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                        THE GLORY OF CHRISTIAN

                                        MINISTRY

                    AN ANAYSIS OF 2 CORINTHIANS

                                          2:14-4:18

 

                               HOMER A. KENT, JR.

 


 

 

Some activities have a special appeal about them. People are drawn to

certain pursuits because of the excitement generated by the activ-

ity itself. Others are attracted by the financial rewards, by the

adulation of an audience, or by the popular esteem in which some

activities are held. The sense of satisfaction and fulfillment afforded

by such occupations as medicine, education, and social work can lead

to an entire career.

The Christian ministry was once one of those highly respected

vocations. Shifting attitudes in recent years, however, have caused

changes in society's values. Our "scientific" age tends to place on the

pedestal of public esteem the research scientist, the surgeon, and the

sports hero. Yet the reasons why the Christian minister once headed

the list of respected leaders in American life are still valid and worthy

of serious reflection.

          The apostle Paul wrote in this passage about the activity that

had captivated him. He was not attracted by any financial rewards,

for it offered none to him. He gained from it no earthly pomp, no

public prestige (except the respect of the Christians he had helped,

and even this was mixed). He experienced abandonment and hatred

that would demoralize most men. Nevertheless he was so enthralled

with the privilege of Christian ministry that he made it his career and

never found anything that could entice him away from this glorious

passion of his life.

Although "the Christian ministry" is an expression often used to

a certain career, "Christian ministry" should be an activity

in which every believer is engaged. Even if it is not one's vocational

 

*This article will appear as chapters 3 and 4 in a forthcoming book to be

co-published by Baker Book House and BMH Books, under the title A Heart

Opened Wide--Studies in II Corinthians.  It is used here by permission of the

publishers.


172               GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

career, each Christian can share many of the same satisfactions that

Paul describes here. The glory of this ministry can be enjoyed by

every Christian when he understands what Christian ministry involves.

Paul described the character of his ministry in a fascinating discussion

which revealed why he regarded it as the most challenging of

occupations.

 

IT WAS A SINCERE PROCLAMATION OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF

CHRIST (2:14-17)

 

Verse 14. At this point in the letter, Paul interrupted the descrip-

tion of his search for Titus, not resuming it until 7:5. Nevertheless the

content of this section is pertinent to the discussion, for it reveals

Paul's attitude of confidence in God's leading, even in times of

disappointment. There is no need to suspect a combination of several

documents here.

Though he had been concerned at not finding Titus in Troas

(2:12-13), Paul could still express thanks to God for His unfailing

leadership. Disappointment over certain details and events did not

cause the apostle to lose sight of the larger aspect of God's program.

He was convinced that God was always leading him and his associates

in the triumphant accomplishment of his glorious will. The figure is

probably that of the Roman Triumph, in which a conquering general

and his victorious legions would parade in Rome, displaying some of

their captives and other trophies of war. In this use of the figure Paul

seems to be equating his missionary party with the victorious forces

in the triumph, rather than with the captives who would soon be

executed.1

As part of a Roman Triumph garlands of flowers along the route

and the burning of incense and spices provided a fragrant aroma as

one of the characteristics of the parade. So Paul recognized that

whether he and Titus were at Troas, or Corinth, or somewhere else,

and whether circumstances were pleasant or grim, God was using his

messengers to disseminate the precious knowledge of himself in the

gospel of Christ.

Verse 15. In verse 14 the fragrance referred to the gospel which

was proclaimed by Paul and his associates. In verse 15 the preachers

themselves are identified with the gospel they preach. They are called

a "fragrance of Christ" (NASH) because they are the deliverers of that

gospel.

 

          1 The only other NT use of the verb qriambeu<w (lead in triumph) may be understood in the same way (Col. 2:15).  See H. A. Kent, Jr., Treasures of

Wisdom (Grand Rapids:  1978) 88-89.


KENT:  THE GLORY OF CHRISTIAN MINISTRY            173

 

Paradoxically, these messengers of the gospel were a harbinger

of diametrically opposite results to two groups of people. "Those who

are being saved" and "those who are perishing" describe the two

kinds of responses to the preaching of the gospel. At the Roman

Triumph the aroma of the incense was a token of victory and honor

for the conquering legions, but was a sign of sure execution to the

captives in the parade.

Verse 16. The previous statement is further explained by this

verse. To unbelievers the preachers who announced the gospel were

proclaiming a message of eternal doom which would eventually be

experienced in the unbeliever's destruction (e]k  qana<tou  ei]j  qana<ton,

"out of death unto death"). To those who responded in faith, the

gospel preacher had brought a message which comes from Christ the

Source of true life and produces life eternal (e]k zwh?j  ei]j  zwh<n, "out

of life unto life").2

The rhetorical question, "And who is sufficient for these things?"

has been answered differently by readers. Some have suggested the

answer to be, "We apostles are sufficient," inasmuch as they did not

peddle a false message (2: 17-3:1).3 Others regard the answer to be, "No

one is, if he depends on his own resources" (3:4-6). The latter

explanation is best and could be expanded as follows: Certainly the

religious peddlers are not sufficient, for they depend upon a personal

sufficiency with selfish motivation. Only those who depend solely

upon God for His sufficiency can hope to bear this heavy respon-

sibility (3:5).

