CARRYING THE LIGHT OF TRUTH TO DARKENED MINDS
SERIES: DEVELOPING A CHRISTIAN LIFESTYLE IN A POST-CHRISTIAN
by Ron Ritchie
Whenever I hear or think about the city of Waco, Texas, my heart is filled
with the warm and wonderful memories of my days at Baylor University. There
in the midst of my spiritual darkness the Lord surrounded me with a group
of genuine Christian students who really understood and lived out the spiritual
calling of our Lord Jesus Christ: "You are the light of the world."
It was in Waco that the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ began to break
through to my unbelieving mind (the light of Christ finally came into my
heart in Jerusalem some two years later). However, for most of the world,
Waco, Texas is now a symbol of a distorted religious darkness. The town
has become the home of hundreds of reporters, writers, movie directors,
cult researchers, religious students, and tourists who are trying to figure
out how a self-appointed evil messiah, deceitfully using the word of God
and rock music, was able to have such control over so many men, women, and
children. They will try to understand how he justified his sexual immorality,
fortress mentality, and enough firepower to hold off a small army all these
weeks---all in the name of Jesus.
The events in Waco, Texas are a daily reminder that we still live in a fallen
world in which we find ourselves surrounded by men, women, and children
who live in deep spiritual darkness and experience daily stress, perplexity,
fear, and anger; resulting in a lifestyle of frustrated hopelessness. The
apostle Paul faced much the same human condition when he wrote his thankful
letter to the spiritual community in the wicked city of Corinth, Greece
in 56 AD. In 2 Corinthians 4:1-12 we will discover that Paul continues to
encourage his spiritual children out of his own personal experiences to
remain faithful to the Lord Jesus regardless of the false teachers, the
spiritual darkness, and the trying daily circumstances. He had come to the
spiritual realization that God was able to use each and every one of their
"clay pots" to bring the light of truth to darkened minds. This
can also be our spiritual reality in a post-Christian society because....
We are ministers of truth
2 Corinthians 4:1-4
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy,
we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of
shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by
the manifestation of truth commending 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, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds
of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the
glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Every Christian you have ever met---including yourself---was once living
in great darkness with a heart filled with sin and hopelessness. "But
God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved
us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together
with Christ (by grace you have been saved)" (Ephesians 2:4-5; see also
verses 1-3; 6-7). It is our new life in Christ Jesus that provides the power
necessary to become ministers of the new covenant. The new covenant God
offers is this: "I will be your God and you will become my people.
I will then write my law on your hearts and give you the gift of the person
and power of the Holy Spirit to keep my law, and then I will forgive and
forget all your sins" (see Jeremiah 31:31f). As we draw on the power
of Jesus to cope with reality, we are given this ministry of the Spirit,
a ministry of righteousness and transparency. The result is that we don't
lose heart; we don't get discouraged and allow circumstances to overwhelm
us. Our hearts are full of thankfulness because we realize that behind time
and space "...God...always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests
through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we
are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among
those who are perishing...." (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).
Paul now explains to his spiritual children in Corinth two reasons why he
and his disciples have not become discouraged in the midst of their ministry
to the world and the Christian communities. First, he says, "We have
renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception. Our lives and
message have been an open book. We don't need gimmicks or tricks to preach
the gospel." This was in direct contrast to the practices of the false
teachers in Corinth, who were using cunning traps to get people's attention
and loyalty as they mixed the teachings of law and grace. In 2 Corinthians
11:3-4 and 13-15 Paul writes: "...I am afraid, lest as the serpent
deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the
simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches
another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit
which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted,
you bear this beautifully...For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers,
disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan
disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if
his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose
end shall be according to their deeds."
The second reason Paul did not become discouraged in his ministry is that
he did not distort the word of God; he did not water it down or change it
to fit certain needs, as the false teachers apparently were doing. They
taught that salvation was earned by works (see Acts 15:1), that marriage
between believers and unbelievers was permissible (see 2 Corinthians 6),
and that sex outside of marriage was acceptable to God (see 1 Corinthians
Gimmicks and tricks are also being used in our own day to get people's attention.
For instance, a certain church that claims to be Christian ran an expensive
advertisement in a national magazine giving their history, using the name
of Jesus freely, and inviting all to join their church. They claimed the
following: They have a low divorce rate; they don't drink, smoke, or use
drugs; they are moral, upright, and clean-living; they love to sing, dance,
and play games; they are good givers to worthy causes; they are high achievers
in sports, politics and entertainment; they have low cancer and heart disease
rates and they live longer; their membership has doubled in the last ten
years; they are against drugs, homosexuality, abortion, and immorality;
and finally, their goal is peace. Yet behind this slick advertisement lie
several theological traps, two of the more serious being their refusal to
recognize the deity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and their insistence
that salvation is accomplished by works.
