The apostle Paul is giving us beautiful pictures of what it looks like to be a follower of Christ and the joy we experience in that relationship. Paul has described God as the God of all comfort and he continues to present God as giving the apostles comfort through the sufferings and restlessness. In this paragraph we are going to continue to read the apostle Paul presenting the beauty of the Lord that compels us to continue in faith toward him.
We Do Not Lose Heart (4:1-2)
Even in all that Paul, the apostles, and his companions experience, they do not lose heart. This is amazing! The people that Paul is preaching to have their minds hardened and their hearts veiled. But even still Paul does not lose heart. He does not give up and he is not discouraged. The reason why he is not discouraged is stated in verse 1. He is not discouraged because by the mercy of God they have this ministry. They are ministers of the new covenant, which is the covenant of the Spirit which gives life (3:6). The message they proclaim is how Christ is written the law of the Lord on their hearts which leads to the transformation of people’s lives from darkness to light (3:3). They do not lose heart because they possess this glorious, life-giving ministry by God’s mercy. How can you be discouraged or give up when you have such an amazing treasure? This is Paul’s point. How can I give up when I have been entrusted with such a message to proclaim? How can I be discouraged when I have the good news of Jesus in my life? How can I be discouraged when I have a mission with the gospel? This is why we do not lose heart and why we continue to open our mouths, proclaiming the gospel in the face is growing darkness and wickedness.
Not only this, it is because we have this glorious ministry of the gospel that gives life that “we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways” (4:2). They do not participate in shameful ways or practice cunning to present the gospel. How the religious world needs to hear this! We do not try to deceive people with the gospel or trick people with it. We do not backdoor people with the gospel. Further, we do not tamper with God’s word. We do not distort God’s message. The goal is not to try to trick people into becoming Christians or trying to change God’s message so that more people will be Christians. Paul says that he proclaims the message plainly and by commending ourselves to others (4:2). We preach what God’s word says and we live it. So we do not lose heart. Paul is not being rejected. The glorious gospel is being rejected. He just tells people what it says and lives what it says. This is our hope as well in a world of growing darkness. We do not take the rejection of the gospel personally. We just proclaim what God says and live it the best we can. We leave the rest to God. What else can we do? But why be discouraged because by doing this you are doing exactly what God has called you to do. In fact, this has always been how God’s word has been received in the world: with broad rejection. Isaiah and Jeremiah were told before they began preaching that people were not going to listen to what they were proclaiming. But they were to proclaim that message anyway. Tell people the good news of Christ, without tampering with the message or using cunning, underhanded ways, and live the message of the gospel. This is our hope.
Blinded Minds (4:3-5)
Paul says that if the gospel is veiled to people, it is veiled to those who are perishing. We noticed in chapter 3 that the gospel is not veiled but is the display of the glory of the Lord (3:18). But there are people who do not see the glory of the gospel. To those who are perishing, they do not see the glory of the Lord. They do not see the good news. Paul explains why in verse 4. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” People who are perishing do not see the glory of the Lord because the god of this world has blinded their minds. Notice Paul says that they do not see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (4:4). The light is the gospel, and the gospel is the declaration of Jesus as the enthroned king (Isaiah 52:7) and savior from sins (Luke 2:10-11). Allow me to have a run on sentence but we need to think about what Paul just said. The light is the gospel, and the gospel is seeing the glory of the Lord, and seeing the glory of the Lord is seeing Jesus. The good news is the beholding of your God!
Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:9–11 ESV)
Israel does not see this glory of the gospel in Jesus when they look at the Law of Moses. The world does not behold this glory of the gospel in Jesus because Satan is blinding their minds. This is what Satan does. Satan blinds the eyes and darkens the hearts. He makes it so we will not look at this glory. We become distracted, focusing our attention on the cares of this world and the wealth of this life. We pay attention to the physical and stop looking at Jesus. We pay attention to ourselves and we think about ourselves. We become self-absorbed, worried about what everyone else is doing for us, thinking about our desires and our comforts. We turn inward and become self-centered. This is the work of Satan blinding our minds and hearts away from what is glorious. The scriptures tell us that we need God to open our eyes and hearts. When God commissioned Paul as apostle he gave him the same description of this work.
And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:15–18 ESV)
Notice the same picture of turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. How does God open eyes and open hearts? God does so through the proclamation of the gospel. Notice this is the very point Paul makes in verse 5. Paul and the apostles do not proclaim themselves but Jesus Christ as Lord because that is the gospel message that opens eyes and hearts. The gospel is the light that is to shine to see the glory of the Lord. We preach Jesus, not ourselves. It is not about a preacher being clever with his titles, storytelling, jokes, illustrations, or style. Paul says that he just tells people about Jesus and it is not about himself. Notice again how Paul sees himself in verse 5. Paul says we are “your servants for Jesus’ sake.” We are just servants. In fact, this Greek word is literally “slaves” as some English translations reflect (NRSV, NET, HCSB). This relates to what Paul said in chapter 2, describe himself as a captive in Christ’s triumphal procession (2:14). We are servants of one another. We are captives and slaves to Christ and do all we do for Christ’s sake. We declare the scriptures and expound on the scriptures in public and house to house so that the light of the gospel will shine on people’s mind and hearts. Those who are perishing do not see this light that we proclaim.
