The apostle Paul was doubtless the greatest missionary who ever lived. The book of Acts records three extensive missionary journeys by the apostle. He “fully preached the gospel of Christ” all the way “from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum [present-day Albania]” (Romans 15:19). And he always sought to extend these borders, desiring to “to preach the gospel in the regions beyond” (2 Corinthians 10:16). He fearlessly preached, fruitfully planted, and faithfully pastored. William Borden wrote in the back of his Bible, “No reserves, no retreat, no regrets.” The apostle Paul stated the same sentiments in this way:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:7-8)
Paul had a phenomenal worldview and desired always to fulfil his Master’s commission to preach the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Rejecting all excuses, he refused to think small and worked hard in his calling. Though persecuted, he persevered. He did not hide behind poor health, old age or persistent threats.
I know of a missionary who ministered in a certain region when war broke out. The government insisted that only “essential personnel” were to remain. The missionary decided that he was not “essential personnel” and left the country. Paul would be flabbergasted! If a missionary is not “essential personnel,” then who is? Paul was a realist, but he persevered without complaint.
Why was this? How can we explain a man like the apostle Paul? Certainly Paul was a unique man: gifted with a strong personality and a divine calling. Certainly he had maintained his first love. Yet 1 Corinthians 4 suggests another important explanation for the apostle Paul: He relished God’s light. Paul loved the light of the glorious gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4), for this glorious gospel revealed Christ, who in turn revealed the Father. He never got over being saved and thus he loved the gospel.
Paul was converted in Acts 9 when he was confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ on the way to Damascus. In the first description of this event, Luke writes of “a light” that shone down from heaven (Acts 9:3). Paul later recounted this experience before an angry multitude and spoke of “a great light” (Acts 22:6). Still later, in his testimony to Agrippa, the apostle spoke of “a light from heaven, brighter than the sin” (Acts 26:13). Just as the description of the light intensified over time, so Paul’s appreciation for the light grew as he matured in Christ.
Because of his experience with the light of Christ, Paul believed that believers are lights themselves. In Acts 13:47, he described himself as “a light to the Gentiles.” In 2 Corinthians 6:14, he referred to believers as “light” and unbelievers as “darkness.” He repeated this description in Ephesians 5:8, and spoke of “the saints in the light” in Colossians 1:12 and “the sons of light” in 1 Thessalonians 5:5. He spoke of believers “dwelling in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16) because of Christ, “who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).
Paul never got over the creative miracle of salvation. He was always grateful for God’s gracious let-there-be-light in his life. And the gospel thus became his guiding light.
We, too, need to relish God’s light. We need to treasure it, for only then will our hearts stay tuned to the Great Commission. If we will be faithful as churches to send out missionaries, and if we will be faithful evangelists as believers, we must relish the light of the Lord.
We recently had a massive power failure here in Alberton and the surrounding areas. The power was out for 48 hours in most areas. It was interesting to see how life came to a virtual standstill simply because there was no electricity. The vast majority of people were completely unprepared for such a failure and it caused havoc in homes and businesses. During those 48 hours, the residents of Alberton came to relish electricity—to relish electrical light. As we take some time to examine the glorious light of the gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4), my prayer is that we would grow in our love for the gospel; that we would indeed relish God’s marvellous light.
Before we examine this matter of relishing the light, let’s understand the backdrop of the apostle’s second epistle to the Corinthian church. Paul’s ministry was under attack at the time of his writing this letter. His motives, message and manner had all been unfairly judged. And so Paul wrote to these believers in order to give a defence of his ministry.
In 2 Corinthians 4, while defending his ministry, it is clear that the apostle relished the light of the gospel. We can conclude that our attitude to the gospel ought to be the same as Paul’s. This chapter presents us with at least four reasons that we are to relish the light: first, because it is true; second, because it transforms; third, because it triumphs; and fourth, because it is timeless. As we study this chapter together, may we learn to relish God’s light, for only as we do so will we reach out with it.
