Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Second Corinthians 4:3-6 is part of the defense letter of Paul’s gospel (2 Corinthians 2:14—7:4).
In 1-2 Corinthians, he consistently and vehemently argues that the good news is:
- God-centered (for example, God’s faithfulness in 1 Corinthians 1:9; God’s mercy in 2 Corinthians 4:1)
- Christ-demonstrated (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15) and
- Christian-imitated (1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; 2 Corinthians 8:8-15).
While God is the starting point of the good news, Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church (1 Corinthians 3:11). Jesus revealed God’s wisdom and strength through his challenge to the wisdom of the world.
The Corinthians must follow the way of his life and his faithfulness, being united to him. Paul says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). By living and dying in Christ, they are reconciled to God, serving as ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) or as a letter of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:3).
Yet some people in the Corinthian church challenge Paul’s ministry/gospel and argue that they are wise and strong in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:8-13). They say salvation is done and do not live by Christ’s faith. In this context, Paul defends his ministry/gospel. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, while clarifying his ministry/gospel as he did earlier in 2 Corinthians 3:1-18, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to abide by the faith of Christ, who is the image of God.
Our gospel is veiled
“Our gospel” (or good news) is the good news that Paul, with his co-workers, proclaimed to the Gentiles. This gospel is rooted in God’s good news that God is loving and steadfast and that now all people may become his children through Jesus Christ, his Son; they may live a new life in Christ Jesus, who manifested God’s righteousness and justice to the world.
Jesus’ bold proclamation of God’s good news in the world, full of worldly wisdom and strength, ended with his crucifixion. This gospel is costly, but it is the power of God. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a set of knowledge or merely teaching, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18 (see also Romans 1:16): “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” This gospel requires a response from people, who must submit to God’s law or righteousness, based on the way of Christ—his faithful obedience to God and his grace for the world.
The irony is that not all people accept this good news of God manifested through Jesus because some of them cannot give up what they have: wealth, power, or fame. In this context, Paul says in 4:3: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” This gospel is veiled to some, not because God’s mercy is short but because they seek other things and do not follow the way of Jesus. Paul continues to explain the motif of veils and says that “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” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Christ, the image of God
Christ is the image (eikon) of God in the metaphoric sense of representation or embodiment. That is, Christ represents God with his work and embodies God’s righteousness to the world. In Paul’s undisputed letters, he emphasizes Christ’s work and his faithfulness that proves God’s love (Romans 3:22; 5:6-8; Galatians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Understood in this way, Christ is the image of God because he revealed God to the world. He finished his work of God, risking his life; he was exalted and seated at the right hand of God (Romans 8:34).
Following Jesus, people may be reconciled to God and live a new life in Christ, being led by the Spirit. But “the god of this world” prevents some people from following the way of Christ; they follow the god of this world, which means they live with all kinds of human-centered ideologies and practices that do not seek God’s righteousness. They do not see the light that comes from the gospel of Christ because they are blinded by worldly desires.
We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord
Paul and his co-workers do not proclaim themselves. The basis of the gospel is not their knowledge or conviction about God or Jesus. Rather, they proclaim Jesus Christ, who is Lord. As in 1 Corinthians 2:2, what is proclaimed is Jesus crucified, who deconstructs human wisdom and human strength (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), brings the good news of God to the world, and becomes the Lord of all. Jesus is Lord because he, as the Son of God, must be the foundation of Christian life and gathering. His faithfulness and his grace must be the guiding principle for Christians.
Proclaiming “ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” sounds strange because Paul says he and his co-workers are slaves of the Corinthians. In Romans 1:1, he says he is a slave of Jesus Christ, meaning that he thoroughly follows him (Romans 5:6-11; 6:1-11). Galatians 2:20 speaks clearly about Paul’s decision to live by Christ: “and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (NRSV; italics indicate author’s translation). “Proclaiming ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” implies that Paul is wholeheartedly working for the Corinthians in the name of Jesus, and in so doing, he commits himself to the work of the Lord there.
Let light shine out of darkness
If the Corinthians engage in the world through Christ’s image of God, they may live in the light of God, away from darkness. Jesus expelled darkness and testified to the truth of God. God’s glory is shining in the face of Jesus Christ because of that. The Corinthians can dwell in light when they participate in Christ Jesus. That is the way to light.