Paul, on the contrary, drew on the power of the Spirit to function as a
minister of the new covenant in the following three ways. The first was
"by the manifestation of truth," or setting forth the truth plainly.
He told people what God had to say about reality without using any gimmicks,
games, or tricks. Rather than tickling their ears he gave them the good
news: "You are saved by the grace of God through your faith in Jesus."
The second way Paul says he functioned as a minister of the new covenant
was by "commending ourselves to every man's conscience." Paul
and his disciples taught and preached messages that made an appeal to the
mind, not to the emotions, trusting God for the power to teach about Jesus,
who said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the
Father but through Me."
The third way Paul says he ministered was "in the sight of God."
Once again, as in chapter 2 verse 17, Paul is referring to his awareness
of the presence and power of God. The apostle's life, motives, and actions
were transparent before the Lord. He sensed his daily accountability to
God for his ministry. He and his disciples lived out the truth of God in
the sight of God (and the Corinthians). And in the end they trusted God
for the results of their teaching and preaching.
Now Paul turns to his ministry to the non-Christian community, which included
the false teachers he had to contend with. First he tells his spiritual
children the bad news: "...even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled
to those who are perishing...the god of this world [age] has blinded the
minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel
of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." Satan blinds the
minds of the unbelieving so that they cannot see the reality that they are
sinners and need a Savior whose name is Jesus. When they hear the gospel
it sounds foolish to their minds. Their veils of pride and self-sufficiency
keep them in a world of their own making in which they are led to believe
they can handle all that life sends their way.
The way Paul and his disciples were able to prevail against the opposition
of the false teachers was to be ministers of the truth; that is, to teach
and live out the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures. They had only
We preach Christ Jesus as Lord
2 Corinthians 4:5-6
For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and
ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. 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.
This represents the good news for unbelievers! In spite of the resistance
of the unbelievers, the veils they wore, and the work of Satan who sought
to distort the person of Christ, Paul is saying he and his disciples continued
to preach Jesus Christ as Lord. Jesus is not merely a prophet, a teacher,
and a moral man, but the resurrected Lord of lords and King of kings. And
the good news is that Jesus can break through all opposition and penetrate
any darkness. The God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness in
Genesis 1 is the same one who has shone in our hearts, and so we are empowered
to carry that light into our spiritually darkened world. There is hope for
unbelievers. No matter how proud and stubborn they are, no matter how many
masks they wear, the God who said, "Let there be light," can reach
the heart of and give sight to any spiritually blind person when a servant
of Jesus shares the gospel with them.
No one knew this truth better than Paul, who, some five years after he wrote
this letter, would stand before the Jewish people as a prisoner of Rome
on the steps of the temple and tell them of his spiritual conversion thirty
years earlier: "...I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and
putting both men and women into prisons, and also the high priest and all
the Council of the elders can testify...And it came about that as I was
on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly
flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a
voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' And I answered,
'Who art Thou, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom
you are persecuting.'" (Acts 22:4-8.) The light of Jesus Christ penetrated
the deep darkness that Paul (then Saul) was living in and liberated him
to become a minister of the new covenant. Later Paul would give that same
testimony to King Agrippa and add that the Lord Jesus had told him that
he was to be sent to the Jews and the Gentiles "...to open their eyes
so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan
to God." (Acts 26:18.)
The way Paul and his disciples were able to confront the false teachers
and bring the light of truth to darkened minds was to teach and live out
the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures. They had only one message:
Jesus as Lord. And in addition Paul says...
We minister out of earthen vessels
2 Corinthians 4:7-12
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing
greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; 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, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested
in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death
for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal
flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.
Paul begins with the word "but." What he is going to share next
is in contrast to what he has just said about God who causes his light to
shine in our hearts and the spiritual battle being fought over the hearts
and minds of men. The good news is that God can break through the blindness
of men and make his light shine in their hearts. Paul himself is "Exhibit
So what is Paul referring to when he speaks of having "this treasure?"
He is referring directly back to "the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Christ" (verse 6). The word of truth of
the resurrected Jesus who lives in our hearts motivates us to preach the
good news of John 3:16-17: "For God so loved the world, that He gave
His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but
have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge
the world; but that the world should be saved through Him." The Lord
Jesus and his word of grace are the treasure Paul is talking about.
Christians have this treasure, Paul says, "in earthen vessels,"
or jars of clay. We are not the treasure; rather, we are the containers
that hold the treasure.