We Should Relish God’s Light because it is True
The apostle begins this chapter by drawing our attention to the truth of the gospel:
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.
(2 Corinthians 4:1-5)
Paul was absolutely convinced of the truth of Jesus Christ. Are you? The apostle spoke of the “manifestation of the truth” (v. 2). What exactly is “the truth” to which he was referring? It is simply the gospel as revealed in the new covenant. This is obvious from internal evidence. Just one chapter earlier, the apostle spoke of Jesus Christ, “who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter [i.e. the old covenant] kills, but the Spirit [i.e. the new covenant] gives life. But if the ministry of death [i.e. the old covenant], written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit [i.e. the new covenant] not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation [i.e. the old covenant] had glory, the ministry of righteousness [i.e. the new covenant] exceeds much more in glory” (2 Corinthians 3:6-9). The gospel is the truth and it concerns a Person: God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:3).
When Paul said “we do not lose heart” (v. 1), he was showing us that he was tireless in his ministry of making the truth known. The phrase literally means “to turn out bad.” In other words, to “lose heart” in the ministry of presenting the gospel is essentially to fail in our duty because of weariness. It is to cowardly turn away from duty.
Paul goes on to show that he was transparently truthful in his ministry. He had “renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully” (v. 2). The “hidden things of shame” refers to secretly shameful ways. It speaks of hypocrisy and secret lies. “Craftiness” describes deceptive, unscrupulous living. Paul was claiming that he did not manipulate anyone in his ministry. The phrase “handling . . . deceitfully” means “to twist,” “to falsify” or “to distort” the Word of God. Paul did none of this. He was open and honest in all his dealings.
Since Paul was convinced of the truth of the light he was tireless in his efforts. And because he was convinced of the truth of the light he walked in the light. God was his witness. But if this was true, then why did more people not believe his message? Paul gives us reasons for this in the following verses:
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.
(2 Corinthians 4:3-5)
The lost do not see the light of the gospel. They have no ability to see this light because they have been “blinded.” To them, the gospel is “veiled.” As Paul says elsewhere, “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Paul goes on to point out that the lost do not believe the gospel because they choose to believe a lie. “The god of this age” refers to Satan. In Matthew 4:8-9, the devil took the Lord to the top of a high mountain. From there, he showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” He promised to give all those kingdoms to Jesus if He would only bow to him. Evidently, the devil had the authority to do this, for he was “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Ephesians 2:2). First John 5:19 tells us that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” Though God is the Ruler of all, He has given the devil certain authority over the world system, declaring him to be “the god of this age” (v. 4).
The “age” as it is used here refers to the world system in its opposition to God. It speaks of the current world mindset in its depravity. We know that the world is anti-God because friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4).
To quote John MacArthur, “Satan blinds men to God’s truth through the world system he has created.” He is the father of lies (John 8:44). And just as he filled Ananias’ heart to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3), so he fills the hearts of men and women today to lie concerning the things of God.
Satan promotes the lie that Jesus Christ is not God, that He has not risen and that He is not coming again. He tells the lie that Christ is not the only way of salvation. He deceives men into believing that they have no need for a Saviour. He lies that man is, in fact, not in darkness. He will do all he can to convince men that the gospel is not the truth. He does not want people to believe Christ as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), and will exert every effort to ensure that men are blinded to this fact.
But Paul was a faithful herald of the gospel who preached the truth. He preached “Christ Jesus the Lord” (v. 5). He could not be blamed for people not believing. He continued preaching the truth because he was convinced that it was true.
Paul was upright in his manner, motives and message. He was not underhanded in any way but faithfully proclaimed the truth of the gospel. Though there was tremendous opposition from the world and from the god of this age, he did not grow weary in his mission. Because he was absolutely convinced of the truth of the gospel he relished it; and because he relished it he faithfully preached it to the world.
