2 Cor. 4 - How to have joy in suffering - Clinton Community Church

 I.  Introduction and background

 

Before we jump into the middle of 2 Corinthians 4, I will give you a background of this letter written by Paul to the church at Corinth so you understand the context of what Paul is saying and why he is saying it.

 

Previously Paul’s enemies at Corinth accused him of bad motives for organizing a collection to be taken up for the church in Jerusalem as well as going as far as saying Paul couldn’t be an apostle because he suffered to much and God certainly wouldn’t allow that.

 

So Paul writes 2 Corinthians to argue that it is his suffering that actually unites him with Christ and it is the means that God ordained to reveal His glory, as well as the means to comfort other believers.

 

This is why Paul says in the opening of his letter in chapter 1 verse 3-4: 

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

 

Who is our Comforter?  God.  How can God show His attribute of the Great comforter if we never have trials?

 

Paul goes on to explain that his suffering in this life is an offering pleasing to God that God uses to spread His great name.  In chapter 2:14 he says:

 

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

 

In chapter 3, Paul explains the difference between the old covenant which brought death and the new covenant which brings life. 

 

II.  The gospel is veiled to some.

 

So now we come to chapter 4 which I will expound today and the first word in this chapter is the word therefore.  Whenever we see the word therefore in the Bible, we must go back and see what the therefore is there for. 

 

Verse 1 says:  Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

 

Paul is saying that even though we have suffered immensely for the sake of Christ, his ministry, which is the ministry of the new covenant, enables him to not lose heart in the sufferings.

 

He goes on to say that not only do they not lose heart, verse 2, but we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways.  We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

 

What Paul is saying is that he is not in this ministry of the new covenant for money, like his accusers were spreading around.  Paul says that he doesn’t really even care if everyone likes him.

 

It would have been easy for Paul to tamper with God’s word and twist it around to tickle the Corinthians ears and make them love Paul, but Paul couldn’t do it because of Christ and he would rather preach the biblical gospel and have them hate him and persecute him than to ever alter the Word of God.

 

You must understand that the gospel has always and will always be offensive to those who are perishing.  By their very nature, people hate the Bible and until God opens their eyes they will reject everything in it and the person preaching it to them.

 

If you want the world to love you, just act like the world and never mentions the Bible or Jesus Christ.   However, if you are a Christian the love of Christ will compel you to mention the Bible and Jesus Christ.  When you do this, the world will hate you.

 

Preaching biblical truth isn’t going to get you rich or make you well liked.  Only the TV evangelists and preachers are rich.  They are rich because they have tampered the word of God and have practiced cunning deceit.  They sold the Son of God to make money and have the world like them.  Their condemnation is waiting.

 

Standing on the Word of God:

 

Will separate you from the world.

Will make you lose a promotion at work.

Will make you get mocked by kids at your school.

Will divide your family.

Will make you very unpopular.

Will at some point cause you physical harm.

Will get all kinds of rumors spread about you.

Will isolate you from other parents at your kid’s school.

And possibly, even in America, it could kill you.

 

Paul didn’t care and neither should you.  Paul would have died before he tampered with the word of God and sought the glory of men instead of the glory of God.  In fact Paul did die and sealed the truth of God’s word with his blood.  In about 64 AD Paul was beheaded.

 

Verse 3 and 4 are extremely important theological verses so pay attention because this will explain a lot about people you love.

 

Paul goes on in verse 3 and 4:

 

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

 

Let’s break it down.  What does this mean?  What does Paul mean when he say the gospel is veiled?  Go back to chapter 3 and read with me verses 12-15.

 

12Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.

 

Verse 14 says that the Israelites minds were hardened.  It is important to understand that just because the Israelites were in the presence of God and had the law of God, does not mean they are automatically children of God.

 

14 goes on to say that even to this day, Paul’s day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.  Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.

 

Look at the Jews today.  I have talked to Jewish people about the Old Testament and they are blind to it, although they would say that is an insult because it is their book.  But just like in the day of Moses and the day of Paul, today nothing has change or can change, they are still blind and can’t understand it. 

