay pot. That’s what that means. This is the stark reality that you have to embrace. You have to be certain of this: Christ is everything, and you are nothing. You’re not the reason anyone is redeemed. It is a priceless treasure in a cheap clay pot.
Paul is acknowledging he’s nothing. He’s not defending himself as some great evangelist, some great preacher, some great teacher. He’s saying, “I’m just a clay pot. I have this treasure, this new covenant gospel of glory, en ostrakinos,” a clay pot—cheap, common, breakable, replaceable, valueless, and ugly. It’s a clay pot. You use them to put a plant in; you fill them with dirt. But in ancient times clay pots were used to bury valuables. Put your valuables in a clay pot, dig a hole, and put it there. They were also used to remove the household waste. They were the garbage. They were the receptacles of the sewage of the house. Very, very graphic language. The same word is used in 2 Timothy 2:20, there are vessels unto honor, and there are vessels unto dishonor. This vessel has no intrinsic value. They accused Paul of being weak. They said his speech is contemptable, his personality is unimpressive, and he agreed; he’s a clay pot.
I often think about Martin Luther. He had an enemy, Sir Thomas More. And More liked to call Luther a privy pot, sort of a portable outhouse. This is what he said: “Luther has nothing in his mouth but privies, filth, and dung, with which he plays the buffoon. He would cast into his mouth the dung which other men would spit into a basin. If he will leave off the folly and rage and the till now too-familiar mad ravings against the Catholic Church, if he would swallow down his filth and lick the dung with which he has so foully defiled his tongue and his pen, to carry nothing in his mouth but bilgewater and sewage, we will take timely counsel whether we wish to leave this mad friar and privy-minded rascal with his ragings and ravings and filth,” et cetera. Thomas More. Luther would have probably said what Isaiah said: “I’m a man of unclean lips.” Luther probably wouldn’t have argued about that. He knew that he was just a clay pot. He didn’t deserve that.
In 1 Corinthians 4—just to prove my point—1 Corinthians 4:9, Paul says, “I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” They see us as “fools for Christ’s sake”—this is sarcasm—“but you’re prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, and roughly treated, and homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate.” Then this, “We have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things.” Scum and dregs is what’s left at the bottom of the garbage after you’ve dumped it out. It’s the crust on the bottom of the container—the lowest, most degraded thing possible. Paul is saying, “That’s how we are considered; and in reality, we admit we are clay pots.” Peter, in writing to leaders in 1 Peter, says, “Humble yourselves. Humble yourselves.”
The point of this is that the power of the glorious gospel is not the product of human genius or technique. It’s not the container, it’s the glory of the truth, right? We’re just weak, common, plain, fragile, breakable, dishonorable garbage buckets. But this amazing thing: Our weakness does not prove fatal to the gospel cause because the power doesn’t depend on us. It doesn’t depend on us. It depends completely on God.
Go back to verse 7: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” clay pots, “so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” The weaker the pot, the more powerful the gospel. Paul was faithful to the end because he didn’t overestimate himself, so that he thought himself to deserve better than he got. He knew his ministry was a mercy, he was concerned about the purity of his heart, he was concerned about the accuracy of his teaching and preaching, he knew the results depended on God, and he knew he was just a clay pot. Those are the convictions that sustained him to the end, where he could say, “I have fought the good fight, kept the faith, finished the course.”
Let me just sum it up in a simple statement: Your ability to be faithful in proclaiming the gospel all through your life is built on your convictions about the gospel. Do you believe it is the unparalleled truth? Have you lost sight of the amazing privilege of proclaiming it, that mercy of all mercies, letting you be a spokesperson for God? Have you guarded your purity? Can you proclaim the Word accurately? Are you humble enough to recognize that all results come from God, and that all He asks you to do is deliver the truth and He’ll take care of the rest? And if you get discouraged, is it just because you think maybe you’re more significant than you are?
Well, we have much more to go, as you can tell, because there’s a half a chapter left. We’re going to leave that for next time. Let’s bow in prayer.
Father, we come again asking that You would do a work in our hearts today, that You would bring us before the shining, blazing light of the glory of the gospel of Christ. We may see not just His glory as the image of God, but the glory of His grace. It’s a glory that embraces us. His glory as the image of God would have burned us to cinders. Even Moses couldn’t look at the glory of God without disintegrating. But we can look at Christ and at the glory of His grace because in that grace is forgiveness and access and a covering of righteousness. We want to be the people that You desire us to be. That’s our only heart’s desire.
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