WORLD GOSPEL KINGDOM TRACTS
Unlocking the Mystery of Human Life
THE MINISTERS OF THE
2 Corinthians 4:1-7
4:1 Therefore having this ministry as we have been shown mercy, we do not lose heart;
4:2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every conscience of men before God.
4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in those who are perishing,
4:4 In whom the god of this age has blinded the thoughts of the unbelievers that the illumination of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine on them.
4:5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.
4:6 Because the God who said, Out of darkness light shall shine, is the One who shined in our hearts to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not out of us.
In 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 we have the first aspect of the description of the ministers of the New Testament. The ministers of the new covenant are constituted by and with the Lord as the life-giving and transforming Spirit. Chapters four through seven are a further description of the New Testament ministers. According to 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, they conduct themselves for the shining of the gospel of the glory of Christ. Thus, the second aspect concerning the ministers of the new covenant is how they conduct themselves, the way they behaved.
CONDUCTING THEMSELVES FOR THE SHINING OF
THE GOSPEL OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST
Before we consider how the ministers of the new covenant conduct themselves, let us first see the goal, the aim, and the purpose of their conduct. Their conduct is governed and controlled by a purpose. This purpose is to shine the glory of the gospel of Christ. They conduct themselves in such a way that the gospel of Christ may shine through them and out from within them. This is the goal, the purpose, of their living. They do not merely preach the gospel—they shine out the gospel of the glory of Christ.
The gospel preached by the Apostle Paul was a gospel of glory, a gospel full of light and glory. This glory cannot be conveyed just by speaking [or] by preaching. It must be expressed through shining. Furthermore, this shining must be the living of the New Testament ministers. Their living is the very shining of the gospel they preach. For them, the gospel is not merely a doctrine [or religion]. There is no need for a doctrine [or dead religion] to have any shining. But the gospel they preach, the gospel of glory, is full of shining. This glory is God Himself, God embodied in the gospel they preach. Therefore, the gospel preached by the ministers of the new covenant is not a theory, a philosophy, mere doctrine [or a religion]. It is the embodiment of the God of glory. This gospel cannot be carried out simply through preaching. There must be shining.
The ministers who carry out this gospel of glory are luminaries; that is, they are shining ones. As luminaries, they themselves do not have light, but they have the ability to reflect light that comes from another source, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun.
The gospel can be compared to Christ shining forth as the sun, the God of glory embodied in His redemptive work. We all need to understand the gospel in this way. Do not regard the gospel as a philosophy, [dead religion] or a teaching. No, the gospel is the embodiment of the very God of glory. This gospel needs many shining ones, many luminaries, to reflect its light. Reflecting the light of the gospel of glory is the living of all the ministers of the new covenant. This reflection is the conduct of the apostles.
In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul uses the word illumination. Deep in his spirit, Paul considered himself and his co-workers luminaries. Today we also need to be such luminaries reflecting the glory of the gospel of Christ. The goal, the aim, and the purpose of the living of the New Testament ministers is to shine in this way. The goal of Paul’s conduct was to shine out the gospel. He and his co-workers, ministers of the new covenant, conducted themselves for the shining of the gospel of the glory of Christ.
A. Their Conduct
In 2 Corinthians 4:1 Paul says, “Therefore, having this ministry, as we received mercy we do not lose heart.” In 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 the apostle depicts how the ministers of the new covenant are constituted. In this chapter, he goes on to tell, from verse 1 through 6, how they as the ministers of the new covenant conduct themselves for the carrying out of their ministry, and, from verse 7 through 18, what kind of life they live.
1. Having This Ministry of the New Covenant
In 2 Corinthians 4:1 Paul speaks of having “this ministry.” This is the ministry described in 2 Corinthians 2:12 through 3:18. “This ministry” indicates that we, all the apostles of Christ, though many, have one unique ministry—the ministry of the new covenant for the accomplishing of God’s New Testament economy. All the apostles’ works are to carry out this unique ministry of ministering Christ to others for the building up of His Body.
In 2 Corinthians 4:1 Paul speaks of ministry in the singular. This is a strong proof that the co-workers all had one ministry, the unique ministry. Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament there is one unique ministry. The unique ministry in the New Testament is the ministry of righteousness and of the Spirit. In this ministry Christ is ministered to others.
Today it is common for preachers to talk about different ministries. Although I would not say that it is wrong to speak of ministries, we need to be careful in speaking concerning ministry in this way. What is crucial here is what we mean by the words ministry and ministries. In 2 Corinthians the ministry is unique; it is not spoken of in the plural. “This ministry” is the unique ministry of the New Testament.