 

Verse 17. Paul and his companions were not like "so many"

(NIV),4 who were "peddling the word of God" like common hucksters.

The Greek term occurs only here in the NT.  It is derived from the

term for "retailer," and carried the suggestion of trickery, deceit, and

falsehood. The verb meant "to sell at illegitimate profit, to misrepresent,

to hawk." The picture comes to mind of the cheap huckster haggling

over prices and cheapening his goods when necessary to make a sale.

On the contrary, Paul's proclamation of the gospel was done

with complete sincerity. The term (ei]likrinei<a) always denoted

 

          2 Another view of these two e]k . . . ei]j  phrases regards them as simply

indicating continuous progression as in Rom 1:17 ("from faith to faith") and

2 Cor 3:18 ("from glory to glory). J. H. Bernard, "Second Corinthians,"  Expositor's Greek Testament (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, n.d.) 3. 51

          3 R. C. H. Lenski The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second

Epistle to the Corinthians (Columbus:  Wartburg, 1946) 902.

          4 Greek:  oi[ polloi>.  It is not always necessary to press this to its

extreme sense of "the majority." 

          5 ka<phloj.  See Hans Windisch, "Kaphleu<w," TDNT 3 (1965) 603-5.

174               GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL

 

moral purity and was apparently derived from the words for sun

(h!lioj) and test (kri<nw). Hence the sense is "tested by the light of

the sun, spotless, pure."6  From the subjective side of Paul's own

mind, he had spoken with purity. Objectively, the source of his

commission was from God (tIC O£ou). Furthermore, he and his

companions had carried on their ministry "in the sight of God," that

is, with full consciousness that they were responsible to him and were

being watched by him. Finally, they had spoken "in Christ," being

fully aware of their 'position as members of Christ's Body and

drawing power from their vital union with Him. Such a ministry left

little room for suspicion.

 

ITS BEST RECOMMENDATION WAS THE LIVES OF THE CORINTHIAN

CONVERTS (3: 1-3)

 

Verse 1. At this point Paul felt a bit of awkwardness over the

possibility that his previous statement might have sounded self-

serving. The use of "again" could imply certain prior claims about

himself made in previous contacts with the Corinthians or perhaps

may reflect accusations made against him by the religious "peddlers"

who caused him trouble (2: 17). Lest the wrong impression be left, he

quickly added another question which should have shown how

baseless such a suspicion was. Surely Paul did not need letters of

recommendation at this point, either to them (he had led many of

them to Christ and had founded their church), or from them (as if he

depended on them for acceptance elsewhere). Letters of recommenda-

tion were a common practice when persons were otherwise unknown.

The Corinthian church had once received one regarding Apollos

(Acts 18:27). Antioch had received one from Jerusalem about Silas

and Judas (Acts 15:25-27). Paul himself had written many such

commendations (for example, Phoebe, Rom 16:1-2; Timothy, 1 Cor

16:10-11; Barnabas, Col 4:10). If Paul had been recently disparaged

on grounds that no one recommended him, then let the Corinthians

pause to remember a few things.

 

Verse 2. The Corinthians themselves were Paul's letter of recom-

mendation, far better than formal credentials. Furthermore, they had

formed such an important part of his ministry that it could be said

they were actually inscribed in the hearts of the missionary party.

Hence Paul and his companions had the interests of the Corinthians

close to their hearts wherever they went. This living proof of Paul's

authority and effectiveness as a minister of Christ should have been

 

          6 F. Buschsel, "Ei]likrinh<j, ...," TDNT 2 (1964) 397-98.


KENT:  THE GLORY OF CHRISTIAN MINISTRY            175

 

perfectly obvious to all persons who would take the trouble to examine the transformed lives of the Corinthians.

 

Verse 3. Actually, it had been made clear7 that they were Christ's

letter. Paul and his helpers were more like amanuenses8 whom Christ

had used to communicate his message. Christ was the one who had

wrought the change in the Corinthians' lives. Through his power they

had become his letter to the world as to what the gospel could do. As

such they were no mere document written with ink but had been

acted upon by the Holy Spirit in regeneration. Nor were they like the

inanimate tablets of stone in the old covenant of law given to Moses.

Rather, Christ had written his message on tablets of human hearts.

This concept was undoubtedly based on the OT prophecy of the new

covenant (Jer 31:33, compare Heb 8:8-12). The new covenant mediated

by Christ through the Spirit produced an inward change whereby

God's Word was actually implanted in believers, not just externally

imposed. This transforming work made the believers Paul's greatest

recommendation.

 

IT MINISTERED THE NEW COVENANT (3:4 -18)

 

The source of Paul’s competence (3:4-6)

 

Verse 4. The confidence Paul had that Christ was speaking

through him was no mere personal boasting. It had not resulted from

any self-satisfaction based on strenuous effort, skillful performance,

or unusual human competence. It was rather a conviction supplied by

Christ himself and was a confidence that would stand up before God.

 

Verse 5. Here Paul answers the question he raised in 2:16.

Whatever adequacy or sufficiency he and his companions possessed

was not the product of their own ability or origination. He did not

deny that a competent piece of work had been done in their midst,

but "he disclaimed all personal credit. Adequacy for the task had come

from God.

