2 Corinthians 4:16-18

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Eternal Weight of Glory

My belly lightly chortled when I recently saw the following bumper sticker: “But did you die?” Many thoughts flooded my mind when I read that, the first of which being that of a child overreacting to a minor conflict (“He stood where I was standing!”), and the parent helping the child to see that such a reaction was wholly unnecessary (“Son, is throwing yourself on the floor the proper reaction?”). I suppose that the sticker’s intent is to humorously bring the sufferer back to reality: you’re still alive, so can your problem really be all that bad? This mindset is analogous to what Paul does in vv. 16-18, though the analogy is imperfect, and the difference will be worthy of a biblical analysis.

What the bumper sticker gets right is the downplaying of our suffering. Yes, you read that correctly. In these few verses, Paul downplays our suffering. He minimizes it. But he doesn’t minimize it by denying it. He calls it what it is: affliction (v. 17). Our “outer man” is wasting away (v. 16). Back in v. 12, he speaks about death being at work in him. You’ll recall that Paul begins this letter even by telling the Corinthians that he was so beset by affliction that he thought he had been judged to death (1:8-9). That doesn’t sound good at all. Our physical bodies, however new, strong, healthy, and well-exercised, are wasting away. As soon as a baby is conceived in his mother’s womb, the clock of life starts ticking. As the glory on Moses’ face began to fade when he departed the Lord’s presence, so too our life on earth begins to pass away as quickly as it starts. Tic-toc, tic-toc. That’s a life of affliction, and we’d be wrong to deny the real pain we experience as humans and as followers of Christ.

Then where’s Paul’s downplaying of affliction? In his adjectives “light” and “momentary” (v. 17). Before you object and say, “Paul, you don’t know my suffering and ALL that I have endured up to this point!” be reminded that this Paul is not writing from an ivory tower. He’s been schooled in the life of hard knocks, you might say. Here’s a man who recounts the significant sufferings he’s undergone in chapter 11: many imprisonments, so many near-death beatings he can’t count them all, flogged five times by his ethnic people, stoned, shipwrecked thrice, adrift at sea a whole day, in danger from robbers, Jews, Gentiles, rivers, wilderness, seas, cities, and false brothers. Does that sound like a man who stoically denies affliction, or like one who doesn’t intimately know suffering?

Still, here’s a man who has suffered beyond our measure that can say, “All this suffering is light and momentary.” Wow. Is that how you describe all the pain in your life? Labor and delivery: light and momentary? Shot on the battlefield: light and momentary? Verbally hated for standing against child-murder in front of a Planned Parenthood: light and momentary? Getting punched in the face for preaching the gospel on a university campus: light and momentary? Not your experience (because you’re alive), but being burned at the stake for your commitment to justification by grace alone through faith alone: light and momentary? Yet Paul says that the affliction is light. It is easy to bear. The word Paul uses for “light” (ἐλαφρός/elaphros) is used only one other time in the NT. You guessed it: when Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). The pain, like the yoke of Christ, can be handled by the Spirit-given grace of God. This affliction is also momentary. The idea behind this word (παραυτίκα/parautika) is that it describes an on-the-spot, in-the-moment pain. Kind of like a stubbed toe, actually. The pain is immediate but not everlasting. It hurts for the moment, and you can endure the pain. The pain doesn’t last long, and when that pain is viewed in the light of your other suffering, you’d probably wish for more stubbed toes if that meant a reduction of other, more serious pain in your life.

Likewise, when viewed from eternity, which is what Paul has in mind in these verses and at the start of chapter 5, this present, earthly life (along with all its affliction) is quite literally “momentary.” It’s not going to last long comparatively. And when viewed in the light of the weight of glory, you can endure the present pain. Let’s use an analogy that Paul gives in another context. Remember that in chapter 3, Paul downplays the Old Covenant and its mediator, Moses. That was a bold minimalization, right, especially coming from the best Jew (aside from Jesus, of course) of the first century? And that downplaying of the Old Covenant and Moses was based on the Christological termination of both (however glorious they were) in the light of the realities and the explicitly Christ-full ministry of the New Covenant. Using that as an analogy, we can say that our affliction has been downplayed and eclipsed by the dazzling refulgence of our awaiting glory-weight. What awaits us quite literally pales in comparison to our present pain, because the glory we’re being prepared for is beyond all comparison (v. 17). We’d be hard-pressed to compare how good it will be to how good and bad we have it now. O Lord, come!

Revisiting the bumper sticker, it appears that since every affliction short of death still means life for the afflicted, one needn’t worry too much. That’s the downplaying of our pain. But here’s where the bumper sticker breaks down. The underlying worldview of the sticker is that death is the final brush stroke on the canvas of a person’s life, the last sentence in the final chapter of her life: “And she died.” But, of course, from this viewpoint, death is the worst a person can get. It means that the only thing to fear is death itself. However, to that mindset the Christian, following Paul here, ought to object.  What if that sufferer does die? That’s likely, isn’t it? What could the author of the bumper sticker say in reply? Nothing of consequence or of hope, to be sure, as the dead sufferer, were he paradoxically alive, would rightly object, “But I DID die! What now, O Bumper Sticker, can you say about my suffering?” (All this talk about a bumper sticker may seem unwarranted or strange. However, even bumper stickers promote worldviews worthy of analysis.) And what Paul is saying is that death is not the end of it all. It is not to be feared. In fact, as we get closer to death, as our bodies waste away, as our outer man is buffeted by the pains of the world, this very process is used by God to prepare us for glory, for eternity (vv. 17-18).

Two paragraphs ago I mentioned the glory that awaits us, but I didn’t specify the nature of that glory. What is this eternal weight of glory? Put simply but profoundly, it is our consummate glorification when we are given new, resurrected bodies at the visible return of Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection. Connect the logical dots from chapters 3 to 5. In 4:4 Paul says that Christ is the Image of God immediately after mentioning the glory of Christ: notice the link between glory, image, and Christ. Back in 3:18, Paul tells us that we are reflecting that glory-image as we are being transformed into it from one degree of glory to another. Then in chapter 5, Paul, still carrying on his thought from the end of chapter 4, encourages our hearts with the knowledge of the eternal building, a heavenly dwelling, with which God will clothe us (5:1-5). That God clothes us assumes a naked body in need of clothing (5:3). What else could this clothing be but our very body-soul glorification? What is this glorification? It is the consummate creaturely glory-reflection in both body and spirit of the resurrected Image of the glory of God, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2). And that is our eternal weight of glory.

All this is why Paul can say, “So we do not lose heart” (v. 16) when he considers his affliction. This is why our inner man is being renewed daily while the outer is failing. This is how we can compare an entire lifespan of pain to the fleeting discomfort of a stubbed toe. This is how we can say that our heaviest, most burdensome, worst sufferings collected amount to a lightness of affliction in the face of the weightiest weight of an eternal glory. Our God with his glory-promise is beyond all comparison.

