Exegetical Notes: 2 Corinthians 4:5-18

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

“ourselves” – we live in a world full of self promotion. Much of what fills our social media platforms is nothing more than promoting a well manicured version of our own lives. However, as believers we have a greater duty to promote the life-changing gospel of Christ.

APP: As believers, we should desire that others experience the same eye-opening grace that we have experienced (see next verse).

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

“Let light shine out of darkness” – Paul’s alluding to Genesis 1:2-4 cannot be overlooked here. Just as God spoke physical light into existence when there was none before (complete darkness), He speaks “heart light” into individuals and rescues them from spiritual darkness giving them the ability to see the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God”.

“to give the light” – Much like a man who is completely unaware of his need for glasses until he visits an optometrist, man often is completely unaware of his need for salvation through grace.

Notice through out these verses the emphasis clearly falls of God as the one who is taking initiative in saving, while Satan is responsible for keeping individuals away from God.

  • v4 – the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers
  • v6 – For God…has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The contrast  between v4 and v6 makes double predestination implausible.

“in the face of Jesus Christ” – Paul insists, however, that any who claim to know God and do not recognize God’s image in Jesus Christ do not know the true God. This makes the theology of JW’s incorrect, because they do not accept the divinity of Christ. Any who claim to hear God and do not hear God speaking in Jesus Christ are deaf to God’s message. Jesus, in fact, gives access to understanding and experiencing “the glory of God”.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

“this treasure” – Meaning, the knowledge that God has moved us and is moving others from a kingdom of darkness into a kingdom of light. He is removing the blinders Satan has placed over the eyes of unbelievers and enabling them to see his glory through the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

“in jars of clay” – Paul understood himself to be a vessel which carries a message. His use of the term “jars of clay” provokes many notable observations.

  • Life may be fragile, but the gospel is not.
  • Man may be weak, but God displays his power through the gospel (Romans 1:16).
  • The gospel brings value to what may seem to be a meaningless existance.
  • Believers are an essential aspect of the gospel message (Romans 10:13-15).

“surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” – It is to show that the power for living the Christian life goes far beyond ourselves (in contrast to other religious systems) and belongs to God. Thus He gets the glory for our redemption and sanctification. Not ourselves.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;

persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

“so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” – In contrast to his contemporary philosophers, Paul points that his hardships do not demonstrate his own ability to rise above his circumstances, but that his difficulties are yet another way to demonstrate faith in Jesus Christ.

Our society maintains the same tendency to brag on self recovery and the ability to weather difficulty because of our own internal fortitude.

Consider the following article written by Tim Keown in 1998 concerning the cancer diagnosis of then famed cyclist Lance Armstrong, “At that point, Armstrong was prepared to die. The lesions on his brain convinced him the threat was real. He stood on the edge, looking out at … what? How do you prepare for death at 25, when your whole life has been based on a feeling of invincibility, of overcoming pain? For Armstrong, this is how: He acknowledged death, then he personalized the demon. He stripped the disease of emotion, to force logic into spaces it might not fit. He identified ignorance as his biggest fear.He couldn’t bear the thought of nodding stupidly at something he didn’t understand. His mother moved in, and they got to work, staying up nights, searching the Internet. He read books on treatments and recovery rates. To him, knowledge meant you never had to face the enemy alone.

He met other patients in treatment groups and drew strength from the courage he saw in their faces.They were the faces he would turn to again and again in his mind, even as he felt their eyes turning toward him, as a plant turns toward light…

Sometimes a short fight, sometimes a long fight. The key word is fight. Regardless of a relapse or a bad checkup, you must keep the faith in your doctors, in the medicine, in your family, and most importantly, the faith in yourself.”


There’s more to hardship and suffering than the promotion of self. Twice in verses 10 and 11 Paul says that hardships should ultimately be a “manifestation” of Jesus in our own flesh so that others might have “life” (v. 12).

11 we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak,

Paul quotes Psalm 116:10 as a motivating factor for Him to endure hardship and pointing others to Christ. All of Psalm 116may be in Paul’s mind as he pens this chapter. Much of it is applicable to his point here. Take special note of Psalm 116:1-9, 15-16. The whole of the Psalm speaks of confidence in God’s faithfulness to deliver and bring salvation in trials.

14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

Paul’s assurance is based upon the resurrection of Christ himself. See also: 1 Cor. 15:12-24.

15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Paul provides a two-fold reason for his perseverance. 1) grace extended to more people 2) glory increased to God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

“So we do not lose heart” – Paul’s response to God’s strength, faithfulness, and grace is faithful living.

“our outer self is wasting away” – We’ve all heard the phrase, “drive it until the wheels fall off” in reference to an automobile, meaning, we/they intend to keep this car and get all the use out of it they possible can. Paul’s desire is to be used for God’s Kingdom purposes “until the wheels fall off”.

“inner self is being renewed” – What an encouraging contrast for those who find themselves in hardships. Though we may tire physically or emotionally, spiritually we can maintain our strength through the inward working of the Holy Spirit.

17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

“light momentary affliction” – Because of the grandeur of his eternity, Paul is able to view his current state as light and momentary, while his eternity with Christ is, in fact, eternal and weighty. Paul concludes that the two are not even worth comparing.

“preparing for us” – Hard times for believers serve a divine, eternal purpose. They are not arbitrary nor random.

18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

The mindset of verses 16,17 are accomplished through the focus on God’s agenda – the spiritual, eternal, not the things that are temporary and present before us.