2 Corinthians 2:14-4:18

Introduction

 

    According to the apostle Peter, Paul’s letters are difficult to understand, but they are Scripture—that is, Paul’s letters are the words of God (2 Pet. 3:16).

Because of some difficulty in understanding Paul’s letters, probably one of the least taught sections of the New Testament is 2 Cor. 2:14-4:18.  Yet this extraordinary section of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth unveils the essence of new-covenant living from the promises God made to His prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jer. 31:33-34; Ezek. 36:25-27).

Some may argue that God promised this new covenant to a yet-future generation of Israel, and therefore, the new covenant has no relevance to today’s church.  However, Paul reported in his first letter to the church at Corinth that the new covenant does indeed relate to the church through the symbolic meaning of the cup in the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor. 11:25; also 2 Cor. 3:6 for mention of Paul’s specific new-covenant ministry to the church).  Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews made it abundantly clear that Jesus was the new-covenant mediator for those first-century Jews who were members of the church (cf. Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15; 12:22-24).

Since Jew and gentile alike are equally members of Jesus’ church (cf. Eph. 2:11-16), the new covenant applies to gentiles as well; thus, it was appropriate for Paul to teach about new-covenant living to all the Jewish and gentile saints in Corinth.

Using the NASB, (New American Standard Bible. Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1960) this essay will offer in six parts an exposition of the Second Corinthians section cited above in an attempt to fill the void in the teaching curriculum of twenty-first-century local churches.  The six parts are:

  1. Christ at the core.
  2. Communication of the message.
  3. Contrast between the old and new covenants.
  4. Concerted opposition.
  5. Conduct keys for new-covenant living.
  6. Credit (i.e., honorable recognition) beyond comparison.

 

Exposition of the Second Corinthians Section

 

1.  In verses 2:14-16, the apostle Paul made it emphatically clear that Christ is at the core, and the exclusive essence, of new-covenant living.

 

    2 Cor. 2:14

14. . . thanks be to God, who always leads us (saints) in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him (Christ) in every place.

The apostle Paul immediately acknowledged, with thanks . . . to God, that God alone is responsible for always leading us (saints) in His triumph in Christ.  God’s saints referred to in Second Corinthians were Paul and Timothy (2 Cor. 1:1).  Note: at times in this essay, for simplicity, the plural pronouns are interpreted as though they refer to Paul alone.

A clear inference is that God single-handedly took the perfectly effective and completely adequate initiative in His triumph in Christ.  Thus, God’s triumphant initiative is always effective among those He leads, that is, those whom He calls and chooses.

God’s effective and adequate triumph in Christ is twofold.  First, by God’s design and direction, Christ is responsible for providing forgiveness of sins to those called by God (even retroactively to those preceding Paul’s generation, Rom. 3:25).  Belief in God’s promise of forgiveness brings new-covenant life as well as fellowship restoration when a saint sins and confesses (cf. 1 John 1:7, 9).

Second, by God’s design and direction, Christ is also responsible for manifestation of the saint’s freedom from slavery to sin (cf. Acts 13:38-39).  Life free from slavery to sin is termed new-covenant living in this essay based on biblical exposition.

Paul’s great boldness in his assertion (cf. 2 Cor. 3:12) that God . . . manifests through us the sweet aroma . . .  was probably adapted from the sin and burnt offering sacrifices offered, for example, by the sons of Israel on the altars before the tabernacle, and subsequently, the temple (Exod. 29:18).  Those sacrifices were likely intended as an aroma to sooth the Lord’s wrath provoked by sins and sin.  The reference to an aroma possibly highlighted the nature of those sacrifices as illustrating spiritual life and death (somewhat like Jesus using the wind’s sound to illustrate spiritual activity in John 3:8).

Note: in the Bible, the word “death” does not mean annihilation.  “Death” simply means separation; the specific separation referred to may be determined from context.  At least four kinds of death are mentioned in scripture:

    Aroma is a metaphor for a saint’s new-covenant behavior—including words, works, and attitude.

Paul switched the old covenant vocabulary of a “soothing aroma” to a sweet aroma.  The switch in vocabulary to sweet aroma was probably intended to convey God’s complete and permanent satisfaction with the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ that accomplished both new-covenant spiritual life and new-covenant living for the saints.

Remember, Jesus said, “I came that they might have (spiritual) life, and have [it] abundantly” (John 10:10).  Jesus’ statement to some spiritually blind Pharisees revealed the two-fold nature of the Lord’s mission: one, to provide spiritual life to those called by God; and two, to provide abundant spiritual living free from slavery to sin (cf. John 9:41).

The sweet aroma was not manifested by animal sacrifices on altars.  Rather, the sweet aroma was manifested by saints’ knowledge of what Christ’s voluntary sacrifice on the cross (coupled with His resurrection) accomplished regarding sins and sin.  Thus, such knowledge resulted in new-covenant living being manifested by God’s Christ through saints like Paul and Timothy.

Content of the knowledge for spiritual life and new-covenant living likely encompasses both the saint’s knowledge as well as Christ’s knowledge.

First, a saint’s knowledge is as follows: Christ’s sacrificial death paid the penalty—permanently and irreversibly—for all past, present, and future sins committed by the saint so the saint will never experience hell (i.e., eternal judgment, cf. John 5:24).  However, throughout new-covenant living, a saint’s present and future sins can cause a rupture in fellowship with the Father and Son—a rupture that can be repaired by confession to God of the sinful deeds (cf. 1 John 1:3-10).

Christ’s death had also placed Him under sin’s control (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21, probably in the garden called Gethsemane), but without Him sinning (1 Pet. 2:22; cf. Heb. 12:1-4), so that He could voluntarily relinquish His life to physical death.  But His resurrection by God freed Him permanently and irreversibly from the control of sin and death (cf. Acts 2:24; Rom. 6:9-10).

Second, appropriate portions of Christ’s knowledge becomes available to a saint through the Spirit’s ministry (John 16:13-14).  That this knowledge is likely available to new-covenant saints was suggested by Paul in Col. 1:27; 3:3.

Knowledge about spiritual life and new-covenant living is received by a saint’s faith—meaning, simply believing the content of God’s revealed promises.  Faith is, itself, bestowed and received as a gift from God (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 2:8-9).

Since faith in the knowledge was manifested in every place (likely to the brethren in every local church, cf. Acts 15:30, 36, 41), the manifestation was recognized by others practicing new-covenant living as well as by those saints not practicing new-covenant living.  Furthermore, since the sweet aroma of Christ’s sacrificial death is manifested by God’s design in every place, it is universal and therefore no longer restricted to a specific location or nation like the Jews at the temple altar in Jerusalem (cf. John 4:21-24).

Later in the Second Corinthian letter, Paul will expand the knowledge to include the reality that the resurrected Christ dwells spiritually in the believer with the result that His perfectly obedient life (free from sin’s control) can be manifested through the believer on a daily, or continuous basis, by the believer’s faith and the Spirit’s power (2 Cor. 4:10-11; 1 Cor. 15:31).  This is the essence of new-covenant living.

Elsewhere, Paul referred to this new-covenant living as “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26).  Paul’s abbreviated phrase in his letter to the Roman saints meant ‘the obedience of Christ manifested by the saint’s faith,’ which fulfills the biblical adage: “the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4).

However, some saints choose to take an initiative upon themselves and please God by personally attempting to obey Him.  Paul himself had taken such an initiative to personally obey God and had experienced ruinous spiritual results (Rom. 7:7-24).  The apostle’s unfortunate but spiritually instructive experience probably provided the spiritual insights and reality he later described in Second Corinthians (i.e., 2 Cor. 3:6; 4:10-11).

 

2 Cor. 2:15-16

15For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are ruining themselves;  16to the one an aroma from death (to sin) to death (from sin), to the other an aroma from (Christ’s) life to (Christ’s) life.  And who is adequate (emphasis, mine) for these things?

 

The apostle switched metaphors from “sweet aroma” to a fragrance. A fragrance can be either appealing (sweet) or unappealing (odious), suggesting different responses to the knowledge described above (v. 14) by different saints.  Remember, the fragrance of Christ to God is always appealing to God.

Accordingly, Paul further explained the effect of this fragrance of Christ to God on two groups of saints in the local churches.  The first group of saints was comprised of those who are being saved from slavery to sin.  Note: Paul applied the biblical words being saved to those saints already saved from hell (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16).

The second group of saints was comprised of those who were ruining themselves by choosing to live life under the old covenant, or some variation of keeping law themselves, thereby making themselves slaves to sin (cf. Gal. 4:9, wherein “elemental things” likely refers to law).

To those saints who were ruining themselves spiritually, the aroma of Paul’s new-covenant living was odious (cf. Acts 21:21).

As was mentioned above (v. 14), the apostle Paul had reported his own personal experience in law keeping, and its ruinous spiritual effects, when he decided—shortly after being born again—to keep God’s tenth commandment that had been engraved on stones at Mt. Sinai.  Paul failed miserably.

God had allowed Paul to fail in his own effort to obey the law.  Or, in other words, God did not enable His saint to obey.  However, through God’s mercy, the apostle’s own spiritual journey didn’t end in failure.  God used the law, and its role in enlivening Paul’s sin, to actually lead him to the experiential knowledge of Christ fulfilling the law in and through him (Rom. 7:25-8:2; Gal. 3:24).

Because of Paul’s personal experience in law keeping, he unhesitatingly exposed those who were ruining themselves to new-covenant living, realizing that God might also save some of them from slavery to sin (2 Cor. 4:12; cf. Rom. 10:1, 9).

Comments on the second group of saints and their spiritual malaise can best be understood from a lexical clarification of the English text for 2 Cor. 2:15.

