Endurance in Gospel Ministry
2 Corinthians 4:7-12
we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.
Here the apostle Paul reveals to us how he endured in his own ministry. As we look at this passage we will see that if we want to endure the difficulties of gospel ministry we must understand the purpose for those difficulties. And here Paul gives us two reasons why we must endure difficulties in gospel ministry. First, we must endure difficulties in order to display the power of God. Second, we must endure difficulties in order to reveal the message of the gospel.
I. We must endure difficulties in order to display the power of God. (vv. 7-9)
II. We must endure difficulties in order to reveal the message of the gospel.
The second reason that we must endure difficulties in gospel ministry is found in vv. 10-12. Here Paul gives us one more paradox. In this final paradox Paul explains that not only do we display the power of God by enduring difficulties, but also that we must endure difficulties in order to reveal the message of the gospel.
Paul says that he was “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus ….” But what does this mean? Well, the word that is translated here as “dying” is not the normal word that would be used to refer to death. When Paul uses this word he does not have in mind the death of Jesus, but rather the events leading up to the death of Jesus. One commentator put it this way, “Paul uses νέκρωσις in v. 10 to portray not a single event (the death of Jesus), but a prolonged process, the course of events leading up to Jesus’ death or the daily trials and hardships that befell Jesus as an itinerant preacher…. This means that when Paul said that he was “carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus” he meant that he faced persecution, hardship, and difficulties just like Jesus did. We saw this in vv. 8-9 not only in the case of Paul, but in the case of every minister of the gospel. Jesus said in John 15:20 that “if they persecuted me they will also persecute you. As ministers of the gospel we can, and should expect to bear the afflictions of Christ. In fact, all followers of Jesus will encounter these afflictions in some way, but the apostle Paul in particular knew what it was to bear the afflictions of Christ. He was able to bear this burden because he understood what the result would be.
Paul tells us that through “carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus… the life of Jesus [was] manifested.” The life that Paul speaks of is the life that belongs to Jesus. Here Paul is using this phrase as a shorthand way of referring to the gospel message. For it is through the life of the resurrected Jesus that we sinners can be saved and receive life themselves. Really Paul is saying that by enduring difficulties he was fulfilling his role as a minister of the gospel. What is so ironic about this is that by enduring—as Paul puts it— in “our mortal flesh” he was able to reveal the life of Jesus. This is ironic because this last phrase, ἐν τῇ θνητῇ σαρκὶ, refers to the physical body, and it does so in such a way so as to highlight the weakness of mankind. “Our mortal flesh” is that exact opposite of the “life of Jesus.” It reminds us that we are transitory, finite, weak, feeble creatures, yet we are able to reveal the eternal life of Jesus. Truly this is a testament to the power of God. Only God could use such weak and feeble creatures to proclaim such a powerful truth. And this is exactly what he does when we endure.
In v. 12 Paul explains to us specifically how his endurance revealed the life of Jesus. Here he reminded the Corinthians that “death works in us, but life in you.” The false teachers had made the Corinthians doubt Paul’s ministry credibility because of the afflictions that had come upon him. However, Paul is quick to point out that it was through these afflictions—this death at work in him—that the Corinthians had received the life of Jesus in the first place. If Paul would have quit then the gospel would not have made it to Corinth (1:6). But he did not quit. He endured all of these afflictions so that the Corinthians could receive the gospel. To use Paul’s words, death was at work in Paul, and because of this life was at work in the Corinthians. This was the glorious result of all these difficulties, and it should keep us motivated to continue minister the gospel to sinners in need despite the opposition that we might face. In fact, we must endure difficulties in order to reveal the message of the gospel.
Ultimately the Apostle Paul’s ministry had more of a lasting effect than anyone other than Christ himself. This was because he endured through the difficulties and continued to faithfully proclaim the gospel message. If we are going to be effective ministers of the gospel then we too must endure through the difficulties of ministry. Men, this is a daunting task. We will face trials, and affliction, and opposition (maybe even from within our own leadership team). But, as we reflect on vv. 7-12 it is plain to see that there is a purpose for the difficulties that we face as we seek to serve the Lord. By faithfully enduring through difficulties we have the opportunity to display the power of God to the world around us, and to spread the gospel of Jesus to those who desperately need it. It is not going to be easy, but by God’s grace it is possible. We must keep reminding ourselves that there is a reason why we are facing difficulties, and we must understand that by enduring were are displaying the power of God and revealing message of the gospel.
[Read Part I HERE]
[Read Part II HERE]
Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 345.