 

It is the same way with gentiles like us today.  Have you ever wondered why you or someone you know try to read the Bible but can’t understand it? 

 

Have you ever wondered why you or your kids are not too worried about breaking the Law of God?  It is because only through Christ can the veil be lifted.

 

If the Jews can’t understand the Bible and you or your friends and relatives can’t understand the Bible it is because you are without Christ.  If you had Christ, the veil would be lifted and you would understand.

 

III.  Christ is light and brings light

 

My Testimony about God opening my eyes to Scripture.

 

So now that we understand what Paul means by the gospel being veiled, let’s go back to 4:3:

 

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 

 

Paul is saying that the gospel is veiled and people can’t understand the gospel because they are blinded.

 

The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing.  It is the one thing that they need but they can’t see it.  How many people do you know like this?

 

This isn’t new.  Paul already said this in his first letter the church at Corinth.  In 1 Corinthians 1:18 he said:

 

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

Again in a few verses later in 23 he says:

 

But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, (the elect) both Jew and Greek, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

 

Why are they blind?  Why can’t your kids understand the gospel?

 

Paul tells us in verse 4:

 

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

 

Because they are unbelievers, God sovereignly allows the god of this world, which is the devil, to blind the minds of unbelievers. 

 

When blinded, they can’t see the light of the gospel of Christ.

 

It is impossible for anyone to choose to come to Christ on their own.  Romans 3:10 says that no one is righteous, no one understands, and no one seeks God.

 

You have to understand the doctrine of man.  Man by nature hates God and will never love God or seek Him in any way.  Man, by his own choice, chooses to rebel against and hate God with everything in himself.

 

So here is how the blinding works:  Man, by nature, hates God and the devil comes to him and confirms his hatred of God that it is righteous. 

 

Ever talk to an Atheist.  They hate God and they think they are doing the world a favor for hating Him.

 

So man by his nature looks up to the sky and says that if God does exist, he will hate him because of a variety of reasons.  Whether it is because his life is bad, or his job is bad, or he had a bad day, or his shoe laces are too tight, he will find some reason to hate God.

 

The devil comes by and says to the man:  keep on going down that path, you are absolutely right.

 

So how does any man become enlightened to the truth of the gospel and be saved?

 

There is only one way.  That is Christ.  Paul already told us in chapter 3:16, he said:

 

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

 

So wait, if no man seeks God then how can he turn to the Lord to get the veil removed?

 

Only Christ can do it.  Christ has to enlighten your mind.  You can’t do it on your own.  Salvation is all God and none of you.  Paul understands this and that is why he is not tampering with God’s word because he knows that it is the only power to save men.

 

This is not what men want to hear.  Men want to do something to get to heaven.  They want to earn their way in.  Sorry, you can’t.  But Christ already did it for you on the cross.

 

Paul tells us that only Christ can enlighten us and cause us to turn to Him and remove the veil in verse 6:

 

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

 

Listen to me.  Until you understand this you will never understand why your husband can’t see the truth or your child doesn’t seem to care.

 

Without the super-natural work of the Holy Spirit enlightening the minds of unbelievers, renew their wills,  and enabling them to embrace Christ as He is offered in the gospel then they will never be saved.

 

Why are your neighbors so blind?

Why is your wife so lost?

Why do your kids rebel?

Why does your unbelieving family hate you?

 

They are blinded.

 

And only Christ can remove the veil.  It is all Christ and has always been Christ in salvation.  Man is hopeless without Christ.

 

Why do you think He came, people?  If you could get to heaven by being a good person then there would be no reason for Christ to have come.

 

 

IV.  Treasuring Christ enables us to endure trials.

 

Paul continues in verse 7 by saying:  God has shone light into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay.

 

The treasure Paul is talking about is this knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

 

“Jars of clay,” is an ancient metaphor for the body or flesh or our human weakness. 

