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It’s confusing why Paul would say life is at work in the Corinthians but death is at work in him and in Timothy. Similar confusion about 2 Cor 13:9 which is the one NIV cross-reference. Is he talking about different life situations in that he and Timothy are being persecuted more, or saying he is giving and is sacrificing or wants to sacrifice for them, or..? On this question, I read a very related question where the asker thought Paul had just newly introduced “you” and “we”. I read every answer and am not at all satisfied. Pardon the repeat but the confusing twist in the question, and the odd answers, makes it worth asking, and Im curious 🤨 . Answers there include that “you” are the saved and “we” the unsaved, “you” are the Corinthians and “we” are all the eleven apostles (wouldn’t that exclude both Paul and Timothy?). Question: Why does Paul change pronouns in 2 Corinthians 4:12?

I greatly prefer answers under the assumption that “we” is Paul and Timothy and “you” is the Corinthian Christians.

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2 Cor 4:12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.(AD)

AD 2 Cor 13:9

2 Cor 13:9 (in context) 7 Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored.

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    What exactly is the question?
    – steveowen
    Jul 25 at 5:43
  • What does 2 Cor 4:10-12 mean? If you cant read two paragraphs, answer a shorter question
    – Al Brown
    Jul 25 at 5:59
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    I would recommend editing this question because you are asking a lot of different things here. You can start by asking what 2 Cor 4:10-12 means and delete the rest of your question, which you can split off into other questions that are more focused. Otherwise you are demanding a systematic theological answer that synthesizes Romans and 2 Corinthians which is more appropriate for Christianity SE
    – Robert
    Jul 25 at 6:02
  • Most of the question is providing given cross references in context. Might be making people think is longer than it is.
    – Al Brown
    Jul 25 at 6:04
  • Ok Im splitting the question. Thanks for the feedback
    – Al Brown
    Jul 25 at 6:08
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First, note that he is not making value judgments of them as compared to him. He is describing a process. Death in you allows a gift of life to someone else. Death in them allows a gift of life to a third group, etc. The idea of death in the teacher creating life in the student is the lesson being taught.

The idea here is that Paul is constantly dying - 1 Cor 15.32 ("I die daily") - and it is only through that process of death, of self-denial, that Paul is a suitable vessel for God's power to work through Paul.

As a natural type of this spiritual principle, think of the sacrifices that parents must make in order to create a good life for their child. Their own desires, dreams, wealth, plans, etc, are set aside for the benefit of the child.

But this is just an example in the natural world of a spiritual principle: death works in Paul so that life can work in his spiritual children, the converts in Corinth. This pattern can also be seen in Galatians 2.20 "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.." Paul wants to share that life of Christ with others, but in order to do so, he must be crucified with Christ.

For examples of what it means to be crucified with Christ, take a look at the sacrifices Christ made:

  • He did not do anything from his own will, but only from what he saw the Father do - John 5.19

Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

  • He did not speak anything from himself, except what the Father told him to say - John 12.49

For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.

  • He did not judge anyone - John 8.15

Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man.

  • He didn't worry about any aspect of his own life: Matt 6.25

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

This is just the starting point. Then we can get to "keeping no record of wrongs", etc, and of course willingly laying his life down.

But what all of these have in common is the idea that you do not view your life as your own and are constantly living a life of risk and dependence on the Father. That was required for Paul to do the missionary work that he did so that the Corinthian church could be planted.

With the above in mind, the context of the verse should be easily understood (2 Cor 4.3-12):

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.

Note that Paul is not trying to claim that the principle of the cross only applies to him and not to his hearer. He is trying to educate the hearer, as a father does his children, so they can follow in his footsteps, just as every parent wants to be a grandparent:

2 Cor 12.9-10 (LEB):

And he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, because the power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore rather I will boast most gladly in my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in calamities, in persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Cor 12.19 (LEB):

Have you been thinking all this time that we are defending ourselves to you? We are speaking in Christ before God, and all these things, dear friends, are for your edification.

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  • Thank you. Thats good stuff. I still dont see why the difference. Is he saying the Corinthians arent? If theyre being saved isnt death working in them? I wonder if it’s a bit of an insult almost. Either hes being persecuted and they arent. Or hes saved and death as you described working in him but not them? “Is he talking about different life situations in that he and Timothy are being persecuted more (than Corinthians), or saying he is giving and is sacrificing or wants to sacrifice for them, or..?”
    – Al Brown
    Jul 26 at 3:13
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    He is not making value judgements about a group of people, he is describing a process. Death in you allows a gift of life to someone else. Death in them allows a gift of life to a third group, etc. The idea of death in the teacher creating life in the student is the lesson being taught. It's like saying "it's better to give than receive" - a process description.
    – Robert
    Jul 26 at 3:16
  • Okay. That makes sense. Thanks a lot
    – Al Brown
    Jul 26 at 3:19
  • if you feel like it you can add that to the answer. Otherwise i’ll add it tnrw mostly by cut and paste. Makes perfect sense now (to me)
    – Al Brown
    Jul 26 at 3:31
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    Sure I can update and provide more details. I thought this was obvious, but clearly it's not so let's make sure the right message gets across.
    – Robert
    Jul 26 at 4:03

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