In 2 Cor. 2:15, the Greek verb describing the spiritual effects on the second group is often translated into English as “are perishing” (e.g., in the NASB).  However, a more appropriate choice of word meaning is “ruin”—a legitimate lexical translation of this particular Greek verb (cf. Matt. 9:17 where the same Greek verb is translated “ruined,” warning of the impact when old wineskins are filled with new wine).

Furthermore, the Greek verb (the one often translated as “are perishing”) is a verb in the middle voice.  The middle voice can mean that the subjects’ own actions affect themselves.  So a better translation for the verb in 2 Cor. 2:15 is: are ruining themselves.  Such a translation is consistent with the scriptures that teach saints can ruin themselves spiritually by making the wrong choices or decisions (e.g., Rom 7:8-11).

Exploring the reality of ruining themselves is helpful.  Remember, saints choosing to live by obeying God’s law themselves were ruining themselves spiritually.  By deciding to obey God themselves, they had become dead from their sin that was enlivened by their choice and personal execution of obedience to the law.  Elsewhere, Paul had described this spiritual reality of law-keeping as boasting in the Law (Rom. 2:23; cf. James’ and the elders’ description of Jewish believers “zealous” for the Law in Acts 21:20).

The spiritual state occurred because law cannot produce freedom from sin, producing only spiritual death (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6-7; Rom. 7:11-13).  This spiritual death was separation from fellowship with the Father and Son, but did not mean that they had lost their salvation from hell, or had never been saved from hell in the first place.  However, they had become severed from Christ, and had fallen from grace (cf. Gal. 5:4).

Writing to the Corinthians, Paul himself was living under the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6).  Therefore, he had become dead to sin—meaning that sin had become un-enlivened  in his life because Christ had become his Lord instead of sin (2 Cor. 4:5; 5:21 cf. Phil. 3:8-9; Rom. 10:9; and 1 Pet. 3:6 combined with vv. 15-16).  Since sin had been made un-enlivened in his life, Paul remained a fragrance, or sweet aroma, of Christ to God.  But to those saints attempting to obey God themselves, he had become a foul fragrance.  Paul’s foul fragrance sometimes erupted in opposition from those saints (Acts 15:5; 21:21).

Paul’s abbreviated way of stating this: to those ruining themselves, Paul was an aroma from death (to sin, un-enlivened by God’s Spirit) to death (from sin, ruinously enlivened by law keeping).  But to those who were being saved (from slavery to sin), Paul was an aroma of life (Christ’s life in His apostle, Gal. 2:20) to life (Christ’s life in other saints dead to sin).

For those living under the new covenant, the reality of Christ’s life from within Paul encouraged, reassured, strengthened, and enhanced the consistency of Christ’s life being manifested in other saints so that both Paul and his colleagues could continue to bear fruit for God (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18 and Rom. 1:11-12; 7:4 for the mutual efficacy an aroma of life to life).

This important reality of mutual enrichment in new covenant-living underscores the spiritual significance of local-church saints interacting, or fellowshipping, with one another.

Finally, Paul raised the critically important question—later to be answered in 2 Cor. 3:5—regarding saints contributing their own efforts, or augmenting, God’s triumph in Christ.  The question, “. . . who is adequate (emphasis mine) for these things?” anticipated three possible answers:

The correct answer is the first answer (cf. 2 Cor. 3:5).

Unfortunately, not only in Paul’s time but also in today’s churches, saints are inclined to erroneously offer the third answer to the adequacy question: to wit, “God demands that I, myself, be adequate.”  A popular variation on this particular answer is often: “God’s Spirit enables me to be adequate to some extent.”  Remember, as was pointed out above, God did not enable His newly-minted saint (Paul) to obey His tenth commandment (cf. Rom. 7:8).

And, in today’s churches, the erroneous conclusions about a saint who eventually proves himself inadequate through a continual lifestyle of sinning are: either, that one was never saved (from hell) in the first place; or, that one has lost salvation (from hell).  A lifestyle of sinning is simply a saint living enslaved to sin.

 

2.  In verses 2:17-3:3, the apostle Paul discussed the accurate communication of God’s word about new-covenant living.

 

2 Cor. 2:17

17For we are not like many, corrupting the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.

 

Paul emphatically contrasted his communication of God’s word with many who were corrupting the word of God.  Notice, the apostle did not say that many were ignoring, denying, or rejecting God’s word, suggesting the corrupters were saints who had at least believed some portions of God’s word.  The apostle Peter made a similar observation about distorting God’s word in his letter to Diasporal Jewish saints (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

An example of corrupting or distorting God’s word: the many likely believed the portion of the word of God that taught Jesus had died for forgiveness of their sins under the new covenant (Matt. 26:28) and were therefore heaven bound.  However, when it came to the Law of Moses, they corrupted God’s word by asserting that both Jew and gentile saints must keep the Law (Acts 15:5).  Notice: those who corrupted the word proved to be many—perhaps even a majority—in the early church (cf. Acts 21:20).

On the other hand, Paul taught the word of God . . . from sincerity, that is, with a purity absent the corruption of adding personal reasoning, personal beliefs, traditions, or initiatives that did not originate from God.

The apostle was indeed Jesus’ called messenger by God’s will and set apart for communicating God’s gospel (cf. 2 Cor. 1:2 and Rom. 1:1-2).  Therefore, Paul delivered the revealed promises from God unadorned by his own inclinations and initiatives, plus—with inerrant interpretations—the content of what had been promised in the holy scriptures through God’s prophets (e.g., Jeremiah, alluded to in 2 Cor. 3:3, 6).

Furthermore, Paul spoke in Christ, a phrase the apostle sometimes used to confess that Jesus was exclusively Lord of his life, and not sin (see comments on Paul’s being dead to sin, v. 16 above).  As Lord, Christ was the one who directed and guided Paul’s decisions, choices, and words.

Not only was Christ alone directing the apostle’s words (cf. 2 Cor. 13:3), but also Christ in the sight of God always followed precisely God’s will as God oversaw His Christ (Christ never said or did anything spiritual on His own initiative, cf. John 5:30; 8:28, 42; 12:49; 14:10).

Finally, God would bear witness to the truth of His word from Paul’s lips—perhaps by the Spirit (cf. 1 John 2:27; see also Ezek. 10:12 where the sight of God—mentioned by Paul in 2 Cor. 2:17—may have been represented symbolically by eyes on the whirling wheels depicting the Spirit’s ministry in Ezekiel’s vision).

These assurances about the unadorned accuracy of God’s word from Paul were necessary because of the sometimes counterintuitive knowledge of God’s grace (i.e., His exclusive, perfect, and complete adequacy necessary for new-covenant living by the saints, or God Himself doing what He requires of His people).

For the twenty-first-century church, God has accurately and precisely recorded, preserved, and delivered His apostles’ words in the New Testament Scriptures.

    2 Cor. 3:1

1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?  Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?

 

Paul recognized that his words of great boldness in previous contacts with the Corinthians, as well as in 2 Cor. 2:14-17, might sound a bit too self-confident and/or self-serving (i.e., beginning to commend ourselves again).

One possibility for validating his word’s authenticity might have been the sometimes-used approach of carrying and presenting letters of commendation to you from other recognized theological experts within the Jerusalem church—or even letters from you, that is, from some Corinthian saints themselves.

However, as explained in the following verses (vv. 2 and 3), Paul had decided against this written form of authentication for an approach he had used early in his ministry with those of “high reputation,” “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 2:1-9).  That approach: putting a gentile believer on display (e.g., Titus in Jerusalem), and hearing the believer’s own convincing testimony about spiritual matters and new-covenant living.  What had successfully worked in Jerusalem would work world-wide!

 

2 Cor. 3:2-3

2You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;  3being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.

 

Like Titus giving testimony in Jerusalem, Paul wrote to the Corinthians living under the new covenant, You are our letter . . . known and read by all men.  Letter was a metaphor for the spoken and living testimony.  The spoken and living testimony from those Corinthians, which validated the authenticity of God’s word from the apostle, had been fostered by Paul’s ministry to (and at) Corinth.

The following statistics underscore why Paul rightly claimed the Corinthians were written in our hearts, and cared for by us:

Obviously, Paul’s consistent interest and comprehensive attention to the saints at Corinth showed his heartfelt care for this local congregation of believers (cf. 2 Cor. 6:11-13).

Paul used the metaphor (our letter, and a letter of Christ) to highlight his credentials.  As mentioned, the metaphor “letter” probably meant the personal testimonies of the Corinthian saints themselves which validated the authenticity of Paul’s credentials and message—like Titus had done before the recognized church leaders in Jerusalem.

That Corinthian validation impacted all men.  Understandably, Paul did not mean every individual on planet earth.  By all men, the apostle likely meant chiefly Jew and gentile believers, and perhaps even some unbelievers.

The letter was sourced, authored, and displayed or manifested, by Christ (via the Spirit’s ministry).  At the end of the Second Corinthian letter, Paul had challenged the Corinthians to some self-examination: “. . . do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (emphasis mine, 2 Cor. 13:5).  The same sentiments for self-examination were enunciated by Peter to Jewish believers in the Diaspora (cf. 2 Pet. 1:1-11).

This challenge may well be applied by all in the twenty-first-century church.  At various points in a believer’s life, the believer should recognize that his behavior—either in words or works—is not the way he would normally, intuitively, or habitually respond to his surroundings.  That is to say, the believer should recognize his response under some challenging circumstances is not of himself but is, in fact, that of Christ’s.

One example might be a no response to ‘road-rage’ under provocative circumstances.  This is personal and reassuring evidence of new-covenant living by faith.

Next, Paul alluded to God’s new-covenant promises made to His Prophet, Jeremiah, that had been believed by some saints at Corinth: “. . . I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it . . .” (Jer. 31:33), . . . written not (as Baruch had done for Jeremiah) with (scribal) ink . . . (on the book recorded in Jer. 36:18).  This statement set the stage for revealing God’s perfectly exclusive and adequate work in producing new-covenant living from His promises . . . but with the Spirit of the living God.

