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2 Corinthians 3-4

October 28th, 2012 by Vic

2 Corinthians 3-4

“Our value is measured by what is inside”

October 28, 2012


Letters of recommendation may have been more common in the Greek world than they are today.  Paul is concerned about Christians who feel the need to carry flattering résumé’s with them as they move from church to church.  Paul reminds the Corinthians that he did not leave any copy of his so called ‘spiritual exploits’, credentials or educational transcripts in the church filing cabinet.  In fact there would not be a church building for a couple hundred years.  He did not leave a journal of his life experiences and travels.  Later in chapter 11 he tells us that the true apostle is proud of his sufferings and weaknesses more than his educational status.


3:1-3  The Corinthians had received the gospel Paul preached and they became a letter of recommendation written by God on his heart to confirm his ministry and also they became a living letter read by all men.  Paul is saying, “I don’t need letters of recommendation for my ego and you shouldn’t need letters either.  You can read the lives of each other.”  Don’t be fooled by those who want to impress you with credentials.  Don’t be conned into adding some new gimmick to the gospel.  Don’t be fooled by those who think they need to add some evidence to support the gospel.  The Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses add works.

Jeremiah 31:31ff says, “Behold days are coming… I will put my Law within them and write it on their hearts.”  The Spirit of the living God has written the gospel on your hearts.  You are a letter of commendation and also a confirmation that the new covenant age has come as Jeremiah prophesied.


3:4-6  Some churches today say you need Jesus and …  They add pet doctrines to the plain gospel.  They add baptism, gifts, sacraments, works, rituals, etc.  Paul says, “We have confidence through Christ in the sphere of God’s presence (4).  It is not because we are adequate or sufficient in ourselves, but our adequacy comes from God (5).”


Where is the source of authority in ministry?  What kind of ministry has God’s approval?  What is a ‘successful’ ministry?  These are questions we still ask.


Paul is aware that he is serving as a minister of the new covenant.  He says his sufficiency is a gift of grace received in the presence of God’s grace.  In the presence of God he receives grace and is acutely aware of his frailty and finitude.  He cannot boast of his accomplishments, but he can boast of God’s sufficiency.  Only God can qualify us and equip us (6) for ministry of the new covenant.  We did not appoint ourselves or rely on our human skills to remodel and improve God’s old covenant.  The old covenant told us to keep our New Years resolutions, but we didn’t.  The law says read your Bible every day, but does not give us the Spirit in our heart to keep our commitment.  The new covenant gives us the Spirit of life to honor God and do good.  The letter kills.  The Spirit imparts life.  The letter of the Law was a sign post pointing to Jesus.  It was not the destination.


3:7-18  This paragraph elaborates on the contrast between the letter and the Spirit just mentioned in 6b.  Paul’s ministry of the new covenant has been authenticated by changed lives.  God has written a different kind of letter.  The old came with death (7); the new came with the Spirit (8).  The old came with condemnation; the new came with righteousness (9).  The old fades; the new remains (11).  The good has been replaced by the best.  The glory of the first has been surpassed (10).  The glory on Moses’ face has been surpassed by a greater glory in a face to face relationship with Jesus.


Why did the Jews not see the surpassing glory (13)?  The veil seems to remain on their hearts.  I wonder if at the time Paul is writing that there may have been some Christians wearing veils in the church at Corinth because Moses wore a veil in the outer Tabernacle area.  They wanted to appear spiritual.  Paul says the veil was removed in Christ unless your minds are hardened; unless you shut your eyes to the Light you have (14).  We too can get hung up on externals and harden our hearts and veil our minds to the meaning of Scripture because of our preconceived ideas, poor thinking, prejudice, tradition, disobedience, etc.  We can choose to be blind (15).  Moses took off the veil in the presence of God (16).


Moses went into the presence of God while the congregation waited outside.  Access was denied them.  But now through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of the Lord gives us access into God’s presence (17).  Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.  We are not slaves to sin, slaves to our appetites, or slaves to the expectations of others.  We have freedom in Christ to enter into God’s presence with unveiled faces.  The barriers for access have been removed.


In His presence we behold and reflect the glory of His face.  In His presence we are being transformed (metamorph…) into His image from glory to glory.  It is not an instantaneous experience to maturity but a process directed by the Lord of glory.


The glory of the Lord is now to be seen in the face of Jesus and in our lives; not in the Law, the Temple, or the priesthood.  The next chapter says there’s a problem displaying the glory because we look like common clay pots until we are broken.  God’s glory is revealed in humble lives.


4:1-6  Paul’s ministry was given to him on the road to Damascus.  There he found God’s mercy.  Jesus gave him an assignment.  He has confidence in his message.  His message is obscure only to those who still have a veil on their hearts and minds.  He is not trying to trick anyone with craftiness (catch with bait), distortion, or pretense (add impurities).  He lets the clear proclamation of the truth commend his ministry (2).  The gospel is like a tiger; it can defend itself.


The god of this age is satan.  He blinds the eyes of unbelievers to the Light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the living image of God, not a graven image.