 

 

Special Edition: Pastor Mock’s First Year’s Reflection

A Year to Remember

Michael Mock: June 10, 2019

The Mocks had a life-altering experience. One year ago today, I was ordained and installed as a pastor. Before June 2018, I had been a full-time teacher. I taught for 14 years. I taught mainly high school, but also taught junior high. I taught Spanish, Latin, religion, apologetics, and various Bible classes. And as the years unfolded, I loved that life more and more. I enjoyed my employers, my colleagues, and my students. For years, however, I had the internal call to full-time pastoral ministry, and Cross Creek Presbyterian Church (PCA) agreed with that call and offered me the position of Associate Pastor. It was sad to leave the full-time teaching profession. As sad as it was, however, I knew the Lord was taking us elsewhere, to a different kind of sweetness.

It wasn’t just a full-time teaching job that I had left. I left behind my whole immediate family: Mom, Dad, two sisters and a brother, and nieces and nephews. We left my wife’s parents as well. We left many other relatives: aunts and uncles, Grandma, cousins…and very dear friends. Leaving our church family was rough as well. It hurt (and still does) not being able to hang out with these loved ones, talk, play with the kids, go golfing with my brother, invite my mom over for late-night conversation, and all the rest that comes with living life with those dear to your heart. As supportive as they’ve all been, it is still sad that hugs are harder to come by now. But as sad as it was to leave, I knew (and they knew) that the Lord was taking us elsewhere, to a different kind of sweetness.

And that’s where the sweetness comes in. The Lord brought us to a church family that is intimately familiar with the grief and challenges of absence. We live in a military town. They know transience. They know absence from family. Their children go 6 months or a year without hugging their dad or mom. They found comfort from God and their church family, and it’s that comfort and warmth of spirit that they showed us immediately upon our arrival. I won’t recount all the people and blessings with which they’ve blessed the Mock family. That would require a book-length post. However, I’d like to highlight some things, as I reflect on my first year of pastoral ministry.

Perhaps surprisingly, I want to begin with nature. Arizona is different from North Carolina. Not really an earth-shattering idea, I know, especially since they’re at opposite sides of the country. But that difference has really hit me, and in good way. Maybe I took for granted the flora and fauna of Phoenix, but I’ve been amazed at all the plant and animal life here. Just this morning I was greeted by a cardinal, two squirrels, and a tree frog (that fell from my door and almost landed on my head). We’ve seen an opossum (alive!) in our backyard, squirrels for days, countless bunnies (even had one as a pet for a day before it found its life in the paws of another creature), frogs and toads, neighborhood chickens, the friendly neighborhood feline, Marsha, and even fireflies! And, yes, we’ve also experienced the fallenness of creation in the forms of mosquitoes, strange-looking bugs, and others. And yes, there were some hurricanes along the way, too. The Dogwood trees amaze me, along with all the other colorful foliage. I’ve gained a deeper love for the God of creation as I have beheld his manifold creativity and beauty.

I’ve also seen the care and self-sacrifice of Christ in the other pastor, Joshua Owen, and his family. This was immediate upon our arrival. Literally. Josh and his daughter met us when we finally arrived late to Fayetteville: 11pm. They welcomed us to our new home. They had turned on the lights and gotten the home ready for a tired Mock 7. Our families instantly meshed well, and not in any perfunctory well-he’s-the-other-pastor-so-we-HAVE-to-get-along-with-them way either. I’m speaking of genuine friendship, care, and mutual edification. And that’s been true the whole year. The Mock kids love the Owen kids! We’ve been blessed to hear Josh teach and preach, administer the sacraments, and care for the church. I’ve been blessed by his patiently walking with me through my first year of ministry. I still have some water behind my ears. (And I mean that in the Baptistic sense of the word.) I’m so thankful that the Lord has allowed the Mocks to enjoy the Owens this side of heaven. Would that every family have such a pleasure!

In a similar vein, it’s been a real encouragement working with the Session and Diaconate. Cross Creek’s Elders and Deacons love the church, love sound, biblical teaching, and desire to see Christ’s church grow into the mature stature of Christ. The Deacons have been patient with me as I’ve had to transition from a teacher to a minister (tax laws are different for ministers, and they still baffle me). They’ve sought ways to handle some of my more mundane requests as well. The Elders have been kind, supportive, and patient with me, even as I had to moderate a Session meeting during the illness of Josh. And they’ve loved me by helping solve a problem I’ve had with the Lord’s Supper. (More on that in the next paragraph.) They’ve encouraged me, sought my counsel, and are truly wise, godly, and hard-working men who know themselves to be undershepherds of the Good Shepherd. Would that every church got to know the leadership of Cross Creek!

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the love that I have for the church members of Cross Creek. There are too many names to mention, so for sake of space, I won’t mention anyone by name. But we’ve been blessed beyond measure by the love of Cross Creekers, as I call them. They’ve been warm and supportive of me and my family from the very start. We’ve been welcomed into their homes, blessed by meals, groceries and a functioning vacuum, godly conversation, and authentic friendship. They knew of my military ignorance when they called me to be the Associate Pastor. But they’ve lovingly explained (and re-explained!) important terms, jobs, and the culture of the military that is foreign to me (still foreign now, but a little less so, thanks to them). They’ve been patient with my musical ignorance as well. One Sunday I had picked some difficult songs and did not lead them well, but they joyfully sang to their Lord anyways! They’ve been patient with me as I occasionally choke on the bread for the Lord’s Supper. In fact, the first time I administered the Lord’s Supper, a piece of bread was lodged in my throat, and that bread interrupted my speaking more than once that first time…and a couple times since! Before becoming a pastor, I read a lot of books to help prepare me for the ministry. There is a lot of practical wisdom in those books. But I NEVER would have guessed (nor was I ever warned) that I’d have to struggle to eat the bread without choking! O the simple ways the Lord humbles his servants. (And thanks to the Elders, we’ve gone to a different bread now in part because of their care for me.) The church has supported my teaching and preaching, weekly blog, and has loved my family well. Whenever there’s a new pastor in any church, there’s talk of a honeymoon phase. I’d be a liar if I said we didn’t experience that phase this last year. It’s my prayer that in my ministry, I’ll never look back nostalgically missing the “good ol’ days” at Cross Creek, but that I’ll always see the love, compassion, sacrifice, and care of Christ in his sheep. Would that every church know the Cross Creekers!

Speaking more about the church, I give thanks to God for the Christlike courage of these members. I’ve seen this courage in many ways. They’ve been courageous to seek the Scriptures as God’s authoritative and benevolent direction for their lives. They’re like the Bereans who search the Scriptures to see if things the pastors say are so. They’ve shown courage as they fight to live for Christ. In just 2019, I’ve counseled formally over 50 times, not to mention the informal counsel during all the lunches, coffees, sit-downs, phone calls, emails, and “foyer fellowship.” I’ve been encouraged to see how Cross Creekers care about fighting sin for the glory of God and the purity of the church. In our Covenant Group (like a small group), I’ve seen men and women open up, share their sin and suffering, and urgently cry out for help from God and his people. I’ve also seen their courage in the revival of a pro-life ministry. Some in the church every month faithfully face the opposition that comes with being a voice for the voiceless. Would that we all have similar Christlike courage!

