The message of the cross deeply touched Paul. His life was a manifestation of the life of the cross. He was not only one who preached the cross but one who lived the cross. The cross he preached was the cross he lived. Therefore, when he spoke of the cross, he could add to it his own experience and testimony. He not only knew the Lord Jesus’ substitutional death, but he took the Lord Jesus’ cross as his own cross in experience. He was able to say, "I am crucified with Christ" (Gal 2:20) and, "The world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (6:14). His meekness, endurance, infirmities, weepings, sufferings, and chains were all the manifestation of the life of the cross. Because he was one who lived the cross, he could preach the cross. Men sometimes criticize others as being those who do not practice what they preach. Yet, in reality, no one can ever preach what he does not practice! Because Paul was able to live out his gospel, he was able to beget many spiritual sons and daughters through the gospel. He himself possessed the life of the cross. As a result he was able to "reproduce" this cross in others’ hearts.
After we read 2 Corinthians 4 (please read it), we will realize the inner experience of this servant of the Lord. The secret of all his work was "death operates in us, but life in you" (v. 12). He passed through death daily. Every day he allowed the cross to do a deeper work in his heart so that others could gain life. If one does not have the death of the cross in himself, others cannot gain the life of the cross. Paul was willing to be put to death that others could gain life. Only those who have died can give others life. Still, how difficult this is!
What does death mean here? The death here is not only a death to sin, self, and the world. The death here has a deeper significance than this. This death is the spirit that is manifested by the Lord Jesus’ crucifixion. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not die for His own sin. His cross was a manifestation of His holiness. His crucifixion was altogether on behalf of others. He died in obedience to God’s will. This is the meaning of death here. It is not only for our own sake that we are crucified to sin and the world, but it is for the sake of our obedience to the Lord Jesus that we are daily opposed by sinners and are put to death. We should allow the death of the Lord Jesus to work in us to the point that we truly have the experience of death to our self and are sanctified. Furthermore, we should allow the Holy Spirit, through the cross, to do a deeper work in us so that we can live out the cross. We should not only have the death of the cross, but even more we should have the life of the cross. When we have the death of the cross, we are dead to sin and the Adamic life. When we have the life of the cross, we go one step further and take the spirit of the cross as the very life in our daily living. This means that we manifest in our daily living the spirit of the Lord Jesus as the Lamb, who suffered silently and who "being reviled did not revile in return; suffering, He did not threaten but kept committing all to Him who judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:23). This is a step deeper than being crucified to sin, self, and the world. May the cross become our life so that we can be a living cross and manifest the cross in everything.
Paul was able to give others life because for him to live was the cross. He not only passively applied the death of the cross to terminate everything from old Adam, but he actively took the cross as his life and daily lived out the cross. Day by day, he apprehended the significance of the Lord’s cross. At the same time, day by day, he expressed the life of the Lord as the Lamb (the cross). He was "always bearing about in the body the putting to death of Jesus that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in [his] body" (2 Cor. 4:10). He was willing to be "always..delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake that the life of Jesus also [the cross] may be manifested in..mortal flesh" (v. 11). Therefore, he could be "pressed on every side but not constricted; unable to find a way out but not utterly without a way out; persecuted but not abandoned; cast down but not destroyed" (vv. 8-9). He allowed the death of the Lord Jesus to "operate" in him (v. 12). A death that can operate is a "living death." It is the life of death, the life of the cross. He was willing to be always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake. He was willing to endure ear-grating words, high-handed methods, cruel persecutions, and unreasonable misunderstandings for the Lord’s sake. He was willing to be delivered unto death without saying one word. Under such circumstances, he was like his Lord who, though having the power to ask the Father to send twelve legions of angels to His rescue and to evade the circumstances by human method, would not choose to do it. He would rather let the "living death" of Jesus—the life and spirit of the cross—work in him to the extent that he acted and behaved in the spirit of the cross. He realized that with the cross there was the power, a power which enabled him to yield to death for Jesus’ sake and to suffer persecution and tribulations under man’s hand. How deeply had the cross worked in Paul! How good it would be if we could also bear "about in the body the putting to death of Jesus"! Who can say to the Lord that he is willing to die and not resist in the midst of all opposing and suffering circumstances? If we want others to gain the cross, the cross must first take hold of us in our lives. It is only after the cross has been wrought into our lives through the fiery sufferings and oppositions that we can duplicate this cross in others’ lives. In other words, the life of the cross is the life that puts into practice the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5—7, see 5:38, 44).
The passage here in 2 Corinthians clearly tells us that we are not just for preaching, but we are for the manifestation of the life of the Lord Jesus, and we are to flow out the life of the Lord Jesus from our body. We can flow out His life only when we always bear about in the body the putting to death of Jesus, when we are delivered unto death for the Lord Jesus’ sake, when we suffer loss in our reputation, mind, and body for His sake, and when we express the way of the Lamb of Golgotha in the midst of all such sufferings (vv. 10-11). Unfortunately, we often like to take the shortcuts! Little do we realize that there is no shortcut in manifesting the life of the Lord Jesus!
"Death operates in us, but life in you" (v. 12). "You" refers to the Corinthians and all the saints (1:1); they are Paul’s audience. Because the death of the Lord Jesus was able to work in Paul, he was able to have the life of the Lord Jesus work in his audience and to have them receive the spiritual life. The word "life" in this verse is zoe, which in the original language means the spiritual life, the highest life. What Paul was able to lift up and give to others was not just his speech, thoughts, and a wooden cross. Paul desired that they gain the spiritual life of the Lord. This spiritual life operated in their hearts and enabled them to reach the goal of Paul’s message. This was not a vain preaching, but one that entered the dried-up hearts of his audience with extraordinary life and power so that they actually received the life of the cross which he preached. Our preaching of the cross should produce such a result. We should not be satisfied if our preaching does not have a result like Paul’s. In summary, one who does not live the cross as Paul did cannot expect to have a result as Paul had. If we are not crucified persons, it will surely be hard for us to preach the cross and to give others life.
(The Messenger of the Cross, Chapter 1, by Watchman Nee)