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Friday, February 24, 2017

2 Corinthians (4:7-18) Lesson 11)

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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)

Established November 2008                                                     Published weekly on Friday

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)

2 Corinthians (4:7-18)                                                      (Lesson 11)   

Since new people are viewing these Bible lessons regularly on the www, I
I thought I’d take the time to insert a brief review here and welcome them to HBS.

I want to thank everyone for being here today.

A few lessons ago, I mentioned our Apostle Paul had left Ephesus where he wrote the 1st letter to the Corinthians and he referred to it at one point in his letter as the beast at Ephesus.  Paul didn’t encounter any wild animals in the coliseum there; he was talking about the citizens of Ephesus, in general, because they were so pagan-minded about their love for Diana the goddess of the Ephesians.  Paul had hoped to meet Titus, who had been ministering to the Corinthians, at Troas the ancient city of Troy.  That didn’t happen, so Paul headed for Philippi up in northern Greece.  He became seriously ill and almost died there.  He recovered from this affliction and made his way on down to Corinth a second time.  This is the backdrop for these next few verses, where he writes he’s almost despairing for life due to this great illness, and other issues related to his apostolic ministry.  When we get to 4:6, Paul writes, For God, 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.

 Then in verse 7 he follows that up with this:  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels.  Said another way, we have knowledge of “the gospel.”   Paul’s saying every Christian has this knowledge or should have it if they are truly saved.  They carry this message in their changed heart; but what are they doing with it, since this book says we are not saved to sit?  If we live, we live for the Lord (Romans 12:1-2, 14:8).

God could have called upon the angelic hosts to carry the gospel to sinful men and women but He didn’t.  God has entrusted us with this knowledge; He wants us to speak His Word to those who might “lend an ear.”  Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel; use words if necessary.”  This sentiment goes hand in hand with the phrase – we want our actions to match our words, as much as possible.  

Our Apostle Paul said, I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
This is the gospel by which men and women are saved in this dispensation.

In the spring of 1947, an Arab boy searching for lost goats threw a rock into a cave, intending to frighten them out and heard the sound of breaking pottery instead.  When he entered the cave to investigate, he found several clay jars filled with manuscripts – these became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

This was the most valuable biblical archaeological find of our time.  The oldest Old Testament manuscripts at that time dated at around 800 AD, yet these ancient manuscripts dated to 200 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.  Liberal, unbelieving Bible critics and scholars before this discovery had denied the accuracy of the Old Testament saying the true text had been lost over the past ten centuries in the process of copying and re-copying of the text.  However, amazingly these manuscripts that were a 1000 years older than the text currently available, was identical which proved that God had preserved His Word, for such a time as this, so that we can have an accurate Bible today (Isaiah 40:8).  These ancient scrolls were truly a, “treasure in earthen vessels.”

Please open your Bible at 2 Corinthians 4:7.

2 Corinthians 4

7: But we have this treasure (the gospel) in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;

Ask any person on the street the question, “What is a treasure?” and you’re probably going to get a variety of responses.  Some people may visualize a pile of precious gems.  Someone else may see themselves sitting atop a mountain of gold bullion.  Others see a limitless supply of spending money; they want to be the wealthiest person on the planet.  You may meet someone who views artwork as a treasure; owning objects of art would fulfill a lifelong dream for them.  Anyway you come at this a treasure is something of great value, worth pursuing; such as a treasure map and the likelihood of discovering some ill-fated pirate’s buried booty.

We don’t have to ask because we already know the answer to the question “What is the Treasure” is it’s “our gospel (v3).  Paul calls this message his “ministry,” i.e. “the ministry of righteousness” and “of life” (v1).  The gospel of the grace of God is most certainly a treasure because it enriches all those who receive it by faith (1 Corinthians 2:9).  But we must not forget or overlook the point Paul makes here, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels;” in keeping with Paul’s analogy this is nothing more than a “clay pot.”  As it relates to us Believers, it’s a fragile object, prone to breakage, and easily crushed.

God did not commit His Gospel to kings or to His angels or archangels.  He entrusted His message to fragile Believers.  I hold up Paul as our example for in Ephesians 3:8 he said:  To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.

I’ve used this verse multiple times lately, but it’s appropriate here too.  In 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 Paul wrote:  but God has chosen the (what) foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man (or woman) may boast before God.

God has chosen the foolish, the weak, the base things, the despised, the things that are not; to nullify the things that are, so that no man or woman may boast before God – Paul is teaching us the very same thing in 4:7. 

So that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves (7b) - the Bible teaches us the conversion of the human heart is not accomplished by earthen vessels or by human effort.  Dwight Moody, Billy Graham, Spurgeon, Wesley, or your favorite pastor may be persuasive speakers, but ministers of God are frail, imperfect, and sinful just as they were in Paul’s era.  God may bless their ministry and their labor for the Lord, but it is the Holy Spirit that convicts people of their sin, of Jesus Christ’s righteousness, and calls them to faith, through the gospel, to be saved (John 16:8-11).