In chapter one of Acts Peter refers to the ministry. There was the need for someone to fill the gap among the Apostles, for someone to join the eleven in bearing the ministry. The twelve Apostles all had one ministry. This ministry was to preach Christ in resurrection. In 2 Corinthians the apostles also have one ministry—to minister Christ to others.
2. Not Losing Heart
The first aspect of the way the apostles conducted themselves was that they did not lose heart. I can testify that because I also have a part in this ministry, I do not lose heart. The ministry is an incentive and a motivation. This ministry strengthens me, supports me, backs me up, and causes me not to lose heart. Even the opposition is a sign that this ministry is under the Lord’s blessing and that it is effective. We do not lose heart, no matter how much the opposition may rise up against us.
3. Having Renounced the Hidden Things of Shame
In 2 Corinthians 4:2 Paul says, “But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor adulterating the Word of God, but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience before God.” We need to have a [clear] conscience that can declare to the angels and the demons that we do not have any hidden things of shame, but are transparent and crystal clear.
The Greek word rendered adulterate primarily means to ensnare; then to corrupt, as in the case of gold or wine that is not pure. The meaning is narrower than that of the word for peddling in 2 Corinthians 2:17, which adds the sense of being for the sake of gain. To adulterate gold is to mix it with some inferior metal for the purpose of selling it at a price higher than its actual value. Likewise, to adulterate wine is to mix it with another kind of liquid for the purpose of presenting it as if it were wine of good quality. Even in the first century, certain so-called preachers adulterated the Word of God in this way. They added inferior things to the Word. For we are not like the many, adulterating the word of God for profit; but as out of sincerity, but as out of God, before God we speak in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:17).
Some preachers today adulterate the Word of God. In their sermons they may use verses from the Bible, but they add adulterating elements. They claim that what they preach is God’s Word. Actually, only a small percentage may be the Word, with the remainder being the adulterating elements that have been added to the Word. In this way, they adulterate the divine gold and the divine wine in the Bible. Paul’s way of conducting himself was absolutely contrary to this. He certainly did not adulterate the Word of God, but presented the pure gold, even the refined gold, of the Word.
By the manifestation of the truth, Paul and his co-workers commended themselves to every man’s conscience before God. The truth here is another expression of the Word of God (John 17:17). It means reality and denotes all the real things revealed in God’s Word, which mainly are Christ as the reality of all the things of God. The manifestation of the truth refers to the apostles’ living of Christ. When they live Christ, who is the truth (John 14:6), they manifest the truth. As Christ is lived out of them, the truth is manifested in them. By this, they commend themselves to every man’s conscience before God. The apostles behave themselves not in the way of adulterating the Word of God, but of manifesting the truth for the shining of the gospel of the glory of Christ, by the excellent power of the priceless treasure, the very Christ who entered into them and became their content (2 Corinthians 4:7) through the enlightenment of God’s shining (verse 6).
B. The Shining of the Gospel of the Glory of Christ
1. Their Gospel Veiled in the Perishing Ones
In verse 2 Corinthians 4:3 Paul goes on to say, “And if also our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in those who are perishing.” In some the gospel is veiled by old concepts, especially the concept concerning the law (2 Corinthians 3:14-15). In principle, anything like philosophy or cultural traditions that hinders others from apprehending the gospel of Christ is a veil. Hence, the preaching of Christ must unveil them, just as in photography we remove the cover from the lens of a camera in order to take a picture.
Paul’s word in verse 3 implies that the gospel preached by the apostle should not be veiled. There is no reason for it to be veiled. But if it is veiled, it is veiled in those who are perishing, that is, in those for whom the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ is death unto death. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God in those who are being saved and in those who are perishing: To some a savor out of death unto death, and to the others a savor out of life unto life (2 Corinthians 2:15, 16).
In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul continues, “In whom the god of this age has blinded the thoughts of the unbelieving, so that the illumination of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God, should not shine in them.” The god of this age is Satan, the deceiver, the ruler of this present age. He dominates today’s world and hunts for man’s worship by blinding his mind and his thoughts. In this verse blinded means to veil a person’s understanding. Furthermore, the thoughts here denote the understanding or the mind.