By way of application, we will only relish God’s light when we are convinced that it is true. Consider the apostle John’s absolute certainty concerning the truth of the gospel:
We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
(1 John 5:18-20)
And because we know these things, the apostle challenged us: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). The “idols” of which he wrote were not wooden statues, but superficial views concerning Jesus Christ. Since we are absolutely certain of the truth of the gospel, we should never entertain any superficial views of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the saddest questions in all of Scripture came from the lips Pontius Pilate when he was judging the Lord Jesus Christ. When Pilate asked whether or not Christ claimed to be a King, the Lord replied, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” To this, Pilate replied, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38). What a sad question to ask when the very Truth of God was standing before him in the flesh! What is truth? The Lord Jesus Christ is truth!
This is what drives missionaries. Jesus Christ, by His resurrection, has been declared “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Missionaries remain on fire for the Lord when they keep this as their focus. When the apostles were preparing to choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot, they described the replacement as “a witness with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:22). And, in their preaching, they always made it clear that Christ was alive:
Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” . . . And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.
(Acts 4:10-12, 33)
What would possess a Scotsman by the name of John Paton to turn down increased salaries and a manse at his church, ignore warnings that he might eaten by cannibals, and travel as a missionary to the New Hebrides Islands? His firm conviction of, and love for, the truth of the gospel, based on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. When Paton’s wife and young child took ill and died, he guarded their gravesites for days to prevent cannibals digging up the bodies and eating them. Reflecting on this time, Paton wrote, “But for Jesus . . . I must have gone mad and died beside that lonely grave.” He believed in and loved the risen Lord and thus was able to continue without growing weary at the opposition.
We must realise that Christians alone have the truth in a world of lies. We are the true light in a dark place. Apart from our message there is no hope for the world. Moreover, we must relish the fact that we have the truth in written form. Peter heard the audible voice of God on the Mount of Transfiguration and yet, years later, reflecting on this incident, he wrote that, in the written Word of God, “we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention” (2 Peter 1:19 ESV).
Do you relish the Bible—the written Word of God? Do you understand the preciousness of the Scriptures that you hold in your lap each week as you sit in church? Do you take every opportunity that you can to get that precious Word to a lost and dying world?
We print Scripture portions at our church, which we have been able to distribute all over South Africa, as well as some other parts of Africa (Zambia, Mozambique, Ethiopia, etc.). We cannot expect every member of our church to leave their job, go into full time missions work, and take these Scriptures—with the gospel—to other lands. However, when we have Scripture collating on a Tuesday evening it is a perfect opportunity for those members who will never go as missionaries to come to the church, be involved in the collating and thereby send their fingerprints around the world! One day, someone in a far away land may get saved reading a Scripture that a church member, who has never left the borders of South Africa, collated!
Do we love the Word of God enough to do all we can to get it to a lost and dying world? Robert Moffatt laboured for many years translating the Scriptures into the Setswana language, and when he was finally finished he could find no one willing to print it for him. The printing companies did not want the African to be civilised because it would cause too much inconvenience! Moffatt eventually secured funds to purchase a printing press, receive training on it, and print the Scriptures himself. How sad that someone would have opportunity to get God’s Word to a lost and dying world and would refuse because of inconvenience! May we never be like that. May we always relish God’s Word enough to exert every effort to reach the lost with it. When Moffatt later saw Africans reading these Scriptures, he said, “You would weep tears of joy to see what I had seen.”
Understand also that when you truly relish the truth of God’s light, you will rest in it. Simply preach the gospel, and leave the results to God. The salvation of souls is God’s job. He has given us the means of salvation. We should not seek to manipulate people. Rather, we are to faithfully preach the Word, trusting God to take it and to transform lives. Let your light shine and rest in God’s Word. Continue giving and sending and rest in God’s Word. As you relish God’s light, you will be able to handle rejection and, once again, rest in God’s Word.
Before we move on, understand also that relishing God’s light will keep us from relishing the limelight. The temptation is always there to exalt ourselves; and when we do not relish God’s light, it is a temptation that we will most likely fall into. Let us rather focus on the fact that God’s light is truth, and may we thus “do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (v. 5)!
