The Key Role and Necessity of Suffering in the Life of the Believer! (A Commentary of 2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

Introduction

After many hours of study, I am amazed that I was unable to unearth what I believe to be a crucial part of Paul’s whole point of 2 Corinthians. In fact, if seems all the pieces are there, but no one has taken the time to connect the dots. It is accurate to believe that a major theme in Paul’s second (or third depending on who’s counting) epistle to Corinth is to defend his apostleship.

It is also true that Paul is putting forth a solid cohesive display of the New Covenant. However, I have found little satisfaction on how Paul sees exulting in his weaknesses and suffering are linked to these two previous statements. In fact most Bible Dictionaries spend most of their time trying to solve the problem of evil when covering the issue of suffering.[1] This is staggering since this does not seem to be the point of Scripture when it speaks of suffering.

It is the goal of this paper to show that Paul sees the New Covenant manifested like Moses face coming down Mt. Sinai (and greater yet) by proclamation and suffering. The majority of exegesis will take place in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. However, to make a valid case for this thesis, I need to do some background information on 2 Corinthians 3-4:6.

Background

In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul clearly has to deal with false teachers who are causing dissension in the church. These false teachers were challenging the validity of Paul’s ministry because he was not what they or the world expected of a great leader. He was not much to look at. He was late in the Apostleship game. He was not much of an orator. And the worst of it all, Paul was constantly suffering. The false teachers exposed these things in an attempt to deface Paul and what he had accomplished. Their hopes were to gain the authority that Paul had.

This led Paul into a defense of himself and his ministry. Paul saw the two as inseparable. In order to defend one he would need to defend both. Paul begins with himself and moves into an explanation of this great ministry which is the New Covenant.

Paul compares his ministry (the New Covenant) to the ministry of Moses and states that his “far exceed(s)[2]” it. The Old Covenant was temporal the New Covenant is eternal. The glory of the New was surpassing the fading glory of the Old Covenant. The old killed; the New gave life. The Old condemned; the New Covenant produced righteousness. And finally, the Old was veiled, but the New Covenant was unveiled.

In the concluding verses of chapter 3 Paul states that “all” Christians are ministers of the New Covenant much like Moses was of the Old[3]. However, Moses had a veil over his face covering the glory, but the Christians faces are “unveiled.”

The beholding of the glory of the covenant results in transformation. All those who behold the glory of God are changed from one degree of glory to another. In others words, Paul has in mind in this text the means of sanctification[4].

In chapter 4:4 Paul states that it is Jesus Christ’s glory that is being displayed in the New Covenant. Paul states that Satan strives to blind men’s minds from seeing this glory, because he knows what will happen (see 3:18). So Jesus Christ is the focal point of the New Covenant, and it is His glory that has transforming power.

In verse 5, Paul states that this is why he proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord. He doesn’t tamper with the word of God nor does he attempt to be cunning. He strives to be clear and sincere. “Why?” because the glory of God is composed of knowledge. We see this in verse 6. God shines His glory in our blinded/veiled hearts to give knowledge. So, Paul believes it is necessary to speak, in order to display the glory of Jesus Christ. Paul is convinced that proclaiming the message is essential to being a minister of the New Covenant.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay

Paul then moves onto a contrast. There is an immeasurable treasure but it is placed in jars of clay. The treasure is referencing the gospel or the New Covenant that was just seen the previous verses[5]. The jars of clay represent all believers[6]. Paul could not be any clearer. He chooses the most unique, precious, valuable thing-the gospel-and places it in the most common, mundane, cheap, worthless thing-jars of clay[7].

[T]o show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. The previous contrast is necessary for one major reason. This is the first of four of Paul’s purpose clauses[8]. God, by placing the treasure in jars of clay, will receive all glory for the “surpassing power.” In other words, when Paul would normally give up and does not the power of God is magnified[9]. Now it is important to point out at this point, Paul has yet to explain how the glory of the New Covenant is put on display. In the Old Covenant everyone could see the glory of it on display from Moses’ face. In 3:18 Paul tells us that we are like Moses only with “unveiled faces” displaying the glory of the New Covenant.

Thesis

But he has yet to state how it is manifested. In the dispensation of the Law people heard the law and the glory/power of it was manifested on Moses’ face. In the New Covenant people hear the gospel but how is the glory/power of the New Covenant manifested?

This is where my research hit a wall. Of all the commentaries read, none of them speak upon this issue. They are all silent. And yet the text screams it! Look at all of these visual words speaking of the glory/power of the New Covenant put on display here in chapter 4:7-11: “to show” (vs.7), “manifested” (vs. 10), “bodies” (vs. 10), “manifested” (vs. 11), “mortal flesh” (vs.11).