In this last year, we’ve experienced the gamut of emotions. We’ve rejoiced in the many blessings of birth and adoption. We’ve delighted in God’s grace and faithfulness in the covenant sign of baptism. We’ve celebrated with graduates. We’ve congratulated men and women for their military promotions and at change of command ceremonies. We’ve laughed a lot. And we’ve cried. We’ve lamented the remaining sin in our lives and the effect it has on us and others. We’ve had to say goodbye to many military families and singles who were with us for a short but significant time, and now off to other areas. We’ve cried over the many sufferings a church goes through. We’ve even had to say goodbye to one of the dearest members this church has ever known. We said goodbye, grieving with hope, knowing that she’s with the Lord in unceasing worship and joy. We have rejoiced with those who rejoice; and we’ve mourned with those who mourn.

You might get the impression that I think Cross Creek to be the perfect church, especially as I’ve ended most of the preceding paragraphs with “Would that…!” I’m not delusional or starry-eyed. I know the challenges, sins, sufferings, and heartaches that come with pastoral ministry. And Cross Creek is no exception in that regard. We are not a perfect church. There’s sin. There’s suffering. And that’s sad. But the sadness is outweighed beyond measure by the sweetness of our Lord Jesus Christ in and through Cross Creek. Would that every church be a Cross Creek!

P.S. I’d be remiss to the 3000th degree if I did not mention the loving support from my wife, Elizabeth. She has been nothing but supportive. It would take 365 days to mention how much of a blessing she’s been over the last 365 days, as each day was just another day of her self-sacrifice, giving of herself for me: keeping watch over the kids during my late-night Session meetings, having my divided attention as we watch a show and I do a little work on the computer, being a wonderful cook and Covenant Group hostess, inviting people to our home, helping me sort out who’s who and who has which children, encouraging me when I ask her how I taught and preached, and all the million other big and little ways she reminds me of the self-giving of Christ, our Savior. Would that everyone have an Elizabeth! (But you can’t have her; she’s mine!)

 

2 Corinthians 4:13-15

2 Corinthians 4:13-15

The Psalm 116 of the New Testament

Did you know that Psalm 116 is in the New Testament? It appears in brief form in 2 Corinthians 4:13 with the short phrase, “I believed, and so I spoke,” but all of Psalm 116 is in view in all of 2 Corinthians 4. In fact, the psalm might be in the back of Paul’s mind even as he begins his letter to the Corinthians. Thematic and terminological parallels abound between Psalm 116 and 2 Corinthians 4. Read Psalm 116, then 2 Corinthians 4, and note these parallels:

Psalm 116 2 Corinthians 4
3: Deadly affliction 4:8-12; cf. also 1:8-9
4: Call on name of God 4:7; cf. also 1:9-10
5-8: Gracious dealings from God 4:6
8: Deliverance 4:14
9: Walking in land of living 4:11-12
10: Believe and speak 4:13
11, 13: Alarmed but encouraged 4:1, 16
14: Presence of all his people 4:14
15: Precious is the death of saints 4:11 precious life and death of Christ in the saints
16: Servant 4:5
16c: Bonds loosed 4:4 (its converse), 6
17: Thanksgiving 4:15
18: Praise the Lord 4:15c “to the glory of God” is a praise

 

Now that you’ve read those passages and examined the parallels, you can see clearly that even though Paul cites just a tad of Psalm 116, the entire psalm is in the background of chapter 4 in his letter. When we notice that Psalm 116 is full of sufferings, and that Paul lists his own experience of suffering before quoting Psalm 116:10, the connection is clear. There’s no need to marvel at why Paul would quote from Psalm 116. He shares the sufferings of his fellow saint the psalmist, and he shares his psalmic counterpart’s confidence and faith in the Lord. Let’s see how both the suffering and faith are played out in each Testament.

The psalmist centers his soul with the firm confession that he is loved by Yahweh, which love is demonstrated by his being able to bend the divine ear (vv. 1-2). Such knowledge emboldens the psalmist with crying out to the Lord when he faces various and sundry afflictions. These are weighty and moribund trials at that (v. 3). With confidence he draws nigh to the heavenly throne room and cries, “O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!” (v. 4). Even though Sheol seeks to lay claim to the psalmist’s soul, he can rest himself (and plead for that divine rest) in the grace of the Lord who deals bountifully with him (v. 7). Now because he has been the mercied object of divine deliverance, he is alive, walking in the land of the living. He was taken from death to life (v. 9). Living in the life of the One who is, the psalmist, even when he is greatly afflicted, even when he is alarmed, still believes (vv. 10-11). Trials don’t escape him, to be sure. But neither does life from his preserving and gracious God. The psalmist has rightly considered himself, his death and life (his whole existence) precious in the sight of his Lord (v. 15). He is a forever servant whose bonds have been broken by the all-powerful arms of the Lord (vv. 15-16). As a servant to Yahweh, he will always render obedience, vows, thanksgiving, and praise to the God of all glory (vv. 12-19).

You can see the same train of thought with Paul, I trust. Of course, Paul begins his letter with reference to his death sentence of an affliction, but he revisits his suffering in the fourth chapter. Paul is afflicted in every way: perplexed, persecuted, and struck down (v. 9). This affliction may alarm or perplex him, but he is encouraged by his God. He has no reason to lose heart (vv. 1, 16). It’s true that with the gospel proclamation comes its transportation in jars of clay that contain death: the death of Christ (vv. 10, 12). Even though death is at work in and through Paul, so is life and light (vv. 6, 11-12)! Like the psalmist, he’s walking in the land of the living, because wherever he goes, he’s carrying the life of Christ and the life-giving message of Christ in his very body. Paul does this from the perspective of a servant. Like the psalmist, Paul’s been set free; the veil of the Old Covenant has been lifted. The light of the gospel has shone in his heart, dispelling the darkness from within. He is now a servant to the Lord Jesus (vv. 4-6). As a servant to the Lord, Paul is aware that all that he’s received has been from the hands of his gracious God (v. 6), for which the former gives God great thanks, to the praise of his glory (v. 15).

Of course, there’s also the direct quote of Psalm 116:10 in 2 Corinthians 4:13, and then the strong allusion to Psalm 116:14, 18 in 2 Corinthians 4:14. In Psalm 116:18, the psalmist says that he will make his thanksgiving vow to God “in the presence of all his people.” He clarifies the people’s presence in v. 19 as “the courts of the house of the LORD,” that is, “Jerusalem,” the very presence of the Lord. Interestingly, back in 2 Corinthians, something a little different is going on. As Paul the servant of Christ is carrying the death and life of Christ through his dying body to his hearers, it is God himself (not Paul) who will “bring us with you into his presence” (v. 14). The God who raised Jesus from the dead is going to bring his people into the very presence of the Lord. As the psalmist ends his psalm with, “Praise the LORD!” (v. 19), it is equally appropriate for Paul to break out in doxology with his phrase, “to the glory of God” (v. 15).

And finally to the direct quote, “I believed, and so I spoke.” Recall that the psalmist says that in faith. He’s confident that the Lord has heard his cry, and that the latter will deliver him from his Sheolish suffering. Paul likewise begins vv. 13-15 with his own faith commitment: “Since we have the same spirit of faith….” Even though we are afflicted, Paul says—even though we are alarmed, and that all mankind are liars (Ps. 116:10-11); even though Satan the deceiver has blinded the eyes of many (2 Cor. 4:4)—none of that will stop us from praising the God of the resurrection and sharing the open statement of the truth! Certainly, since the Father has raised the Son, he will likewise raise us and place us into his presence forevermore. Paul can say this because of something he said in his first letter to the Corinthians. Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection: the evidence of the resurrection, and the very ground on which confident expectation of our resurrection is based (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). And so it is for Paul, and for us as well, that all our hope, our very raison d’être, is the resurrection.  