We Should Relish God’s Light because it Transforms
Paul writes, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). He was absolutely convinced that God’s light transforms. Are you?
Allow me to paraphrase the thoughts of Paul in order to make the point clear: “Here is why we preach the truth: because we know it is truth by our personal experience. When we were in darkness—when our lives were in dark chaos and we were comfortable with it—and while we actively refused to come to the light, God powerfully said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light! Now we see clearly that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we have never gotten over that.”
Until we experience its transforming power we will never relish God’s light. Observe the testimony of the apostle Peter on this very issue:
Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.
(1 Peter 2:7-11)
Church history is filled with testimony after testimony of people who hated the light of God’s truth until they experienced its transforming power in their own lives. When God delivers people from the power of darkness and into the kingdom of his dear Son (Colossians 1:13), those people instinctively have a new appreciation for the light of the gospel. Until you experience that transformation you will never appreciate the gospel of God.
Know that when you are transformed by the light, it will lead you to take that light to others. When God saved Paul, He said to him,
But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.
In other words, now that Paul had received God’s light, he was responsible to take it to others who were in need of it. This he did, committing himself to missions for the remainder of his life.
Our church supports a missionary in the Western Cape. Bill was a wealthy and successful businessman at one time, but had no time for the things of God. When a missionary moved in next door to and started a church in his home, Bill decided to move across town. He wanted nothing to do with the gospel and refused to stay next door to a man of God. Soon after he moved, however, Bill got saved, and began to drive across town to church in that missionary’s house! Today, Bill serves God as a missionary the Western Cape. Having been personally transformed by the light of the gospel, he felt an overwhelming desire to take that light to the darkness of the Western Cape. When you are transformed by God’s marvellous light, you will desire to take that marvellous light to those in darkness.
We must ask ourselves an important question: Have we lost sight of the transformation? Have we left our first love (Revelation 2:4)? Have we, like Demas, forsaken the light, having loved this present age (2 Timothy 4:10)? Peter, in his second epistle, after speaking of the fruit of the light, concludes,
For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble.
(2 Peter 1:8-10)
May we never lose sight of the transforming light of the gospel. May we ever hold it close. The transforming power of the light is continual (2 Corinthians 3:17-18); may we ever realise this.
If we are to remain true to our holy calling, we must undergo continual transformation by the power of the gospel. We must be disciplined in our devotional life and in our church life, for God will use these things to continually change us into the image of Jesus Christ. The godliest people I know are those who have a strong devotional life and a firm commitment to the local church. May we never lose sight of the transforming power of the Word of God! Let us ever hold it before us as we continue to let its power mould us into the image of God’s dear Son.
We Should Relish God’s Light because it is Triumphant
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you. And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
(2 Corinthians 4:7-15)
Paul was convinced that the light—the gospel—would triumph: are you?
Paul was convinced of God’s power as opposed to the weakness of the messenger. The “treasure” is powerful, but the “earthen vessels” are perishable. The “treasure” refers to the message, which is forceful; the “earthen vessels” refer to the messengers, who are frail. The messengers are breakable, expendable and replaceable; the message is unbreakable, indispensable and irreplaceable. Yet, as John MacArthur puts it, “the messenger’s weakness is not fatal to what he does; it is essential.”
God’s cause will triumph and He will receive all the credit. He will separate the light from the darkness. He will cause the light to triumph (cf. Revelation 22:1-6). When these things come to pass, everyone will know that God is the Victor. His message will have triumphed, despite the “earthen vessels” in which it was taken to the world. Judges 7 gives us a nice illustration of this truth.
Gideon was a very nervous man. God had called him to deliver Israel from the hands of the Midianites, a call to which Gideon responded with some trepidation. Though God had promised him victory, he asked the Lord twice for miraculous confirmation. On one occasion, he put fleece on the ground, left it overnight, and asked the Lord to wet the fleece but not the surrounding ground. When the Lord obliged, he asked for a second confirmation. This time, he put the fleece on the ground and asked the Lord to wet the ground but not the fleece. Again, the Lord graciously did as requested. The Lord then took Gideon’s army through a test, after which the judge was left with only three hundred people. Knowing that he would likely begin to feel unsure again, the Lord graciously gave another confirmation.
