The Light of the Gospel: Part 1
When I was a child, I was afraid of the dark; I was scared of the “boogie man.” I remember not wanting to be the first one to go up the stairs to my bedroom at night. Some of that fear probably stemmed from the scare tactics of my siblings. But even without their teasing, I believe we’re born with a sense of discomfort with darkness.
Depending on which translation of the Scriptures you use, the word darkness appears somewhere between 150 and 200 times throughout the text. And other forms of the word dark occur multiple times as well.
Darkness is a symbol of confusion and chaos. The opening verses of Genesis tell us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on [or covered] the face of the deep.” This darkness describes a planet characterized by waste and emptiness. Darkness, in the Scriptures, often implies the absence of God’s presence. To be separated from God is to be in darkness.
Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:19 that men love darkness rather than light, because of their evil actions. You and I know that the vast majority of crimes are committed under the cover of darkness because it provides concealment and anonymity.
Darkness is the domain of Satan, our adversary. In Colossians 1, Paul writes, “[God] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Notice the contrast here; delivered from the power of darkness into the light of the kingdom of Jesus. I hope and pray you have experienced that deliverance from darkness to light.
As we continue our study in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we come to the opening verses of chapter four. I’ve titled our study, “The Light of the Gospel.” Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote things that will help us better understand various aspects of the Gospel. So, let me read the text, Second Corinthians 4:1 to 6.
This text illuminates several FACTS that help us better understand “The Light of the Gospel.”
The First FACT (to help us better understand the light of the Gospel) is,
It Must Be Proclaimed in Truth
Immediately, you might ask, “can the Gospel be proclaimed in falsehood?” Yes, it can, or there’d be no reason for what follows from Paul’s pen. And we’ll get into that shortly.
But notice the word, therefore, at the beginning of our text. Whenever we see that word, we should look back at the preceding verses for the larger context and connection. In this case, the larger context is chapter three. Some of the themes of chapter three were: God enabling Paul, and all Believers for that matter, to be competent or able ministers of the new covenant; the contrast between the old and new covenants, death, and life; and the power of the new covenant effected in us by the life-transforming power of the Spirit of God.
So, Paul affirms that the mercy of God is the basis for the ministry we’ve been given. Our job isn’t simply to lay God’s high standards on people, as Moses did, but to provide God’s grace to them as the Holy Spirit’s agents. Yes, people do need to understand the requirements of the Law, but then we offer them a way to meet those requirements in Jesus Christ. And our knowledge of what we truly deserve as sinners makes us earnest and sincere in carrying out the ministry committed to us.
It’s also by the mercy of God that we’re being changed from glory to glory, and that enables us to face hardship and trial without losing heart. If anyone would be tempted to lose heart in the face of trials, it was Paul. It seems he was always in some distress! When we get to chapter eleven, he has a whole list of things he suffered for the sake of the Gospel.
Now, let’s zero in on Paul’s emphasis on the Gospel being proclaimed in truth. And he begins by talking about the truth being mishandled.
Several years ago, someone gave me a book they wanted me to read. I was a little hesitant to accept it because I didn’t know anything about the author, and it was a thick book. Besides, I always have a pile of books I’m waiting to read. But I took it and started to read. I barely opened the book when I came across a strange sentence. I don’t have it word-for-word, but it was basically this; “if you don’t use the King James Version of the Bible, then the ideas and processes in this book won’t work.” I was like, “what’s up with this?”
I have nothing against the KJV. I’ve used it for years and still appreciate it as a solid translation. But it struck me as an odd way to introduce a book. In fact, I almost stopped reading right there, but I wanted to be fair to the one who gave me the book, so I kept going. I didn’t have to read very much further to see exactly what the author was doing.
He was proof-texting, and no, that’s not like texting on your phone. He was mishandling the Word of God by taking verses out of their context and attempting to make them say what he wanted them to say. In other words, he started with an idea, really it was an agenda, and then he gathered a variety of verses of Scripture to try to prove his point. Rather than allowing the Scripture to speak for itself, he was forcing an interpretation into the text. That’s proof-texting.
Let me give you an example. There’s a very prominent idea in western Christianity that God wants you to be healthy, financially successful, and enjoying your best life, from a physical standpoint, right now. Unfortunately, this false teaching has been exported to other parts of the world. People who espouse this teaching point to the words of Jesus in places like John 14:13 and 14. “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”
These false teachers emphasize the last sentence. “If you ask ANYTHING in my name, I will do it.” So, if you want a Mercedes Benz, ask God. If you want an 8,000-square-foot mansion with a heated pool, ask God. If you want to be healed from cancer, ask God. He says you can ask for anything. But let me ask you something. If God gives a person those symbols of wealth and status who’s going to get the glory, God? Hardly!