 

Verse 6. It was God who had made his ministers competent for

their task. Their ministry was the proclamation of the new covenant.

This covenant was God's promise to deal In grace with his people by

forgiving their sin and granting them new hearts. The covenant was

validated by the death of Christ (Matt 26:28). Although national Israel

 

          7 Greek:  fanerou<menoi.  The term denotes making something

visible which is invisible.

          8 An amanuensis was a stenographer or copyist, who did the actual

writing for an author.


 

176               GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL

 

has not yet experienced the fulfillment of the covenant, the spiritual

benefits of it are available to every believer through the gospel. It was

as a proclaimer of this new covenant, which offered regeneration to

men that Paul was carrying out his ministry.

The new covenant is "not of the letter but of the Spirit." We

must not suppose that the common English contrast between "letter"

and "spirit" as distinguishing "the letter of the law" from its underlying

spiritual principles is meant. Paul certainly did not mean that the

literal meaning of the OT was harmful and that only spiritual

principles or allegorical interpretations were valid. On the contrary,

he was contrasting the two covenants, as is clear from the context. By

"letter" he meant the old Mosaic covenant which was a document

externally imposed upon its adherents. "Spirit" characterizes the new

covenant which provides an internal change wrought by the Spirit of

God (3:3).

The contrast between the two covenants is noted in their results.

"The letter kills" clearly refers to the Mosaic covenant, as v 7

indicates. It killed in the sense that it confronted man with God's

righteous standard but left him condemned to death. The law could

not of itself provide righteousness. Regeneration, however, is produced

by the Spirit and provides life for everyone who by faith comes under

the provisions of the new covenant. This is not to imply that no one

in the OT had spiritual life. What it does indicate is that life comes by

the action of the Spirit, not by human ability to keep God's standards.

OT saints were saved by faith in the transforming power and grace of

God, just as NT believers are.

 

The great glory of the new covenant (3:7-11)

 

Verse 7. As Paul continued to describe his ministry as involving

the preaching of the new covenant, he showed its superiority over the

old covenant. Doubtless the opposition he continually received from

Judaizing teachers who stressed the Mosaic law made this emphasis

especially important. The argument was based on the admitted glory

of the old covenant, called here "the ministry of death." In view is the

giving of the law on Sinai with its glorious accompanying circum-

stances. It is called the ministry of death because it "killed" (3:6) by

placing its offenders under condemnation.

In spite of its death-dealing results, the old covenant was

nevertheless a product of God and was initiated with impressive

phenomena. One of those remarkable displays was the appearance of

Moses' face. When he descended from the mountain, his face shone

with a supernatural glow so that he had to put on a veil (see Exod

34:29-35). Paul reminded his readers, however, that this glorious glow


KENT:  THE GLORY OF CHRISTIAN MINISTRY            177

 

was a fading thing, and later he expands this thought to symbolize the

temporary nature of the old covenant (3: 11

 

Verse 8. The question is then asked, to which the answer should

be obvious: "Will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more

glorious?" (NIV). If the former dispensation had a covenant which

ministered death, surely the new covenant, which provides regenera-

tion by the Spirit9 of God (3:3, 6), should be regarded as even more

glorious.

Verse 9. The argument is reinforced by another comparison.

Once again Paul argues from the assumption that the old covenant,

here termed "the ministry of condemnation," possessed a genuine

glory. This was true even though it was a covenant that placed man

under condemnation because no one was ever able to keep it perfectly.

The new covenant was a different sort, and not only did not

leave its subjects under condemnation, but provided something

positive. Paul calls it "the ministry of righteousness" because it

supplies its recipients with God's approval instead of condemnation.

"Righteousness" is a legal term which denotes the judge's pronounce-

ment that the defendant is acceptable without any broken law to

accuse him. In the new covenant which is based upon Christ's

substitutionary death for sinners, all who believe are provided with

God s verdict of righteousness— His approval and acceptance, based

not on the merits of the sinner but on the perfect righteousness of

Christ. Surely a ministry that involves such a covenant must abound

with glory!

Verse 10. Paul now reaches the climax of his argument by

pointing to the temporary character of the old covenant and the

evident superiority of that new covenant which was planned to take

its place. The Greek text at this point does not translate easily into

clear English. Both NASB and NIV have paraphrased somewhat, but

the sense is made clear. "That which has been glorified" (literal) refers

to the old covenant mediated by Moses which had certain attendant

glories already mentioned. "Has not been glorified in this respect"

indicates some limitations upon the glory which it did have. "The

glory which surpasses it" refers to the greater glory of the new

covenant which the apostles were ministering. Paul's point is that the

glory of the old has been eclipsed by the greater glory of the new. Just

as the moon becomes invisible in the overpowering sunlight of the

day, so the glory of the old covenant and its ministry has faded away.

 

          9 tou? pneu<matoj (of the Spirit) is regarded here as an objective

genitive, parallel with the other objective genitives tou? qana<tou (of death)

in 3:7, and th?j katakri<sewj (of condemnation) and th?j dikaiosu<nhj (of righteousness) in 3:9.


