2 Corinthians 4:7-15 — Hardships and the Spirit of Faith

If the ministry of the new covenant mediates the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Messiah, why is Paul’s ministry so filled with suffering? The gospel, epitomized in the death and resurrection of Jesus, calls its ministers—all believers—to give themselves for the sake of others. When we follow Jesus into his ministry, we follow him into his suffering so that others might also experience the glory of God.

Ministers of the new covenant, as Paul has written earlier, are sufficient or competent in the Spirit to minister. They speak boldly because of the hope of the glory of God. In consequence of this gift of ministry by the mercy of God, they do not give up!

Moreover, we don’t give up because the ministry of the new covenant—the ministry of reconciliation—invites people to participate in the glory of God, which means, at least in part, to participate in the very life of God both now and in the future. The ministry of the new covenant is a glorious ministry!

At this point, we might hear the background grumblings of some in Corinth. In Greco-Roman culture (and today as well), if one is an approved minister for a ruler, they are dressed in honor, wealth, and power. Don’t successful ministers of the new covenant have large numbers, respected remuneration, enthralling charisma, wealth, and comfort? But Paul had none of that. Rather, his ministry was soaked in suffering and hardship. How is this, at the same time, glorious?

This treasure is delivered through clay jars.

The treasure is the glorious gospel of Jesus the Messiah in whose face the radiance and glory of God is experienced and known.

But this treasure is made known through fragile human beings who experience hardship and suffering. And this is by divine intent in order to demonstrate that the power of the gospel arises from the work of God rather than the charisma and status of its human instruments. It is God who leads us and spreads the aroma of Christ. God works through us, but it is God’s work and God’s power.

This divine power (glorious gospel) becomes visible through struggle and suffering (“clay jars”). This struggle is real, but it is not determinative. Though Paul struggles under tremendous hardship and pressures, he is nevertheless confident in his ministry.

Paul characterizes this struggle with four words while, at the same time, qualifying that struggle with a basic confidence in another four words. They stand in contrast with each other. Both are true. While one recognizes the struggle, the other affirms the hope without diminishing the struggle. This confidence in the midst of struggle arises from a spirit of faith analogous to the faith the Psalmist exhibited in Psalm 116.

The Struggle (Suffering)The Confidence (“Spirit of Faith”)
Afflicted: Hard-Pressed, Under PressureNot Crushed: Not Overwhelmed
Perplexed: Anxious Doubt and UncertaintyNot Despairing: Not Hopeless
Persecuted: Harassed, PursuedNot Forsaken: Not Abandoned or Cut Off
Struck Down: Knocked Down (Phillips)Not Destroyed: Not Knocked Out (Phillips)
The Dying of JesusThe Life of Jesus

The struggle is real. Ministers often live under pressure, experience anxious uncertainty, are pursued by detractors, and assaulted even by fellow-believers. Without diminishing that reality, ministers of the new covenant are not overwhelmed, hopeless, abandoned, or knocked out with regard to the conduct of their ministry.

Consequently, though distressed, Paul does not give up (4:1, 16). Though struggling, Paul is confident that the ministry of the new covenant is worth the effort.

There is a reason Paul does not think of struggle as inconsistent with the ministry of the new covenant. It goes to the meaning and significance of the gospel itself. The struggle reflects the commitment to follow Jesus to the cross, to bear the death of Jesus in our bodies. When we experience hardship, we suffer with Christ. In effect, we die with Christ daily for the sake of the ministry of the gospel. Yet, in dying with Christ through suffering, we also manifest or embody the life of Jesus in our bodies as well. We die with Christ, but we also live with him—and we do both through our bodies.

Paul sees his suffering through the lens of the ministry of Jesus, through the lens of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, Paul uses the name “Jesus” six times in this text, which is a higher concentration than in any other portion of Paul’s letters. This emphasis reminds us that Jesus of Nazareth and his gospel ministry are the ground of new covenant ministry. Jesus himself, the incarnate Lord, is himself a minster of the new covenant, and his life, death, and resurrection are the pattern of new covenant ministry itself.

Consequently, it should be no surprise the ministers of the new covenant suffer, and it should be no surprise that ministers of the new covenant also testify and embody life as well. The pattern of the ministry of Jesus the Messiah is lived out through ministers of the new covenant.

In this way ministers of the new covenant, embrace “the same spirit of faith” exhibited by the Psalmist in Psalm 116. The ancient Psalmist endured a season living on the edge of death and anticipated its coming. However, the Psalmist cried out to the Lord, and that voice was heard, and God delivered.

The “spirit of faith,” that which says, “I believe, and so I spoke,” empowers new covenant ministers to endure their struggles and hardships. It motivates them to persevere through their daily bouts with death. This is because the “spirit of faith” knows who God is and what God has done in Jesus. We know that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will (1) “raise us also with Jesus” and (2) “bring us with you into his presence” (or, literally, “will present us with you”).

This is the bedrock of Paul’s hope and endurance. The God whom Paul trusts is the God who raises the dead—not only the resurrection of Jesus, but our future resurrection with Jesus. Though Jesus is the first fruit, we are part of the same harvest. The resurrection of Jesus is the promise of our own resurrection. That promise is so certain it is as if it has already happened.

Our resurrection is also a presentation. The God who raises the dead will also “present” us. This envisions a moment in the future when God will gather all the saints—all new covenant minister, all believers—as an eschatological presentation. We will be ushered into the presence of God together (“present us with you”) as God’s own possession in order to enjoy the face of God whose glory we now experience in the face of Jesus the Messiah. Indeed, we might say the Messiah himself will present us before God as his gift to the Father—a spotless, sanctified, and cleansed bride (Colossians 1:22, 28; Ephesians 5:27; 2 Corinthians 11:2).

“I believe,” Paul testifies in the spirit of faith, and, therefore, he speaks. In other words, he doesn’t give up! (2 Corinthians 4:1, 16). This faith is in the God who raises the dead, the one who did not abandon Jesus in the grave and will not abandon us in the grave. Therefore, we don’t give up!

Why, according to Paul, are ministers of the new covenant willing to suffer? For whom or what do they suffer? To what end do they endure hardship in gospel ministry?

Paul offers three reasons.

  • It is for the sake of Jesus—we follow Jesus, respond to Jesus, and embody the life of Jesus in our own lives (2 Corinthians 4:11).
  • It is for the sake of the Corinthians—we sacrifice for the good of community and its health (2 Corinthians 4:15).
  • It is for the sake of increasing thanksgiving to (or glorifying) God as grace abounds to more and more people (2 Corinthians 4:16)—we minister to include others in the grace of God.

The ministry of the gospel entails hardship, anxiety, and assaults, and—at the same time—ministers of the gospel are not overwhelmed, knocked out, or left hopeless by those struggles. We encounter them in a spirit of faith that trusts in the God who raises the dead, and we pursue this ministry for the sake of others—Jesus, the community, and those who do not know Jesus.

Resurrection means dying, even the daily dying of prolonged hardships, is meaningful because we die for the sake of others and God will not abandon us in death.

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