 

 

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

En-Clayed Treasure

You know you’re a 90’s kid when you read “jars of clay” in 2 Cor. 4:7 but think immediately of the Christian rock band Jars of Clay. (If you, like me, didn’t know, they’re apparently still a band pumping out music.) Although I was not a nursing infant in the 90’s, my Christian-music-immersed family was fed in part by Jars of Clay. Hence this cheesy introduction. Pardon the cheese and allow it function as the transition into what Paul speaks about in these comforting verses.

Back in the start of chapter 4, Paul mentions that he does not lose heart. Such a statement inspires the reader to ask, “Why would you lose heart, Paul? What are the temptations that would distract you or pull you away from such a glorious mercy-ministry of the New Covenant?” We saw some temptations in vv. 1-6 in an earlier post, and now more appear in vv. 8-12, which we can summarize with Paul’s word in v. 8: “afflicted.” There’s that word again. Affliction is the perfect situation or living condition that our flesh, the world, and the devil would commission into service to deceive us, veil our eyes to the gospel, and set our minds off the face of Christ and direct them to earthly things instead. Christians are often afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down (vv. 8-9). Such is the life for the Christ-follower.

Despite being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, Paul is not crushed, despairing, forsaken, or destroyed. He doesn’t lose heart (v. 1). How can that be? How can someone have such fortitude of faith? Answer: Treasure, which is Christ. In v. 7, Paul speaks of the “treasure,” which is another way for Paul to speak of the ministry of the New Covenant. Notice the parallel between “Therefore, having this ministry” (v. 7), and “But we have this treasure.” But “treasure” is also referring to the verses immediately before v. 7, wherein Paul says that he proclaims the Christ who has shone in our hearts. The treasure is in jars of clay, and the light is in Paul’s heart. Let’s connect the dots. Paul proclaims the New Covenant Ministry, the Substance and Minister of which is Christ himself, who has enlightened the hearts of believers by means of the Spirit-worked application of the gospel. The resultant “cardiac illumination” is the treasure stored in the very ensouled bodies of believers.

Christ is that treasure. Lest we focus on the jars of clay themselves without first focusing on the treasure itself, let’s remember that what Paul is speaking of is a treasure! Obvious, to be sure, but the attention that this popular passage normally receives is on the jars, not the treasure. The treasure is the knowledge of the Glory of God, Christ. Treasures are those which pirates seek and expend all their energies to acquire. Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price (Matt. 13:46). He is our Great Reward (Matt. 5:12; Col. 3:24; Heb. 10:35; 2 John 8). As one song puts it, Jesus is our “All in All.” Christ is the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3), because Christ is Wisdom from above, and he is Knowledge of the Glory of God.

This treasure is in our bodies, our jars of clay (skueos: frangible, earthen vessels/jars). The life of Jesus is in our bodies. We can say this because (1) jars of clay are our bodies, and (2) the death and life of Jesus are carried in and manifested through our bodies (v. 10). Therefore, the risen, ascended, and seated Christ is in us. When the Father shined the light of Christ in our hearts, he implanted the Glory of God, Jesus as true Image of God, into our very lives, and now we carry that Image in us. As Meredith Kline says, “formal-physical glory-likeness is man’s bodily reflection of the theophanic and incarnate Glory” (Images of the Spirit, 31). Clear as mud, right? Kline is seeking to recover the original image-likeness man was of God. And one aspect of that image-likeness was his physical form, his body. With the Fall, man no longer reflected the theophanic Glory, that is, the Glory-appearance of God. With regeneration, adoption, sanctification, and glorification, the new creature in Christ increasingly reflects in his own bodily person the Original Image and Glory of God, the Son of God. That’s really a fundamental part of our own glorification: conformity to the Son of God, the Glory. And it’s that Glory-Treasure that we carry within us by the Glory-Spirit.

This text is about Christ the Treasure, but it’s also about Christ in our afflictions. Recall that these verses are intended to bring comfort to the afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. In that light, a brief word on the word “surpassing” (hyperbolē) in v. 7 is in order. We saw it back in 1:8, and only Paul uses it in the NT, with its use predominating our letter. Back in 1:8, Paul connects his affliction with a burden beyond his strength. Here in 4:7, there’s affliction (which is perplexing, persecuting, and striking), but it’s God’s power that is beyond or surpassing Paul’s despair. Then in 4:17, Paul again contrasts affliction with the weight of glory that surpasses the light, momentary affliction. It is “beyond all comparison.” Last, in 12:7, Paul speaks of the “surpassing greatness of revelations” he received from God coupled with affliction, and this time in the form of the thorn in the flesh. Whenever we see this word “surpassing, abundance, beyond,” (hyperbolē) in 2 Corinthians, feet-crushing affliction is set in contrast and nipping at its heels (Gen. 3:15).

Why does this surpassing v. affliction conflict matter? Getting there; bear with me. Look at another connector piece in Acts 9, the account of the conversion of Saul, the apostle Paul to the Corinthians. In Acts 9:10-16, the Lord and Ananias have a conversation. The Lord tells Ananias to go and lay hands on Saul, that he might regain his sight (v. 12). Ananias, confused because Saul is not a sympathizer but a persecutor of the early church, questions God. The Lord assures Ananias that Paul has been changed, and that Paul will suffer as a chosen instrument to Israel and the Nations. The word for “instrument” is the same as “jar” in 2 Cor. 4:7 (skeuos) by the way. In this brief illustrative episode, we have both light and affliction. Ananias was used by God to regain Saul’s eyesight, which is reflective of the light that has already shone in the darkness of Paul’s heart: Acts 9:17-18 with 2 Cor. 4:6. But then there’s affliction for the sake of the gospel: Acts 9:16 with 2 Cor. 4:7-8. Light and affliction. Paul knows what he’s talking about. His very life illustrated the truth that with the light of the gospel comes affliction for the gospel.

The interplay of light and affliction is pronounced and fulfilled in the irony of Paul’s words in vv. 10-12. Paul is essentially saying, “Our suffering, our life of death, is for you, Corinthians.” His suffering existence was for the benefit of the Corinthians, for their life. Wherever he went, he carried in his own body the life and death of Christ, just like when he says that he carries the aroma of Christ as he speaks with people about the Aroma of God, the sweet sacrifice which is Christ. If Paul is an example of one who brings light while afflicted, of one who carries the death and life of Jesus in his body, there must be the Exemplar of which he is an example. Of course, this Exemplar is the original Light-bearer, the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53). Jesus, the true Light, enlightened men, yet he was afflicted. It was Christ whose heel was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5, 10). It was Christ who was perplexed (Ps. 22:2; Isa. 53:11). It was Christ whose soul was cast down (Ps. 42:5-7, 11; Isa. 53:4). It was Christ who was persecuted (John 15:20). It was Christ who was forsaken (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46). It was Christ who was struck down (Isa. 53:5). It was Christ who was destroyed (Matt. 27:50). The seed of Satan truly did crush the heel of the seed of the woman. But with that crushing came a greater crush, the crush of Christ on the head of the serpent by the cross of Christ. With his death and resurrection, Christ is victorious. And it is that victory from Christ our Treasure that comforts us in all our affliction, so that we need not be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, and destroyed. Beloved, in affliction, we don’t lose heart (we don’t lose our hearts even), because in our hearts we have the treasured glory of God, the Image of Glory, the humiliated-then-exalted Christ himself. What a Treasure Christ truly is!