Gideon was told to sneak down into the Midianite encampment that night and listen outside a particular tent. The Lord sent a dream to a Midianite soldier, who saw a loaf of barley bread roll into the camp and overturn a tent. When the soldier told the dream to a friend, his friend—doubtless to Gideon’s astonishment—immediately interpreted the dream as referring to Gideon. The soldier believed that God had given the Midianite army over to Gideon and his small band of soldiers. Gideon’s response was wonderful:
And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshipped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.” Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers. And he said to them, “Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do: When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole camp, and say, ‘The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!’”
So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers—they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing—and they cried, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!”
The Israelites won the battle that day but the credit was not their own. The army of 300 was insignificant against the innumerable host of Midian. The empty pitchers were hardly weapons designed to strike fear into the heart of the enemy. But the moment the pitchers were broken and the light shone, victory was Israel’s. And the credit was given to “the sword of the LORD” before it was given to Gideon.
The same is true of the church. We carry the light in empty, earthen vessels. The vessels themselves are useless, but the light within the vessels is powerful! When the vessel is broken, and the light shines forth, the victory is won—but the credit all goes to God. May we be broken vessels out of which the light of God shines. May we join with the redeemed in the chorus of praise to the Lamb: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). As the light triumphs, may we give all the glory and the honour to the Lamb that was slain!
Not only was Paul convinced of the power of God over the weakness of man, but he strove to magnify God’s power in man’s weakness.
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
(2 Corinthians 4:8-12)
The word “crushed” means “to crowd” or “to throng.” Paul was pressed for room, but he used the room that was available. Don’t we often feel the same? We feel as though we will burst if there is any more pressure in our ministry—yet somehow we manage to press on even when more pressure arises.
Paul admits to being “perplexed.” This means “to have no way out.” He was often unsure of where to turn, but God was always faithful to direct. Again, we can doubtless sympathise with Paul. We are often tempted to quit, feeling as though we cannot go on; yet God guides our way and shows us where to go. Adoniram Judson once said, “God is to me the great unknown. I believe in Him, but I find Him not!” Two years later, he had found God, and ended up serving Him more fruitfully than ever.
Paul was also “persecuted.” The word literally means “to pursue.” He was pursued by men but never abandoned by God. Years later, when writing to Timothy and reflecting on his trials in Roman courts, he recalled that, while no human friend stood with him, the Lord was there (2 Timothy 4:16-17).
John Wesley faced much abuse because of his stand for Christ. People constantly hurled rotten fruit at him. In fact, it is said that when a day went by without any fruit being thrown at him, he would wonder how he had failed in his testimony! Despite this persecution, God was ever at his side. John Paton, in his autobiography, recalls one night in which he had to hide in a tree as the cannibalistic natives hunted for him, seeking to kill him and devour his flesh. Yet all along, he knew that God was with him, and he recalled it as the sweetest time in all his years on the island.
Paul also recalled being “struck down.” He oftentimes faced physical beatings but God always spared his life. There is a colleague in our city with whom I sometimes fellowship. This man stands at a busy intersection during peak hour traffic each morning and hands out gospel tracts. Several years ago, one man, after realising that he had been handed a gospel tract, climbed out of his car, and proceeded to physically beat my friend up. For the sake of testimony, my friend did not retaliate (though, as he told me later in private, “I could have taken him!”), knowing that the Lord was with him through physical battering.
