2 Corinthians 4:1-6
The Right Ways to Let the Light Shine
“I don’t care how you do it; just get it done!” You’ve heard something like that, no doubt. What matters for that person is not so much the means as the end. It’s pure pragmatism. As long as the desired result is achieved, does it really matter how we get there? For Paul, the answer is that it absolutely matters how we get there. But where is “there” for Paul in this context? It’s the faithful ministry of God’s Word (vv. 1, 5).
So why does Paul say in 4:1 and later in v. 16 that he does not lose heart? Why would he lose heart? Wouldn’t doing good be its own motivator? Isn’t righteousness its own deterrent from lawlessness? Of course, but sin still lurks. Temptations to put forward another (false) ministry, or to put forward the right ministry but in the wrong way(s), are always present, because the deceiver is active in the world (v. 4) and sin is still present in the heart of man. Clearly, some false apostles/super-apostles caved from pressure and selfish motives, but not Paul (2 Cor. 11:12-15). What was the difference? God’s mercy, plain and simple. That’s why Paul didn’t lose heart. This verb “lose heart” (ἐγκακέω) is typical of Paul’s vocabulary. It’s used 6 times in the NT (5 of which are from Paul). In all these uses, the people of God are exhorted to keep on keeping on, to persevere in holiness, in prayer, in well-doing, even in the face of sufferings, which themselves are temptations to wander away from God and his directions for godly living (Luke 18:1; 2 Cor. 4:1, 16; Gal. 6:9; Eph. 3:13; and 2 Thess. 3:13). God has mercifully kept Paul in his grip. Paul as minister of the New Covenant, literally, has been mercied by God (Greek has a verb “to mercy”). If you know the story of Paul, you definitely know that he has been the object of much mercy from God. Paul himself would call himself a blasphemer, persecutor, insolent opponent to God, and the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:12-17). But the light of God has shone in his heart (v. 6) when that very light of Christ blinded him and knocked him to the ground (Acts 9:3-5).
Paul is moved by the mercy and light of God (vv. 1, 6). That divine mercy-movement for Paul translates into avoiding some ways of ministering on the one hand, and following others on the other, as he proclaims the mercy ministry of the New Covenant. Let’s look at these ways in brief. By the mercy of God, Paul is emboldened to renounce “disgraceful, underhanded ways” (v. 2). Literally, he’s saying that he has forbidden from use “hidden things of shame” (that is, shameful and secret things). Those are general descriptors on which he expounds as he continues. He contrasts the secret ways of the deceivers with his openness. He says that he is not walking in (though the ESV says “practice”) “cunning.” Always in the NT the word for cunning (πανουργία) is used of the wicked and their crafty work of deception against believers and God (Luke 20:23; 1 Cor. 3:19; 2 Cor. 4:2; 11:3; Eph. 4:14). This language ought to remind the reader of the crafty serpent, the devil, back in Genesis 3. Of course, that is who Paul has in mind, for as he continues, he calls this deceiver the “god of this world” (v. 4). Coupled with the cunning of the deceivers is tampering with the word of God, which Paul refuses to do. By tampering with God’s Word, the unbelievers adulterate and falsify it. They seek to make it appear to teach that which is contrary to God’s plain teaching. Again, this is the work of the god of this world. You can hear the serpent saying, “Did God really say…?” How have you seen these shameful, secretive methods of deception in your own life? I think immediately of the cults, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter-day Saints in particular. They’re so sneaky with their cunning. They’ve adulterated the Word of God and supplanted it for other “uncorrupt revelation.” I think also of the Prosperity Gospel, which is a false gospel. Proclaimers of this gospel craftily tamper with Scripture to make it say what God never said: that God’s desire for us all is to be physically healthy and wealthy, provided that we have enough faith and sow a monetary seed. This, folks, is shameful and underhanded indeed. This is the kind of craft, I mean crap, that Paul refuses to engage in as he shares the light of Christ.
Rather than keeping the true message a secret, Paul puts before all people the “open statement of the gospel,” or literally, “the manifestation of the truth” (v. 2). Paul loves the truth. It was the Truth that set him free. This freeing message, therefore, must be out in the open. Everyone needs to hear it! Beloved, you should be suspicious of those who hide God’s Word from you, who don’t want Scripture to speak into their lives, or who say that you’re not ready for the deeper things of God. Did you know that the LDS missionaries are actually taught to withhold their “deeper doctrines” from potential converts? Even white lies are permitted, if the listener can be persuaded to make a commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is duplicitous and a sign of Satanhood, not sainthood. Be drawn, instead, to those who invite an open examination of the Scripture. Listen to those who say, “Let’s see what God has said in the Bible.” That’s a good sign! That’s what the Bereans were known for, and they were called noble for doing so (Acts 17:10-11). The openness of the gospel light is what people need for their salvation. We mustn’t hide that light under a bushel—no! It’s the truth that changes. It’s the truth that people need. So, it’s the truth that we must give them.
Finally, we see Paul’s humble and submissive approach. Not only does Paul openly proclaim the light of Christ, but he does so as a servant in the clear sight of God. He does so by proclaiming not himself as Lord but Jesus Christ as Lord (vv. 2, 5). Contrary to the hubris of the super-apostles, who would lord it over the sheep of Christ, Paul commends himself as a servant even to the Corinthians (v 5). Christ must increase, Paul must decrease. Everything he does, he does in the presence of his God and for the good of the Corinthians. The light he shares isn’t his own to proclaim. It’s a deposit from God the gracious Revelator for the mercied objects of his special revelation. There’s no other proper way to receive God’s light than a humble and public proclamation of the same.