As chapter 4 begins, we find ourselves in the midst of a unit of the letter which is a defense of Paul’s apostolic ministry, that began 2:14 and runs through 7:4. With 4:1, we are entering into the next subsection of this unit and it runs from 4:1 through 5:10 dealing with Paul’s tenacity in spite of his shortcomings.
We begin with Paul drawing another conclusion:
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (4:1-2)
In chapter 2, Paul made the case that the New Covenant is superior to the Old, and that the Spirit was superior to the Law. Because of these facts, Paul will not lose heart in the face of the opposition he has received in Corinth, or anywhere else. In saying that he has not used “secret and shameful ways” he amplifies and mentions what were apparently the things he was accused of in Corinth: “deception” and distorting the Word of God. Remember, this whole unit is a defense of his ministry, and in these verses, Paul has taken quite an interesting route to come back to those allegations.
This last about speaking the truth openly and commending himself to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God is rather amazing rhetorically, for it has a dual meaning. First would be something like this: “With all of this in mind, and in the sight of God, do you really think I did anything that I’ve been accused of? Remember, God is watching you!” The other way you could take it would be: “So, you’ve seen everything I’ve had to deal with, and you know I have taken it for the sake of Christ, and why; don’t you think you should do the same?”
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (4:3-4)
Now Paul pours it on. An unbeliever has an excuse for not understanding the situation, for they have been blinded by “the god of this age”. Yet Paul has not written this to unbelievers, he has written it to the church; they have no excuse.
For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (4:5-6)
Again, Paul points out that he has never approached his ministry for any kind of gain or status. Instead, he has preached Christ only, and as a servant. As a result of him fulfilling his ministry in their midst, they all have Christ’s light of truth within themselves; they have the very glory of God in their midst, and at this point, it would be hard for anyone to give any credence whatsoever to Paul’s opponents.
We, as our Corinthian brothers and sisters before us, sometimes have people in our midst who seek to tear things down, rather than build things up. Maybe they want to tear down a church leader and start a whispering campaign in the shadows. Maybe they want to distort the gospel to pursue an unsound teaching of the Word of God. Maybe they just like to stir the pot, then stand back and watch the fun…
I used to deal with things like that in teaching when someone would make a comment in class just to start something. I’ve also seen it in the church, and in the blogosphere; yep, some folks think that kind of thing is fun, and if I’m honest, I’d have to admit that when I was a kid, I did too.
We are supposed to grow up at some point, both in maturity and age, and spiritually into mature followers of Christ.
I will add that there are times when a person, perhaps a leader, has said or done something that needs correction, and Scripture is quite clear on how this should be dealt with. None of that guidance includes creating dissention or gossip however, for dissention and gossip are the two most common things in churches that require correction.
I’d love to hear what you think; please feel free to join in with your thoughts!