 

178               GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL

 

Verse 11. After acknowledging that the law existed with a

genuine glory for a time, while at the same time noting that it was a

transitory, fading instrument just as the glow on Moses' face (3:7),

Paul drew the significant conclusion: How much more should we

understand that the new covenant which replaced the former one

remains in glory. It should be obvious that anything which God has

given to supersede a glorious covenant must be even more glorious.

 

The openness of the new covenant (3:12-18)

 

Verse 12. The previous reference to the fading glory of the old

covenant and the experience of Moses led Paul to emphasize another

important feature of the new covenant-its openness in contrast to the old.

"Having such a hope" is Paul's statement of assurance that the

provisions of the new covenant will all be realized. Therefore, he and

his assistants had no hesitancy in proclaiming its truth with great

boldness. They were not fearful of the Judaizers, even though it was

surely a startling message in Jewish circles to proclaim that the

Mosaic law as a system for God's people had been replaced by

another covenant.

 

Verse 13. Paul used the incident at Sinai where Moses placed a

veil over his face (Exod 34:33-35) to illustrate his point. The KJV

translation of Exod 34:33 implies that Moses wore the veil while he

was speaking with Israel, and then took it off. The supplied word

"till" has been corrected to "when" in ASV, N ASB, and NIV. The

proper sense of the passage is that Israel was allowed to see the

radiant face of Moses when he was conveying God's word to them,

but that he covered his face when he was finished. Paul correctly

understood the reason to be that Moses did not wish the Israelites to

be watching his face each time the glory faded away.10

 

Verse 14. This dramatic procedure of Moses, however, was

confronted by the spiritual hardness of Israelite hearts. Most of them

failed to understand the true nature of the glory of Moses' face. Paul

explains that the same spiritual dullness existed among the Jews of

his day. Just as the veil hid the fading glory of Moses' face from

Jewish observers, so the same sort of obscuring veil seemed to hide

the true meaning of the old covenant when it was read by Israel. They

 

10 This is the view of most modern commentators.  P. E. Hughes, however

rejects this explanation and suggests Moses' action as merely intended to prevent

Israel from continually beholding even this transient glory because of their

sinfulness.  Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962) 107-10.


KENT:  THE GLORY OF CHRISTIAN MINISTRY            179

 

were unable to see that it was transient, that it pointed to Christ, and

that it would be replaced by a new covenant.

The obscuring veil of unbelief remains unlifted for Israel because

it is removed only in connection with Christ and his work. Only by

faith in him can the glory of the new covenant be seen, as well as the

replacement of the old by the new.

 

Verse 15. The previous verse described the veil as resting upon

the old covenant and obscuring the proper understanding of it. Here

Paul makes it clear that the fault was not with that covenant, but

with the people. The veil was actually over their hearts. The old

covenant was not misleading. The problem lay in the unbelief of

Jewish hearts. This circumstance was true at the writing of

2 Corinthians twenty-five years after Christ's resurrection. It still

characterizes Israel as a nation more than nineteen centuries later.

 

Verse 16. The language of this verse is adapted from Exod 34:34.

There it described Moses who took the veil off when he went to speak

with he Lord. Paul used that terminology to illustrate what happens

when anyone turns to the Lord. Faith in Christ removes the obscuring

veil from the heart and there is open communion with God under the

terms of the new covenant as announced in the gospel.

Because no subject is given in the original text for the verb

"returns," the KJV has supplied "it," referring presumably to "heart"

as the antecedent. NASB supplies "a man" and NIV uses "anyone."

Contextually it is likely that "the heart of a Jew" is meant. However,

the statement could also be regarded as a general one, "whenever one

turns. ..." The truth is the same for Jew or gentile: turning to the

Lord in faith removes the separating veil of obscurity, and the true

understanding of the old covenant can be gained.

 

Verse 17. There is a clear relationship of this verse to 3:6 and 8.

There it was stated that the new covenant proceeds from the Spirit, it

is life-giving, and is more glorious than the old covenant. Paul then

illustrated from the life of Moses the transitory character of the old

covenant, in contrast to the open unveiled nature of the new. Now he

points out that the Lord Himself is the Spirit about whom he has

been speaking. On the understanding that "the Lord" is a reference to

Christ, as is usual with Paul, the thought is that Christ and the Spirit

are one in essence, just as Christ and the Father are one (John 10:30)

in that mysterious union of the Trinity. In the new covenant Christ

brings about the inner transformation of believers by the action of the

Spirit (called in 3:3 the Spirit of the living God).

This activity of the Spirit of the Lord brings liberty, not deadness

(3:6), or bondage. New birth by the Spirit has infused believers with


180               GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL

 

new life, and brings freedom from enslavement to sin's guilt and

power (Gal 5:1-5).

Verse 18. Consequently, all Christians, not just the apostles,

behold God's glory with an unveiled face. Because they have turned

to the Lord, the veil has been removed from their understanding and

they have open access to the revelation of God in Christ.

Our versions vary between the concepts of "beholding as in a

mirror" or "reflecting" as translations for a Greek word appearing

only this once in the NT.11 Although the idea of reflecting fits the

parallel with Moses who reflected the glory of God, the translation

"beholding" is usually preferred. The ancient versions' commonly

understood it this way. There is no clear instance of the verb having

the meaning "reflect" unless it is in the active voice (it is middle here).