A more complete and explicit statement of God’s new-covenant promises from another prophet may be found in Ezek. 36:25-27.  Why New Testament writers avoided citing Ezekiel’s prophecies remains an enigma.

The substance upon which the Spirit of the living God writes the letter is not stone tablets as God had done with Moses when engraving His Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai—commandments on tablets that were external to Moses’ person.  Rather, the substance upon which the Spirit of the Living God does His writing is the internal (i.e., spiritual) tablets of (new) human hearts given individuals by God (upon removing their hearts of stone) immediately preceding the new spiritual births of those individuals (Ezek. 36:26).

Significantly, God’s law is internal to new-covenant believers in striking contradistinction to its externality under the old covenant.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that, in Paul’s spiritual vocabulary, the new human heart is the ‘organ’ of belief (Rom. 10:10).  Therefore, new-covenant living is appropriated by the believer through simple belief in God’s promises and not by self-effort—like the intuitive initiative of personal obedience to God’s law.

Christ the Lord in the believer is the one who obeys God’s will perfectly (cf. Rom. 6:16 where the word “obedience” is used as a metonymy of effect—the effect of “obedience” for the cause, i.e., “Christ”).

 

 

3.  In verses 3:4-13, the apostle Paul contrasted the superiority of new-covenant living with life under the old covenant.

 

2 Cor. 3:4-6

4Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  5Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything (emphasis mine) as [coming] from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,  6who also made us adequate [as] servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

 

This new-covenant living by faith endowed Paul with a . . . confidence through Christ toward God because Christ (not sin) was Lord of Paul’s life.

Paul next gave the correct answer to his question posed above (v. 16): “Who is adequate for these things?”  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything (emphasis mine) as [coming] from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.   Summary answer: God alone is adequate for new-covenant living, as He is uncontestably for new-covenant life.

A saint’s only role in new-covenant living: Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as from ourselves.  A saint’s only role is to simply believe God’s promises.

Anything . . . from ourselves often includes one’s own initiative and self-determination to be obedient to God’s law—an initiative both reasonable and commendable, but spiritually lethal.  God’s adequacy is His promise—appropriated by faith alone—that He will cause obedience to His law by Christ’s God-centered spiritual life in His servant—that is, the Spirit manifesting Christ’s perfectly obedient life in the believer (cf. Ezek. 36:27, wherein the cause recorded by the prophet remained unrevealed under the old covenant until Jesus’ earthly and heavenly ministries).

Paul’s answer is of primary importance in all of Second Corinthians—if not the entire New Testament—and forms the backdrop for Paul’s personal report of how his own initiative and determination to obey God’s law proved completely inadequate to new-covenant living by faith.

So important is Paul’s answer is that it should be the opening hymn in every twenty-first-century church.

Furthermore, this adequacy . . . from God had also made Paul and Timothy adequate servants of a new covenant.  Paul’s adequacy from God started at birth (Gal. 1:15) while Timothy’s adequacy from God could be traced to his grandmother and mother (2 Tim. 1:5).  God’s adequacy in their respective lives gave Paul and Timothy confidence that some of the Corinthian saints (Paul and Timothy being servants to them) were indeed living testimony to the obedience through Christ toward God (cf. 2 Cor. 2:2; 3:4).  Such living testimony was all that Paul needed as his letters of commendation from them (cf. 2 Cor. 3:1).

A short aside about old-covenant living: upon receiving God’s law at Sinai, the sons of Israel determined—not once, but thrice—to obey God’s laws (Exod. 19:8; 24:3, 7).  The results of their three-times-proclaimed determination to obey: they straightaway fashioned a golden calf and worshipped it in direct disobedience to God’s law (cf. Exod. 20:4-5; 32:1-6).

Had Moses not intervened, God would have killed them all for their sins (Exod. 32:22, 10).  Here is uncontested evidence that the letter—Paul’s synecdoche of (the letter) as a part for the whole (law)—kills spiritually—something Moses might have realized from the golden-calf incident (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6).

Not to mention the alarming and chilling consistency of this spiritual reality of death from the law: the same thing had happened to Paul early in his conversion when he decided to keep God’s law “not to covet” (Rom. 7:9).  From Paul’s own personal testimony, it was sin’s deception—a deception that suggested he could and must obey God’s law himself—which prompted his own ruinous initiative and determination to obey the law, and resulted in acts of sin followed by his own “death.”  Remember, this “death” meant separation from fellowship with the Father and Son.

Finally, in new-covenant living, it is the Spirit that gives life.  That is, God’s Spirit manifests Jesus’ life through the believer simply by the believer’s faith.  The Spirit’s ministry in new-covenant living is readily available to all saints who are chosen by God to live by faith.

    2 Cor. 3:7-8

7But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was,  8how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be with even more with glory?

 

Since “the letter kills” (v. 6), Paul referred to the Law as the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones.

Next, in 2 Cor. 3:7, Paul noted an unprecedented anomaly described by Moses in Exod. 34:30-35.  To wit: because of Moses’ veil-unfettered external exposure to God’s glory on Mt. Sinai (a glory Moses had requested to see, Exod. 33:18), the skin of Moses’ face had begun to shine—an anomaly of which Moses was totally unaware, and for which he had done nothing to achieve.

This was the glory that accompanied Moses’ delivery of the letters engraved on stones from Mt. Sinai—a glory to which the sons of Israel reacted in fear of Moses.  They could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was.  One might easily imagine that Moses looked like an alien from another planet, thus engendering fear in the sons of Israel.  This fear prohibited them from looking intently at Moses’ face (Num. 34:30).

Where Paul got the information that the glory of Moses’ face was fading is enigmatic.

However, after speaking with the sons of Israel about God’s law, he covered his face with a veil.  God never commanded Moses to veil his shining face.  Moses took his own personal initiative of covering his face with a veil because he had discovered that the glory of his shinning facial skin began to fade.

Paul later wrote (2 Cor. 3:13) that this initiative on Moses’ part was motivated by Moses’ desire to prevent the sons of Israel from looking intently at his un-shinning, fully-bearded face.  Where Paul got the information about Moses’ motivation is also enigmatic.

Moses also discovered that when he went into the tabernacle to speak with the Lord face-to-face (Exod. 33:11; 34:35), his face’s brightness would be replenished when he removed the veil.

Among the possible speculative motivations for Moses’ act of veiling his face might be:

Perhaps because of his timidity, Moses might have reasoned thusly: my shinning face represents visually ‘a sign’ of my authority from the Lord God, much like the second sign God had given me (i.e., my hand would become leprous when placed in my bosom) for authoritatively leading the sons of Israel out of Egypt (Exod. 4:6).

However, Moses’ shining face began to fade.  Perhaps Moses became self-conscious, thinking the sons of Israel will probably wonder about what I have done to cause my face to fade.  So, impetuously, Moses might have veiled his face to assuage his timidity before human audiences.

Whatever Moses’ reasons were, the stunning fact remains that God never corrected this veil initiative undertaken by Moses.

The spiritually shattering results of Moses’ impetuous initiative with the veil had unintended spiritual consequences.  The sons of Israel may have concluded from their leader’s actions that human initiative (e.g., the veil) was continually necessary when dealing with spiritual matters.

But more significantly, the Israelites may have concluded that the glory of God incorporated under the old covenant would never end because they never saw an end to the glory on Moses’ face.

Both these unintended consequences, continual human initiative and the permanency of the Law, could have originated from sin’s deceptive promptings and Moses’ positive response to them.

Before continuing with Second Corinthians, it is instructive to review the catastrophic and wide-spread unintended consequences of another initiative taken by Moses in unbelief of God’s adequacy that seriously affected his life and the lives of those he led.  Moses had acquiesced to rebellious pressure from the Jews to send spies into the land (Deut. 1:22-37).

Moses’ acquiescence to pressure from the Jews is particularly instructive.  God had promised that He would send His angel before the sons of Israel to guard them along the way in entering the land (Exod. 23:20-23).  At a pre-entrance meeting, the sons of Israel argued—from their own unbelief in God’s adequacy to fulfill His promise—that Moses should send spies into the land based the Israelites’ fear of the land’s inhabitants and their cities (Deut. 1:22-31).

Alas, Moses capitulated to their fears and then placed the suggestion of sending spies before God who, not surprisingly, acceded to the suggestion (Num. 13:1-2).  Remember, God usually accedes to mans’ unbelieving initiatives that often end in terrible results.

The result: God was angry with the sons of Israel for not believing His promise of protection in entering the land.  Out of His anger, God took an oath that not one of that grumbling, evil generation would enter the land—except for Caleb and Joshua because they had believed God’s protection promise (Num. 14:22-35; Deut. 1:34-38).  God was also angry with Moses (for entertaining the spies suggestion and presenting that suggestion before God) and later promised Moses himself would not enter the land (Deut. 1:37).

The unintended consequences: all the sons of Israel would wander in the wilderness for forty years—one year for each of the forty days the spies spent in reconnoitering the land (Num. 14:34).  In other words, mans’ unbelief or sin-prompted initiative to help God with His plan for protection ended in wandering and death for an entire generation numbering thousands-upon-thousands of people.

Here are the dramatic unintended consequences of not believing in God’s adequacy.

Some significant space has been taken here to review Moses’ spy-initiative and its consequences.  Why?  Answer: to encourage saints in the twenty-first-century church.  In spite of sin and Moses’ attempt to augment God’s adequacy, we find him on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus in the land (Matt. 17:3).  So God remained merciful to Moses—an encouragement to those not practicing new-covenant living that some of them might still be saved from slavery to sin.

Returning to Second Corinthians, it’s important to review several spiritual ramifications (in no particular order) from Moses’ veil.

