Wednesday, July 29 –
It’s mid-week, a Wednesday, and we continue our reading thru the New Testament in a year. Today, our reading is in 2 Corinthians 3:6 – 4:18. It’s not as long as you think! After you have finished reading, I’d invite you to return to this page, and we’ll walk through it together.
The theme Paul begins to unfold is the glory of the New Covenant in Jesus. Jesus announced the New Covenant, and in His death and resurrection, the Covenant was established. Now the Covenant continues by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The behind-the-scenes reason for this long doctrinal and theological explanation is to contrast the difference between the Gospel of the New Covenant and the false gospel of the teachers Paul had written were “peddlers of God’s word.” Paul wants to expose the error of these charlatans who are trying to change the Gospel back into obedience to the Law apart from faith in Christ Jesus alone. The New Covenant was prophesied by the Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah, 31:31-34. If you’re not familiar with the promise, I will urge you to look it up and read it. It was Jesus on the Passover evening when he instituted the Lord’s Supper, who said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20). Paul begins to explain why the New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant and why the Gospel is a New Covenant fundamental doctrine.
contrast – as he had done in 1 Corinthians – is a contrast between different things
– “light and darkness” and “letter (Law) and Spirit,” as well he
adds, “the letter kills, and Spirit gives life” (3:6). To highlight the majesty of the New Covenant
under Jesus, in the verses that follow, 3:7 – 11, Paul used the word “glory”
ten times. The Greek word for glory is “doxadzo”
(dox odd zo). Can you see the word “doxology” in it? One of the early church’s songs many churches
still sing is the Gloria Patri –
“Glory be to the Father and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
is now and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.
Glory has to do with the manifestation of God. We can think of light or the sun, but it is much more than that. What Paul is declaring is that the Old Covenant with its Glory (coming from God), is set aside by the greater Glory in Jesus Christ. The Old Covenant glory was a “ministry of condemnation,” while in Jesus and the Gospel, the New Covenant is a “ministry of righteousness” (3:9). When he adds in verse 10, “...what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it, we only have to think of what happens to the night time sky of stars when the sun comes up. The sun’s rays make the light of the stars disappear. So also does the New Covenant make the Old Covenant no longer in effect – “For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory” (3:11).
The “confidence” Paul spoke of at the beginning of the chapter (3:4) is not through any human-derived ministry, gifting, or message. In 3:12-16, He contrasts how the Old Covenant does not bring about freedom from Sin, but instead, keeps the hearts hardened. It is only through the Gospel, the preaching of Christ, that the power of the Old Covenant – that which imposed duty and obligations to be in effect – is taken away as the Gospel is received. The freedom from religious works, duty, and keeping the law could not be more in contrast to in the Gospel – “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (3:16-18). The Gospel is a message of liberation through the sufficiency of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit is “transformation” (3:18). It is God, through his Son Jesus, who can regenerate the soul of any human being who “turns to the Lord” (3:16). It is the Spirit of God who progressively makes that happen in our lives. We are not what we were, and we are not what we will be, but we are being changed through the work of the Spirit in us. I mentioned it yesterday – this is a work of God in time.
The line is drawn in the sand. The so-called false Apostles have a ministry of death, condemnation in a covenant that has been replaced by God through His Son. The Gospel is not “Paul’s Gospel,” it is the Gospel of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. The so-called false Apostles were peddlers of the word – charlatans seeking to lead the Corinthian church back to law. As chapter 4 begins, Paul says, “therefore” to remind us that what follows is connected to what he had just contrasted – the two covenant ministries – “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 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” (4:1-6). The Gospel opponents did not want to believe that the Old Covenant was set aside by the New Covenant in Christ.
Was the New Covenant Plan B, because the Old Covenant failed? No. The Old Covenant failed because it was never meant to succeed. God’s plan – from eternity past – was to reveal his glory in His Son. The Law was never meant to do what the Spirit alone could do in the heart of those who turned to Christ. The deception is that there is a way outside of Jesus Christ. Paul points out that the distortions of Jewish law and Greek license are both the work of the “god of this age” – not a force, or different philosophy, but a person who is behind the deception. He says we “set forth the truth plainly” – i.e., the message was not twisted, distorted, or manipulated. It was a message that simply said, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
The passage that follows and ends this is beautifully poetic and brims with faith and hope. Paul makes no pretense to being the best Apostle that ever lived, nor that the Corinthians as believers are the greatest believers, instead he describes his own humanity, and their own pressures in beautiful language – “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (4:7-12).
Who are we who have been born from above, saved by Jesus, indwelt with God’s Spirit? We are pots of clay holding heaven’s treasure. We are not immune from trouble; in fact, because we believe in Christ alone, trouble seems to find us. Why is this our lot? To show us, and the world, “that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” To be a saint is not to be a super-human. It is to appreciate God’s ability to work through our human weakness. “ We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (4:10). Paul’s ministry was one that would ultimately lead to his death, but it was a life given to the Gospel that those who believe might live. Paul understood that God’s power was “made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). It is why we are filled with hope and not despair knowing that God is at work in us, not through our greatness, but through our weakness.
Look again: the glory of the New Covenant is in Jesus. It means the plain and straightforward proclamation is that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. To those who “turn” to the Lord, the Holy Spirit is given as a gift, a down-payment by God (2 Cor. 1:22). It is the Spirit that gives us the ability to do God’s work in our humanity, weak tho it be. What should the motivation be for living and declaring Christ Jesus? “It is written: “I believed; therefore, I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak” (4:13). The message of our faith, of the church, is “written and then believed.” It is not our message; it is the message of God’s word. We who have faith have that faith by Grace, in Jesus Christ alone. Our ragamuffin lives are God’s only army to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).
What we have is a testimony of what Jesus Christ has done in our lives. No superiority in that story. Grace is the house that we live in, and faith is the food we feed on. We will get old, we will get weary, and someday we will die, but we have Jesus Christ and the Spirit of Christ at work within – “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly, we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (4:16-18). Do you see it? “light, momentary troubles” are nothing compared to “eternal glory that outweighs them all.” What motivates you to live for Christ, to serve Christ, to share Christ with others? The temporary is nothing compared to the eternal. Keep on, keep on, “do not be weary in well doing for we will reap if we do not faint” (Galatians 6:9). The best is yet to come.