Christ as the image of God is the effulgence of His glory (Hebrews 1:3). Hence, the gospel of Christ is the gospel of His glory that illuminates and shines forth. Satan, the god of this age, has blinded the minds and the thoughts of the unbelievers, so that the illumination of the gospel of Christ’s glory should not shine into their hearts. This is similar to covering the lens of a camera so that the light cannot shine into the camera.
What Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 4:4 is a kind of spiritual photography. We are like cameras with a lens and a shutter. When the shutter is pressed, there is a way for the light with the object, the figure, the image, to shine into the camera and be impressed on the film. The light brings the figure to the film and forms an image on it. However, if the lens of the camera is covered, there is no way for the light to shine into the camera. Sometimes when we preach the gospel to others, they are like a camera with the lens covered. The light cannot shine into them. Praise the Lord that, by His mercy and grace, the satanic cover has been removed from our minds! We have not only an unveiled face, but also an uncovered mind! Praise Him!
The unveiled face in 2 Corinthians 3:18 is the uncovered mind in chapter four. According to Paul’s concept, these two things are one. To have an unveiled face, therefore, is to have an uncovered mind. It is to be like a camera open to the shining of light.
As light shines into us, it brings in the image of Christ. This illumination shines into our spirit through our mind. Our spirit can be compared to the film. When the shining comes into us through our open mind, it reaches our spirit and brings the figure of Christ, the image of God, into us. In the church [life] we are practicing such a spiritual and heavenly photography.
Literally, the Greek word translated shine in 2 Corinthians 4:4 first means to see distinctly, to discern; second, it means to shine. Hence, the translation of the second part of this verse may read, “So that they should not see the illumination of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God.” Since the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, they cannot see the illumination of the gospel’s glory, just as a blind man, or a man with his eyes veiled, cannot see the light of the sun.
2. Not Preaching Themselves, but Christ as the Lord
Second Corinthians 4:5 says, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” “For” explains why the apostles’ gospel, which is the gospel of the glory of Christ, should not be veiled, for they do not preach, exalt, themselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord of all, and they conduct themselves as the believers’ slaves for Jesus’ sake, as Jesus did, who was the Master, yet came to serve as a slave (Matthew 20:26-28).
Christ Jesus as Lord comprises Christ as God over all blessed forever (Romans 9:5), the eternal Word incarnated to be a Man (John 1:14), Jesus crucified as a Man to be our Savior (Acts 4:10-12) and resurrected to be the Son of God (Acts 13:33), and Christ exalted to be the Lord (Acts 2:36), even the Lord of all men (Romans 10:12; John 20:28; 1 Corinthians 12:3) and the Lord of all things (Acts 10:36), who is the image of God, the effulgence of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). This is the very content of the gospel. Hence, the gospel is the gospel of the glory of Christ, which illuminates, radiates, and shines in the heart of man. If man’s heart is not veiled with anything, not blinded by Satan, the god of this age, man can see its illumination.
The word slaves in 2 Corinthians 4:5 is in contrast with Lord. The apostles exalt Christ as Lord, but consider themselves merely slaves to serve the believers. They were slaves not only to Christ, but to the believers as well.
3. God Shining in Their Hearts
Second Corinthians 4:6 says, “Because the God Who said, Out of darkness light shall shine, is the One Who shined in our hearts for the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” This explains what is mentioned in the preceding verse. The apostles preach Christ as Lord and themselves as the believers’ slaves, because the very God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has shined in their hearts. His shining in the universe produced the old creation. Now His shining in their hearts has made them a new creation. Therefore, they are able to exalt Christ as the Lord in their preaching and conduct themselves as slaves to the believers in their service. What they do for Christ and what they are to the believers are the issue of God’s shining. God’s shining produces the new covenant ministers and their ministry.
In our hearts is much deeper than on the skin of Moses’ face (2 Corinthians 3:7; Exodus 34:29-30). This presents a comparison between the glory of the apostolic ministry of the gospel and that of the Mosaic ministry of the law. In the heart is related to the inner life, whereas on the skin of the face has nothing to do with the inner life. The glory of the old covenant is on the surface, but the glory of the new covenant is full of depth.
“Our hearts” denotes the hearts of the apostles. They represent all the believers of the new covenant.
God’s shining in our hearts results in the illumination of knowing the glory of God in the face of Christ, that is, in the enlightenment that causes us to know the glory of the gospel of Christ. The illumination, the enlightenment that makes the glory of Christ’s gospel known to us issues from the shining of God in our hearts.