Even though Paul speaks of himself as afflicted, he’s not the focal point. Yes, our suffering is real. But our suffering is about God. God is glorified. The passage is Godward (v. 7), and at the center is Christ. You can imagine Paul, with his arms up in the air and fingers pointing to the heavens, saying, “This is all of God.” The surpassing power of the knowledge of God that is proclaimed through the ministry of the New Covenant—this abounding power isn’t Paul’s; it’s God’s. The New Covenant is God’s covenant, so the power accompanying it is God’s as well. What a comfort these verses are. Even in Paul’s application of God’s truth is God the center. It is God who is the God of all comfort. Soli Deo Gloria!

2 Corinthians 4:4-6

2 Corinthians 4:4-6

Blinding or Shining

To see or not to see? That is the question. That is the contrast that Paul is making in this section. The open statement of the truth (v. 2), the gospel, is veiled (v. 3). That’s an odd image. How can an open statement be veiled? That’s like unzipping a backpack for all to see, but covering it with a blanket draped over the opening. It’s open yet veiled. It’s public yet obscured. How? The answer lies in v. 4, and with it comes bad news.

Bringing us back to the imagery of the triumphal procession and of Christians being an aroma of death to those perishing (2:14-17), Paul communicates something of the same idea here. To those who are perishing, the open statement of the truth is veiled. The Jewish people who traded Jesus in for a false Moses (for a Moses who didn’t speak of Christ)—these people fall in this category of covenant breakers. The gospel is shrouded by darkness. But by whom is the gospel veiled? Verse 4 tells us: “the god of this world” (though “age” is my preferred translation). Who is this “god”? The Triune God or Satan? Both actually, but not in the same way. Hear me out. I’m NOT saying that the God of the Bible is Satan. Certainly not! And, granted, v. 4 is directly referring to Satan. He’s not the real God, the only God that is. Satan is doing the blinding. He’s covering up the truth. He’s deceiving people, and they do not believe in Christ as Lord and Savior. Satan is the father of lies and there is no truth in him (John 8:44). However, saying that Satan is the god of this age who deceives is not getting the true God off the hook for what is happening to the wicked. There are passages in both Testaments of Scripture that clearly show us the sovereignty of God in how his revelation is received. There are places also that remind us that Satan is not independent of God’s plan of revelation and eternal decree.

We could go all the way back to the Garden, but space forbids such an exhaustive treatment. Consider King Saul’s life. After the Lord rejected Saul, God would periodically send a harmful spirit upon Saul (1 Sam. 16:14, 16, 22-23; 18:10; 19:9). Did Saul know the Lord? Yes, but not savingly. Did Saul trust in the Lord’s revelation and appropriate it to himself by faith? No. Through the harmful spirit, God was tormenting and judging Saul for his rejection of Yahweh. Because Saul has rejected Yahweh, Yahweh has judged and rejected Saul. This is similar to the account with Pharaoh, though admittedly Pharaoh was no Israelite. Nevertheless, the Lord made himself clearly known to Pharaoh and all the Egyptians. The Lord himself prophesies, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Ex. 7:5). There is no question about whether or not Pharaoh and the Egyptians received the revelation from God about who he is and what he has done. Having said that, however, we also acknowledge that the Lord himself hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 7:3; Rom. 9:17-18). Moreover, when God judged King Ahab, he revealed his secret counsel through the true prophet Micaiah against all the false prophets in that day. The Lord sent a lying spirit to Ahab, so that Ahab would be judged and killed for his wickedness and unbelief (1 Kings 22:13-40). But didn’t Ahab know the truth? Absolutely. The prophet Micaiah revealed to him the divine council wherein God determined the disaster of Ahab (1 Kings 22:19-22). We have, therefore, a king who knew but was deceived.

The situation, furthermore, is no different in the NT. Look at 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. In that text Paul speaks of the coming of the man of lawlessness (a fulfillment in the first century on the unbelieving Jews). He will come by the activity of Satan. With this Satanic activity comes deception. No surprise there, of course. Notice also the similar language between 2 Thessalonians 2:10 and our text, 2 Corinthians 4:3: “to those who are perishing.” People are being deceived. They’re denying the truth of the gospel. They’re perishing. In 2 Thessalonians 2:11, however, it is God, not Satan, who sends the strong delusion, with the result that these wicked and unbelievers continue to believe what is false and are thereby condemned. They’re condemned because they did not believe the truth (v. 12), and because they “refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10). Make no mistake. These unbelievers are morally responsible for their rejection of the truth, of the open statement of the truth. They are “unbelievers” (2 Cor. 4:4). They “refuse to love the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10). That’s intellectual, volitional, and moral. The punishment due their rejection is on them. Because of their unbelief, God judges them by sending a strong delusion, by veiling the public proclamation of the gospel, by not opening the eyes of those steadfast in their hatred for the truth and the God of the truth.

Pulling these texts together, we’re saying that yes, it is Satan who deceives. But it is God who uses Satan and his agents of deception to blind the minds of unbelievers. Satan is an instrument in the hands of the Judge. This is crucial to understand, if we’re going to recognize God as sovereign even over his rational and volitional creatures. Satan is NOT doing his own thing outside God’s eternal decree. May it never be! Satan harmed Job, but not without God’s decree. Likewise, Satan blinds the minds of many, of those who love the god of this age; and Satan does so not apart from God’s eternal decree, not as a rogue. God is on his throne, always and forever. He hardens whom he wills; he mercies whom he wills (Rom. 9:18). Satan, by virtue of being a creature, is only the secondary cause of this blinding activity. That then leaves God as the primary cause. However hard a pill that is to swallow, it is the biblical witness. And to deny it is to deny God as the author and determiner of his revelation, his creatures, and how they receive his revelation. So much for the bad news.

The good news is that this same God as Revelator course-corrects moribund creatures from death to life. Paul in v. 6 takes us to the very beginning, day one of creation. By divine fiat, God speaks light into existence ex nihilo: “Let there be light, and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). What a powerful and mighty act of God! Who but the God of Light alone could make light? And it’s this God of Light who uses his light of revelation, his saving and redemptive truth about himself, to bring us from darkness to light (cf. also Peter’s similar language in 2 Pet. 1:19). The God who created earthly light has created new hearts full of the light of himself. We who have received this new light, this new creation, are now called new creations ourselves (2 Cor. 5:17). Our hearts are now full of the knowledge of Christ himself, who is the glory of God (4:6). The light we now behold, we do so by faith with spiritual eyes mediated by the Spirit gazing at the face of Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World. Christ’s promise for all who have eyes to see (for it’s in God’s light that we see light: Psalm 36:9) is that they will have the light of life: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12). Such very good news indeed!