Furthermore the passage speaks of believers who can now see clearly

because the veil has been removed from them.

With faces (and hearts) unveiled, believers may behold the glory

of God as they are brought into relationship with him through Christ

(see also 4:6). Those who press the imagery may identify the mirror as

the Word, or Christ, or something else. Inasmuch as mirrors in Paul's

day were polished metal giving somewhat imperfect images, the

thought is explained as indicating that even though our vision of

Christ's glory is vastly superior to the OT experiences, it is still

something less than the final vision when we see him face to face

(1 Cor 13:12; 1 John 3:2). It is not necessary, however, to push the

interpretation this far, since the emphasis in the statement is not upon

the mirror but upon the beholding.

As believers behold the Lord's glory, now that the veil of spiritual

dullness is removed, they are continually being transformed12 into his

image. The word describes a change of form which is intrinsic. The

true nature of the child of God is progressively revealed, just as the

process of metamorphosis transforms the true nature of the caterpillar

into a butterfly. Paul is referring to the progressive sanctification of

believers whereby as they behold Christ and increase in their under-

standing of him, they become more and more like him, from one

stage of glory to the next. We perceive Christ's glory as we seek

spiritual nourishment in the Word of God, the Scripture. The

transformation is then accomplished in us supernaturally by the

Lord, identified here as the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the

new covenant its distinctive character (3:6, 8). No wonder the apostle

 

11 The verb katoptri<zw in the active means "to produce a reflection" and

in the middle "to look at oneself in a mirror."  It is the middle voice which

appears in 3:18. So BAGD, 425-26;  TDNT 2 (1964) 696.

          12 The present tense of the verb metamorfou<meqa denotes progressive

action.


KENT:  THE GLORY OF CHRISTIAN MINISTRY            181

 

exulted as he did at being involved in Christian ministry which could

accomplish such a feat!

The glory of the Christian ministry which Paul has been describing

did not, however, mean that it always enjoyed uninterrupted successes.

Its glory pertained chiefly to its spiritual significance, and this feature

is not seen by everyone. Those who tend to judge the value of

anything solely by immediate results, outward trappings of "success,"

or by physical and temporal benefits need to realize another aspect of

true Christian ministry.

The sobering fact is that Christian ministry is faced with obstacles.

The accomplishment of God's work is no easy task. Paul informed

the church that his own ministry was beset with various kinds of

accusations and criticisms. Furthermore, he and his assistants lived

constantly under the threat of death. Their physical bodies were

paying a price for their commitment to this ministry. The secret of

their steadfastness lay in their unshakeable faith in God's revealed

truth and in the eternal value of Christ's cause. In this vein Paul

continued the description of the character of his ministry which he

began in 2:14.

 

IT WAS CARRIED OUT OPENLY (4: 1-6)

 

Verse 1. This paragraph not only is a positive assertion of the

openness and candor with which Paul and his assistants had ministered,

but seems also to be a response to criticisms leveled against him by

certain Corinthians (see 1: 12, 17; 3: 1).

"This ministry" to which he referred was the ministry of the new

covenant (3:6). It was the task of proclaiming and teaching the gospel

of Christ, the glorious news that sins have been forgiven through

Christ's death, and that his perfect righteousness has been made

available to those who will trust him for it. Paul had previously

disclaimed any personal adequacy that had made him worthy of this

responsibility (3:5). Now once again he evidences deep humility by

saying "we received mercy" in being given such a task. Does this imply

that some of the religious peddlers at Corinth (2: 17) were suggesting that

Paul and his associates were too high-handed or authoritarian when

they preached among them? Then let them know that Paul's ministry

was no display of ego or personal vanity, but the response of one who

viewed his position as an instance of God's mercy on undeserving

men.

Consequently, Paul and his men did not "lose heart"

(e]gkakou?men). In spite of accusations and difficulties, they continued

performing their ministry without cowardice or discouragement. A

firm conviction of the nature of their mission kept them going.


182               GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL

 

Verse 2. Paul claimed an openness about his ministry with

complete absence of any sort of secrecy or subterfuge. There had been

a renunciation or disowning of those things which one hides because

of a sense of shame.13 As ministers of God, there had been no trickery

in their methods or their message. They had done no falsifying or

adulterating of the Word of God when they proclaimed the gospel.

They were not guilty of giving wrong emphases or withholding

significant parts of the truth. .

Again, one can imagine that certain criticisms of Paul may be

alluded to here. Had Judaizing teachers accused him of omitting

certain teachings regarding compliance with Mosaic rites? Were they

accusing him of enticing gentiles with a watered-down message of

salvation at the outset, with the scheme in mind of adding the other

essentials later? Paul's clear answer was that the Word of God had

been handled in such a way as to display its truth to every open-

minded listener. It has been taught not only for intellectual stimulation,

but its moral and spiritual implications had been clearly aimed at the

conscience of each hearer. This in turn should have commended the

preachers themselves to the conscience of every Corinthian as being

faithful messengers of God. These words reflect no self-seeking on the

part of Paul, but rather were his solemn recognition that his ministry

was carried on "in the sight of God," who was not only guiding his

labors, but was also enlightening the consciences of those who were

open to his truth. How refreshing it would be if it could be said of

every preacher that his chief commendation was his fidelity to the

truth of God's Word and the impact which he makes upon the

consciences of his hearers.

