When the Apostle Paul spoke to the Corinthian Christians, he made it crystal clear that unbelievers have been blinded by the devil. He says that the gospel has been veiled to unbelievers, and it is the god of this world, Satan, who is responsible for blinding them. Today most people think the devil is a joke, if they think of him at all, but the Bible writers’ warning still sounds clear, “Beware, be sober, be vigilant, and do not be deceived. The Enemy is out there!” Yeah
Some of you may have observed that two days ago, on Friday, the world marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. I’ve always been interested in history, particularly American History. So, it goes without saying that I like to learn about special times throughout America’s past. For those of you unfamiliar with the D-day Invasion, I’ll give a brief play by play, so that my next remarks have a frame of reference.
• It was World War II
• The Germans had invaded all of Europe, including all of France
• The Americans, British and some collection of other allied countries planned a counter attack
• Early in the morning 70 years ago this past Friday they sent in paratroopers to land ahead of a massive naval invasion. It was code-named: Operation Overlord
• 10K Americans and allies were killed, along with uncounted thousands of Germans
• The invasion was a success, and the Americans and allies had established a base of operations for beating the Nazi’s back to where they came from.
• D-Day represented the beginning of the end for the Nazi’s and Hitler’s so called “third Reich”
Ordinarily, when we think of bible verses about spiritual warfare, we think of passages like 1 peter 5:8, “your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for whom he may devour,” or Ephesians 6:10 which tells us to put on the full armor of God, or the story of Job, or, perhaps the most dramatic of all, Jesus’ time of fasting in the wilderness where the Devil tempts him face to face. But, the truth is, the topic of spiritual warfare litters the Old and New Testament. Wherever you may look in the Bible you will find the uniting thread of God’s kingdom in stark contrast against and in dramatic conflict with the kingdom of darkness. As I have been studying 2 Corinthians chapter 4, I have become convinced that most verses of scripture can be and should be interpreted within many different theological frame works, one of these is Spiritual Warfare.
Read with me Please, starting in 2 Corinthians 4:1
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God,[a] we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice[b] cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case 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. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants[c] for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-7 English Standard Version
Paul tells us that the devil has the power to blind the mind of the unbeliever, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel. In this passage, Satan is called the god of this world. In a parallel passage, which I think Paul is following up on here says 1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”. The phrase, “Those who are perishing” is in the present tense. It isn’t that they will perish some far flung day, when their bodies die. It is a matter of biblical record that unbelievers, though physically alive, are currently perishing. Usually we think about it this way, “the message you believe leads to life or death”. But what Paul is actually teaching here is “of course the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. What can they understand? They are dead already. You can’t believe the gospel by using worldly wisdom, which is all they have. But, there are those who are being saved by it, only by the grace and power of God.”
I think we can get more clarification on this point by looking at an account of Jesus’ teaching. Read John 8:34-47 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave[b] to sin.35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
This chain of logic is so simple.
1. Anyone who sins is a slave to sin.
2. If a slave, then you have a master
3. The master of sin is Satan, and you are a slave to sin, therefore Satan is your master
4. Even more than that, since Satan is the father of sins, he is your father as well.
5. Every day you prove you have the spiritual DNA of Satan, because you perform the works that he commands. He has replaced the true God (with a capital G), as your default god (little g).
There is a way out, however, because any slave in the house can be set free by the Son. Since the Son cannot be convicted of sin, it stands to reason he is not of their father the Devil, but of another Father. The Son’s works show that His Father is God. But, if the Son’s works are godly, which act as a witness that Jesus is of God, then why not believe the Son when He teaches? Ahh, because 2 Corinthians 4:4: “ In their case 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.”
Jesus is in a rather heated exchange with some Pharisees. He tells the unbelieving Jews that their father is not Abraham, but actually the devil. If they were of Abraham they would do the works of Abraham, if they were of God they would do the works of Jesus. But, since they are of their father the devil, they do his works. The Devil is a liar, and his lies lead to death, which makes him a murderer. He has murder in his heart when he speaks, and yet we yield to him when he seems to offer pleasures.
Now God on the other hand operates in the light. So, you see it was the same God who said let there be light, who also turned the lights on for us spiritually. There was no light, then God said “let there be light…” and guess what the light came on. Sometime later God sent that light into the world, to be among his own, but the world beheld him not. If the light comes into the world, and you can’t see it, what has happened? You are blinded. Blinding can happen three ways: 1. You a can have your eyes damaged so they no longer perceive light, 2 you can have something covering your eyes that is not see through, like a blindfold, or 3 you can choose to keep your eyes closed. Unfortunately, I think all 3 versions of blindness are more or less at work in the spiritual lives of unbelievers. Not only are our spiritual eyes blinded by our being born spiritually dead, by default , and not only have we been blinded by the god of this world and this present age, but we have willfully chosen to shut our eyes to His glorious light. John’s Gospel chapter 1 verse 4 and 8, my paraphrase” In him was life, and the life was the light of men. His light has come, and we did not understand it, nor were we willing to receive it.” Now to me that sure sounds like an accusation of wrong doing on our part, rather than only a neutral statement of fact.