In the story of Gideon, it was the breaking of vessels that made the light shine forth and bring victory to God’s people (Judges 7:20).  In the rest of this chapter, Paul will show how God “breaks” His earthen vessels - so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Let’s go to verses 8-12:

In verses 8-12 Paul shows us he himself was often at the breaking point, but through the power and grace of God, he came through the affliction triumphantly:

we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in (what) our body.  For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our immortal flesh.  So death works in us, but life in you.

(Remember, when Paul uses the word “we” in this letter there’s a good chance he’s referring to himself.  However, you could insert your name here, making it your own, and not harm the text, because these words are applicable for every true Believer.)

Paul’s declaration:

Afflicted in every way        but not crushed
Perplexed                              but not despairing
Persecuted                            but not forsaken
Struck down                         but not destroyed

Please note the first column indicates Paul was an earthen vessel indeed, he felt afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, and often struck down.  But the second column shows us the power and the grace of God, which kept him from “throwing in the towel,” or from “waving the white flag” in total surrender to the enemy, for Paul was not crushed, not despairing, not forsaken, and not destroyed.  

Those of you who have answered the call to serve the Lord in your church and in your community have probably (at one time or another) experienced both factors, the weakness of human nature and the love, power, and the grace of God in preserving you in the midst of daily trials (pressure) while in His service.  The pressure probably brought you to your knees, in prayer, (been there; done that) but you probably did not faint or lose heart (4:16a) and quit serving the Lord. 

Please take careful note of Paul’s words, when he said I’m “afflicted in every way,” he’s saying, “I’m surrounded.”  Paul’s like a grape in a winepress; he’s in trouble, folks, yet the Lord did not permit the pressure to smother him or to crush him.  It’s like God said to his enemy, as it were, “I have drawn a line!  You may not cross it.”  If you’ve read the book of Job it’s like that.  Satan had God’s permission to afflict Job, but he could only go so far. 

Paul admits to being perplexed obviously experiencing the truth of Romans 8:26:  For we know not know how to pray as we should...”  Yet he was not in despair, for he understood the truth of this Bible passage and was willing to leave the outcome in the hands of Him who causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Our Apostle Paul was persecuted wherever he went, but not forsaken.  This is the same person who said, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how
to live in prosperity, in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction (Philippians 4:12-14). 

Often Paul had been cast down, but not destroyed.  Paul writes in metaphors often and incorporates public life, games, and the Roman world in general into his letters.  Since this is true, Paul may be alluding to the “boxer” here, knocked down, but not actually out.  If that’s not what he means to say, we can definitely say despite all the adversities he endured for the cause of Christ, Paul never gave in, or gave up, he preached the gospel of the grace of God to the very end, saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Verse 13:

2 Corinthians 4

13: But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE,” we also believe, therefore we also speak,

The quote in this verse is taken from Psalm 116:10.  By the way the writer of this Psalm is David and he knew a thing or two about being afflicted.  It’s inspiring to see our Apostle Paul, also afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down… always in fear for his life for Jesus’ sake, take his stand along with David in declaring he has the same spirit of faith adding, “WE ALSO BELIEVE AND THERFORE SPEAK.”

In Paul’s day the Church witnessed supreme growth.  Compare that to the church today, despite the electronic age and its best efforts through world-wide mission efforts, and it doesn’t even come close to matching it.  Back then, people were not ashamed of the gospel that saves.  Today hardly anyone talks about their faith and according to PEW research the percentage of people who can put in plain words the gospel that saves in this dispensation is very low.  Coupled with that fact is the expressed command from authority that people are not to talk about Jesus in public settings.  The fear of being persecuted by the world, especially by those who have authority over of you is very real and acts as a deterrent.  But even in a private setting there’s the fear of being ridiculed by people you know or those you just met.  Rather than be ostracized by an individual or group, people today tend to adopt the PC attitude rather than SPEAK about their faith, ignoring the fact that the majority of people they encounter are on the highway to hell.  Bear in mind, people who reject the truth are ultimately rejecting Jesus Christ and not the individual who delivers it. 

Verses 14-15:

2 Corinthians 4

14: knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.  For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you (v14) Paul didn’t despair or give up because not only did he understand this truth, he was fully confident of it.  Every trial he endured was nothing more than a prelude to resurrection power (John 5:25-29). 

For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God (v15).  Verse 15 is actually a doxological summary.  Paul’s heart was stirred to help the lost come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior; to help them find true peace and joy and to give God the praise (2 Corinthians 1:1-2).   
Let’s go to verses 16-18:

2 Corinthians 4

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Therefore we do not lose heart – Paul’s brought us full circle.  He began this chapter with the words, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart (4:1).  The word “therefore” points backward to everything he just wrote.  He just explained his many trials actually made for a more effective, life giving ministry for the Corinthian Believers.  Knowing this encouraged him and made him not lose heart in the midst of these sufferings.  

