2Corinthians 4:3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
Sometimes it is a very hard thing to be mindful to try to explore a verse or a passage within the context it was given. It is very easy to take a verse and claim it is making a plain statement and therefore use that verse as the means to prove whatever is necessary. However, any word or verse or passage will only have its meaning affirmed by the context in which it is given. Sometimes that context is historical or cultural, other times, it is simply recognizing the flow of the information.
In the book of 2Corinthians, we find Paul corresponding with the saints about the fact that he hadn’t been to see them as he had previously indicated his desire to do so. Paul’s purpose in this letter is to explain why he hasn’t been to see them and part of that delves into the very suffering and tribulations that he has faced on his journeys. There are also issues still in the Corinthian church, but if you compare 1Corinthians to 2Corinthians, you’ll see the subject matter of 1Corinthians is much more focused on the divisions that they were creating among themselves, whereas 2Corinthians deals more with the glorious message of the gospel and the oft persecutions Paul faced because of it.
In 2Corinthians, Paul explains that his motives in writing this letter is not the same as with the first, as apparently what the first letter did to the Corinthians (gave them much sorrow).
2Corinthians 2:1 But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness. 2:2 For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me? 2:3 And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all. 2:4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.
Paul says that if he is the source of their sorrow, then who is the source of his gladness? It cannot be the very same whom are in sorrow because of him. Paul wants to rejoice over these Corinthians. Paul says that his motives were not out of a desire to make them sorrowful, but was to see the intent of his love towards them.
In Chapter 3, Paul describes the great reality of Christ that it actually makes these Corinthians the Epistles of God, but not written by ink or in stone, but written in fleshly tables of the heart.
2Corinthians 3:1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? 3:2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: 3:3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
Paul goes on to describe the distinction between the Letter and the Spirit. It is the Letter of the Law that kills, but the Spirit thereof gives Life. The purpose of living in Christ is not a purpose of the Letter – it is not accomplished by upholding tables of stone. The grand opportunity of living in Christ is of the Spirit – accomplished by yielding to Him.
This new testament message is what Paul says he is an able minister of.
2Corinthians 3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
There was a glory of the Letter and there is a glory of the Spirit. Paul demonstrates that the glory of the Spirit is far better and it is in that glory that we have hope.
2Corinthians 3:7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: 3:8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? 3:9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. 3:10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. 3:11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. 3:12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: 3:13 And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: 3:14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. 3:15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. 3:16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
This ministry of Paul’s highlights the truth that those in Christ have been changed. They are not associated with the Letter, but with the Spirit.
2Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
We have been changed into the same image, from glory to glory. From the glory of the Letter (death) into the glory of the Spirit (Life) have we been changed, by the Spirit of the Lord. We bear the SAME IMAGE of His glory. As believers, being the light of the world, we image God, but not just in the fact that we are human (who was made in the image of God), but because we bear the Spirit of Christ. Believers image God in a special way.
2Corinthians 4:1 Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not;
Paul is now drawing some conclusions based on this ministry. Despite the things Paul faced, he has nonetheless received mercy – he was given the means to bear the tribulations that came his way. Therefore, Paul says, we do not faint in this ministry. It is God who upheld him.
2Corinthians 4:2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, 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.
He also confirms that the message of this ministry is not a crafty form of dishonesty, whereby he is twisting the message of God, but rather this ministry is an express manifestation of the truth.
2Corinthians 4:3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
What gospel? Gospel, as you know, means ‘good news’ and this good news is the subject of the ministry he was given – a ministry of transformation from death to life. This ministry has been commended to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But, if this good news is hidden (veiled, covered up), it is hidden to them that are lost. Who is “them”? If Paul says that this ministry has been commended to the conscience of EVERY man, then has the gospel been hidden BY PAUL before these people? No, clearly not.
Paul is defining the ministry that he has been traveling with and if those WHO HEARD his message CHOSE to believe it not or CHOSE to teach falsehoods (like, the Letter giving Life), it is THEM who are LOST. Essentially, if the gospel has been commended to every man’s conscience, then the only way the gospel is hidden is if it is hidden by them who WILLFULLY choose to reject it.
Many cite this verse to put blame upon the believer that if they do not tell others, then they are hiding the gospel from the lost. However, that is not at all in the context. These LOST are hiding what had been commended to them and they are hiding it FROM THEMSELVES.
2Corinthians 4:4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
The god of this world is using their unbelief to blind their minds so that their minds cannot comprehend the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.
John 1:4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 1:5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
This certainly doesn’t mean we do not rejoice over our salvation in telling others about it. Paul was all about sharing the good news of Christ. However, for those he had shared it with, who had rejected the message, they served to hide the gospel – they chose to be lost and the god of this world capitalized on their willful blindness.
Context is always king and I think if we take what comes before this verse and what comes after it, we can see that Paul has a specific group in mind (the lost) and the hiding is not being done by Paul (or, by extension, the believer), but is being done by those who have closed their ears to the good news of Christ.