The Corinthians would understand what Paul meant here. In that culture they
used clay jars of all shapes and sizes to hold milk, fruit, flour, oil,
and so forth. Clay jars, they knew, were made to contain something. As a
clay jar, man was designed to contain the living God, who would make man's
life purposeful, useful, and fulfilling. Most people in the world, however,
are going around empty and despairing.
The reason the treasure is contained in jars of clay is simple: to show
that "...the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not
from ourselves." The power that caused light to shine out of darkness
at creation is the same power that can break through hardened hearts and
minds and make the enemies of our Lord into his servants. That presence
and power are expressed in and through weak men and women, clay pots, by
means of the Holy Spirit. This has been God's way of fulfilling his purposes
down through the ages as he has demonstrated his plan of salvation in the
God used Abraham and Sarah when they were old and long past the age of child-bearing
to begin the new nation he was forming. Hearing God's announcement that
Sarah would have a son, "Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, 'After
I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?' Then
the LORD said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh and say, "Will I really
have a child, now that I am old?" Is anything too hard for the LORD?
I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have
a son.'" (Genesis 18:12-14.) Sarah, the aged clay jar, gave birth to
Isaac the following year.
The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon as he was hiding in a winepress
and said to him, 'The LORD is with you, mighty warrior...Go...and save Israel
out of Midian's hand." "How?" asked Gideon, "I'm nobody."
That was the answer God was looking for. He just wanted a clay jar. So he
said to Gideon, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the
Midianites together." (Judges 6:12f.)
Daniel interpreted the dream of Nebuchadnezzar through the power of God
and gave thanks to God, saying, "Praise be to the name of God for ever
and ever; for wisdom and power are His." (Daniel 2:20.)
All of these men and women were clay jars. In the midst of their circumstances
God powerfully moved through them so that all could see him accomplishing
his plan of redemption. In the words of Psalm 62:11:
"Once God has spoken;
Paul goes on to demonstrate the principle that all power belongs to God
by using four illustrations from his own life that will also apply to us.
Let's remember that all people, Christians and non-Christians alike, experience
difficult circumstances. But the difference is seen in our response. As
others see that our power to cope with difficulty is coming from God and
not from us, they will also see God's plan of redemption at work in and
through our lives.
Twice I have heard this:
That power belongs to God...."
First Paul says, "...we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed...."
Paul's figure of being crushed is drawn from the Roman custom of using the
great weight of marble slabs to literally pressure prisoners into talking
by placing slabs one after another on their chests until finally they were
crushed. Paul uses this figure to talk about the afflictions, pressures,
and stressful circumstances he and his disciples faced both physically and
emotionally, from outside and from within. For example, we have only to
look at chapter 11 of this letter to see the troubles Paul experienced:
"...three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in
the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers
from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles; dangers
in the city, dangers in the wilderness...I have been in labor and hardship,
through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food...Apart
from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern
for all the churches." The difference between the Christian and the
non-Christian when facing trials is that for the Christian power is available
from within to hold up under the pressure, and that power is Christ himself.
If the Christian chooses to rely on Christ, he will not be crushed!
Secondly, the apostle says, "We are perplexed, but not despairing.
We are at our wit's end, without emotional resources; we don't know what
is going on or how to proceed." Perplexity is not sin. Paul and his
brothers and sisters experienced that feeling many times---in Troas, Philippi,
Athens, Corinth, and Roman prisons. One time, for example, the Galatians
had received Paul "as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself"
(Galatians 4:14) and received Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Then some
false teachers came among them and they began to fall into legalism by placing
themselves under the law of Moses again. Paul challenged them with the truth
of the word of God, and they began to treat him as their enemy. Finally
he had to say to them, "I am perplexed about you" (Galatians 4:20).
J.I. Packer in his book Knowing God says that these perplexities
...to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to
drive us to cling to Him more closely...God fills our lives with troubles
and perplexities...to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast. The reason
why the Bible spends so much of its time reiterating that God is a strong
rock, a firm defence, and a sure refuge and help for the weak, is that God
spends so much of His time bringing home to us that we are weak, both mentally
and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find, or to follow, the right
road...God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing,
so that we may learn thankfully to lean on Him. Therefore he takes steps
to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in Himself, to 'wait on the
That is why we do not despair; God is the one on whom we have set our hope.
Thirdly Paul says, "...[we are] persecuted, but not forsaken...."
Paul and his companions faced persecution many times for their beliefs.
