Matthew 5:13-16
II Corinthians 4:1-6

The prophet Isaiah uses light as a metaphor in describing Israel’s mission to the world.

Isaiah 42:6 says, “I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people’s covenant, as a light unto the nations.”

Isaiah 49:6 has it, “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.”

And in 60:3, Isaiah says, “And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising.”

In other words, God wanted Israel to be a light; that is to be a witness so that other nations would also come to know and worship Him. They were to be a witnessing people in two ways. First, by their lifestyle and then by their proclamation; deeds and words. It was not just a matter of speaking; it was also a matter of right living. They were to live a lifestyle so dramatically different that it was a testimony to God. And then they were to verbalize the things that God revealed to them. Words and deeds, deeds and words; the two go hand in hand. And the tragedy is, they failed! That’s all that can be said, they just plain failed.

It’s no wonder then, that before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told His disciples that they were going to be His witnesses. In those words, the torch was being passed from the Jewish people to the Church comprised of all those who have embraced Jesus as the Son of God who came to give His life for the forgiveness of sins. We are His witnessing people. Individually and collectively, we are given the privilege of shining light in the darkness, of sharing God’s grace with the community. Be it our church sharing God’s grace with the community of Chippewa Lake or you as an individual sharing God’s grace with your community of folks; that is those in the sphere of your influence.

Read Matthew 5:13-16 followed by II Corinthians 4:1-6

In this passage, Paul has something to say about four different groups of people.

First, he has something to say about himself. “We never give up” (vs. 1).

It is absolutely remarkable that he didn’t! If you read about all the opposition that Paul encountered as he traveled around Asia Minor and Greece preaching the good news (II Corinthians 11:24-26), none of us sitting here this morning would have blamed him if he would have said, I’ve had enough; time to find something else to do. But instead, “We never give up;” we will never allow our light to go out!

Two things kept his light shining:

First, he says, “since God in His mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.” Paul has never forgotten the mercy he received. You remember his story in Acts 9. How Paul had been authorized by the Jews to round up Christians for questioning, persecution and even murder and how while on his way to Damascus to do just that he and his entourage met the risen Christ:

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.
And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink. Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord!” he replied.
The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”
“But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”
But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward, he ate some food and regained his strength. (Acts 9:3-19)

Paul was a murderer and knew that he didn’t deserve mercy from Christ, but received it nonetheless and he knew that the world was filled with people just like him who needed forgiveness as much as he did. And that drove him to keep his light shining brightly.

Second, “since God in His mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.” The NASB renders this, “Since we have this ministry.” Paul knew had been given a great task. In Acts 26, he is sharing his story with a Roman official, King Agrippa:

And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:15-18).

Concerning how Paul felt about his call to ministry, William Barclay writes:

A man who is conscious of a great task can do amazing things. One of the great works of musical genius is Handel’s Messiah. It is on record that whole work was composed and written down in 22 days, and during all that time, Handel would scarcely consent to eat or to sleep. A great task brings its own strength with it. 1

Just like Paul, we too have received mercy and a calling to let our light shine.

Paul also mentions those who preach Christ from questionable motives (vs. 2)

Although we can’t be sure, Paul is most likely referencing two groups of early Christians who gave him fits. One group was known as the Ebionites. They grew up in the Jewish faith and although they embraced the grace and forgiveness of Christ, insisted that one also had to keep the entire Law of Moses. Paul writes his first letter, Galatians, to confront that early Christian sect and makes it clear that Christians are free of having to keep the law.

The other group was the Gnostics, who had amalgamated Christian faith with Greek philosophy and championed a secret way of salvation beyond faith in Christ. Paul confronts Gnosticism in I Corinthians.

Today there are still people and groups who preach Christ with questionable methods and motives; distorting the truth.

Gail and I were sitting in our bathrobes having breakfast this past Tuesday morning when I saw two ladies walking toward our front door I had a hunch that they were probably Jehovah’s Witnesses. And sure enough when I opened the door, one of them began to read from this pamphlet, “Will suffering ever end? Would you say, yes, no, maybe?”
And before I could answer proceeded to tell me that someday God will wipe away all tears. I knew that if I told them that I spent the better part of a year meeting with two Jehovah’s Witnesses at Cool Beans trying to convince them of the errors of their way that these two gals would quickly take their leave. So I did . . . and so did they.

I say the errors of their ways because the Jehovah Witnesses do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. In John 1, their Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a son of God.”

In my opinion, as long as people are preaching that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, we shouldn’t quibble about their motives or methods. As Paul says in Philippians 1:18 when referencing people preaching with false motives and methods, “Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.”

Paul also mentions that there are some who hear but do not receive the good news because the ‘god of this world’ has blinded their minds. (II Corinthians 4:3-4).