 

So what he is saying is that the greatest treasure on earth, the gospel, is not kept in a fancy container or a highly exalted container, like an angel or cherubim, it is contained in our weak, sinful, depraved, dying bodies. 

 

Remember that this is a metaphor so Paul is not saying the gospel treasure is physically in our flesh but that God gave us this treasure to be preserved in humans even though we are weak.

 

The treasure in the jar of clay is what is worth everything, the clay jar is worth nothing.  If the treasure wasn’t in the jar, the jar would be thrown in the trash when it was done being used.  But the treasure remains and is a treasure no matter what container it is in.

 

We are jars of clay.  The second we are born, we start dying.  We go through this life and suffer because of our body.  We get cancer, break arms, age, break down and get sick. 

 

We are weak and pathetic, so why does God choose to give us, in our weakness, the greatest treasure of all?  It is so God will get all the glory and we will get none of it.

 

Verse 7 says it:  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

 

God shows His glorious power by entrusting our weakness with the gospel.  God gets the glory because we are so weak that we would destroy the knowledge and glory of Christ if we were left alone.  It is only because God sustains us that the gospel is preserved.

 

We can’t take credit for the treasure that God gives us because we are so pathetically weak.  God’s power is shown by using a bunch of cracked pots like us.  We are cracked pots, which is what God chooses to use. 

 

So if you are weak, shy, sick, worn out, unpopular, wasting away, old, young, dying, dumb, ugly, or just plain wretched then you have been qualified to be used by Almighty God.

 

Who cracks us?  God cracks us.  Why?  Paul explains from his own experiences in verses 8-12.

 

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

 

God is allowing Paul to get cracked and crushed but God is sustaining him.  He is afflicted in every way but not crushed.

 

To bring the context back in we can see why Paul is explaining his weakness.  Paul’s accusers were saying that Paul was taking up the collection for Jerusalem for his own gain and prosper. 

 

But explains that he has nothing to show for himself but scars, from preaching the gospel.  In this way, Paul’s character is proven.  Paul was not like Beth Moore who has a 24K gold toilet or Benny Hinn who has million dollar houses and personal jets. 

 

Paul had nothing but scars.  Paul says that he carries in his body the death of Jesus.  Paul was persecuted so much in his life the scars left on his body would disgust you if you could look at them.

 

God uses suffering in our bodies to sanctify and conform us to the image of Christ in the same way as Christ was made perfect through suffering.

 

A. W. Tozer said, "It is doubtful God can bless any man greatly until He has hurt him deeply."

We are sanctified, grown spiritually, through suffering.  In Hebrews 2:10 it says that Jesus was made perfect through suffering.

 

For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should made the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

 

Why does God allow this?  For the sake of Jesus it says.  Paul being crushed and suffering in the body validates the message of the cross.

 

He, having nothing but weakness and scars proves that he is not inventing the gospel for his own gain and it proves the authenticity of it.

 

Paul is dying so that people can have life.  So that when the Corinthian’s suffer in their body for the gospel they can hold fast and endure to the end and finish the race. 

 

Paul is setting an example for them.

 

V.  Our hope in Christ during trials glorifies God.

 

Paul starts to summarize what he just said when he starts verse 7 with the word, “since.”  He says:

 

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.

 

Paul quotes Psalm 116:10 to show that they have the same spirit of faith.  It is interesting that Paul quotes this Psalm because this Psalm is actually a hymn that sings thanksgiving to God for being delivered from an impending death.  Psalm 116:9-11 says:

 

I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.  I believed, and when I spoke, I am greatly afflicted”; I said in my alarm, all mankind are liars.

 

Isn’t this exactly what Paul is going through?  Paul believed the gospel and then spoke it and then he was greatly afflicted because of it by wicked men and they also spread many lies about him.

 

It was a perfect Psalm to quote.  Did Paul know the Scriptures?  You bet he did.  Is God not Sovereign in the inspiration of Scripture?  You bet. 

 

God could have had David go through a trial and deliver him just so he could write this hymn and for the sole purpose of comforting Paul in his same affliction.