In Acts 23:6 Paul, having been arrested for preaching the gospel of Jesus
Christ in the temple area, stood before the high priest and the members
of the Jewish Supreme court and said, "I am on trial for the hope and
resurrection of the dead!" And the Pharisees and Sadducees got into
such a heated argument over Paul that the Roman commander was afraid he
would be torn to pieces and forced him out of the hands of the Jews. "But
on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said,
'Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem,
so you must witness at Rome also.'" (Acts 23:11.)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was imprisoned by the Nazis for
speaking out against Hitler's regime, wrote in his Letters from Prison:,
"I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil...For
that purpose he needs men who make the best use of everything. I believe
God will give us all the strength we need to resist in all times of distress,
but he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not
on Him alone...."
Fourthly Paul says, "...[we are] struck down, but not destroyed...."
Many times Paul suffered the trauma of being suddenly struck down---just
as if he had a sudden and unexpected blow to the head. On Paul's first missionary
journey he and Barnabas were preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in the
Asian cities of Antioch and Iconium; then they moved on to Lystra. "But
Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes,
they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.
But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city."
All humanity is formed out of the dust. We are all jars of clay, and as
such we face afflictions, perplexities, persecutions, and trauma physically,
emotionally, and spiritually. When we become Christians we are not suddenly
lifted above the normal (and abnormal) circumstances of life. We are the
same jars of clay, only now we contain the treasure of the life and power
of the resurrected Christ within us! Therefore we have strength to cope
with all the realities that God brings into our lives. If we choose to allow
the Lord to live through us, we are no longer crushed, despairing, abandoned,
or destroyed. Instead we are now able to see how God uses all these circumstances
to his honor and glory, to bring us to spiritual reliance on him and into
Paul shares with the Corinthians the spiritual reality that God is at work
in and through our "clay pots" to call out of every nation a people
for himself. He shows us two ways this is happening. First he says, "...[we
are] always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life
of Jesus also may be manifested in our body." When Jesus the perfect
Lamb of God died on the cross, all the sins of humanity were placed upon
him: all the pride, self-reliance, self-confidence, and self-assertiveness
of man. He then physically died; that is, his flesh died. Now, according
to Romans 6, all who place their faith in him as Lord and Savior are spiritually
identified with his death. The old nature, though still able to influence
us, no longer has any power over us. We are no longer slaves to our flesh.
We have the power to choose to die to the "lust of the flesh"
(the lust for power), the "lust of the eyes" (the lust for possession),
and the "boastful pride of life" (the lust for position) (see
1 John 2:16). We are new creatures in Christ: "You are not your own...you
have been bought with a price." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20.) So as servants
of Christ we can choose to take up our cross daily and choose to die to
our "rights" and to our feelings. As servants of the new covenant
and as jars of clay we are to choose to allow the life of Jesus to be seen
in our words and our actions, regardless of the outward circumstances, and
the result will be life out of death. People will see that we have bodies
of clay just like they do, but something about us is different. We may look
like we did before we became Christians, but when people have been with
us they will say, "I think I've been with Jesus."
"For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus'
sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh."
Paul now moves from the Christian's choosing to walk in the Spirit as opposed
to the flesh in order that Christ's life be seen in him, to his realization
at times that his life is being used by God without his consent. This is
the second way God is calling out a people for himself through our clay
pots. Notice the word "constantly." This is a pattern for life.
This was clearly seen in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 where Paul was placed by God
in a deadly situation in order that he would learn to no longer trust in
himself but in God who raises the dead.
"So death works in us, but life in you." Because of the willingness
of Paul and his disciples to die to the cry of the flesh and minister by
the power of the Spirit in Corinth, many in that wicked and spiritually
blind city came to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
To quote J.I. Packer again in Knowing God: ,
"Through tribulations of pain and loss for Jesus' sake
we enter into a thousand little deaths day by day, and through the ministry
of the Spirit we rise out of those little deaths into constantly recurring
experiences of our risen life with Christ."
Jesus Christ is alive and wants to extend mercy to everyone who is willing
to place their faith in him as Lord and Savior. Once we become children
of God our hearts are filled with encouragement as we move out into a spiritually
darkened world, empowered by God as ministers of the new covenant with the
light of the gospel that can penetrate spiritually darkened minds. God did
enlighten Paul's mind, your mind, and mine, so we have great hope that he
can bring the light of truth about Jesus into the minds of all those around
us among our families, friends, and neighbors. God has placed his treasure,
Jesus and his word, into our clay pots; and as our Lord he may place us
into all kinds of stressful, confusing, hurtful, and traumatic circumstances
so that the unbelieving world will see that the power to not be crushed,
fall into despair, feel forsaken, or be destroyed comes from God and not
from ourselves. But it is in all these trying circumstances that death is
at work in us so that eternal life can be at work in the spiritually blind
all around us.
Catalog No. 4338
2 Corinthians 4:1-12
March 21, 1993
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