Never Giving Up Hope
[2nd Corinthians chapter4]
In this week’s Bible study we will be completing chapter four in Second Corinthians. At the close of last week’s study the apostle Paul wrote of reflecting the glory of God – not through ourselves and being reflected back to the Lord, but by allowing God to shine His eternal light through us towards others. By doing so, everyone can see the habitation of the Holy Spirit within us and be so compelled to gravitate towards God, allowing Him to permeate our lives as He adds daily to the number of those who believe in His Son and so be saved by Him. Paul continues this train of thought in chapter four, beginning at verse one.
“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinth. 4, verses 1-6, NIV)
When Paul wrote that he did “not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God…”, I’m fairly sure that he was referring to an age-old problem within the Christian faith at large – that of pastors, evangelists and “teachers” who turn their churches or their ministries into cults of personalities surrounding themselves. I’m not going to delve into this matter today except to say that those who are in such positions of leadership within the Body of Christ will be held to a higher standard than many of the rest of us Christians when it is their turn to stand before God and give an account of themselves and of what they did – or failed to do – in their lives and in His service. Paul then goes on by referring back to something he wrote in what is now called chapter 3, the “veil”. You will recall from last week’s lesson that Paul was referring to the veil in the inner sanctuary in the Temple at Jerusalem that covered that Ark of the Covenant, and how it was torn in two during a powerful earthquake that happened at the moment of Christ’s death on the cross. He went on to compare that veil to one that was on the minds of those who refused to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There are some people that have their vision and their minds obstructed with regard to the saving power of Christ. The Bible says that these kinds of people have hardened their hearts and closed their minds, not just when it comes to belief in Jesus, but in their dealings with all other people as well. As far as they are concerned, they are at the center of their own little universe, being either uncaring or oblivious towards others. Instead, they are focused on the acquisition of financial “success” and material gain solely for their benefit. That, my dear readers, is no way to live your life. In fact, that’s not a life at all, it is merely an existence, an existence devoid of all feeling in a universe of singularity while denying the interconnection of humanity. Having said that, let us now continue at verse 7.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinth. 4, verses 7-12, NIV)
As you can clearly see from these verses, Paul had different flourishes within his writings that are very reminiscent of inspirational speakers of the 20th and 21st centuries, such as Les Brown, Dale Carnegie, and Zig Ziglar, to name a few. These gentlemen, for whom I have the utmost respect, do not have a monopoly on maintaining a positive mental attitude. It is a way of thinking that originates from the Bible, such as the passage above, where Paul writes, “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Paul was telling the Corinthian congregation that in spite of all he endured for the sake of the preaching of the gospel, every time he got knocked down he immediately got back up again and continued his journey through life as a minister of and a believer in Jesus Christ, and that they should emulate his example as they endured the persecution that the early church was undergoing at the time. This in turn was inspired by the teaching of Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7, when He said, “Seek and you shall find; knock, and the door will be opened; ask, that you may receive”. If you don’t ask, you’ll never find the help you need to succeed in life. If you’re looking for a doorway to your dreams, start knocking on doors. You’ll never find what you are looking for in life if you never start looking. So obvious, so simple, and yet so completely ignored by so many people! Never allow yourself to fall into this trap, the snare of being powerless to act due to a fear of failure. Remember that making mistakes is how we learn. There is no substitute. Besides, we only have to succeed really big just once in life. Let’s now continue at verse 13.
“It is written, ‘I believed, therefore I have spoken’. With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinth. 4, verses 13-18, NIV)
The quote the apostle Paul is referring to above is from Psalm 116, verse 10. He is illustrating himself to the Corinthian church as having the faith of King David of Jerusalem. As David spoke and believed, so Paul also spoke to the early church and believed it as a continuity of Temple leadership, except that each of us is now a temple unto the Lord, giving Him glory and thanksgiving and praise every waking moment of our lives. “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” The Temple at Jerusalem no longer exists, but the Temple of the Lord can still exist spiritually inside of each of us. That is certainly the case with me, and I can say from experience that it has made all the difference in the world in my life. Focus on the spiritual, what is unseen by the naked eye. Focus on Jesus, living each day as if He was right beside you, because He really is. Reject material possessions and excessive personal wealth, what we can see and touch, because the pursuit of these things is an empty, pointless and uncaring existence. Nobody wants to be a shallow person, having a glossy exterior but lacking substance within them. God has empowered each of us to “be all that we can be”, just like that old TV commercial, except that when we do so we become soldiers in God’s army, not the US Army. Let’s all begin to learn to follow Paul’s example as he followed that of Jesus Christ and King David, giving our very best for God and His army each and every day of our lives.