 

So when Paul says that they have the same spirit of faith, he does not mean the Holy Spirit, like one would immediately think.  He means that he has the same trust in God amidst afflictions as David did.

 

So because of this same trust in the hope of Christ that Paul believes and speaks of, he has confidence that He, who raised the Lord Jesus, will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

 

VI.  Christ-like suffering now brings eternal glory later.

 

Paul says in verse 15 that all of his suffering for the gospel does not mean that he is not an apostle, but it was for them, the Corinthians.

 

And ultimately has God extends grace to more people, by the means of Paul’s suffering for the Gospel; God is thanked and glorified in a mighty way.

 

Paul explains in verse 16 that this is why they don’t lose heart.  Even thought they suffer much in their bodies, they have a hope in Christ, that God will using the preaching of the word of Christ and their suffering to save men and glorify God.

 

The next few verses are my favorite because Paul says something so radically opposed to the world that the world would lose their mind trying to figure out where Paul was coming from.  It is so profound.  It is a verse that will give you comfort in the deepest trial.

 

Paul says in verses 16-18:

 

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

 

Paul says: don’t worry Corinthians, don’t worry! 

 

Our suffering; even thought our clay jar bodies are wasting away, it’s only a light momentary affliction and it is for your sake and it validates the gospel and it is preparing for eternal rewards for them.

 

Listen to me Christian.  Paul is setting and example of how to suffer as a Christian and glorify God.

 

This is what you do if you have cancer.  You shout from the rooftops that, “even though my body will fail, God will not fail.  And even though I am wasting a way, God is renewing me inside day by day.”

 

 Even though this is painful, I am comforted by God and the hope of my reward in heaven, which is Christ.  Even though this affliction is tearing my body apart, it is only momentary and light compared to Hell, and soon it will be over and I will be with Christ in Heaven for all eternity because of what He did on the cross.

 

This is the same way you handle a horrible marriage to an unbeliever.

 

This is the same way you handle rebellious kids. 

 

This is the same way you handle when your baby dies.

 

You shout from the rooftops, that even though my baby failed me or my husband will fail me, or my friends, or kids, or job, or body will fail me, my God will never fail me.

 

And He is enough to get through the deepest pain, the deepest suffering and the deepest affliction.  Jesus is enough.

 

Jesus suffered worst than me and was tempted in every way that I am.

 

Jesus is my comforter.  Jesus is my hope and my rest and my joy.

 

I will have joy in suffering.  This is the only way you can have true joy in suffering, Christ.

 

If you are going through a deep, painful trial, whether it is cancer or some kind of terminal illness or you lost a child or your life is unraveling day by day, you have a tremendous opportunity to glorify Jesus Christ.

 

You can handle your suffering in the opposite way the world would and rest in Christ and have joy in suffering and make much of God in the midst of trial and be satisfied in Christ in every sharp pain.

 

I know what I am saying is radical and you don’t hear this preached at churches today because it doesn’t swallow well.  It is unpopular, it doesn’t tickle your ears and make you feel fuzzy inside. 

 

But it is not me, but the Scriptures that are saying it.  You must understand this or you will fail in every trial. 

 

You must understand how to get joy in Christ in the deepest affliction.

 

You must understand how to be satisfied in Christ in every trial or you will fail.

 

Heaven is not about us but about Christ and when we suffer and glorify God in suffering then our hope that we live and die on is because of Christ we will not stay dead but resurrect to life which glorifies Christ because He bought us with His blood.

 

Our eternal reward in heaven is being adopted into the Kings family and becoming like Christ in holiness, without sin.

 

We receive the right to all the privileges of the sons of God.  We are rewarded with a new body that won’t get sick and a sinless mind that won’t think about anything but Christ. 

 

We are rewarded by being enabled to worship Christ and get the greatest pinnacle of joy in our life doing it.

 

If you are suffering then you have the greatest opportunity to glorify God in your suffering and gain the greatest joy in it and validate the gospel as truth to the world.

 

Won’t you be satisfied in Christ in everything?

 

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