 

Verse 3. Paul recognized, however, that not everyone responds

favorably to the gospel. The reference to "every man's conscience" (4:2)

was a generalization with many exceptions. "Even if our gospel is

veiled" (NASB, NIV) states a condition which he was willing to

assume as true.14 He quickly explained, however, that the problem

was not with the gospel nor its preachers but with the unbelieving

hearers. It is veiled to "those who are perishing”. Paul has moved in

his figure from the veil over the face of Moses (3:13) to the veil over

the heart of Israel (3: 15), and now the veil is over the gospel as far as

unbelievers are concerned.

Verse 4. This veiling of the gospel was not because Paul had used

secrecy in his preaching or deviousness in his methods. Rather it was

 

          13 This is BAGD's translation of ta> krupta> th?j ai]sxu<nhj ("the

hidden things of shame").  The translation "hidden things of dishonesty" (KJV)

reflects the obsolete English usage of "dishonest" in the sense of "shameful."

          14 A first class condition, using ei]  with the indicative mood.


KENT:  THE GLORY OF CHRISTIAN MINISTRY            183

 

because the thoughts of perishing unbelievers had been blinded by the

"god of this world”. The reference is to Satan, who is called elsewhere

by the similar titles "prince of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and

"prince of the power of the air" (Eph 2:2). He is "god”, not in any

dualistic sense as equal to and Independent of the true God, but only

in the limited sense that his followers so regard him, and at present

God allows him to utilize this power over the minds of sinners.

Because of Satan's action in blinding the minds of sinners, they

are not able to see the illumination of the glory of Christ which the

gospel provides. The good news about Jesus Christ as Lord, his

unique Person, his stupendous works, and his incomparable

teachings— all are minimized, explained away, or otherwise perverted

so that the spiritual enlightenment which could save their souls from

destruction is disregarded. The glory of Christ is essentially his

unique person as the image of God, the one who is the revealer of the

invisible God (Coll:15; John 1:18), on whom men must depend if

they would see the Father (John 14:9) and receive salvation.

 

Verse 5. Paul will not let his readers escape the real issue

involved in Christian ministry. It was not a promotion of the

preacher, directly or indirectly. He and his associates had never

preached themselves. The heart of their ministering the gospel was

their proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord.15 This acknowledgment is

basic to the gospel (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3) and thus lay at the heart of

Paul's message. One should beware of drawing categorical distinc-

tions between accepting Christ as Savior and accepting him as Lord.

Both are clearly involved in any true commitment to Christ.

Just as Paul had been faithful in presenting Christ as Lord in his

preaching, so he and his associates had been careful to maintain their

own position as servants among the Corinthians. He did not mean

that the Corinthians were the masters, for Christ was the Master

whom they served. But he did mean that as Christ’s servants, they

had followed his orders and that had Involved ministering to the

Corinthians.

 

Verse 6. The reason why the messengers gave no thought to

promoting themselves was due to the overwhelming grandeur of the

Source from which their message came. God, who had once brought

physical light out of darkness by his creative command (Gen 1:3), had

himself shone with spiritual enlightenment in the hearts of believers.

At creation, light resulted from a command of God. At regeneration,

God himself shines as the illumination.

 

          15 Word order suggests that ku<rion should be regarded as a predicate

usage, "Jesus Christ as Lord."  If it were simply part of the title, one would have

expected it to be first in the series:  "Lord Jesus Christ."


184               GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL

 

This light from God is explained as the knowledge of God as

revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. Sin hardens the heart (3:14),

makes it unbelieving and insensitive to God (3: 16), and is utilized by

Satan to keep men in the spiritual darkness of unbelief (4:4). The

great mission of Christ is his role as the image of God to reveal the

Father's glory to men when they have a spiritual encounter with

his Son.

For Paul this transforming encounter had occurred on the

Damascus road more than twenty years earlier. At that time he had

been struck down with an overpowering light and had seen the

glorious Lord who identified himself as Jesus (Acts 9:1-9; 22:5-11;

26:12-18). Some of the phenomena of that occasion probably

influenced Paul's language here ("light," "glory of God," "face of

Christ"). However, one must not limit the thrust of this verse simply

to the miraculous physical happenings on that day. The use of the

plural "our hearts" shows that more than one person was in the

apostle's thought, and the reference to God's action of shining in

"hearts" applies to the spiritual experience of every believer.

 

 

IT WAS PERFORMED, HOWEVER, IN BODILY WEAKNESS (4:7-18)

 

Present trials of Gods messenger (4:7-12)

 

Verse 7. Paul's ministry of proclaiming the new covenant (3:6)

carried with it certain burdens. Not the least of them was the presence

of various trials which God's messengers must undergo. "This

treasure" refers to the light of the knowledge of God in Christ as

explained in the preceding verse. This sublime truth is contained,

however, in "earthen vessels" ("jars of clay”, NIV). The figure depicts

pottery jars used as storage for all sorts of items. Household lamps

were made of clay to hold oil and a wick. Valuables were stored in

such jars. The Dead Scrolls were found in pottery jars after being

hidden for nineteen centuries. Paul used the figure to depict either the

human body with its frailties, or perhaps the entire human per-

sonality16 inasmuch as body, soul, and spirit are a unity, and all are

subject to weakness, suffering, and discouragement.