Now under new-covenant living by faith, the believer does not need to even think about helping God out with His new covenant.  Helping God out is many times initiated by a believer’s resolved determination—prompted by deceitful sin—to obey God’s law himself.

In contrast, God’ Spirit resides permanently within the believer (unlike Moses’ external exposure to God).  The Spirit can consistently accomplish God’s new covenant so that the glory of the Spirit’s ministry impacts many; therefore, the Spirit’s ministry is even more with glory than just one person’s shining face.

Following is a summary of God’s glory under the new covenant:

The Spirit’s new-covenant ministry—appropriated by the believer’s faith—can be permanent and unfading throughout the life of a believer.  The Spirit’s unfailing glory (not the believer’s glory) is a believer manifesting the indwelling Christ’s obedience to God through the believer’s faith in God’s promises under new-covenant living.  And God is not compelled to share His exclusive and rightly-credited glory with the believer.

 

    2 Cor. 3:9-11

9For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.  10For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses [it].  11For if that which fades away [was] with glory, much more that which remains [is] in glory.

 

The glory of God’s temporary (cf. Heb. 8:13) old covenant—that by the Law brought God’s death sentence upon the animal sacrifices (the ministry of condemnation) because of mans’ sins and sin—was displayed by way of the glory of one person’s temporarily-shining face.  In a dramatic contrast of glories between the old and new covenants (much more), God’s non-fading, or permanent, new covenant is the Spirit’s ministry of displaying God’s righteousness abound in glory through some believers living by faith in Christ as Lord of their lives (cf. 2 Cor. 5:2:10; Phil. 3:8-9).

In a glory contest between one Jew’s temporarily-shining face and Christ’s permanently righteous life on display world-wide through myriads of generations of believers by faith, the Judge would unquestionably decide the latter out-performs, or surpasses, the former.  In fact, so great is the latter (with its compelling and continually attractive generational display of God’s glory) that it dwarfs the former to such a degree that the former appears to have no glory (attractiveness) whatsoever—especially if the Judge based His findings on Moses’ fully-faded face!

 

    2 Cor. 3:12-13

12Therefore, having such a hope, we use great boldness in [our] speech,  13and [are] not like Moses, [who] used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away.

 

Paul’s hope was both future and certain because it was based on God’s unaugmented adequacy.  In belief of God’s adequacy, the apostle simply stated God’s message with great boldness, without any contributions from himself, to both Jews and gentiles—and even without endorsements from others (2 Cor. 3:1)!

It might be useful to review Moses’ initial job interview with God to help understand Moses’ notorious lack of boldness in speech (Exod. 4:10-17).

God had provided Moses with three signs to validate his credentials as God’s spokesman to the sons of Israel in Egyptian captivity:

  1. Moses’ staff became a serpent when thrown on the ground.
  2. Moses’ hand became leprous when he put it in his bosom.
  3. Water from the Nile became blood when poured on dry ground.

In spite of God’s adequate provisions, Moses complained to God that he was “heavy of tongue and heavy of speech.”  Clearly implied in Moses’ complaint was his unbelief in God’s adequacy.

God’s retort to Moses’ complaint (fostered by Moses’ perceived speech impediment leading to his lack of boldness): “Who has made man’s mouth?”  In other words, God asserted He was indeed an adequate creator of mouths—even faced with Moses’ implied claim of His inadequacy.  And so, God’s anger burned against Moses, and He appointed Moses’ brother Aaron as an alternate spokesman.

However, in Paul’s case, he recognized God’s adequacy in assigning him the role of apostle.  So he used great boldness in his speech as God’s spokesman—not like Moses.

Furthermore, in unbelief of God’s adequacy, Moses had personally augmented God’s messages to the sons of Israel.  Moses put a veil over his face after delivering God’s messages.  Moses’ intentions were self-serving, and the spiritual results for the sons of Israel proved disastrous—not only for Moses’ generation, but for generations to follow.

Paul explained the consequences of Moses’ veil act.  The sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away.  The end of what was fading away was a Jewish male’s face covered with a beard in accordance with God’s law.

Moses’ veil of unbelief gave rise to the erroneous conclusion that the glory of the old covenant was permanent so that a believer’s own personal obedience to God’s law was not only a timeless requirement, but also a universal requirement (cf. Acts 15:5 where saints of the Pharisaical sect asserted that gentiles must keep the law of Moses).

 

 

4.  In verses 3:14-18, the apostle Paul discussed some saints’ concerted opposition to new-covenant living.

 

    2 Cor. 3:14-16

14But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is being made powerless in Christ.  15But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart;  16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

 

But their minds were hardened.  The verb, were hardened is passive, meaning some minds of believers among the sons of Israel were acted upon by another agency—and that agency was none other than God Himself (cf. Deut. 29:4; Rom. 9:18; 11:25).   Here was a major spiritual problem for Jews, and perhaps gentile proselytes to Judaism who had converted to Christianity, but had been, and continued to be, taught from the Hebrew Scriptures which emphasized Torah—the Law delivered by Moses.

The minds the sons of Israel in Moses’ generation had been hardened into believing the old covenant was timeless and universally binding.  Because of this erroneous belief, the same veil—installed because of Moses’ unbelief—remained among the Jewish saints, even to Paul’s day.

Obviously, when Paul stated the same veil, he was not referring literally to the veil Moses had used.  Rather, Paul was speaking figuratively, using a metonymy of the adjunct where the sign (the same veil) is put for the thing signified.  The thing signified was sin.

The veil was particularly at work among the sect of the Pharisees who had believed (cf. Acts 15:5).  Remember, in Paul’s spiritual vocabulary, the heart is the ‘organ’ of belief and plays a major role in believers’ minds (i.e., their minds).

That their minds were minds of believers is suggested by the words were hardened.  Under the new covenant, God replaces one’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26).  The heart of stone—implying quintessential hardnessbelongs to an unbeliever before conversion and so, understandably, cannot be hardened.  But a believer’s heart of flesh can be hardened.

God’s solution of the veil/heart problem is that sin is being made powerless in Christ.  The Greek verb is passive and better translated as being made powerless (cf. Heb. 2:14 wherein the writer stated Jesus’ death made the devil “powerless”) because sin is never removed as suggested by the NASB translation: “is removed.”  One of Paul’s uses for the phrase in Christ meant that Christ was Lord of one’s life (cf. Phil. 3:8-10).   The apostle underscored the importance of Christ as one’s Lord by using the phrase whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is taken away.

God’s Spirit makes powerless the veil (i.e., sin) when a saint: one, confesses Jesus is Lord of his life; and two, believes in his heart that God raised Him from the dead—thereby releasing Jesus from slavery to sin (cf. Rom. 6:9-10; and Rom. 10:9-13, wherein Paul’s reference to salvation is not salvation from hell, but salvation from slavery to sin).

 

    2 Cor. 3:17

17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, [there] is liberty.

 

Now (in Paul’s day) the Lord is not the Lord God of the old covenant who appeared externally to Moses on Mt. Sinai or in the tabernacle, but rather is the Spirit permanently indwelling believers under new-covenant living (cf. John 14:16-17).  Finally, . . .and where the Spirit of the Lord is—i.e., the Spirit sent by the Lord God to dwell in the believer’s body—there is the real potential of liberty from slavery to sin (cf. Rom. 8:13b).

 

    2 Cor. 3:18

18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

 

The we all Paul referred to are those saints who enjoyed new-covenant living by faith.  With unveiled face meant that those particular saints had not, in unbelief, taken some initiative (like Moses) to augment God’s adequacy in accomplishing His plan for their lives, or for the lives of other believers with whom they made contact.

For example, such saints had consciously renounced their own personal obedience to God’s law, but rather believed that, in accordance with God’s new covenant, Christ’s perfectly obedient life in them would be manifested through them by the Spirit.

Next, Paul used the simile of beholding as in a mirror.  A mirror is an instrument of self-inspection.  A new-covenant saint practicing self-inspection would recognize the reality that Jesus Christ lives spiritually within so the saint’s words and works are not his own, but rather the glory of the Lord, that is, Christ’s own glorious and righteous words and works manifested by the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5-6).

Paul had recorded his own experience of being transformed into the same image by the life-changing reality of Christ in him (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-12).  Recall that the Lord Jesus had rightfully claimed His own body was the “temple of God” (John 2:19; Matt. 26:61).  This may well be the same image Paul had in mind—that is, God dwelling in a human body.

Here is a particularly ingenious part of God’s plan.  Mutual observation between two believers practicing new-covenant living can transform both from glory (of one) to glory (for the other).  This process had already been described by Paul in 2 Cor. 2:15-16 as a fragrance of Christ—as an aroma from life to life.

Rather than being harangued weekly in the twenty-first-century church, and being hectored about what a believer must do and what a believer must avoid doing, God’s plan for new-covenant living features exposure to new-covenant saints whose righteous lifestyles are seductively enticing to emulation.

As an aside, one reason that the Spirit may have dispensed spiritual gifts was to promote interaction among the disparate mix of people in the first-century local church, each one seeking out another for his respective gift, and thereby producing a forum for the from glory to glory interaction.

Paul’s thought behind the words, being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, was likely adapted from Moses’ experience with the Lord God when God’s glory transformed the flesh on Moses’ face into a shining glory.  And to remind his readers that Moses’ facial transformation was not something Moses himself had achieved or produced, Paul added just as from the Lord (i.e., the Lord God of the old covenant) to highlight that the same process is at work under new-covenant living, only by the Spirit.  The Spirit is the one who transforms believers from glory to glory, not the believers.

 

5.  In verses 4:1-12, the apostle Paul reviewed the key requirements for conduct under new-covenant living.

 

    2 Cor. 4:1-2

1Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart,            2but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

 

Shortly after his conversion from Judaism—having been a law-abiding Pharisee almost from adolescence—Paul decided to supplement God’s adequacy by keeping the commandment not to covet (Rom. 7:7-25).  The outcome of his resolve to obey the commandment may be summarized in his own words: “Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom. 7:24).”  The outcome, in one word: ‘failure!’  Please note that God did not enable Paul, the believer, to obey Him (cf. v. 2:15 above).