God Has Shone In Our Hearts (4:6)
Now Paul relates to creation as God spoke light into existence (Genesis 1:3). The point is for us to think about that God’s word creates. But Paul is also relating to the prophets who said that God would come into the world and shine as light upon the peoples.
It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6 ESV)
This gospel is God shining in our hearts a light that gives the knowledge of his glory, which is seen by looking at Jesus. This was what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:18. When you, with unveiled faces, are beholding the glory of the Lord, then you are being transformed in to his image from one degree of glory to another. We are being created into God’s image when God’s word. Now we need to draw some important conclusions for our lives from these concepts.
Conclusions That Transform Our Lives
First, true faith comes from beholding Christ. Or, to state the point the way Paul did in Romans 10:17, faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. The word of Christ is the gospel and this is what we must behold and treasure. Please notice that Paul keeps using the word “glory.” We are beholding the glory of the Lord (3:18). We are seeing the glory of Christ (4:4). God is shining in our hearts the glory of God (4:6). When something is glorious, then it is honorable, majestic, radiant, and beautiful.
In college I was forced by one of my professors to go to the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg. He has some really weird paintings, at least to this logical, non-artsy person. If you came up to me and said, “I want you to make a decision. Is this painting beautiful or boring?” Seeing something as beautiful is not a decision. Either it is beautiful to you or not. I cannot decide to say something is beautiful if I do not see it as beautiful. If I do, then I am lying. What determines whether you see something beautiful or not depends on the condition of your eyes and your heart. The paintings at the Dali museum were not beautiful to me because I did not want to be there. I was wasting my Saturday when I could actually be doing some fun things. I punched my ticket to prove I went, ran through it, and left. Does that mean the paintings were not beautiful? No, it means my eyes could not see the beauty and glory because of my heart. Further, I could have used a guide to help me see and appreciate what I was looking at. I see this same thing happen even at Lion Country Safari that has a drive through so you can see the animals. Some hardly stop as they drive through. They do not want to behold the beauty of the lions, the monkeys, and the other wildlife. Does this mean that these animals are not beautiful? No, it means that their hearts are not prepared to look and enjoy the beauty that is on display.
Before we can decide to follow Jesus (as we sing in the song), we must see the glory of the Lord in Jesus for faith. If we do not see the glory and the beauty of Jesus, then we will not decide to follow. Jesus must be seen as more beautiful than our hobbies, our jobs, our comforts, sitting at home, watching football, shopping, napping, fishing, watching tv, or whatever else that appeals to our desires. Following Jesus is the result of seeing the glory of Jesus. We have for too long emphasized the wrong thing. We often emphasize baptism. We emphasize repentance. We emphasize confession. We emphasize making a decision. But those decisions are the result of seeing the glory of the Lord. If we pretend to see the glory of the Lord by being baptized and making a decision to follow Jesus, but have not beheld the glory of the Lord, then you are lying. You are making a false decision. You are saying that Jesus is beautiful and glorious, but you have not really seen it. We must beg people to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Jesus made this very point himself in the Sermon on the Mount.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22–23 ESV)
If you are not seeing Jesus and beholding his glory then your whole body will be full of darkness. Which leads us a second conclusion we must make from this paragraph. Sin comes from blindness. Blindness is our deepest problem. Our stubborn rebellion causes us to be blind so that we cannot see the glory of the gospel. Our selfishness blinds us to seeing the glory of the Lord. Our distractions and desires prevents us from enjoying the amazing glory of Jesus. Please notice that Paul does not say that we are blind to the objective facts of Jesus (4:4). Notice what people are failing to see in verse 4. They are blinded from seeing the beauty and the glory of Jesus. They do not see the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). The problem is not the facts. They see the facts. But they do not see the glory.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19 ESV)
They recognize the light but they hate the light and love the darkness. Blindness is our deepest problem because we sin due to our blindness.
Which brings us to our final conclusion from this paragraph. When we look at verse 6 we see that Paul portrays God doing in our hearts what he did at the creation: bringing light and creating new hearts. Jesus is the light and we need to see the glory of the Lord. That light is what we focus on so we can see the Lord. Is the gospel of Jesus like me in the Salvador Dali museum? Do you not see its glory, splendor, and beauty? If not, do you want a guide to help you see? This is my role here, to help you see it, not only through these sermons and Bible studies, but also through studies with you. I am happy to read the scriptures with you to help you see the glory of Jesus. Just tell me that you want this and we will meet at your convenience to behold the glory of the Lord. If you do not see his glory and you do not want a guide, let me caution you that the apostle Paul described your condition in verse 3. You are perishing. Please let God shine in your heart. Let us help you. Read the word, join us for worship and Bible studies regularly, and let us help you remove the veil and see what you are missing. Finally, maybe you are baptized but you haven’t seen the glory of the Lord. Someone ask you to make a decision if Jesus was beautiful and you said yes but you did not see it. Where you are is not where you are to be with Jesus. You are missing something. God is not going to church and boring duties. God is a delight. Devote yourself to the word of God to see his beauty, come to every gathering we have so you can see this glory, and let us help you see the beauty of Jesus. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. People have done a disservice to you, not explain what there is to see. Let us help you.