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

The Right Ways to Let the Light Shine

“I don’t care how you do it; just get it done!” You’ve heard something like that, no doubt. What matters for that person is not so much the means as the end. It’s pure pragmatism. As long as the desired result is achieved, does it really matter how we get there? For Paul, the answer is that it absolutely matters how we get there. But where is “there” for Paul in this context? It’s the faithful ministry of God’s Word (vv. 1, 5).

So why does Paul say in 4:1 and later in v. 16 that he does not lose heart? Why would he lose heart? Wouldn’t doing good be its own motivator? Isn’t righteousness its own deterrent from lawlessness? Of course, but sin still lurks. Temptations to put forward another (false) ministry, or to put forward the right ministry but in the wrong way(s), are always present, because the deceiver is active in the world (v. 4) and sin is still present in the heart of man. Clearly, some false apostles/super-apostles caved from pressure and selfish motives, but not Paul (2 Cor. 11:12-15). What was the difference? God’s mercy, plain and simple. That’s why Paul didn’t lose heart. This verb “lose heart” (ἐγκακέω) is typical of Paul’s vocabulary. It’s used 6 times in the NT (5 of which are from Paul). In all these uses, the people of God are exhorted to keep on keeping on, to persevere in holiness, in prayer, in well-doing, even in the face of sufferings, which themselves are temptations to wander away from God and his directions for godly living (Luke 18:1; 2 Cor. 4:1, 16; Gal. 6:9; Eph. 3:13; and 2 Thess. 3:13). God has mercifully kept Paul in his grip. Paul as minister of the New Covenant, literally, has been mercied by God (Greek has a verb “to mercy”). If you know the story of Paul, you definitely know that he has been the object of much mercy from God. Paul himself would call himself a blasphemer, persecutor, insolent opponent to God, and the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:12-17). But the light of God has shone in his heart (v. 6) when that very light of Christ blinded him and knocked him to the ground (Acts 9:3-5).

Paul is moved by the mercy and light of God (vv. 1, 6). That divine mercy-movement for Paul translates into avoiding some ways of ministering on the one hand, and following others on the other, as he proclaims the mercy ministry of the New Covenant. Let’s look at these ways in brief. By the mercy of God, Paul is emboldened to renounce “disgraceful, underhanded ways” (v. 2). Literally, he’s saying that he has forbidden from use “hidden things of shame” (that is, shameful and secret things). Those are general descriptors on which he expounds as he continues. He contrasts the secret ways of the deceivers with his openness. He says that he is not walking in (though the ESV says “practice”) “cunning.” Always in the NT the word for cunning (πανουργία) is used of the wicked and their crafty work of deception against believers and God (Luke 20:23; 1 Cor. 3:19; 2 Cor. 4:2; 11:3; Eph. 4:14). This language ought to remind the reader of the crafty serpent, the devil, back in Genesis 3. Of course, that is who Paul has in mind, for as he continues, he calls this deceiver the “god of this world” (v. 4). Coupled with the cunning of the deceivers is tampering with the word of God, which Paul refuses to do. By tampering with God’s Word, the unbelievers adulterate and falsify it. They seek to make it appear to teach that which is contrary to God’s plain teaching. Again, this is the work of the god of this world. You can hear the serpent saying, “Did God really say…?” How have you seen these shameful, secretive methods of deception in your own life? I think immediately of the cults, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter-day Saints in particular. They’re so sneaky with their cunning. They’ve adulterated the Word of God and supplanted it for other “uncorrupt revelation.” I think also of the Prosperity Gospel, which is a false gospel. Proclaimers of this gospel craftily tamper with Scripture to make it say what God never said: that God’s desire for us all is to be physically healthy and wealthy, provided that we have enough faith and sow a monetary seed. This, folks, is shameful and underhanded indeed. This is the kind of craft, I mean crap, that Paul refuses to engage in as he shares the light of Christ.

Rather than keeping the true message a secret, Paul puts before all people the “open statement of the gospel,” or literally, “the manifestation of the truth” (v. 2). Paul loves the truth. It was the Truth that set him free. This freeing message, therefore, must be out in the open. Everyone needs to hear it! Beloved, you should be suspicious of those who hide God’s Word from you, who don’t want Scripture to speak into their lives, or who say that you’re not ready for the deeper things of God. Did you know that the LDS missionaries are actually taught to withhold their “deeper doctrines” from potential converts? Even white lies are permitted, if the listener can be persuaded to make a commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is duplicitous and a sign of Satanhood, not sainthood. Be drawn, instead, to those who invite an open examination of the Scripture. Listen to those who say, “Let’s see what God has said in the Bible.” That’s a good sign! That’s what the Bereans were known for, and they were called noble for doing so (Acts 17:10-11). The openness of the gospel light is what people need for their salvation. We mustn’t hide that light under a bushel—no! It’s the truth that changes. It’s the truth that people need. So, it’s the truth that we must give them.

Finally, we see Paul’s humble and submissive approach. Not only does Paul openly proclaim the light of Christ, but he does so as a servant in the clear sight of God. He does so by proclaiming not himself as Lord but Jesus Christ as Lord (vv. 2, 5). Contrary to the hubris of the super-apostles, who would lord it over the sheep of Christ, Paul commends himself as a servant even to the Corinthians (v 5). Christ must increase, Paul must decrease. Everything he does, he does in the presence of his God and for the good of the Corinthians. The light he shares isn’t his own to proclaim. It’s a deposit from God the gracious Revelator for the mercied objects of his special revelation. There’s no other proper way to receive God’s light than a humble and public proclamation of the same.

2 Corinthians 3:18

2 Corinthians 3:18

Ever-increasing Eikonic Reflection

Closing out chapter 3 is a deeply eschatological verse (speaking of our end goal and our present trajectory thereto). As he begins the verse, there is a definite dividing line between those who’ve been graced and mercied by the Lord who is the Spirit and those whose minds are still darkened, whose hearts are veiled from the truth. Although the latter remain veiled, the former have been given illumination. The veil has been lifted. They freely see Christ for who he said he was, for who Moses proclaimed him to be.

