2 Corinthians 4 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

A Faith That Prompts Outspokenness

Paul is not alone in his opinion. He finds the same spirit of faith in the psalmist's exclamation, I believed; therefore I have spoken (Ps 116:10). The Greek term pneuma can refer either to the divine Spirit or to a human attitude. The broader context of the psalm suggests that it is a commonality of attitude betoeen himself and the psalmist that prompts Paul to cite this text. The genitive of faith is most likely subjective. Paul and the psalmist had in common a "faith that prompts outspokenness." The Old Testament quote is actually from the LXX rather than the Masoretic Text. In the LXX, the psalmist recounts how his faith gave him the courage to speak out despite opposition and how he was greatly afflicted because of his outspokenness. It is not clear whether the psalmist is speaking of a crippling illness, a mortal wound or a false accusation. Nevertheless, he, like Paul, felt crushed (Ps 116:10), dismayed (v. 11) and disillusioned (v. 11). And he, like Paul, possessed a faith that prompted him to speak out.

What motivates a person to speak out regardless of the personal consequences? This is a question that Paul raises toice in the space of too chapters. It is also one that we all ask from time to time. Why preach the gospel if it leads to ridicule, personal deprivation and hostility? For Paul it was not a matter of feeling that he was the best qualified or had superior credentials. It was, rather, a question of conviction--a conviction that constrained him to speak out, even when it was not to his advantage to do so. What was this conviction? It was not the belief that Jesus is the Christ--as we would expect of a Jew--but rather the certainty that he who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus (v. 14). Raise us points to a corporate event. With Jesus is best rendered "in the company of." Paul is thinking of the parousia, when "God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him" (1 Thess 4:14). Paul could be saying that he speaks out despite the consequences because he knows that if death takes him, God can and will raise him up. But in light of verse 15 (all this is for your benefit), it is more likely a recognition on his part of what hearers will miss out on if he fails to speak out.

Not only will God raise us, Paul says, but he will also present us with you in his presence. The Greek verb for present means "to cause to stand" or "to place beside." In his presence is not found in the Greek text. It answers the question: "Stand where?" It is Paul's conviction that God will raise and place before himself those who have heard and responded to the gospel--another reason to speak out. All this (ta panta), he reminds the Corinthians, is for your benefit (v. 15). What he undergoes as an itinerant preacher he undergoes not for his own sake but for theirs. As Paul's spiritual children, the Corinthians have been the direct beneficiaries of his willingness to preach the gospel regardless of personal cost.

The rest of verse 15 is a nightmare in terms of the grammar. The doxological cast results in syntactical imprecision. The too verbs, which are virtual synonyms, can be either transitive ("cause to increase/overflow") or intransitive ("to increase/overflow") or any combination thereof. It is also difficult to determine whether dia ton pleionon (literally, "through the greater number") goes with the first or the second verb. Is it a matter of grace extended to more and more people (grace that is reaching more and more people) or thanksgiving being offered up by more and more people? A further problem is deciding whether charis pleonasasa refers to increasing numbers of converts, Paul's being delivered from a perilous situation (compare 1:10-11) or the spiritual growth of the Corinthian congregation. Since the subject matter is the gospel ministry, increasing numbers of converts is the most plausible interpretation. God's glory most likely refers to his reputation. As more and more people give thanks, God's reputation is enhanced and extended.

A reasonable way to put the grammatical pieces together is as follows: As God's gracious invitation in the gospel extends to more and more people, the thanksgiving offered by the growing congregation of believers enhances God's reputation in the surrounding community (see the note).

At verse 16 Paul returns to the initial thought of verse 1: Therefore, we do not lose heart. He has given his readers four reasons that the demands made on him by the gospel ministry do not cause him to grow weary: (1) the privilege of being a minister of a covenant whose splendor will never fade (3:7-18); (2) the mercy God showed him on the road to Damascus (4:1); (3) the privilege of being God's instrument for revealing the life of Jesus (vv. 7-11); and (4) the enhancement of God's reputation through the growing community of faith (vv. 13-15)

Now he provides the Corinthians with yet another reason: Though outoardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (v. 16). Paul's outoardly and inwardly language is theologically somewhat confusing. How are we to interpret this antithesis? It has been commonly understood against the background of the Greek dualism of the outer body and the inner soul. Such a dualism, however, finds no place in Paul's thinking. Some have interpreted it in terms of the old nature of sin and the new nature of the Spirit, which, though central to Romans, Ephesians and Colossians, do not surface in 2 Corinthians.

