Interpretation Of 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
This reading is the epistle lesson for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (series B). The translation from the Greek is my own.
An Interpretation Of 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
The Corinthian congregation Paul addresses in this letter has drifted away from the reservation. It now rejects Paul and his fellows who are the Lord's true apostles, and lends its itching ears to a bevy of “false apostles” (11:13), who preach “another Jesus” (11:4): a Jesus other than the One who is liturgically and sacramentally present in his church.
Paul's goal by this epistle is to restore them to the “one holy catholic and apostolic church.”
V. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your ministers for Jesus' sake.
When Paul states that “we do not preach ourselves” he means as opposed to the false apostles who likely now constitute a sect. One that formally opposes Paul, and the Gospel he received directly from Jesus.
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12)
These men, as opposed to Paul, do preach themselves; and for the usual advantage: money, power and glory. False religion is a lucrative business and there are mountebanks in every age. They are known in that they want to served, rather than serve. But Jesus says:
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28) His ministers must do the same.
Whom do true apostles (and their sons) serve? The baptized. They serve them with the Absolution, Word, Body and Blood of Jesus. It is often lonely and thankless work. God’s people often resist the apostolic faith and its messenger. They are happy as long as it agrees with their demands, but when the church’s ways conflict the pastor is rejected and false apostles sought.
But Paul and company stay the course. They proclaim and continue to prove themselves ministers to the church “for Jesus sake,” because Jesus ordained them for this reason.
V. 6 For it is God who says, "Let light shine forth from darkness" who has shined in our hearts with Light, namely, the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Here Paul reminds them of the origin of his message. It comes from God. As God called forth Light from darkness in creation; even so he enlightens sin-darkened hearts. By the Holy Spirit he instills: the knowledge of the glory of God. But only and always as it is known in the face of Christ Jesus. (1 John 2:23).
But where do we see Jesus’ face? Does it float among cloud formations, or come by special visions? The face of Christ is seen in Christian worship; and in the faces of the fellow believers among us who are hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned and naked. When we see them we see Jesus. When we serve them we serve Jesus.
V. 7 But we bear this treasure in clay jars, so that the surpassing power should be from God, and not of ourselves.
How magnificent a verse!
The treasure is Jesus who dwells in us by his Word, Body and Blood. It is a treasure that Paul received, and what he receives and believes he cannot help but speak aloud in the church. (4:13) Nor can the church which, in her worship, confesses aloud what she believes every Lord’s (Christ’s) Day.
And what of the “clay jars”? They were the disposable cup of the first century. They were fragile, and when they broke they were simply thrown into the trash, and new ones obtained.
This is the beautiful mystery! That the infinite Christ graciously condescends to dwell in finite human flesh. First by his own incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and secondly as he takes up residence in the baptized by his Body and Blood. He is our nourishment now, and will be unto the ages of ages. As Sunday’s Psalm says “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” (Psalm 81:12)
Paul is fragile. He is beset by the full array of human weakness, and worldly troubles. We are, too! Nonetheless Christ dwells in us, and we in him! We, along with Paul, are Christophers. “Bearers of Christ.” As persons can be carriers of disease; the church is the Carrier of Life. Life that is manifested in Divine Worship, and in our daily vocations from Lord' Day to Lord's Day.
Vss. 8-12 We are pressed upon from every direction, But not crushed; perplexed But not driven to despair; 9 persecuted But not forsaken; struck down But not destroyed; 10 carrying with us always and everywhere the death of Jesus in our body; so that the Life of Jesus might also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being handed over to death for Jesus sake; so that the life of Jesus might also be clearly seen in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death is at work in Us, but life in You!
The “but” used herein is the “strong adversative” in Greek, and thus capitalized in my translation. It indicates that though these troubles exist, they in no way win the day. But that God’s people triumph through them all. As St. Paul writes, “But in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37ff)
The troubles Paul suffers are in connection with his ministry. The word that Jesus spoke concerning this former persecutor of the faith at his conversion now comes true, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." (Acts 9:16)
Unbelievers (Jew and Gentile alike) who disdained his gospel pursued Paul. He was hunted down, arrested, jailed, beaten, stoned, starved and left for dead many times. But it isn’t only unbelievers who persecuted him. But his own children, to whom he became a spiritual father in Christ, now rebel against him in favor of false apostles. (1 Corinthians 4:15)
This lesson contains a second beautiful mystery as well, “carrying with us always and everywhere the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus might also be manifested in our bodies …”
What does Paul mean by “the death of Jesus” and “the life of Jesus” that he (and finally all Christians) carry about “in our bodies”? Two things.
First, the torments he suffered in service of the Gospel (Galatians 6:17). His body was permanently marked, and deformed by the cruel treatment he suffered (11:24ff). But there is more.
The liturgical and sacramental Christian must also see the Eucharist here. For what is Holy Communion other than the very Body and Blood of glorified Lord, Jesus Christ, taken into our dying flesh; which is "the medicine of immortality".
As those who have tasted the Lord’s goodness in Holy Communion (Psalm 34:8) we too bear about the death and resurrection of Jesus in our flesh. His death is manifested in us in that we, too, suffer the manifold exigencies of life, suffer for his name, and finally we crumble and die.
But his life is also manifested in us as we walk each day as "children of the Light". (Ephesians 5:8 & 1 Thessalonians 5:5). We are, per the Lord's own decree, Salt for the Earth and Light for the World: precisely because we sacramentally bear the death and life of Jesus in us. Nothing in the Christian faith is ever merely notional, but always incarnational. This cannot be stressed enough.
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