But though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day - Paul contrasts the outward man and the inward man with this comment.  Our body is merely a tent, in which the true man, the inner man dwells (Hebrews 4:12).  However, this remark takes us back to Paul’s earlier statement about us being earthen vessels (4:7).  Our mortal flesh (the outer man) is fragile; it’s the sinful nature we inherited from Adam, and it’s perishing.  We died to it when we gave our lives to Christ Jesus and it is no longer us.  It’s still present in us to tempt us, let’s not kid ourselves, but we don’t have to sin because the Holy Spirit dwells within us.  

But the outer man Paul mentions here is the body and the mind, which he said are slowly falling apart (decaying).  Can I get an Amen on that?  When I go out for instance, it seems to be that everyone is getting younger.  I can’t read without eye wear and I can comb my hair with a towel.  I find myself walking into a room at home, but I can’t remember why I wanted to go there.  All these signs indicate the outer man (and woman) is decaying, growing weak and feeble and this comes with anguish and suffering.  Paul is saying this is happening to me too… but I don’t get discouraged because the inner man is being renewed day by day.

The inner man (and woman) is the real you and me.  It is the human spirit inside us that has its conscious expression in the soul, that unique character, the combination of soul and spirit which marks mankind as “made in the image of the LORD God” (Genesis 1:26-27).  When Paul said his inner man is being renewed day by day, he meant:  “made new,” as he lives day by day.  He is speaking of that kind of inner stimulation of mind and spirit that keeps him expectant, faithful, optimistic, rejoicing, thankful, and triumphant in his endeavors, day by day, even though the “outward” things, his body and his mind, are gradually falling apart.  That is the hope of every Believer per Paul.  We are inwardly being prepared for something greater to come. 

2 Corinthians 4

17: For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,

Paul’s talking about his perspective here and not his opinion because it’s based on facts. 
I mention this because some casual Bible readers may “bump” into this verse thinking, “There’s nothing light about the issues I’m dealing with today, “and come away from it believing Paul never went through any “real” trials.  If that’s the case, please skip ahead to 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.  There you’ll discover the truth.  Paul had an advanced degree in suffering but he was able to refer to: stripes, prisons, beatings, being stoned, shipwrecked, perils of waters, robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of gentiles, in perils of the city, in perils of the wilderness, in perils of the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness - as light affliction. 

These were just the physical sufferings – the outward sufferings – what about the spiritual burdens he endured and the spiritual attacks from Satan he faced?  If Paul could say these were light affliction, then, what are ours?  Paul referred to them as light affliction because even the worst one, by the measure of our eternal glory, is but for a moment (Romans 8:17). 

Let’s look at it this way:  Imagine putting your lifetime of suffering on one side of the scales.  If you want to, you can even put your thumb down on that side of the scale and push down as hard as you can.  Then permit me to place the eternal weight of glory on the other side of the scale, and then you’ll see for yourself what a light affliction you really have – this is what Paul is saying.   There’s no comparison!

Let’s go to verse 18.

2 Corinthians 4

18: while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Our Apostle Paul is speaking about his life and his ministry, holding them up as an example for the Corinthian saints and us as well.  In the world’s eyes, Paul’s life was an absolute failure, from their perspective.  He gave up a position of religious authority, eminence, and wealth to serve the Lord.  Paul was a Pharisee of the Pharisees (Philippians 3:5), at the height of his career, and his future was brighter still.  But he walked away from all that and the promise of a better tomorrow for a life of great hardship, persecution, and suffering that would eventually culminate with his martyrdom.  How many of us (I include myself in this) would willingly enlist in a venture knowing it will cost us our lives?  While you’re thinking about that, know this, Paul stepped into that world enthusiastically and never looked back (Luke 9:62). 

Not Looking vs Looking (v18)

Please note, Paul’s attention was focused not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; and this is important.  Paul did not fix his spiritual eyes or focus his attention upon the things which are seen because these things were temporal; they would pass away.  He would rather concentrate on the things which are not seen, and rightly so.  Concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, Peter wrote:  Though you have not seen Him, you love Him.  Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and fill with glory. 

In keeping with the same thought, Paul wrote this passage which concerns seeking things above:  Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.  For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3). 

The message of this latter passage is easily understood and begins with a question.
What’s motivating us?  The answer makes all the difference in a Believer’s life.  If we’re completely occupied with the things that are seen, with the things of this world, our spiritual defeat is all but certain.   On the other hand, if we’re occupied with the things which are not seen, the things which are above, our spiritual victory is assured. 

Therefore, always remember our light affliction, which is for but a moment, when compared to eternity, is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.  So, instead of complaining and grumbling each time you find yourself in the midst of a hardship turn it around and think about it this way.  Our Apostle Paul is teaching us these trials are an investment in eternal glory which will be realized at the Bema Seat Judgment (1 Peter 5:10; Revelation 2:10). 

(To be continued)

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