Paul gives some advice to missionaries on deputation or anyone sharing their testimony (5).  He says, “We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord.”  If you want to hear something disgusting, listen to a testimony that leaves God out of it.  Woe to the pastor who forgets who has called him, graced him, and goes before him.  We are all fellow servants through Christ Jesus.


We have received the light of the gospel so that we can enlighten others.  The God who brought light to birth in Creation has made His light shine in human hearts.  The light of His presence drew us out of darkness.  The purpose of the light is to reveal the knowledge of God’s glory that is seen in the face of Jesus (6).  Moses’ face had a fading glory.  Jesus’ glory is greater.


4:7  We have this treasure of the light of God’s glory in earthen vessels.  What does that mean?


1. Paul is saying we are of the earth.  God is mindful that we are dust (Ps 103:14).


2. We are a vessel.  God breathed into us and made us something.  Jeremiah 18:4 compares God to a potter and says He made us just like he wanted to make us.  God was not just playing around with Playdoh.  Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, “We are His workmanship… created for good works.”  The word for workmanship is the word ‘poem’.  We are God’s artwork with a purpose and plan.  As clay we are not useful till we go through the fire.  Our vessel has an expiration date on the bottom.


3. What is in the vessel and who owns the vessel gives it value.  I belong to Jesus. That adds value to my vessel.  4:6 says we have the light of the knowledge of glory in us.  I’m filled with the Light of Jesus.  Judges 7:16 says that Gideon’s 300 men had trumpets and clay pots with a light inside.  The broken vessels revealed the light.


4. The potter’s field may have been in Paul’s mind.  Remember Judas threw the blood money in the sanctuary (Matt 27:5).  The chief priests decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field.  Do you remember what the potter’s field was used for?  It was a cemetery for strangers and the dumping grounds for broken pottery.  It is an interesting picture that the death of Jesus bought the place of broken pieces and the dead bodies of the lowest of the low.  As the Potter, He can remake us.


We have the treasure of the gospel in common vessels.  There is no halo over our jar.  There is no fancy paint job.  There is no mysterious hum coming from our jar.  We are weak and frail.  But we are earthen vessels that belong to Jesus.  The best wine is never stored in gold or silver containers.  God’s strength is made more visible in contrast to our weakness.  God is the source of our power and strength.


4:8-15  We are not powerful super servants.  Our ministerial career has not been flashy or pushy.  We are weak, but uncrushable.  We are harassed, but never lonely (8).  We are persecuted, but not abandoned by God.  We are knocked down, but not knocked out.  The critics can’t destroy us. We are a masterpiece of God (9).


Paul offers a strange paradox.  He has identified his life with the sufferings of Jesus.  He sees his body is in the continuing process of dying.  And yet the abundant life of Jesus is manifested in his dying and weakness (10).  The critics were claiming the display of divine power in their signs, wonders and miracles.  Paul saw the power of God displayed in his weakness.  He was constantly being delivered over to death so that the abundant life of Jesus may be manifested in his dying and weakness (11).  He just said that and now says it again.   What does it mean when a writer repeats himself?  He wants us to get the point.  Our flesh is weak.  It is attacked by sin and liable to corruption.  But we belong to God.


Paul’s ministry seems to be a failing enterprise, but it is giving life to the Corinthians (12).  The sufferings of the apostles have promoted spiritual life in the churches.  The power of the message does not derive from the competency, ingenuity, and skill of the minister but comes solely from the inherent truth of the message.


The Spirit of God has given all Christians the gift of faith.  “We believe” that God raised Jesus and will raise us also with Jesus (13).  Paul is calling the readers to celebrate the grace that is being extended to more and more unbelievers so God will receive more thanksgiving (beautiful grace).  We receive grace so we can give grace (thanks) to God and dispense grace to others (1 Pet 4:10).


4:16-18  These 3 verses give us 3 contrasts to summarize Paul’s testimony and the reason for his positive attitude.  Paul believed in both the resurrection of the body and the spirit of man.  Our bodies were born of a perishable seed.  They will be resurrected imperishable.  Our outer man is decaying.  However, our inner man is being renewed and getting younger day by day (16).  The years that take away physical beauty should be adding spiritual beauty to our lives.


The major contrast in 17 is light vs. heavy.  It also contrasts affliction vs. glory and moment vs. eternal.  Paul says his afflictions are light in comparison to the far more ‘exceedingly excessive’ heaviness of God’s glory.  Have you experienced the weight of glory?  In the O.T. when the glory of the Lord filled the Temple, the priests could not stand.  When we are overwhelmed with the majesty and glory of God we naturally fall to our knees.


We should not make it the goal of our lives to focus our gaze on the things that are seen but rather pay attention to the invisible world of God’s providence.  The visible world is transient.  The things that are hidden to our eyes are eternal as God is eternal.  The eyes of faith see beyond the visible.  The pure in heart will see God in everything and worship.


Purify my heart so I can see God in everything.

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