Paul wanted no mistake to be made about the true nature of the

Christian message in comparison to the significance of the minister.

The human instrument is weak and expendable; the message is vital

and of inestimable value. By utilizing frail human ministers, God

demonstrates that the "surpassing greatness of the power" (NASB)

which transforms men's lives is from God and not from any preacher.

 

          16 Alfred Plummer, Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians

(ICC; Edinburgh:  T. & T. Clark, 1915) 127.


KENT:  THE GLORY OF CHRISTIAN MINISTRY            185

 

Verse 8. In a series of four contrasting parallels, Paul shows what

he and other true ministers were continually facing. "Troubled on

every side, yet not distressed" (KJV) has been also translated "hard

pressed...but not crushed" (NIV). The idea is that in spite of

pressures that would thwart their effectiveness, they were never

completely crushed so that their ministry totally failed. In Paul's

ministry such experiences were multiplied. At Philippi, for example,

he was arrested and imprisoned; yet the gospel was not stopped, for

the jailer and his household were converted (Acts 16). At Corinth, he

had been arrested and accused before the provincial governor, but

dismissal of the case gave new opportunities for the gospel.

"Perplexed, but not despairing" is a play on words17  which is

not easily preserved in English. One has rendered it "being at a loss,

but not having lost out."18 These contrasting phrases emphasize

human inability as offset by divine enablement. Perhaps Paul was

thinking of experiences like his recent one at Ephesus, where the riot

in the city left him powerless to act, and yet God still preserved his

Christian witness (Acts 19).

 

Verse 9. They were continually being persecuted by opponents of 

the Christian message, but they were never abandoned by the Lord

who had sent them. Paul regularly experienced pursuit by one group

or another. He was frequently a hunted man (Acts 9:23-24, 28-29;

13:50; 14:5-6, 19-20; et al.). yet never did they conclude that God had

forsaken them, and for this reason they continued their ministry.

From time to time adversaries might succeed in casting them down,

but never would this result in their destruction before their mission

was accomplished. God's enablement was still in operation, even

though great obstacles were faced by his messengers.

 

Verse 10. Here Paul begins an explanation of the preceding

paradoxes. The sufferings which the apostolic party experienced,

along with the successful accomplishment of their mission in spite of

impending disaster, must be interpreted as Paul here indicates. Their

sufferings were actually a "carrying about in the body the dying of

Jesus." The next verse (4:11) is parallel in thought and makes it clear

that Christ's physical sufferings and death were in view. Paul and the

other apostles were constantly under threat of physical death just as

Jesus was. Now the hatred of men for the Son of God was being

directed against Paul and others as they attempted to carry out their

Christian ministry. The word "dying" (ne<krwsin) does not mean

simply "death”, but the process of dying. He chose this term to

 

          17 Greek:  a]porou<menoi  a]ll ]  ou]k  e]caporou<menoi.

          18R.C.H. Lenski,  Interpretation of I and II Corinthians, 977-78.

 

186               GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL

 

emphasize not just one act, but the repeated sufferings which were

directed against his life in order to put him to death.

Nevertheless Paul could look beyond the trials to the grander

purpose which was being served. God's suffering servants not only

showed their identification with Christ by their willingness to suffer

as he did, but they also displayed his life in their bodies. It was Christ

living in them that enabled them not to be crushed, be despairing, feel

forsaken, or be destroyed. They ran the risk of death in order to

proclaim the new life in Christ, and they did this by personal

demonstration of Christ's life in their own lives.

 

Verse 11. In this parallel expression, Paul's meaning in the

preceding verse is more fully explained. As ministers of Christ he and

the other apostles were continually exposed to the danger of physical

death. This was what Paul meant by carrying about in his body "the

dying of Jesus”. He had learned at the very beginning of his Christian

life that persecution directed against Christians was regarded by Jesus

as actually directed against him (Acts 9:4-5; cf. Col l:24). The

purpose, however, was not to undergo suffering for suffering's sake,

but that "the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal

flesh." The proclamation of the new life in Christ became more

clearly manifested when it was set forth against such a dramatic

background. The eternal life provided by Jesus who said "I am the

life" (John 14:6) enabled his messengers to be victorious in spite of

physical weakness and would ultimately make them triumphant even

though many of them would experience a martyr's death.

 

Verse 12. In summation, death was an ever-present reality with

Christ's messengers, but his purposes were being accomplished because

eternal life was being received by the Corinthians and others who had

responded to the gospel.

Paul was not describing explicitly the experience of every

Christian in this passage, but primarily that of himself and the other

apostles. In the context he was not talking about the Corinthians, but

about those who had preached to them. Nevertheless the principle

was set forth that God's servants have his truth in earthen vessels that

are fragile and subject to damage. By application of this principle

every Christian may recognize that physical weakness and opposition

from adversaries can cause hardship in the performance of any

Christian ministry.

 

Importance of faith to Gods messenger (4:13-18)

 

Verse 13. It must not be supposed, however, that Paul's previous

words were a bitter complaint about the personal difficulties of his


KENT:  THE GLORY OF CHRISTIAN MINISTRY            187

 

ministry. What sustained him and his companions was the same

viewpoint and attitude which the psalmist expressed in Ps 116: 10,

"I believed, therefore I spoke." The context of these words in the

psalm reveals the writer to have been in great adversity (116:3,6, 8).

