Opponents were perhaps not only questioning Paul's motives, apostleship, changes of plans, but also may be some Judaistic element. Would not be uncommon, given the theme of Gal., Rom., and reference in Phil. 3. The problem discussed in Acts 15 did not go away immediately.
Regardless of reason, Paul identifies his ministry with the New Covenant, apparently wishing to show the surpassing greatness and blessings in his ministry, regardless of the accusations. These blessings are visible to the Corinthians in their own lives (3:1-2), are spiritual (3:3), change hearts (3:3), provide confidence (3:4), competence (3:5), are the foundation of genuine ministry (3:6), and ultimately lead to genuine life in the Spirit (3:6). These concepts are introduced first, and then expanded later in this chapter.
Because of these truths, the new covenant is a glorious covenant, more glorious than the previous covenant. This claim does not intend to tarnish the glory of the previous covenant (3:7-9). Even though the previous covenant and its priestly, temple ministry brought death, was limited to stone engravings, could not continuously reveal God, was not based in the Spirit, and ultimately worked to condemnation, it was a magnificent reflection on the glory of God. Paul is defending his ministry in the new covenant, and thus makes a comparison to the experience of Moses (Ex. 34:29-35).
Two concepts seem essential: (1) that the glory could not be viewed and thus required a veil over the face of Moses (as explained in the Ex. text and later in this chapter), and (2) that the glory was fading. From these two ideas, Paul accentuates the glory of the now (not a misprint), now covenant. Vs. 10-11--Yes, there was glory then, but no glory in comparison to the surpassing glory. Since that which fades was glorious, how much more glorious that which is lasting, permanent, eternal, forever, once for all.
Thus two lessons emerge: (1) Be careful that you do not maintain a veil so you cannot clearly see. (2) Recognize the personal presence and ministry of the Lord in your own life through his spirit which leads to genuine glory which is not fading, but is ever-increasing. These two lessons are applied first to Christians (in the remainder of chapter 3) and then the first lesson is applied to non-Christians in the first portion of chapter 4, with a lesson concerning how and why Christians act as they do. We must be content with a study of the balance of chapter 3.
While I have from the text urged that these are two lessons, I believe Paul draws three general conclusions for the Corinthian Christians which are still valid for us today.
I. We have a hope which emboldens. When one sees clearly, without veil, hope is clarified. Dull minds become sharp, blurred vision becomes clear. This clarity of vision, this foundation of hope, is possible only
in Christ, for only in Christ is the veil removed. (12-16). How is your hope? May I suggest the veil is not removed for those who are ½ in and ½ out of Christ. The veil is not totally removed as long as our
commitment is not total. We do not unashamedly hope as long as self-evaluation of our lives questions concerning our relationship with Christ. This is not an activity matter, what do you do, but is a heart matter, what do you think. Where is your heart? Where is your loyalty, allegiance, commitment, priority?
This boldness comes from hope. Perhaps one explanation of a decreased evangelism is that we are less certain of the message of Scripture than in a previous time. Hope generates boldness. Clarity of vision and message emboldens. We see the possible. We urge upon all the salvation which is only in Christ. I am saying, we have become distracted with conversations about God's ability to save the disobedient or the unaware--the Buddhist, the Hindu, the one practicing an eastern religion, or Judaism, or Catholicism. We are uncertain about God's attitude toward disobedience among those who claim Christianity but practice it through subjective truth. Yes, I know that is what the Bible says, but one no longer has to follow the Bible. That may be your truth, but this is my truth. Truth is individual. Such thinking clouds our witness, diminishes our boldness, and ultimately robs us of hope.
II. In the Lord, we have the Spirit which liberates us. This is an essential second truth. One must not only see the possibilities clearly, one must claim the power. We are freed. It is true that some may not
understand why we behave as we do. Some may question our motives. Some may question our methods. Some may question our message. But Paul's point is clear. We have freedom.
The Pulpit Commentary is helpful. I paraphrase: "The veil of moral obstinacy prevents from seeing the disappearance of the old covenant just as Moses' veil prevented from seeing the fading luster. When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. We shall see him. But, the Lord is spirit. To whom shall we turn? The Lord. This is a reminder of 3:8. Clarification of the previous reference. The spirit to which I alluded is the Lord."
So then, freedom from sin may be in view in the context (John 8:32). More likely, the freedom of Gal. 5:1-4 is in view if we have correctly read any Judaizing influence among Paul's opponents. This is then the freedom of confidence, frank speech in unobstructed relationships, sonship, and freedom from guilt. Some are always wanting to enslave and entrap. Some are always looking for what is wrong. This is an essential second step, the presence of the Spirit in our lives is a source of freedom. But this is not license, this is not freedom to do whatever we want. This is not a freedom without limits, an unreigned freedom. This freedom is governed by the third great truth in this passage.
III. God is working in us a glorious transformation. We are being changed. We are developing. This is not a reference to our baptism. This is not, You have been changed. This is to Christians who need
reminding that Christianity is a process that is ongoing. Experience the process. When we have unveiled faces, we clearly see the Lord's glory. We boldly walk in imitation, either beholding or reflecting the
Lord's glory. The reference is either to the clear vision which the absence of the veil permits, or is a transition to the next phrase which affirms our continuously changing lives.
We do not have the luxury of staying as we are in Christ. We not have the possibility of satisfaction, of sitting idly as spectators. On the other hand, we do not effect the transformation. In seeing the Lord's glory, we are transformed to become more and more like him. We are reflecting him, and the his glory in our life is ever-increasing. This increasing glory is not from us, for we are the source of our competency, but is from the Lord, who is Spirit and works in us a spiritual work to make us like God.
Now one more matter must occupy our attention as we close. This is a carefully thought out progression. These are not three points that could appear in any order one desires. What we clearly see influences our freedom to change. If we do not see, we may not feel free to change. We may let others influence our vision. We may see only what others see. Others may limit our Christlikeness if we let them.
Effective change which reflects the glory of Christ comes as we boldly walk forward in confident relationship with him as our guide, walking toward the hope he provides. Effective change which reflects the glory of Christ comes as we claim the spiritual power which frees us from our past and leads us as children of God to a glorious future. We are freed. We were blind but now see; we were lost but now found; we were tossed but now anchored. Paul will develop his own list in chap. 4.
Christians, it is time for self-evaluation, an evaluation of your bold hope, spiritual freedom, and glorious transformation. What does your life reveal? For those not yet in Christ or not sure about their relationship with Christ, it is time for self-evaluation. Where is hope if dependency is not on Christ and his saving power? Where is freedom if sin still reigns? Where is change if we depend on our own power?
Response is in order--the opportunity to know Christ, the power of his sufferings, conformed to his death, resurrected to his life. How interesting that this simple progression from Phil. so closely reflects our text in 2 Cor. 3. Know him, know his power, know his life. Will you respond with any need--the renewal of baptism, the restoration of repentance, the reassurance of prayer, the relationship of fellowship in this community of believers--as we stand and sing.
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