Introduction: In this letter the apostle Paul has just presented the surpassing, transforming, and enduring glory of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. He rejoices that God has given him the privilege of serving God and others in this glorious ministry. Here we can know and take pleasure in God’s glory in Christ Jesus. We ought to be very satisfied with the goodness of the living God to us in placing us in such a position. People ought to want what we by God’s grace possess, since here we find true humanity. Remade in the image of God, we can again enjoy the glory of God. So we should be enjoying pleasure in this new covenant treasure.
We saw God’s purpose in the experience of Christ’s people (4:7). He puts his treasure in “jars of clay” to show that the all-surpassing power is from him. And next we saw a catalog of the experiences of Christ’s people (4:8-9). Four antitheses set forth how God works in this situation. In each the first element illustrates human weakness, but the second shows the intervention of God’s power that delivers us from the consequences stated. What he says in these verses refer first of all to Christ’s ministers but then to all Christ’s people who give out the good news to others.
Too often we carry around God’s truth like we are carrying an unwieldy stack of boxes. We say that they are ours, but they can seem like a burden separating us from a much more manageable lifestyle. For example, Christians carry boxes named “salvation” or “missional” or “sanctification” or “eschatology” or “God’s purposes”, etc. What is inside those boxes might be correct and beneficial. But they are not truly helpful, because they are just carrying them around. So what happens is that they have storehouse where they keep them, and usually carry around one or two according to various influences in their lives. Somebody might get them wound up about something for a while, so they carry that box around, but actually the only effect is being ramped up for a short time.
However, the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel is to shape our whole lives. Not like some sort of shaping garment like women wear, but by becoming part of us. For example, if you have a proper diet and exercise, they will help shape your body in the form it should be. So let’s think about how the gospel is to shape us.
II Corinthians 4:10-12
10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For 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.
III. Viewing these experiences of Christ’s people from the gospel perspective (4:10-12)
A. There is more to the Christian life than the simple, bare facts. Everything about us is “gospel-shaped”, and Paul is teaching us to look at life that way (4:10-11).
1. The struggles we endure for Christ and the gospel are much more than hard struggles. They are carrying around in our body the death of Jesus. We are dying to this world for his sake. The persecution of whatever kind is carrying the cross to Golgotha as he did, not to redeem, of course, but in obedience to the Father as he did. Christians claim to love Rm 8:31-39—at least until they seriously consider what it says. And what it says is what Paul is saying here. “For your sake we face death all day long…” (Rm 8:36a). This is the kind of life that Jesus calls us to when we follow him (Mk 8:34-37). Suffering is some way is part of the walk of faith in Jesus. Someone was telling me this week that he and his wife were seeking to become friends with another couple. All seemed to be going well, until they mentioned their faith in Jesus Christ. The other couple ended the friendship at that point. That is suffering.
2. The deliverances that God gives by his all-surpassing power are the life of Jesus being revealed in our mortal body. We were not lucky to escape. No, our deliverance came because Jesus is alive. Christ’s resurrection is what gives us confident expectation for God to come to our rescue. “I serve a Risen Savior; he’s in the world today!” Yes, he lives in his chosen people by the Spirit, who renews us by Christ’s resurrection power. Now think of that couple I just mentioned who lost friends for the gospel. If they seek to befriend another couple, make known their faith in Jesus to them, and then see them respond in repentance and faith, they were not lucky to find them. No, this is the life of Jesus being revealed through them.
3. This shaping of our lives by the gospel is a constant experience. Notice the repeated “always”. There is never a time in this age when Christians get out of this “always”. Our hope is not here. It is kept in heaven for us (1 Pt 1:3-5). Suffering for Christ is “business as usual”. Someone put it this way: “By faith Paul preaches the gospel, which in turn brings affliction, which then produces in him greater faith, which in turn creates greater boldness of speech, which then provokes additional affliction” (Savage, quoted by Garland).
Point: We are not to look for an escape from sufferings for the gospel. Look for the Spirit’s help, which will create a greater boldness for Jesus Christ based on the realities of the gospel.
4. God is active in this process in us. Notice that “being given over to death” is in the passive voice. We are not active but something is being done to us, and clearly in this context (cf. 4:7 – God’s all-surpassing power) the one who gives us over is God. This same verb is used of handing over Jesus to death (cf. 1 Cor 11:23; Rm 4:25; 8:32; Gal 2:20). God chose to spread the gospel over the Roman world by Paul suffering (Ac 9:15-16). God still does the same today through us who follow the Lord Christ. Of the early church it was said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” When Christians lived in a cruciform, cross-shaped manner, God’s resurrection power was at work to give others life. Notice that that as God hands us over, he also reveals the life of Jesus in our mortal body.
B. The reality of “gospel-shaping” enables us to press on in gospel service to others (4:12).
1. On the one hand, you may be giving your life for someone else. Day after day, week after week, month after month, even year after year, you may find death at work in you as you seek to reach someone for the Lord Jesus. You die a little when they insult you. You die a little more when you give your hard earned money for the spread of the gospel. You die a little when you’re in a marriage with an ungodly spouse and you try to show Christ’s love to them. You die a little more when you visit a sick, shut-in that refuses to be comforted, in spite of your best efforts. These are some ways that the cross shapes your life.
2. But on the other hand, there are those glorious times when someone responds positively to the grace of Jesus shining through you and they come to life, eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ. And you cry again, but this time they are tears of joy, because the Lord’s resurrection is also shaping their life.
3. This provides an insight into the words of Jesus (Mt 5:11-12). As God spreads Christ’s life through the ministries of his people, others come to know the Lord. This increases our reward in heaven. Eternal life was secured by the Lord Jesus in the gospel; through his people spreads the knowledge of the crucified and risen Savior (2:14).
Apply: Is your life cruciform—cross-shaped? Is it also making known the reality of the Lord’s resurrection? This is the ongoing transformation we should seek. My dear friends, live according to the good news of our Lord and Savior this week!