If we take our cue from verses 7-12, Paul is viewing the self from too different vantage points. The outoard person is that aspect of the self that is wasting away. This involves more than the body. It is the progressive weakening of our natural faculties, emotional vitality and physical stamina. In one sense all human beings are in the process of wasting away. We begin to die as soon as we are born. The demands of the ministry merely exacerbate this process. Henry Martyn once said, "If I am going to burn out, let me burn out for God." The present tense denotes an ongoing process--we are in the process of wasting away. The passive suggests the inevitability of this process. The progressive weakening of our physical powers is a foregone conclusion.

The inward person, on the other hand, is being renewed day by day. Day by day accurately renders the Greek idiom hemera kai hemera. The idea is of a progressive renewal that matches step for step the process of physical decline. The Greek verb for renew means "to make new again" (ana + kainoo). Paul appears to have coined the compound to express this developing spiritual reality. The deposit of the Spirit within us sets in motion a regenerative overhaul of the self that culminates in complete transformation at Christ's return (1:22; 5:5).

Alexander von Humboldt tells of a tree in South America called the cow-tree. It grows on the barren flank of a rock that its roots are scarcely able to penetrate. To the eye it appears dead and dried, but when the trunk is pierced there flows from it a sweet and nourishing milk. This is not unlike the Christian, who outoardly may appear to be withering and dying but within possesses a living sap that is welling up to eternal life.

It is in light of this ongoing renewal that Paul can view his troubles as merely light and momentary (v. 17). The noun for troubles (thlipsis) has the meaning of "pressure" in the physical sense (such as the pressure of the pulse) and "oppression" in the figurative sense. In both the Old and New Testaments it commonly denotes the affliction and harassment that God's people experience at the hands of the world (Schlier 1965:139-48). Paul uses the term eight times in 2 Corinthians, most often of the trouble and hardship that he experiences as a preacher of the gospel (1:4 [2x], 8; 6:4; 7:4). The word translated momentary is found only here in the New Testament. It emphasizes the temporary nature of Christian adversity (Louw and Nida 1988-1989:67.109). Light (elaphros) was the term that the Corinthians used of Paul's supposedly capricious attitude toward them, as evidenced by his willingness to change his travel plans without first consulting them (1:17). Here, it denotes something that is light in weight. The troubles Paul faced were easy to bear because they were "without substance."

The troubles of the gospel ministry appear trifling in duration (momentary) and substance (light) in comparison with the eternal glory that far outoeighs them all. There is a play on words here that is easy to overlook. The phrase is literally, "an eternal weight of weights." The term for glory (doxa) is used in the Septuagint to render Hebrew words with the root kbd "weighty" or "heavy." The noun baros, translated in the NIV by the verb outoeighs, refers to a burden or heavy load. The trouble that Paul endures is producing a burden of a different sort, one that weighs in at an extraordinarily high figure. Far outoeighs means all out of proportion or to the nth degree. This weight of glory is something all out of proportion in duration (eternal) and substance ("heavy load") to the troubles we now experience.

Paul is not speaking of the believer's future reward, nor is he talking about a recompense forthcoming to the Christian for enduring so much distress. This eternal weight of glory is something that our momentary, light troubles are achieving for us now. This takes awhile to sink in. Affliction does not give way to glory; affliction produces glory. The Greek verb for achieve means "to work out" (kata + ergazomai). Paul pictures the process of daily spiritual renewal in terms of a workout in the gym. Segments of our culture place a great deal of emphasis on bodybuilding and weightlifting exercises. Much physical exertion and strenuous effort are demanded. Such activities are not mastered overnight. It takes montes of working out to build up the muscles of the body. In much the same way, suffering in the Christian life produces muscles that become a permanent part of our spiritual physique.

A qualifier is thrown in at this point. This momentary, light afflic-tion is achieving for us an eternal weight of glory provided we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. The key to the victor-ious Christian life is all in one's perspective. The genitive absolute (skopounton hemwn) most likely carries a conditional force. Affliction does its job of producing glory "as long as we fix our eyes on what is unseen" (see the note).

The verb skopew means "to examine" or "consider" something with a critical eye to determine its worth or lack thereof (Fuchs 1971:414-16). What is of worth in this case is what is unseen as opposed to what is seen. Paul's contrast requires some explanation. A Greek would understand what is seen and what is unseen either as what is real versus ideal or what is material versus immaterial. Paul, however, is contrasting too realities, one transitory (temporary), the other permanent (eternal). The temporary reality is our present existence, which is declining with the passage of time. The permanent or unseen reality is that regenerative overhaul that the Spirit is undertaking, which is observable to the eye of faith but unobservable to those Satan has blinded (4:4). Critical observers will be able to distinguish betoeen the too and keep from focusing on the former by judging its transitory value in the overall scheme of things.

Previous commentary:
God's Power Is Made Known Through Ministerial Hardships

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