Also, notice what is being manifested in verses 7-11: “surpassing power” (vs.7), “the death of Jesus” (vs.10), “the life of Jesus” (vs.10), “the life of Jesus” (vs.11). Now 4:4,6 state that the “light of the gospel” is Jesus Christ. Luke 22:20 tells us that the New Covenant was established on the cross at the death of Jesus. Paul also points out that the resurrection of Christ is essential to the Christian faith (I Corinthians 15). And here in 4:7-11 Paul states that the power/glory of Jesus’ death (cross) and life (resurrection) are “manifested” in the perseverance of the suffering saint.

Can the apostle Paul be any more obvious that the unveiling of the glory of the New Covenant is shown through the suffering of the saints? This is why Paul boasts in his weaknesses. In doing so he puts the power of gospel on display[10]. This is what it means to be a minister of the New Covenant. Paul links suffering so close to being a true minister that to not is to negate your claim to being a minister! This is Paul’s response to those false teachers. And this argument shut them up!

In 4:1-6 Paul’s point was to expose that a true minister of the New Covenant does not alter the message, but proclaims it clearly. “But we have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word.” This is the first true credential to being a true minister of the New Covenant. That is, proclaiming the unadulterated gospel is essential to being a minister of God. In 4:7-12 Paul explains the second was persevering suffering, so that the power of God may be made known in our weakness.

The false teachers’s came along and were mocking Paul’s stature, speech ability, and suffering. Paul’s response was; my stature and inability display the competence of God in me. My suffering, yet never quitting, manifests the power of God in me. And my lack of rhetoric reveals the glory of Jesus Christ in me! This is what causes Paul to go back to the Psalms and quote Psalm 116, in which the psalmist states, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints (vs. 15).” For there is no greater way to manifest the power and glory of God than to take cheap, breakable pots and have then slammed against a brick wall and they not be “crushed.[11]” Such a display requires there to be a God.

So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Remember that Paul states that sanctification is the result of beholding the glory of Jesus Christ. Because the glory of Jesus Christ is manifested two-fold: the proclamation of the gospel and the life of a suffering saint, The church in Corinth had been experiencing life as a result of Paul’s proclaiming and suffering for the gospel[12]. However, the principle goes far beyond just the Apostle Paul’s life. This two-fold revelation functions this way for all ministers. And so, it is true for all ministers that when they proclaim and suffer for the gospel the church is sanctified. This is why Paul references “suffering” over 60 times[13].

Application

Christians should not be discouraged if they have what seem to be weaknesses. Perhaps a Christian may have turrets, or A.D.D. Maybe the Christians stutters or is physically handicap. All of these are often used today to explain why we should expect less from one. However, Paul taught that these weaknesses were opportunities to display the power of God.

What is often referenced as a low self-esteem is Biblically what Paul would call unbelief in the power of God. That type of thinking has man at the center and God purposes and plans crippled as much as the tool He desires to use. But God has chosen “jars of clay” for this very reason to display His surpassing power!

Conclusion

In response to the false teachers in Corinth, Paul explains to the church what a true minister of the New Covenant is. By doing so, Paul authenticates his apostleship and defends the gospel for which he suffers. The application is clear for the church as well. They are to continue to clearly and sincerely proclaim the gospel and respond to suffering with joy. “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you to stand firm in your faith.” (2 Corinthians 1:24).


[1] Frances Young, The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, ed. Alan Richardson and John Bowden, (Philladelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Press, 1983) pg. 555.

[2] ESV Bible, (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2001), 2 Corinthians 3:8.

[3] Murray J. Harris, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Second Epistle to Corinth, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner, (Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005) pg. 313.

[4] W. Harold mare and Murray J. Harris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: with New International Version, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) pg. 166.

[5] R.V.G. Tasker, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 2 Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983) pg. 72.

[6] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: 2 Corinthians, ed. William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Academics, 1997) pg. 146.

[7] Colin Kruse, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 2 Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI.: Inter-Varsity Press,1987) pg. 106.

[8] Jan Lambrecht, S.J., SACRA PAGINA: 2 Corinthians, ed. Daniel J. Harrington and Jan Lambrecht S.J., (Collegeville, MN.: The Liturgical Press, 1999) pg. 72.

[9] Linda L. Belleville, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, vol. 8., ed. Grant R. Osborne, (Downers Grove, IL.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996) pg. 122-123.

[10] Paul Barnett, The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of 2 Corinthians, ed. John R.W. Stott, (Downers Grove, IL.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988) pg. 87.

[11] Frank J. Matera, The New Testament Library: 2 Corinthians, (Louisville, KY.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) pg. 109.

[12] Paul Barnett, The New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) pg. 237.

[13] Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, (Downers Grove, IL.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993) pg. 919.

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