The face of Christ is in comparison with the face of Moses (2 Corinthians 3:7). The glory of the gospel in the face of Christ is much superior to the glory of the law on the face of Moses. The glory of the gospel shines in the face of the One through whom grace and reality came, issuing in righteousness and life (2 Corinthians 3:8-9). The glory of the law shone on the face of one through whom the law was given (John 1:17), resulting in condemnation and death (2 Corinthians 3:7, 9). The purpose of God’s shining in our hearts is not related to our knowing the glory on Moses’ face. God’s shining is to illumine us so that we may know the glory in Christ’s face. It is to enlighten us so that we may know not the law of Moses of the old covenant, but the [glory of the] gospel of Christ of the new covenant.
God has had two creations: the old creation and the new creation. The old creation came through God’s outward shining in the darkness. The new creation is accomplished through God’s inward shining in our hearts. By God’s shining in our hearts we have become a new creation. This shining is in the face of Christ. To experience it, we need to have direct, personal, and intimate contact with Christ. This contact will cause the shining of God in our heart. God may shine upon us, but if we want Him to shine in us, we need to have direct, intimate contact with Him. This is the reason we call on Him and say, “O Lord Jesus.” Even Saul of Tarsus was saved by calling on the Name of the Lord. By calling on the Lord he was brought into face-to-face contact with Him. When Saul said, “Who are You, Lord?” the Lord immediately replied: “I Am Jesus.” This answer was intimate and personal. It was not a long distance call; it was a face-to-face conversation. Saul of Tarsus experienced God’s shining in his heart.
Suppose you are preaching the gospel to an unbeliever. He nods and says that he believes in the Lord Jesus and receives Him as Savior. Do not assume that he has truly been saved. You need to ask if he has called on the [Name of the] Lord, thereby having direct contact with Him. If such an unbeliever would call on the Name of the Lord Jesus, he would be brought to the face of Christ and immediately have personal contact with Him.
Only when we have such direct, personal, and intimate contact with the Lord do we have the inner shining. This is just as true of us as it is of an unbeliever coming to the Lord for the first time. If we would have the Lord’s shining once again, we need to have intimate contact with the Lord. Whenever we call on the Lord in a dear, intimate way, we are before His face, and the shining of God is in our heart [spreading until our whole being is filled with divine light and life]. In this way the apostles received the inner shining. Then they shined out what they had received. This was their way of conducting themselves for the shining of the glory of the gospel of Christ. The power for this shining is that spoken of in 2 Corinthians 4:7. [Paul and his co-workers lived, walked, behaved and had their being in this divine shining.]
4. God Shining in Their Hearts Bringing a Treasure into Them,
the Earthen Vessels
In verse 7 Paul says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” God’s shining in our hearts brings into us a treasure, the Christ of glory, who is the embodiment of God to be our life and our everything. But we who contain this treasure are earthen vessels, worthless and fragile. A priceless treasure is contained in the worthless vessels. This has made the worthless vessels ministers of the new covenant with a priceless ministry. It is by the divine power in resurrection! The excellence of the power is surely of God and not of us.
In the apostles’ speaking concerning their ministry for God’s new covenant, five very significant and expressive metaphors are used to illustrate how they, as the ministers of the new covenant, and their ministry are constituted, how they behave and live, and how their ministry is carried out. These metaphors are:
(1) captives in a triumphant procession for the celebration of Christ’s victory (2 Corinthians 2:14a);
(2) incense-bearers to scatter the fragrance of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14b-16);
(3) letters written with Christ as the content (2 Corinthians 3:1-3);
(4) mirrors beholding and reflecting the glory of Christ in order to be transformed into His glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18);
(5) earthen vessels to contain the Christ of glory as the excellent treasure (2 Corinthians 4:7).
These vessels are like today’s camera, into which the image of Christ enters through the flashing of God’s shining light (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6).
This treasure, the indwelling Christ, in us, the earthen vessels, is the divine source of the supply for the Christian life. It is by the excellent power of this treasure that the apostles as the ministers of the new covenant are capable of living a crucified life that the resurrection life of Christ whom they minister may be manifested. Thus, they manifest the truth for the shining of the gospel.
Verses are taken from The Recovery Version of the Holy Bible and Words of Ministry from Witness Lee, The Life-Study of 2 Corinthians, Message 9. The Ministers of the New Covenant. [With some portions with combined enlightenment and inspiration]. Both are published by Living Stream Ministry, Anaheim, CA. All Rights Reserved.
Let us walk becomingly as in the day; not in reveling and drunkenness, not in fornication and licentiousness, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts.
Romans 13:13, 14