‘Enable’ has become a popular definition for God’s grace.  But the biblical definition for God’s grace is God Himself doing what God requires of man.

God left Paul to fail so He could teach His apostle-to-be about new-covenant living (cf. Rom. 8:1-17 to discover Paul’s critically important lesson from God).  God had used the Law lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8) as Paul’s tutor to Christ (cf. Gal.3:24). God’s teaching qualified Paul as an apostle so he could declare, we have this ministry (as a servant of the new covenant—2 Cor. 3:6), as we received mercy (from God, following Paul’s sinful failures to obey God’s law).

The mercy Paul had received from God was his ministry as an apostle after confessing he had indulged in “coveting of every kind” right after resolving to keep God’s tenth commandment, “You shall not covet . . .” (cf. 1 John 1:7, 9).

From this episode, Paul discovered that God allows believers to fail and then still uses them (cf. Rom. 11:23).  So, Paul did not lose heart because he realized he served a God who sometimes responded with mercy to the sins of saints.

Now our curiosity about exactly what shameful things Paul had coveted is not assuaged because he chose not to reveal them.  But we have renounced (emphasis mine) the things hidden because of shame, so we are assured Paul’s conscience about the things he had coveted was clear before God.

Further, we are reassured that he was . . . not walking in craftiness . . . (a possible allusion to Moses’ actions with the veil).  Nor was he . . . adulterating the word of God . . . with his own personal biases, views, interpretations, traditions, or improvisations.

On the contrary, Paul’s life as God’s apostle was a . . . manifestation of truth . . . most probably by the Spirit’s ministry within him.  Finally, he was . . . commending ‘himself’ [sic “ourselves”] to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.  In other words, those listening to the apostle’s words could judge for themselves the accuracy of his words, providing such judgment was done in the sight of God.

Perhaps Paul’s confidence in this process of individual believers judging the truth was alluded to by the apostle John when he commented on the believers’ ability to judge rightly the truth through the Spirit’s ministry within them (1 John 2:27).

 

    2 Cor. 4:3-4

3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are ruining themselves,   4in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so they might not see the light of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

 

Paul’s gospel was two-fold (cf. Acts 13:38-39).  For unbelievers on the way to hell, the first part of the gospel was forgiveness of their sins through Jesus.  For saints, the second part of the gospel was freedom from slavery to sin which the Law of Moses could not accomplish.  The second part of this two-fold distinction is often ignored in twenty-first-century churches to the spiritual disadvantage of believers.

First-century saints were divided into two groups: one, those who believed the gospel’s second part; and two, those who did not believe the second part—that is, those who didn’t live by faith (cf. Rom. 1:17).  Paul referred to this group as the unbelieving, not ‘the unbelievers’—‘unbelievers’ being a term reserved for those who had not yet been born again (1 Cor. 6:6).  Furthermore, the writer to the Hebrews warned saints of those “among them” (not “in them”) with an evil unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God (Heb. 3:12).  Unbelievers don’t fall away from the living God.  Twenty-first-century saints are divided into the same two groups.

For an example of the two groups: Paul wanted to preach the gospel of God to the saints in Rome (Rom. 1:15).  All the saints were already permanently and irreversibly bound for heaven.  So the only way preaching the gospel to saints could make sense is if it were the gospel about freedom from slavery to sin—a freedom not experienced by Jews who boasted in the Law (cf. Rom. 2:23-29).  Further on in Romans, Paul used the metaphor of the rich-root (i.e., Jesus) of the olive tree with its natural branches (Jewish saints).  Some natural branches (Jewish saints) were broken off from the root because of their unbelief (Rom. 11:20).

Another example of saints at spiritual risk came early in Paul’s ministry to the churches of Galatia.  Some gentile saints were being encouraged to keep the law by their Jewish brethren.  Paul’s diagnoses and warning, in the event any saints decided to keep the law: “You have been severed from Christ . . . you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).

Does this mean those saints would lose their salvation and go to hell?  No!  It meant ‘the veil of unbelief’ would come into play with the second part of the gospel and they would become enslaved to sin; their words, works, and attitudes would no longer be those of Christ.  They would no longer be a part of new-covenant living and thereby would lose the heavenly rewards attached thereto (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16-18 for rewards).

This was also the spiritual warning Paul delivered in this section of his letter to the Corinthian saints.  Paul introduced a spiritual mechanism whereby the veil of unbelief came into play for saints who failed to believe the second part of Paul’s gospel: . . . in whose case the god of this world has blinded the eyes of the unbelieving . . . (2 Cor. 4:4).  The god of this world is none other than Satan!

Remember Jesus’ parable of the four soils (Matt. 13:3-9)?  In His parable, Jesus identified the birds as the evil one (i.e., Satan) who came and snatched away the word of the kingdom sown in a person’s heart.  Observe, ‘snatching away’ is quite a different activity from ‘blinding’ which Paul had just described.

Then, how is the different activity of ‘blinding the minds’ carried out by Satan?  The answer was provided by Paul in 2 Cor. 11:13-15.  Satan’s activity was carried out by false apostles and their deceitful teachings.  That is one reason why Paul had taken such pains earlier to identify himself as God’s authentic apostle (2 Cor. 2:14-3:6, particularly vs. 2:17).

Satan’s activity was likely through teachers that were unbelieving Jewish saints who believed they had to supplement God’s adequacy to fulfill His new-covenant by doing something (the law) rather than by just believing something (God’s promise).  The spiritual consequence for saints who listened to those teachers: their ‘unbelieving’ choice enlivened sin so they were unable to see . . . the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God living spiritually through Paul.  And Christ was the image of God, not an image produced by human hands, but fashioned and given by God Himself as the exact representation of His nature, including godliness (cf. Heb. 1:3; 1 Tim. 3:16).

Hence, Paul, who had died to sin, became an aroma of death (to sin) to death (from sin) for those saints who, from sin, were ruining themselves by their catastrophic choice (2 Cor. 2:15-16).  Death—separation from fellowship with Christ and God—had come to those saints because they had rejected Paul’s accurate teachings by his own death to sin.

 

    2 Cor. 4:5-6

5For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.  6For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

 

For we do not preach ourselves . . . was Paul’s affirmation of his own death to sin with the resultant spiritual reality that Another had control of his life.  In sin’s place, the authority over the apostle’s life was none other than . . . Christ Jesus as Lord . . .  Therefore, Paul was Jesus’ bond-servant (cf. Rom. 1:1).  And having Jesus as the Lord of one’s life was Paul’s consistent message for the essence of new-covenant living. 

However, Paul also included the Corinthians as those to whom he served as a bond-servant: . . . and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.  For those Corinthian saints that still served sin rather than Jesus as Lord of their lives, it had been—and continued to be—Paul’s stated intention to become their bond-servant so he might save some from slavery to sin (1 Cor. 9:19-22; cf. Rom. 9:1-4).

Paul was quick to acknowledge that it was not he, himself, who would save some saints from slavery.  Salvation was exclusively God’s work.  To illustrate this point, the apostle cited God’s own words recorded by Moses in Gen. 1:3 (‘Light shall shine out of darkness’).  God forced darkness to produce light.  Some conjecture that the Light may have been God’s Shekinah glory, which had also subsequently caused Moses’ face to shine temporarily because the glory was not intrinsic or internal.

In any event, what is truly remarkable about Paul’s use of God’s words is that no human existed at the point in time when God made darkness produce light.  Therefore, God’s light-command and its fulfillment were unarguably God’s adequacy alone for the task because no human existed to help God (cf. Job 38:4)!  Uncontestably, no human could have accomplished this illuminating feat within the physical creation.

An aside: one other possible demonstration of God’s adequacy occurred in another creation that was, and will remain, unparalleled in human history.  God created the man—Jesus—without sin.  God did this by His Spirit conceiving Jesus using only the material from Mary’s seed.  Known biblically and doctrinally as the virgin birth, Jesus was created apart from Adam’s DNA which carried the sin virus to all his progeny without exception (cf. Rom. 5:12).  The virgin birth was a dramatic example of man’s total inadequacy in matters spiritual.  Thus, from the very beginning, God alone is perfectly adequate for His salvation from sins and sin.

Using a comparison between the physical creation and God’s work within His spiritual creation, Paul next acknowledged that God . . . is the One who has shown in our hearts to give the Light . . .  The point in Paul’s comparison was that, since God was the acknowledged exclusive adequate agent of the physical creation, He is also the exclusive and adequate agent of spiritual enlightenment: . . . the One who has shown in our hearts . . . the new heart being the seat of belief.  In other words, Paul, himself, was not adequate to save any saint from slavery to sin—spiritual enlightenment and belief were totally a demonstration of God’s adequacy.

Paul next defined God’s spiritual enlightenment of saints’ darkened hearts—the Light—as  . . . the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  Note: for additional evidence that saints can have darkened hearts, see Rom. 1:21.

The face of Christ to which Paul referred was likely not Jesus’ appearance during His earthly ministry because He looked like any other Jewish male with a bearded face (cf. Isa. 53:2).  Also, Paul’s reference was not based on Paul’s experience on the Damascus road when he and his travelling companions were suddenly surrounded by a blinding light flashing from heaven (Acts 9:3; 26:13).  So, to what did Paul refer?

For Paul personally, following his spiritual birth, there were likely at least two possible occasions where he may have seen . . . the glory of God in the face of Christ.  The first occasion may have been when the ascended Christ revealed Himself to Paul in Arabia (cf. Acts 26:16 where Jesus promised Paul that He would reveal Himself; and Gal. 1:17-18 where Paul reported his approximately-three-year stay in Arabia).  The other possible occasion was mentioned by Paul (later in his Second Corinthian letter) when he “. . . was caught up to the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:1-4).

