Paul’s Service: Life from Death
Life from Death (II Corinthians 4:11-15)
Having talked about the gospel being spread by mortal man, Paul focuses on the mortality of preachers. Christians, especially preachers, who are alive in Christ (Romans 6:4; Romans 8:10-11), are delivered up for death (Romans 8:36; I Corinthians 15:31). In this way, people see the life of Jesus in the messengers of the gospel (I Corinthians 15:49). By “death” Paul is not talking only about physical killings, but persecution – the risk or chance of dying (II Corinthians 11:23; Matthew 5:10-12; I John 3:16). Thus the death of those spreading the gospel results in life for people who obey the gospel (Acts 20:24; Philippians 2:17).
Having the same faith as the psalmist in Psalms 116 who because of his belief spoke the words of God even though it caused him to be persecuted, Paul states he and other preachers of the gospel do the same. There is full confidence that death is just temporary (John 5:25-29; Romans 8:11; I Corinthians 6:14). There is little to fear of death with such faith.
Everything that Paul and the other preachers go through is for the benefit of the Corinthians and other Christians (II Corinthians 1:6; II Timothy 2:10). In this way God’s grace spreads through many people, who will thank God for the grace He has shown, which in turn will bring glory to God (I Corinthians 3:21-22; Psalms 50:23; I Peter 2:9).
Literary Device: Play on Words
Paul said that in life he dies and in dying he delivers life. Such seeming contradictions of opposites being unexpectedly paired makes his point memorable and invokes deeper thought about his topic.
Paul does it again in II Corinthians 4:17 when he compares afflictions which are brief and light to glory which is eternal and weighty. It creates a puzzle in the reader’s mind because afflictions seem more real than glory in heaven because the afflictions are present and the glory of heaven is a future dream.
And again in II Corinthians 5:1, a destroyed family tent is contrasted with an eternal grand edifice.
Hope in Eternal Life (II Corinthians 4:16-5:5)
Because a preacher’s effort is to bring life to others, he doesn’t lose heart even as he grows older and approaches death (II Corinthians 4:1; I Corinthians 15:58). The physical body decays, but the spiritual man inside is continually renewed (Romans 7:22; Ephesians 3:16). The spirit of a person is not dependent on the physical body for its strength.
The sufferings of this present life are brief and light, but they cause us to gain an eternal and weighty glory (Romans 8:18; I Peter 1:6; 5:10). Trials change a person (Isaiah 48:10; James 1:2-4). What is gained is not a small bit better, or even greatly better, but an improvement that exceeds our imagination (Ephesians 3:20-21). Thus we focus on the things not seen because what we experience now is temporary (Romans 8:24; II Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:1).
It doesn’t matter that our physical body decays and is destroyed; it is merely a temporary dwelling place (II Peter 1:13-14; Ecclesiastes 12:6). We have an eternal body waiting for us in heaven (I Peter 1:4). “Made without hands” means not of this physical world (Hebrews 9:11; I Corinthians 15:44). We groan under affliction but is it a longing for a better life in a better body (Romans 8:22-23; I Corinthians 15:52). Paul, here, compares the change as a person discarding old worn-out clothing for a new set.
Johnson, in the People’s New Testament Commentary, notes that the Greeks believed that when a person died, the soul wandered without a body. Paul countered this in I Corinthians 15 and again here. God will not leave us without a body.
It is not that Christians are eager to die but rather excited to reach eternity (Philippians 1:23; II Timothy 4:6-8). Our mortality will be completely absorbed into eternal life (I Corinthians 15:52-54).
- Why does Paul say if our house is destroyed?