The image in v. 18 is beautiful. God’s elect are beholding the glory of the Lord. This imagery points us back to the glory of the Lord that filled the Tabernacle in Moses’ day (Exodus 40:34-38). It also harkens back to Jesus’ high priestly prayer for us to see the glory that the Father gave the Son (John 17:24). We are better off than Moses, because we are beholding the fullness of the Lord’s glory. But what is the glory of the Lord in this verse? Wrong question. Who is the glory of the Lord? Answer: the Lord, who is Christ himself! Another way of reading the “glory of the Lord” is, “the glory, which is the Lord.” Verse 18 is connected to 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6. In 4:4, Paul tells us that the glory of Christ is the image of God (eikōn). Then in 4:6, he says that the glory of God is shone in the face of Jesus Christ. To behold the glory of the Lord, then, is to behold Christ, who is the perfect image of God. Herman Ridderbos, connecting 3:18 with 4:4, says, “When in this context he [Christ] is called at the same time the Image of God, this is to say nothing less than that in him the glory of God, indeed God himself, becomes manifest.”[1]

The term that Paul uses for “beholding” is better translated “reflecting.” The noun form of this verb just means “mirror,” and the verb form can be properly translated “mirroring” or “reflecting in a mirror.” Since there’s a direct object in the sentence (i.e., “glory”), choosing “reflect” will work well. Connecting this fact of reflection with the truth that the glory of the Lord is Christ the Risen and Ascended Lord, we are reflecting/mirroring Christ. How can this stunning reality be real? Because we are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). We are in the Son. Like Son, like son. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:23), and now from an already-not-yet perspective, we are becoming more like the Firstfruits, as our old man passes away and is put off, and the new man reigns and is regularly put on (Eph. 4; Col. 3). It ought to go without saying that this reflection is dependent upon that which it reflects. When you look at yourself in the mirror, your self-reflection depends on the original you. Similarly, when we reflect the glory of the Lord, it’s Christ the Lord as Original upon whom our reflection depends. No Son, no son. No Image, no image.

As we are beholding/reflecting Christ, furthermore, our very transformation (metamorphosis) into Christ is taking place. We’re being transformed into the same image (eikōn). What image? The Image! We are being transformed more and more like Christ (1 Cor. 15:49). This is because we, by grace, are seeing him as he is (1 John 3:2). Our God has predestined us to be conformed to this very Image (Rom. 8:29). Christ has come. The veil has been lifted. He has set us free from guilty and polluted hearts, darkened minds, and sin-scaled eyes.

All this talk about imaging God brings us back to Genesis 1:26-27. We were all created in God’s image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Eph. 4:24). Although that image has been defaced, and although knowledge, righteousness, and holiness were lost at the Fall (Gen. 3; James 3:9), that image is being renewed (Col. 3:10). But it’s not being merely restored to the original image at creation. God’s goal for our image-renewal is not a return to Eden. Our image-renewal is “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). What is that other degree? It’s the glory-degree of the Son of God as incarnate, risen, and ascended. That’s what I meant when I began this post by saying that this verse is deeply eschatological. Adam and Eve weren’t promised a stagnant state of integrity upon obedience to the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were promised life (Gen. 2:17). That reward of life, as seen in the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9), was eternal life in the Son (John 3:16). They were created in God’s image, that they might image the Image, the eternal Son of God, their reward. What other conclusion could we come to when we are faced with God’s expressed goal of bringing his many sons to glory as they are ever-increasingly conformed to the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29)?

This transformation, Paul concludes, comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. What else do you expect from the Last Adam who became a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45)? This transformation is a divine operation. Only the Son can transform the sons into the Son from one degree of glory to another. Who but God himself has the qualifications to change image-distorters into Image-reflectors? This verse is yet another testimony of the astounding grace of our God who works to make us more like him for his glory.

 

[1] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 70 [Eerdmans].

2 Corinthians 3:13-14

2 Corinthians 3:13-14

A Christological Termination of Moses

In this post, I want to circle back the wagons and zero in on a couple of truths: one in v. 13, the other in v. 14. These are truly remarkable and absolutely key when we consider the glory of the Mosaic Covenant being surpassed by the overflowing glory of the New Covenant. Paul, in speaking about the veiled glory of Moses, takes us back to Exodus 34:33-35 (read it). In Exodus, we’re told that Moses would not veil his face when talking face-to-face with the LORD. It was only when he brought back God’s Word to the people that he needed to cover his face. The face of Moses was so refulgent of the glory of God, its shine was too much for the Israelites to take in unscathed. In v. 13, however, Paul doesn’t focus on the veil as necessary to cover a glorious face. He employed the image of the veil in that way in v. 7. He now takes Moses’ veiled face as necessary lest the Israelites see the outcome or end of “what was being brought to an end” (i.e., the Mosaic Covenant). Geerhardus Vos says, “According to Paul, the purpose for this [veil] was that the Israelites should not see how that glory gradually disappeared from his face.”[1]

This truth reminds us of what the Westminster Confession of Faith says about the Mosaic Covenant: it was “administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances” (WCF 7:5; cf. also the Larger Catechism, Q/A 34). Types and shadows. That was the way the Mosaic Covenant was administered. It was an important, organic adumbration of what was to follow. The types and shadows are not the substance, but they point to the substance, which is Christ. The Mosaic Covenant was never intended to be the terminus of God’s redemptive revelation. In fact, when we read v. 13 more carefully, we notice that the very start of the Mosaic Covenant was the very start of its conclusion. What’s remarkable with Paul’s words is the imagery of Moses that he portrays. As Moses descends to bring God’s Word, he descends to his own end. As the glory of the Mosaic Covenant is just beginning to shine brightly before the Israelites, its shine begins to fade away. Like a match that once struck loses its light, so the glory of the Mosaic Covenant once established gives way to the Glory One of Israel, the Light. Christ is the terminus to which Moses pointed. Christ is the focal point. Christ is the center. Although Moses was a faithful servant in God’s house, Christ is The Faithful Son (Heb. 3:1-6). The Mosaic Covenant terminates with Christ, which leads me to the second observation.

Now in v. 14, Paul, in speaking about the hard-heartedness and veiled minds of the Jews in his own day (a truly lamentable reality; cf. Romans 9:1-5), reminds us all that the veil will remain unlifted unless Christ removes it. It is only through Christ that the veil is taken away. The Mosaic Covenant is not properly understood unless it be understood as passing away. The Mosaic Covenant is not rightly understood unless it be Christologically understood! The essentially transitory nature of the Mosaic Covenant spoke of the essentially permanent nature of the New Covenant in Christ, because the prophet Moses himself spoke of The Prophet Jesus Christ (John 5:46; cf. Deut. 18:15-22; John 1:45; 6:14). This is also the message to the Hebrews (chs. 8-10). Christ is the key to understanding all of Scripture (Luke 24:13-27). Christ is the terminus of all of Scripture. It’s no wonder, then, that anyone who esteems Moses too highly will be prevented from seeing the glories of the Christ through whom to interpret Moses and all of the Word of God. This is why it’s always right to ask when reading the Bible (regardless of the passage), “What does this passage teach me about Christ?” Look for Christ in all of Scripture. Read Scripture Cross-eyed. Read Scripture Christ-eyed. That’s the way the Word of God (the Son) intends for the Word of God (the Scripture) to be read and understood.

 

[1] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2: Anthropology, ed. Gaffin, p. 81.

2 Corinthians 3:12-17

2 Corinthians 3:12-17

New Covenant Boldness
“Out with the Old, in with the New” was the name of the game last post. In these next verses, our Apostle Paul still contrasts New Covenant realities with Old Covenant foreshadowings. The contrast continues but takes a turn from the respective glories of the two covenants to their proclaimers. Paul says that he is bold to proclaim God’s gospel in the new, more glorious covenant. This contrast relates to Moses: “we are very bold, not like Moses” (vv. 12-13). What a bold statement, Paul! Yes and no. It’s not that Paul is here saying that Moses was his prophetic inferior. Paul, a thorough-going Jew, has much love and respect for Moses. Paul’s greater boldness owes itself to the greater covenant of which he is minister. Paul is not the focal point; the New Covenant is. Because he has in the unfolding of God’s revelation been gifted with this ministry, his boldness is firmer than that of Moses (you might even be reminded of the many times Moses wavered and wanted nothing to do with the hard-hearted Israelites).