Notice what Jesus actually says in verse 13. The goal of our asking for things in His name is – wait for it – so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. The context of John 14 focuses on our heavenly home, not the things of earth. It focuses on His presence with us and His provision of peace in a troubled world. The goal of Jesus is our best life in eternity because our “now” time here is so short. He warned us about loving the world and the things the world offers. Those things lead to spiritual ruin.
Paul says that he and his fellow workers have disowned this kind of disgraceful behavior. You and I need to make the same commitment! Earlier, in the last verse of chapter two, he said, “we are not like many who corrupt the word of God…” Evidently, there were false teachers in Corinth, just like there are today, who corrupt the truth of the Word for some personal advantage. He said we reject hidden practices belonging to the category of disgraceful conduct!
In Second Timothy 2:15 Paul wrote, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” The idea is, “cutting it straight” not tampering with the meaning of Scripture to suit your own ends. When Paul wrote about handling the word of God deceitfully, his readers understood he was using an analogy of diluting wine with water or of making coins of base metals and then plating them with gold and passing them off as genuine.
Instead of this trickery and deceit, look at Paul’s method. “But by manifestation [or showing] of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” This revealing or showing of the truth is in direct opposition to the hidden things of shame. In other words, Paul writes, “we have nothing to hide.” That’s a wonderful way to live! And notice, he ties this truthfulness back to the beginning of chapter three and the need for letters of commendation. A man’s truthfulness and sincerity are the greatest commendations he can have. Richard Lenski says, “He who is not honest with himself will not be overly honest with the Word.”
Note also that Paul wasn’t appealing to any of the partisan spirits that existed in Corinth. Nor was he appealing to any particular prejudices of his audience, but he was appealing to their conscience in the sight of God. When the conscience is informed by the Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit, it becomes a reliable guide.
So, do you understand that the Gospel must be proclaimed in truth? This applies to the message and the messenger. In recent years, how many pastors and Bible teachers have carried on what looked like an effective ministry, all the while having a major moral failure in their lives? And I make that statement very much aware that I too face the same kind of temptations they do. One writer put it this way, “our only safety is in instant and courageous defiance to all the powers of darkness.”
Speaking of the powers of darkness leads us to the next fact that helps us better understand the light of the Gospel.
The Next FACT is,
It Can be Veiled by Unbelief
Paul talks about this in verses 3 and 4. Here again, he goes back to his earlier statements about the veil of blindness on the minds of those who were reading the Old Testament in the synagogues. And according to Isaiah the prophet, this darkness is self-inflicted. “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ “Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.”
Further, Paul states that if the Gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. Their refusal to believe cuts them off from the light of the Gospel. And what is the reason for this unbelief that keeps people in spiritual darkness? The minds of those who are perishing have been blinded by the god of this age. Is the god of this age a person, a mindset, or both?
I believe there’s solid biblical evidence that this is a reference to Satan. In places like John 12:31 and 14:30, Jesus uses similar language to refer to him. In Ephesians 6:12, Paul writes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Remember too, that in the temptation of Jesus, Satan claimed the right to rule the kingdoms of the world, and Jesus didn’t refute that assertion.
But the god of this age is also a mindset or a worldview. It includes the ideals, opinions, goals, and hopes of the majority of the people in any given culture or people group. It influences their philosophy of life, their religion, their education, the things they buy, and the places they go. If you were to sum it all up, the god of this age focuses mostly on the here and now, not eternity. The truth of God’s Word contradicts what they want to do, so they refuse to believe it.
It is through this world system that Satan blinds people. Think back to an Old Testament example of this – Pharaoh. His worldview, his system of belief, was centered around false gods. In Exodus 5:2 he said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”
This is the view of humankind in our natural state; we do not know the Lord. We are sinners and without a godly influence, we will naturally follow the desires of the flesh. The entire world system caters to these desires. It tells us to pursue our wants and our cravings, but then it blinds us to the heartache and pain that results from such a lifestyle.
That was Pharaoh, and through the first five plagues, he hardened his heart against God and God’s messenger, Moses. But when you get to the sixth plague, the text says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. So, this blindness becomes self-perpetuating. It’s like God says, “you want to be blind? OK, I’ll help you be blind.” And God uses that blindness to display His power.
 Lenski, Richard C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. p. 995