In all likelihood, Paul’s third-heaven experience was probably much like that of the apostle John’s experience in the Spirit when he saw, “. . . one like the Son of Man . . . (Rev. 1:13).”  According to John, “. . . His face was like the sun shining in its strength (Rev. 1:16).”

For other saints who had not personally seen the ascended Christ, they may have relied upon Paul’s own personal testimony of his experience (or, the post-resurrection testimonies of Peter, James, and John regarding Jesus’ Transfiguration).

In any event, the knowledge consisted of the following five facts:

Therefore, choosing Christ as Lord over one’s life is tantamount to the Deity ruling one’s life.  Servitude to Christ does not demean, dishonor, nor circumvent God the Father.  Furthermore, Christ dwelling spiritually in the believer brings all the power and authority in heaven and on earth necessary to deliver from slavery to sin and manifest the obedient lifestyle of new-covenant living by the saint.

 

    2 Cor. 4:7

7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

 

In contrast to Christ’s glorified body, . . . we (believers) have this treasure (Christ in His deity) in earthen vessels.  The earthen vessels probably hark back to God’s using dust from the ground as the original material for His creation of the man’s body (Gen. 2:5).  The emphasis on earthen material called attention to man’s physical constitution.

However, the human problem is sin which is spiritual in nature, impacting the human mind and heart.  The enemy—the god of this world—is likewise operating in the spiritual realm (cf. Eph. 2:2; 6:12).  Therefore, material man is totally inadequate and powerless for dealing with matters in the spiritual domain.

On the other hand, God is completely adequate and forthcoming with . . . the surpassing greatness of the power . . . required to completely and perfectly resolve mankind’s spiritual problems.  Thus, Paul juxtaposed God’s adequacy with man’s inadequacy: . . . the power will be of God and not from ourselves, acknowledging Deity dwells in our earthen vessels and no longer in a tabernacle or temple as under the old covenant.

 

    2 Cor. 4:8-9

8[we are] afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;    9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

 

The twenty-first century church is sometimes confronted with the ‘health and wealth’ gospel.  However, Paul’s experience in new-covenant living had been filled with anything but health and wealth.  Rather, he had been universally afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.  Why?

The answer: for discipline or training leading to spiritual maturity as well as providing a forum for the visible manifestation of new-covenant living.

Probably most saints recognize that if life were filled with health and wealth, there would be little-or-no incentive to seek God or to change.  But the writer to the Hebrews explained that part-and-parcel with new-covenant living—that is, striving against sin—are the goads of the Father’s discipline in order to train His children so they might yield the peaceful fruit of (Christ’s) righteousness (cf. Heb. 12:4-11).  As the Hebrews writer aptly recorded, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful . . . (Heb. 12:11).

Notice with Paul, all the trials and tribulations were dramatically contrasted with human responses that were not ‘natural:’ not crushed, not despairing, not forsaken, and not destroyed.  The responses were, in fact, supernatural thereby manifesting new-covenant living.

For example, after Paul and Silas had been savagely beaten and then incarcerated in a Philippian jail, they had begun—in a very unnatural way—to pray and sing hymns to God (Acts 16:22-25).  A more natural response would have been to scream invectives and curses at those inflicting pain, discomfort, and detention.

The spiritual bases for their out-of-the-ordinary and odd responses follow.

 

    2 Cor. 4:10-11

10Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our (the saints’) body.  11For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death (to sin) for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

 

The spiritual reality of always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus pointed to the period on the cross when Jesus had cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt.27:46).  During those moments, Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of those God calls. Those sins ruptured the fellowship between Jesus and God.

For Paul and Silas in Philippi, through their belief in the above spiritual reality, forgiveness of their sins was only a confession away, thus insuring continued fellowship with the Father and Son. That fellowship was expressed in prayer and song.

Jesus was without sins but suffered terribly on behalf of those His Father calls.  Yet, He withstood the awesome trial of the cross, together with the indignities leading up to His death, without retaliation or repudiation—but simply with a prayer for His Father’s forgiveness of His detractors and hecklers.  Thus, as mediator of the new covenant, He became the archetypical pattern for all those who would live under the new covenant.

One of the ultimate goals of Jesus’ dying was so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our (the saints’) body.  Paul next explained the mechanism whereby Jesus’ life is manifested in the saints.

For we who live (i.e., have eternal life) are constantly being delivered over to death (to sin) . . .  A saint can easily become a slave to sin by sinning (John 8:34).  To be delivered constantly from this potential spiritual catastrophe of slavery to sin—often initiated by a saint’s determination to obey law—the saint must believe God’s promise to put to death the practices of sin by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:13).

A constant reminder of God’s promise is the mechanism that brings about . . . constantly being delivered over to death . . .  This death, on a daily basis, (cf. 1 Cor. 15:31) is for Jesus’ sake so that He can be Lord of one’s life and not sin.  As Lord, His life then may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

This brief statement by Paul summarizes the key requirements to living eternal life under the new covenant.  But what about those saints that are not living under the new covenant?

 

    2 Cor. 4:12

12So death (to sin) works in us, but (eternal) life in you.

 

Paul next added these words of encouragement to those saints not living under the new covenant.  Because death (to sin) works in us, his theologically-correct encouragement was spiritually valid for those who had eternal life—but (eternal) life in you.

All that was necessary for saints who believed in their own adequacy for spiritual living was to confess their sins and thus be restored to fellowship with the Father and Son (cf. 1 John 2:7, 9), followed by the simple confession that Jesus was their Lord, resulting in being saved from their slavery to sin (Rom. 10:9).  These simple beliefs would provide living testimony that only God Himself was adequate for spiritual life and new-covenant living.

They could put to death the practices of sin by the Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:13) and discover that Jesus’ life was being manifested through them; by so doing, they would begin living life under the new covenant.

 

6.  In verses 4:13-18, the apostle Paul elaborated the eternal credit (recognition) beyond comparison for earthly living under the new covenant.

 

    2 Cor. 4:13-14

13But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore we also speak,  14knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.

 

Paul reassured the Corinthian saints—both those saints living, and not living, under the new covenant—that they had the same spirit of faith as did he.  That spirit of faith, the new spirit installed in those who had been called by God (Ezek. 36:26), caused all those born again to believe God’s promise of forgiveness of their sins through Jesus’ death.  Such belief resulted, permanently and irrevocably, in new-covenant life.

Quoting Psalm 116:10 (I believed, therefore I spoke), Paul underscored his own belief in God’s promise of forgiveness—we also believe.  Based on Paul’s faith, or belief in God’s promises and adequacy, it followed logically from the scriptures that we also speak.  Much of what Paul had boldly spoken about in this section of Second Corinthians was about new-covenant living, even for those unbelieving saints.

For both believing and unbelieving saints, Paul asserted his knowledge that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.  Paul knew indisputably that his eternal destination was heaven and assured both groups they were also irreversibly on their respective journeys to heaven.

The phrase will raise us could imply Paul and Timothy were near physical death (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16).  Or, an alternate explanation might be that the us Paul had in mind were all presently deceased saints (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-14).  Irrespective of the explanation, Paul was assured that he was permanently and irrevocably saved from the lake of fire judgment (cf. Rev. 19:20)—an assurance for all saints and one in which they can all rejoice (cf. John 5:24).

 

    2 Cor. 4:15

15For all things [are] for your sakes, so that the grace which is being multiplied through the many may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

 

Paul explained to the Corinthian saints that all things he had written about God’s promises and adequacy were for your sakes.  The apostle’s purpose: so that the grace which is being multiplied through the many may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.  Five noteworthy facts are:

 

    2 Cor. 4:16-18

16Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  17For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,  18while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

 

Because spiritual life and new-covenant living are rooted in God’s grace and promises, and appropriated by those He calls through His gift of faith to them, Paul could write we do not lose heart . . . though our outer man is decaying.  Although new-covenant living did not reverse or terminate physical mortality, it did provide courage and boldness in Paul’s life of many trials because of God’s adequacy.

Furthermore, Paul realized that his inner man (new heart and new spirit) was being renewed day by day through a daily God-focused and God-enlightened perspective that remained positive and optimistic despite the world’s obviously deteriorating spiritual and moral condition, and even his own personal deteriorating physical condition.

What possibly could maintain the apostle’s overwhelmingly positive attitude?  The answer most assuredly did not originate with any motivational speaker or seminar!  Paul’s attitude originated and was sustained from his awareness that this momentary light affliction was producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.  Here are five factors buttressing Paul’s positive attitude:

Coming from an ordinary human, Paul’s words might sound like a sports coach regaling his team at half-time because of some difficulties suffered at the game’s outset.  But this man was not ordinary.  He had been caught up to The third heaven and heard things not permissible for a man to describe (2 Cor. 12:2-4).  Thus, what was behind Paul’s positive thinking was a revelation from God Himself, so magnificent that to tell other saints might end in their immediate and premature departure for The third heaven.

So Paul’s worldly perspective was not biased by looking at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  In the apostle’s mind’s-eye of faith, he was privileged to picture The third heaven.  For the things which are seen are temporal.  That is, temporal things are temporary, changing, partial, distorted, incomplete, and oftentimes evil.  In contrast, the things which are not seen are eternal.  That is, eternal things are permanent, unchanging, complete, without distortion, and finished.  And above all things, eternal things are good!

 

Conclusion

New-covenant living has been unveiled.  From 2 Cor. 3:5, the principle of new-covenant living may be stated simply as: “Nothing coming from us; everything coming from God!” (Stedman, Ray C. Authentic Christianity. Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1996, p. 45).

God’s promise for new-covenant living given His prophet Ezekiel: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you and cause (emphasis mine) you to walk in My statutes, and you will be (emphasis mine) careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezek. 36:26-27).