In v. 12, Paul’s greater confidence springs from the hope that he has from the abundantly more glorious New Covenant. Remember that Paul didn’t just one day wise up to the superiority of the New Covenant. He was made a minister. This ministry was a gift. And it’s from God himself. As he said earlier, this confidence is through Christ, because God has made him a sufficient minister of the New Covenant (3:4-6). The Spirit of the New Covenant gives life, freedom, and righteousness, whereas the Mosaic Covenant (when misused) brought death, slavery, and condemnation. What an honor for Paul to be made a minister of an incredible covenant. Such doctrine of grace ought to embolden anyone.

But why would Paul need to say that he as New Covenant minister was very bold, that he had much confidence? A couple reasons can be given. First, it’s because the knowledge of God that he was sharing, even though it was a pleasing aroma that gave life to those quickened by the Spirit (2:16; 3:6), nevertheless brought death to those unchanged by the gospel. Second, to put Moses in his covenantal place (i.e., in his typological place, not as the be-all-end-all of progressive revelation) is to stir the pot. The early Jewish Christians (e.g., Stephen in Acts 6:8-15, and Paul himself in Gal. 1; Acts 21:27ff; et al.) were often accused of hating on Moses or the Law, and they were understood as throwing the Mosaic Covenant out the window (which, of course, neither did). Hard truths aren’t always swallowed with glee or ease.

Paul, emboldened by his God, and confident through Christ, is hopeful of the life-giving Spirit to do his work in the lives of his hearers. Paul is able to courageously share the glories of the New Covenant with the Jews whose hearts and minds have been veiled by an overestimation and misappropriation of Moses and the Law. Paul is confident that “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (v. 16). Wherever the Spirit goes, freedom is sure to follow. Like the unpredictable blowing of the wind, we don’t know where Spirit goes (John 3:8), but we see the effect of his work. We, likewise, have such Spirit-wrought confidence, because the Spirit that was at work in Paul’s day is still at work in ours, setting the captives free, enlightening the eyes of the darkened, and granting new life to the dead.

2 Corinthians 3:6-11

2 Corinthians 3:6-11

Old v. New Covenant

Out with the old, in with the new. That idiom sums up a key truth from Paul, as he continues his defense of his own apostleship. Paul’s concern in these verses is to demonstrate to the Corinthians that he is an apostle. His concern is not to tease out all the differences between the Old Covenant and the New. However, because (1) he does speak succinctly about the differences, and (2) the typical Christian reader of 2 Corinthians nowadays wrestles more with these differences than the apostleship of Paul, let’s consider the differences as set forth in all of chapter 3, highlighting vv. 6-11. In the two posts following this one, we’ll address Paul’s boldness and freedom from the New Covenant (vv. 12-17), then the transformative nature of the New Covenant (v. 18). But for now, let’s look at the major differences between the Old and the New Covenants. Here’s a summary of the differences:

Old/Mosaic Covenant New Covenant
Of the letter (v. 6), carved in stone (vv. 3, 7) Of the Spirit (v. 7), on human hearts (v. 3)
Associated with Moses (v. 7) Associated with the Spirit (v. 8)
Kills (vv. 6-7) Enlivens (v. 6)
Glorious (v. 7) More glorious (v. 8)
Was brought to an end (v. 7) Permanent (v. 11)
Condemnation (v. 9) Righteousness (v. 9)
Glory terminated (v. 10) Surpassing glory (v. 10)
Veiled hearts & minds (vv. 13-14) Lifts veil (v. 16)
  Provides Spirit-wrought freedom (v. 17)
  Provides hope (v. 12)
  Emboldens its members (v. 12)
  Transformative (v. 18)

 

What’s of first importance is that Paul is not contrasting the Old Testament with the New Testament. Paul is no Marcionite. He’s not telling us to do away with the Old Testament. That would be odd and contradictory for Paul, for he often (this passage included!) uses the Old Testament as a foundation or a proof for his arguments. Of second importance, and in line with what was just said, is the fact that Paul has in mind the Mosaic Covenant. That fact is clear from his references to Moses and the Mosaic era (vv. 3, 7, 13-16). Indeed, at several points in chapter 3, Paul either alludes to or quotes from Exodus 31-34. Third, and writing parenthetically, the Mosaic Covenant was still part of the Covenant of Grace. It was not the case that people during the Mosaic period were saved by keeping the law. God’s covenant with Moses was a gracious covenant, one that was connected back to the gracious Abrahamic Covenant (Ex. 2:23-25; 20:2; Deut. 7:7-8; 9:1-12).

With those brief comments being made, there is nevertheless a strong contrast that Paul makes between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. That Paul alludes to or quotes from OT passages that speak on the New Covenant is clear (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Ezek. 11:19; 36:26). We’d be wrong, therefore, to flatten out the Mosaic and New Covenants, making no distinction. Based on these verses in chapter 3, the differences touch on death v. life, evanescence v. permanence, and veil v. clarity. The Mosaic Covenant killed. It brought death. It condemned. This, however, was not a defect in the Covenant itself. The law is holy. It’s an expression of the holiness of God (Rom. 7:7, 12). The law promised life. But the problem was with sinful man (Rom. 7:13). The one under the law who does not abide by the law is cursed (Deut. 27:26; 30:17-18; James 2:10). The law that promised life, if it’s not obeyed perfectly, brings death (Rom. 7:9-11).

At the same time, this covenant was a glorious one (v. 7). It was not inherently un-glorious. God established this covenant with his people, so it can’t be anything but glorious. Paul reasons, then, in this way: if the former covenant was glorious, and it brought death, how much more glorious is the New Covenant, which brings life! The New Covenant was the fulfillment of the Covenant of Grace begun in Genesis 3:15 and established from eternity past among the members of the Trinity (in the Covenant of Redemption). Certainly, when the New comes, the Old passes away. Certainly, the New Covenant is more glorious than the Old. The New Covenant is better because the Old Covenant was temporary. The New is here to stay. Now is the time when the Old was not. However, there is not a time when the New will not be. The Old began with evanescent Moses; the New is with the eternal Spirit. This Spirit gives life, not death. This Spirit renews hearts of stone and rewrites God’s law on hearts of flesh. This Spirit applies righteousness to the covenant member through the substance of the covenant, which is Christ the Righteous One.

Finally, notice the veil in vv. 12-16. Moses didn’t need the veil. The people did. When Moses came down from the mountain to give them God’s Word, they needed his glorious face to have a covering. But in the New Covenant, there is greater clarity of revelation. There’s not a new gospel in the New Covenant. People in the Mosaic Covenant were saved by grace through faith in Christ. Moses, Jesus said, wrote of Christ (John 5:46). But that was seen through types and shadows (tabernacles, priests, sacrifices, purity laws, etc.). In the New Covenant, God has lifted the veil by showing us the Son, who is Light. It’s only natural, of course, that when the Old has come to an end (v. 10), the New has come in its place permanently and with surpassing glory (vv. 10-11).

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