Not only did Paul want to explain why some do not comprehend the gospel, he also wanted to make sure he made the Corinthians aware that his role was to be their servant, on behalf of Jesus, bringing the truth of God’s gospel to them at great personal cost and risk. Even though there was significant danger and hardship on his part, he says he is able to take heart, because he knew that God, in his mercy, had given him that ministry role. He did not have to feel crushed, abandoned, or destroyed because God had entrusted Paul with this particular mission, and Paul reasoned that if God gave him the ministry then God could be trusted to see it through. Paul trusted God with what had been entrusted to him. That’s why he renounced disgraceful and underhanded ways. He was not some shyster who’d come kicking into town selling snake oil. He was only there to benefit them, not to exploit them in any way or make a fat paycheck. He desired to be found a faithful servant of Jesus, so he did the task he was assigned to.
I remember another story from D-Day:
(Tell story about paratroopers caught playing cards with the enemy) They were in a war, but they wanted to act like they weren’t in a war. They had been given training, supplies, and a mission, but instead they acted like deserters. They were strategically put their to make it easier for their allies, and clear the way for future military victories, but all they wanted to do was fraternize with the enemy.
Some of us want to pretend we are not in a war. Some of us need to wake up. Some Christians, and, therefore some churches would rather the bible was taught according to how they feel or according to how the culture dictates what is politically correct, rather than the sound doctrines handed down to us from the Apostles. Some men have made vast fortunes, and built large church buildings, and sold thousands of books by staying away from potentially divisive doctrines, or simply never talking about sin or damnation or Salvation, by grace, through faith in Jesus. They would rather everybody felt comfortable, and got the warm fuzzies. Their Sunday services are more like pep rallies where no one ever leaves feeling condemned or desiring repentance. What a waste! Some of these men are only in it for the money. They don’t believe the gospel themselves, and they don’t really care if anybody else does either. They are content to preach a feel good, limp wristed non-gospel… just so long as the offering plate stays fat. H. Richard Niebuhr, a Yale Divinity School Professor, was speaking about these false prophets, for that is exactly what they are, when he rebuked them by describing their type of message as being about a “A God without wrath (Who) brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
These false teachers tell everybody how good and loving God is, and never mention His Justice or Wrath or Judgment or The Devil, because they won’t preach that humans are depraved creatures separated from God. And since they never talk about sin and Satan, there isn’t any reason to talk about the cross. But Paul came preaching the true word of God, without tampering with it or cunningly dancing around unpopular doctrines. He knew he had commended himself to every person’s conscience, because he came to them humbly as a servant working with his own hands in the community to pay his own way, and openly proclaimed God’s truth without partiality or deceit.
In this passage, he is building the case that any mature Christian, standing with a clear conscience, should be able to judge Paul as a worthy shepherd and true Apostle. And, if a worthy shepherd and true apostle, than his Gospel should be received with listening ears, an open heart, and unveiled eyes. Paul did not come preaching Paul, but Jesus. And he did not disqualify himself by teaching one way then living another. His life showed that his gospel was trustworthy, which bore further witness to the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God.
Paul is reminding his readers about the Glory of God that shone from the face of Moses, when he came down from the Mountain of God. His use of this metaphor ran throughout chapter 3 and continues here, which should give us a clue that he is continuing to discuss a point he started making in the last chapter. At the end of the last chapter he says that all Christians are being transformed in to the same image of Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. So, let’s connect all the dots, by looking at the beginning of chapter 4, where he says that he doesn’t lose heart about the hardships of the ministry, but instead he knows they are part of the process of what we call “Sanctification” or as he put it transforming into the image of God. He readily admits that ministry and the Christian life is not always a walk in the park, but, someday it will be worth it. This becomes even clearer, if we look at some of his other writings. 2 Corinthians 4:17 “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Philippians 3:7 “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, . Acts 24:20 “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who trades that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”. I’ve always liked that quote. It kind of sums up in a neat little bumper sticker what I think Paul was driving at.
To Paul, nothing was as important as obeying Christ, so he was not ashamed of the Gospel, no matter what people thought of him. He was willing to look foolish to the snobby intellectuals. He was willing to bear the scorn of his fellow Jews. He did not try to keep his true purposes hidden from any one, or put a veil on his reason for being among the Corinthians. On the other hand Moses wore a veil, over his face, because he cared that others would see that God’s glory was steadily wearing off of him and no longer showing forth from his face, so he hid what was fading away. But Paul, who was full of the Holy Spirit, was prepared to let the knowledge of God’s glory shine out of his heart. Apart from having the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, Moses could only reflect the glory that God let fall on him, and it was temporary. But Paul has God living in his heart, shining through him, beyond him, out of his core. Moses was a mirror, but Paul, by the grace of God had been transformed into a light bulb. That is the difference between law and Gospel, legalism and grace, spiritual information and spiritual transformation.
The more you are transformed into the Image of Jesus, the more you will encounter the obstacles Jesus encountered. The work gets more difficult, the persecution becomes more focused, and the devil always seems to have your number. But, also, the more you are transformed into the image of Jesus, the more you will share in His victory. Obedience should become easier, you will find the strength to stand up under persecution, and, every time Satan attacks, God promises to make a way of escape.
No matter how dark things may look, God’s light has the power to pierce the darkness, ripping apart the veil that separates us from his Glorious presence. He alone calls us from death to life, from the kingdom of the god of this present age, the devil himself; into the Kingdom of His own Radiant Majesty. He alone adopts slaves making them into sons, and Co-heirs with His Son Jesus Messiah.