God “causes” perfect conformance to His statutes and ordinances by the Lord Jesus living spiritually in the saint and manifesting His perfectly obedient life by the Spirit’s power through the saint in response to the saint’s belief alone in God’s promise of new-covenant living.

The major obstacle to new-covenant living is the saint’s resolve, decision, or determination to obey God’s law himself.  Such a spiritually devastating choice by any saint activates sin causing the saint to commit sins, thereby becoming a slave to sin, and rupturing fellowship with the Father and the Son.

Ruptured fellowship can be repaired by confessing the act of sin—or, sins—to God.

Finally, the difficulties experienced by saints living under the new covenant are producing for them an eternal recognition far beyond all comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

New-Covenant Living Unveiled

2 Corinthians 2:14-4:18

Introduction

 

    According to the apostle Peter, Paul’s letters are difficult to understand, but they are Scripture—that is, Paul’s letters are the words of God (2 Pet. 3:16).

Because of some difficulty in understanding Paul’s letters, probably one of the least taught sections of the New Testament is 2 Cor. 2:14-4:18.  Yet this extraordinary section of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth unveils the essence of new-covenant living from the promises God made to His prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jer. 31:33-34; Ezek. 36:25-27).

Some may argue that God promised this new covenant to a yet-future generation of Israel, and therefore, the new covenant has no relevance to today’s church.  However, Paul reported in his first letter to the church at Corinth that the new covenant does indeed relate to the church through the symbolic meaning of the cup in the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor. 11:25; also 2 Cor. 3:6 for mention of Paul’s specific new-covenant ministry to the church).  Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews made it abundantly clear that Jesus was the new-covenant mediator for those first-century Jews who were members of the church (cf. Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15; 12:22-24).

Since Jew and gentile alike are equally members of Jesus’ church (cf. Eph. 2:11-16), the new covenant applies to gentiles as well; thus, it was appropriate for Paul to teach about new-covenant living to all the Jewish and gentile saints in Corinth.

Using the NASB, (New American Standard Bible. Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1960) this essay will offer in six parts an exposition of the Second Corinthians section cited above in an attempt to fill the void in the teaching curriculum of twenty-first-century local churches.  The six parts are:

  1. Christ at the core.
  2. Communication of the message.
  3. Contrast between the old and new covenants.
  4. Concerted opposition.
  5. Conduct keys for new-covenant living.
  6. Credit (i.e., honorable recognition) beyond comparison.

 

Exposition of the Second Corinthians Section

 

1.  In verses 2:14-16, the apostle Paul made it emphatically clear that Christ is at the core, and the exclusive essence, of new-covenant living.

 

    2 Cor. 2:14

14. . . thanks be to God, who always leads us (saints) in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him (Christ) in every place.

The apostle Paul immediately acknowledged, with thanks . . . to God, that God alone is responsible for always leading us (saints) in His triumph in Christ.  God’s saints referred to in Second Corinthians were Paul and Timothy (2 Cor. 1:1).  Note: at times in this essay, for simplicity, the plural pronouns are interpreted as though they refer to Paul alone.

A clear inference is that God single-handedly took the perfectly effective and completely adequate initiative in His triumph in Christ.  Thus, God’s triumphant initiative is always effective among those He leads, that is, those whom He calls and chooses.

God’s effective and adequate triumph in Christ is twofold.  First, by God’s design and direction, Christ is responsible for providing forgiveness of sins to those called by God (even retroactively to those preceding Paul’s generation, Rom. 3:25).  Belief in God’s promise of forgiveness brings new-covenant life as well as fellowship restoration when a saint sins and confesses (cf. 1 John 1:7, 9).

Second, by God’s design and direction, Christ is also responsible for manifestation of the saint’s freedom from slavery to sin (cf. Acts 13:38-39).  Life free from slavery to sin is termed new-covenant living in this essay based on biblical exposition.

Paul’s great boldness in his assertion (cf. 2 Cor. 3:12) that God . . . manifests through us the sweet aroma . . .  was probably adapted from the sin and burnt offering sacrifices offered, for example, by the sons of Israel on the altars before the tabernacle, and subsequently, the temple (Exod. 29:18).  Those sacrifices were likely intended as an aroma to sooth the Lord’s wrath provoked by sins and sin.  The reference to an aroma possibly highlighted the nature of those sacrifices as illustrating spiritual life and death (somewhat like Jesus using the wind’s sound to illustrate spiritual activity in John 3:8).

Note: in the Bible, the word “death” does not mean annihilation.  “Death” simply means separation; the specific separation referred to may be determined from context.  At least four kinds of death are mentioned in scripture:

    Aroma is a metaphor for a saint’s new-covenant behavior—including words, works, and attitude.

Paul switched the old covenant vocabulary of a “soothing aroma” to a sweet aroma.  The switch in vocabulary to sweet aroma was probably intended to convey God’s complete and permanent satisfaction with the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ that accomplished both new-covenant spiritual life and new-covenant living for the saints.

Remember, Jesus said, “I came that they might have (spiritual) life, and have [it] abundantly” (John 10:10).  Jesus’ statement to some spiritually blind Pharisees revealed the two-fold nature of the Lord’s mission: one, to provide spiritual life to those called by God; and two, to provide abundant spiritual living free from slavery to sin (cf. John 9:41).

The sweet aroma was not manifested by animal sacrifices on altars.  Rather, the sweet aroma was manifested by saints’ knowledge of what Christ’s voluntary sacrifice on the cross (coupled with His resurrection) accomplished regarding sins and sin.  Thus, such knowledge resulted in new-covenant living being manifested by God’s Christ through saints like Paul and Timothy.

Content of the knowledge for spiritual life and new-covenant living likely encompasses both the saint’s knowledge as well as Christ’s knowledge.

First, a saint’s knowledge is as follows: Christ’s sacrificial death paid the penalty—permanently and irreversibly—for all past, present, and future sins committed by the saint so the saint will never experience hell (i.e., eternal judgment, cf. John 5:24).  However, throughout new-covenant living, a saint’s present and future sins can cause a rupture in fellowship with the Father and Son—a rupture that can be repaired by confession to God of the sinful deeds (cf. 1 John 1:3-10).

Christ’s death had also placed Him under sin’s control (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21, probably in the garden called Gethsemane), but without Him sinning (1 Pet. 2:22; cf. Heb. 12:1-4), so that He could voluntarily relinquish His life to physical death.  But His resurrection by God freed Him permanently and irreversibly from the control of sin and death (cf. Acts 2:24; Rom. 6:9-10).

Second, appropriate portions of Christ’s knowledge becomes available to a saint through the Spirit’s ministry (John 16:13-14).  That this knowledge is likely available to new-covenant saints was suggested by Paul in Col. 1:27; 3:3.

Knowledge about spiritual life and new-covenant living is received by a saint’s faith—meaning, simply believing the content of God’s revealed promises.  Faith is, itself, bestowed and received as a gift from God (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 2:8-9).

Since faith in the knowledge was manifested in every place (likely to the brethren in every local church, cf. Acts 15:30, 36, 41), the manifestation was recognized by others practicing new-covenant living as well as by those saints not practicing new-covenant living.  Furthermore, since the sweet aroma of Christ’s sacrificial death is manifested by God’s design in every place, it is universal and therefore no longer restricted to a specific location or nation like the Jews at the temple altar in Jerusalem (cf. John 4:21-24).

Later in the Second Corinthian letter, Paul will expand the knowledge to include the reality that the resurrected Christ dwells spiritually in the believer with the result that His perfectly obedient life (free from sin’s control) can be manifested through the believer on a daily, or continuous basis, by the believer’s faith and the Spirit’s power (2 Cor. 4:10-11; 1 Cor. 15:31).  This is the essence of new-covenant living.

Elsewhere, Paul referred to this new-covenant living as “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26).  Paul’s abbreviated phrase in his letter to the Roman saints meant ‘the obedience of Christ manifested by the saint’s faith,’ which fulfills the biblical adage: “the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4).

However, some saints choose to take an initiative upon themselves and please God by personally attempting to obey Him.  Paul himself had taken such an initiative to personally obey God and had experienced ruinous spiritual results (Rom. 7:7-24).  The apostle’s unfortunate but spiritually instructive experience probably provided the spiritual insights and reality he later described in Second Corinthians (i.e., 2 Cor. 3:6; 4:10-11).

 

2 Cor. 2:15-16

15For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are ruining themselves;  16to the one an aroma from death (to sin) to death (from sin), to the other an aroma from (Christ’s) life to (Christ’s) life.  And who is adequate (emphasis, mine) for these things?

 

The apostle switched metaphors from “sweet aroma” to a fragrance. A fragrance can be either appealing (sweet) or unappealing (odious), suggesting different responses to the knowledge described above (v. 14) by different saints.  Remember, the fragrance of Christ to God is always appealing to God.

Accordingly, Paul further explained the effect of this fragrance of Christ to God on two groups of saints in the local churches.  The first group of saints was comprised of those who are being saved from slavery to sin.  Note: Paul applied the biblical words being saved to those saints already saved from hell (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16).

The second group of saints was comprised of those who were ruining themselves by choosing to live life under the old covenant, or some variation of keeping law themselves, thereby making themselves slaves to sin (cf. Gal. 4:9, wherein “elemental things” likely refers to law).

To those saints who were ruining themselves spiritually, the aroma of Paul’s new-covenant living was odious (cf. Acts 21:21).

As was mentioned above (v. 14), the apostle Paul had reported his own personal experience in law keeping, and its ruinous spiritual effects, when he decided—shortly after being born again—to keep God’s tenth commandment that had been engraved on stones at Mt. Sinai.  Paul failed miserably.