Yet his faith In God caused him to pray for deliverance (116:4), and

he continued to bear his testimony, believing that God ultimately

brings vindication to his saints whether in this life or the next 

(116:2,9, 10, 15). This same "spirit of faith”19 permeated Paul and his

suffering companions. It. was because they had an abiding faith in

God who had revealed his Son to them that they continued to speak

forth the gospel in spite of continual risk and frequent affliction.

 

          Verse 14. A firm faith in the resurrection made Paul willing to

risk death in order to carry out his ministry. He was convinced that

the Father had raised Jesus for he had seen him on the Damascus

road. He also firmly believed that Christ's resurrection had guaranteed

the resurrection of all others who were united to him by faith.

Consequently, no fear of death could divert him from his mission of

proclaiming the new covenant that God has provided for men (3:6).

Does it seem that Paul had earlier expected to avoid death

through the rapture (1 Thess 4: 13ff.), but has now become resigned to

dying and looks only to the resurrection? It is better to understand

Paul's view as exactly what our Lord had taught: namely, that his

coming was imminent, but unpredictable. Every believer should be

ready at all times for either eventually. We should long for the

Lord's return and the prospect of meeting him by whatever route he

may require of us.

 

Verse 15. So firm was Paul's faith that he could look with joy at

the outcome of his labors, even though they were being done at

tremendous cost. "All things" that he and the other ministers were

undergoing were for the benefit of the Corinthians and other

Christians. His eye of faith saw beyond the immediate trials. What he

saw was God's saving grace being multiplied through a continuous

stream of new converts. As the grace of God in the gospel was

received by more and more people, the thanksgiving of their grateful

hearts would overflow and bring glory to God. It was faith that

enabled him to have God s perspective.

 

          19 Some interpreters explain this phrase as "the Spirit of faith," a direct

reference to the Holy Spirit; others have suggested an indirect reference to the

Spirit as the bestower of a gift of faith.  However, the expression is more

generally understood here as denoting a spiritual state or disposition.  Compare

the similar phrase of Paul, "a spirit of meekness" (1 Cor 4:21, Gal 6:1).


188               GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL

 

Verse 16. In spite of great obstacles, therefore, Paul and his

associates did not "lose heart" (e]gkakou?men). The same verb is used

as in 4:1. No amount of discouragement could make him abandon his

mission. He freely admitted that his "outer man" was decaying. He

had previously spoken of physical life as "earthen vessels" (4:7) and

would later refer to it as an "earthly tent" (5:1). Furthermore, the

hardships of travel and the heavy burden of the care of the churches

placed great strain upon his physical body. His various imprisonments,

beatings, and continual harassments had left their scars.

Nevertheless, of far greater significance in Paul's eyes was the

"inner man”, and here the story was far different. His inner man was

being renewed as each day passed by. The reference is to the

Christian's regenerated spiritual existence which can grow stronger in

spite of physical weakness. This inner man is also called by Paul the

"new man" (CoI 3:10), and is described as experiencing continuous

renewal as believers increase in their understanding of God through

the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (Eph 3:16). As Paul's Christian

life progressed toward its inevitable earthly close, his physical

capacities might lessen, but his spiritual awareness of God's program

continued to develop. He understood more clearly the values which

should govern the Christian's outlook, and he shared them with his

readers.

 

Verse 17. Because of the spiritual insight which his inner man

now understood, he could refer to his incredible trials as "momentary,

light affliction." Humanly considered, they could have been regarded

far differently, and Paul himself did not minimize their severity

(4:8-12). Yet Paul here was looking at them in the light of Romans

8:28 and the eternal purposes of God. He understood that, severe as

they were, they were momentary and light in comparison to the

"eternal weight of glory" which lies ahead for all who trust the Lord

and serve him faithfully. "Weight" (ba<roj) is probably used in

contrast to "light" or "lightness" (e]lafro>n). Human assessment would

call physical afflictions a heavy weight. Paul said they were actually

light in comparison to the glory that "far outweighs them all" (NIV).

Faith enabled him to view his life this way.

 

Verse 18. This statement gives the essence of Paul's ability to see

the glory of Christian ministry rather than to be disillusioned by the

obstacles. He and others like him had learned not to focus their gaze

on things which are seen, but to fix their attention with eyes of faith

on things which are not seen. They had learned the basic truth that

the matters of this present world, including even the most serious of

human afflictions, are only transitory. It is the unseen things of the


KENT:  THE GLORY OF CHRISTIAN MINISTRY            189

 

spiritual life that are of eternal value. The regenerated life, the

continuing ministry of the Spirit, the growing comprehension of God

through dally communion with him, the promises of God for the

present and the future—all of these and many more are things not

seen, but they are just as real as the visible objects of this world and

are far more permanent. With this kind of spiritual emphasis in

Paul’s life, no earthly obstacle could blur his vision of the glory of

serving Christ.

 

 

 

:

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            200 Seminary Dr.

            Winona Lake,  IN   46590

www.grace.edu

 

 

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