The point is that the things Paul faced were in no way unique to him. Anyone who is faithful with the gospel will face one or more of these oppositions at some point. But it is worth it, for as we face persecution, “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus,” we can rest assured that “the life of Jesus also [will] be manifested in our body.” And though we are frequently “delivered to death for Jesus sake” we can thank God that “the life of Jesus [is] manifested in our mortal flesh.” With the apostle, we therefore conclude, “So then death is working in us, but life in you.” The persecution (potentially to death!) that we face as believers may just end up working salvation in the life of another. Paul had had first-hand experience of this. The martyrdom of Stephen had ultimately led to Paul’s conversion; he was thus well aware of this truth.
At the end of the day we can rejoice in that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37). It does not ultimately matter what happens to us; Christ has conquered and we are assured of the victory. God’s purposes will triumph. Our setbacks are not really setbacks in the eternal purpose of God. We may view circumstances as setbacks but “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). We will relish the light when we are convinced that it will triumph.
Paul faced much persecution, and would eventually face death for his stand on the gospel, but he was convinced that dying for the light simply meant an invitation into the presence of the Light. I have a friend who frequently says that the worst thing that can happen to a Christian is also the best thing. That is an insightful comment. Death is the worst that we can face—humanly speaking—and yet it is also the best thing we can face, for in death we are ushered immediately from the body into the presence of the Lord.
Paul writes with equal conviction,
And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.
(2 Corinthians 4:13-14)
If we believe, we must speak; regardless of the cost. If we truly relish God’s light, we will take the necessary risks to get that light to the world. We financially support a pastor whose church is in the centre of Hillbrow, the most dangerous part of Johannesburg. What would possess a man to work for God in such a place? He relishes the light and thus the risks pale in comparison. Bill, the missionary mentioned above, works in a dangerous township in the Western Cape. But he ministers there because he loves the light and the risks pale in comparison. These men “believe and therefore speak,” not counting their lives dear to themselves! This is how we ought to be!
Paul goes on: “For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (v. 15). If our motive is the glory of God, we will take the risks. If we truly believe that the Lamb is worthy, our lives will not seem dear to us. John Paton risked his own life—and lost those of his wife and child—to take the gospel to the cannibals in the New Hebrides. His motive was the glory of God and thus he was willing to take the risks. Was it worth it? After years of faithful preaching, Paton saw true conversions. A local church was planted and biblical worship begun. Was it worth it? Notice Paton’s words recalling the first Lord’s Supper that he administered to these native converts:
At the moment I put the bread and wine into those dark hands, once stained with the blood of cannibalism, now stretched out to receive and partake the emblems and seals of the Redeemer’s love, I had a foretaste of the joy of glory that well nigh broke my heart to pieces. I shall never taste a deeper bliss til I gaze on the glorified face of Jesus Himself!
The gospel is triumphant! Relish it, love it, and take it to those in need!
We Should Relish God’s Light because it is Timeless
As we conclude our study in this chapter, we must consider one more reason to relish God’s light.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Paul was convinced that God’s light was from eternity and thus what he was doing would live beyond the here and now. Are you?
The apostle Paul had a biblical, eternal perspective. The persecution he faced was viewed as but a “light affliction, which is but for a moment” in light of “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” He gave weight to that which God gave weight: the light of the gospel. The gospel was preeminent in his life, as it ought to be in ours.
Does the gospel carry weight in your life? Answer this in practical terms. Is church a priority to you? Is missions a priority to you? Is evangelism a priority to you? Is giving a priority to you? Do you do all that you do in light of the Great Commission? Is your job an outlet for the gospel? Are your relationships an outlet for the gospel? Do you truly relish the gospel, and thus take it to those in need of the light of God?
Paul was tireless with the light because he understood that it was timeless. Twice in this passage, he writes of not growing weary (2 Corinthians 4:1, 16). If we relish the light, we will not retreat from it. We will not quit ministry. We will not remain inactive in our local churches. Understanding that the gospel is timeless, we must keep preaching, keep praying, keep discipling, keep sending, and keep supporting those who are willing to go to foreign cultures with the glorious light of the gospel of Christ.
Look to glory—look to the Light in heaven—and you will relish the light while on earth. Relish God’s light and thus be committed to revealing it to others.