This is not an easy passage to interpret for no other reason than many of the most respected of the early church fathers, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Chrysostom, Augustine and several others were in agreement that what Paul meant for the ‘god of this world’ was indeed the God of the Bible, our Heavenly Father. In fact Augustine wrote that that was the opinion of all the ancient fathers. 2

I can understand where they are coming from . . . John 12:37-40 says:

But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted: “Lord, who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

But the people couldn’t believe, for as Isaiah also said, “The Lord has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts—so that their eyes cannot see, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and have me heal them.

Some modern Bible scholars follow that line of thinking. On the other hand many people today think that Paul is referencing the devil or Satan. If so, what does this mean?

In his commentary on II Corinthians Ray Stedman, writes

Paul says the devil’s tool is the veil. The devil is responsible for the unbelief of men and men and women are helpless victims in the hands of this age. This veil is the delusion that we are adequate to handle life by ourselves, that independent sense of pride which says, “I don’t need any help, I can handle it by myself; I need no religious crutch; I don’t need a Savior. 3

William Barclay says,

Those who cannot accept the good news of Christ are those who have so given themselves over to the evil of the world that they can no longer hear God’s invitation. It is not that God has abandoned them; they by their own conduct have shut themselves off from him. 4

Following Stedman and Barclay’s lead, I believe the veil is different things for different people. For me the veil was my staunch insistence that science could explain everything in the universe; there was, therefore; no need for God.

For many people the veil is money. You recall the story of the rich young ruler who wanted to be a follower of Jesus but when Jesus challenged him to divest himself of his riches then follow the man went away sad. (Mark 10:17-22)

Others have deluded themselves into thinking God will accept them as they are, that they live good enough lives, that they do not need a Savior.

Others, who have lived such bad lives, have convinced themselves that even if there is a god he could never accept them.

All these veils are all related to the sins of pride and selfishness.

Before we move on, I think we should note that we could debate whether it is God or the evil one causing the blindness until we are blue in the face. But it really doesn’t matter. What it is important is that some are still blind the gospel of Christ.

Now if we were to stop with verse 4, it would appear that there is no hope.

But Paul is not finished as he has something to say about Jesus (vs. 5-6).

Jesus is Lord! And as he has already said in 3:16, the preaching of Christ can break through the veil. “But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witness” (Acts 1:8). Jesus had said the His Spirit would accompany the preaching of the word of Christ and be involved in removing the veil (John 16:8).

Our problem is we want that to happen immediately and often it does not. And because we don’t see the results and we are so very much results oriented, we often refrain from speaking the Word about Christ that could help people see. We must speak, plant the seed, and leave the results to God and His timing.

Late one night, John Wesley was riding across Hounslow Heath singing a hymn, when someone grabbed his horse’s bridle and shouted, “Halt!” The man then demanded, “Your money or your life.” Wesley emptied his pockets of the small amount of money he had, then showed the robber his saddlebags which were filled with books.

The robber was about to leave when Wesley said, “Stop! I have something more to give you.” The highwayman turned back towards Wesley and Wesley said, “My friend, you may live to regret this sort of a life in which you are engaged. If you ever do, remember this, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.’” The robber hurried away.

Many years later, people were gathered ’round to greet the aged Wesley who had just preached at their evening church service. One man, in particular, wanted to speak with him. Wesley discovered that it was that same highwayman from many years before. He had become a Christian and was now a successful tradesman. He raised Wesley’s hand to his lips, kissed it, and said, “To you, dear sir, I owe it all.” “No, no, my friend,” replied Wesley. “Not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin.” 6

Too many people in this world, in our community, in our spheres of influence are living in the darkness; without hope and without the life that Christ offers. Ephesians 2:12 “In those days you were living apart from Christ … you lived in this world without God and without hope.”

Like the apostle Paul, we have received mercy and a calling to let our light shine. We can all understand that right because we once were blind but now we see. We once walked in darkness, but now we have the light of life. Let us let our lights shine!

I was reading about a farmer who noticed the headlights on his old farm truck were growing dimmer as the years passed, and he was kind of puzzled by it. The lights were still working, the wiring checked out OK in spite of the mice he had to chase out, and yet, the lights became so dim as to be almost useless. One day he decided to take a chance and invest in new headlights in spite of the fact the old ones appeared to illuminate just fine. The mystery was solved when he removed the old headlights he realized the mirrored coating behind the filament had gradually flaked off, and though the filament burned brightly, there was nothing left to reflect the light outward. 7

That story serves to remind us that we are not the source of spiritual light, but like the mirrored coating in a headlight, we are meant to reflect that source. We did not save ourselves . . . and we cannot save anyone else. But we can . . . and we simply must let our lights shine in word and deeds and leave the results to God.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

1 Barclay, William. The Daily Bible Study Series: The Letters to the Corinthians [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, © 1975] page, 195.
2 › … › Adam Clarke Commentary › 2 Corinthians
3 Stedman, Ray. A Discovery Bible Study Book: Expository Studies in 2 Corinthians, Power Out of Weakness. [Waco, Texas, Word Books, © 1982]. page 70.
4 Barclay, William. The Daily Bible Study Series: The Letters to the Corinthians [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, © 1975] page, 196.
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