God had allowed Paul to fail in his own effort to obey the law.  Or, in other words, God did not enable His saint to obey.  However, through God’s mercy, the apostle’s own spiritual journey didn’t end in failure.  God used the law, and its role in enlivening Paul’s sin, to actually lead him to the experiential knowledge of Christ fulfilling the law in and through him (Rom. 7:25-8:2; Gal. 3:24).

Because of Paul’s personal experience in law keeping, he unhesitatingly exposed those who were ruining themselves to new-covenant living, realizing that God might also save some of them from slavery to sin (2 Cor. 4:12; cf. Rom. 10:1, 9).

Comments on the second group of saints and their spiritual malaise can best be understood from a lexical clarification of the English text for 2 Cor. 2:15.

In 2 Cor. 2:15, the Greek verb describing the spiritual effects on the second group is often translated into English as “are perishing” (e.g., in the NASB).  However, a more appropriate choice of word meaning is “ruin”—a legitimate lexical translation of this particular Greek verb (cf. Matt. 9:17 where the same Greek verb is translated “ruined,” warning of the impact when old wineskins are filled with new wine).

Furthermore, the Greek verb (the one often translated as “are perishing”) is a verb in the middle voice.  The middle voice can mean that the subjects’ own actions affect themselves.  So a better translation for the verb in 2 Cor. 2:15 is: are ruining themselves.  Such a translation is consistent with the scriptures that teach saints can ruin themselves spiritually by making the wrong choices or decisions (e.g., Rom 7:8-11).

Exploring the reality of ruining themselves is helpful.  Remember, saints choosing to live by obeying God’s law themselves were ruining themselves spiritually.  By deciding to obey God themselves, they had become dead from their sin that was enlivened by their choice and personal execution of obedience to the law.  Elsewhere, Paul had described this spiritual reality of law-keeping as boasting in the Law (Rom. 2:23; cf. James’ and the elders’ description of Jewish believers “zealous” for the Law in Acts 21:20).

The spiritual state occurred because law cannot produce freedom from sin, producing only spiritual death (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6-7; Rom. 7:11-13).  This spiritual death was separation from fellowship with the Father and Son, but did not mean that they had lost their salvation from hell, or had never been saved from hell in the first place.  However, they had become severed from Christ, and had fallen from grace (cf. Gal. 5:4).

Writing to the Corinthians, Paul himself was living under the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6).  Therefore, he had become dead to sin—meaning that sin had become un-enlivened  in his life because Christ had become his Lord instead of sin (2 Cor. 4:5; 5:21 cf. Phil. 3:8-9; Rom. 10:9; and 1 Pet. 3:6 combined with vv. 15-16).  Since sin had been made un-enlivened in his life, Paul remained a fragrance, or sweet aroma, of Christ to God.  But to those saints attempting to obey God themselves, he had become a foul fragrance.  Paul’s foul fragrance sometimes erupted in opposition from those saints (Acts 15:5; 21:21).

Paul’s abbreviated way of stating this: to those ruining themselves, Paul was an aroma from death (to sin, un-enlivened by God’s Spirit) to death (from sin, ruinously enlivened by law keeping).  But to those who were being saved (from slavery to sin), Paul was an aroma of life (Christ’s life in His apostle, Gal. 2:20) to life (Christ’s life in other saints dead to sin).

For those living under the new covenant, the reality of Christ’s life from within Paul encouraged, reassured, strengthened, and enhanced the consistency of Christ’s life being manifested in other saints so that both Paul and his colleagues could continue to bear fruit for God (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18 and Rom. 1:11-12; 7:4 for the mutual efficacy an aroma of life to life).

This important reality of mutual enrichment in new covenant-living underscores the spiritual significance of local-church saints interacting, or fellowshipping, with one another.

Finally, Paul raised the critically important question—later to be answered in 2 Cor. 3:5—regarding saints contributing their own efforts, or augmenting, God’s triumph in Christ.  The question, “. . . who is adequate (emphasis mine) for these things?” anticipated three possible answers:

The correct answer is the first answer (cf. 2 Cor. 3:5).

Unfortunately, not only in Paul’s time but also in today’s churches, saints are inclined to erroneously offer the third answer to the adequacy question: to wit, “God demands that I, myself, be adequate.”  A popular variation on this particular answer is often: “God’s Spirit enables me to be adequate to some extent.”  Remember, as was pointed out above, God did not enable His newly-minted saint (Paul) to obey His tenth commandment (cf. Rom. 7:8).

And, in today’s churches, the erroneous conclusions about a saint who eventually proves himself inadequate through a continual lifestyle of sinning are: either, that one was never saved (from hell) in the first place; or, that one has lost salvation (from hell).  A lifestyle of sinning is simply a saint living enslaved to sin.

 

2.  In verses 2:17-3:3, the apostle Paul discussed the accurate communication of God’s word about new-covenant living.

 

2 Cor. 2:17

17For we are not like many, corrupting the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.

 

Paul emphatically contrasted his communication of God’s word with many who were corrupting the word of God.  Notice, the apostle did not say that many were ignoring, denying, or rejecting God’s word, suggesting the corrupters were saints who had at least believed some portions of God’s word.  The apostle Peter made a similar observation about distorting God’s word in his letter to Diasporal Jewish saints (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

An example of corrupting or distorting God’s word: the many likely believed the portion of the word of God that taught Jesus had died for forgiveness of their sins under the new covenant (Matt. 26:28) and were therefore heaven bound.  However, when it came to the Law of Moses, they corrupted God’s word by asserting that both Jew and gentile saints must keep the Law (Acts 15:5).  Notice: those who corrupted the word proved to be many—perhaps even a majority—in the early church (cf. Acts 21:20).

On the other hand, Paul taught the word of God . . . from sincerity, that is, with a purity absent the corruption of adding personal reasoning, personal beliefs, traditions, or initiatives that did not originate from God.

The apostle was indeed Jesus’ called messenger by God’s will and set apart for communicating God’s gospel (cf. 2 Cor. 1:2 and Rom. 1:1-2).  Therefore, Paul delivered the revealed promises from God unadorned by his own inclinations and initiatives, plus—with inerrant interpretations—the content of what had been promised in the holy scriptures through God’s prophets (e.g., Jeremiah, alluded to in 2 Cor. 3:3, 6).

Furthermore, Paul spoke in Christ, a phrase the apostle sometimes used to confess that Jesus was exclusively Lord of his life, and not sin (see comments on Paul’s being dead to sin, v. 16 above).  As Lord, Christ was the one who directed and guided Paul’s decisions, choices, and words.

Not only was Christ alone directing the apostle’s words (cf. 2 Cor. 13:3), but also Christ in the sight of God always followed precisely God’s will as God oversaw His Christ (Christ never said or did anything spiritual on His own initiative, cf. John 5:30; 8:28, 42; 12:49; 14:10).

Finally, God would bear witness to the truth of His word from Paul’s lips—perhaps by the Spirit (cf. 1 John 2:27; see also Ezek. 10:12 where the sight of God—mentioned by Paul in 2 Cor. 2:17—may have been represented symbolically by eyes on the whirling wheels depicting the Spirit’s ministry in Ezekiel’s vision).

These assurances about the unadorned accuracy of God’s word from Paul were necessary because of the sometimes counterintuitive knowledge of God’s grace (i.e., His exclusive, perfect, and complete adequacy necessary for new-covenant living by the saints, or God Himself doing what He requires of His people).

For the twenty-first-century church, God has accurately and precisely recorded, preserved, and delivered His apostles’ words in the New Testament Scriptures.

    2 Cor. 3:1

1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?  Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?

 

Paul recognized that his words of great boldness in previous contacts with the Corinthians, as well as in 2 Cor. 2:14-17, might sound a bit too self-confident and/or self-serving (i.e., beginning to commend ourselves again).

One possibility for validating his word’s authenticity might have been the sometimes-used approach of carrying and presenting letters of commendation to you from other recognized theological experts within the Jerusalem church—or even letters from you, that is, from some Corinthian saints themselves.

However, as explained in the following verses (vv. 2 and 3), Paul had decided against this written form of authentication for an approach he had used early in his ministry with those of “high reputation,” “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 2:1-9).  That approach: putting a gentile believer on display (e.g., Titus in Jerusalem), and hearing the believer’s own convincing testimony about spiritual matters and new-covenant living.  What had successfully worked in Jerusalem would work world-wide!

 

2 Cor. 3:2-3

2You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;  3being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.

 

Like Titus giving testimony in Jerusalem, Paul wrote to the Corinthians living under the new covenant, You are our letter . . . known and read by all men.  Letter was a metaphor for the spoken and living testimony.  The spoken and living testimony from those Corinthians, which validated the authenticity of God’s word from the apostle, had been fostered by Paul’s ministry to (and at) Corinth.

The following statistics underscore why Paul rightly claimed the Corinthians were written in our hearts, and cared for by us:

Obviously, Paul’s consistent interest and comprehensive attention to the saints at Corinth showed his heartfelt care for this local congregation of believers (cf. 2 Cor. 6:11-13).

Paul used the metaphor (our letter, and a letter of Christ) to highlight his credentials.  As mentioned, the metaphor “letter” probably meant the personal testimonies of the Corinthian saints themselves which validated the authenticity of Paul’s credentials and message—like Titus had done before the recognized church leaders in Jerusalem.

That Corinthian validation impacted all men.  Understandably, Paul did not mean every individual on planet earth.  By all men, the apostle likely meant chiefly Jew and gentile believers, and perhaps even some unbelievers.

The letter was sourced, authored, and displayed or manifested, by Christ (via the Spirit’s ministry).  At the end of the Second Corinthian letter, Paul had challenged the Corinthians to some self-examination: “. . . do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (emphasis mine, 2 Cor. 13:5).  The same sentiments for self-examination were enunciated by Peter to Jewish believers in the Diaspora (cf. 2 Pet. 1:1-11).

This challenge may well be applied by all in the twenty-first-century church.  At various points in a believer’s life, the believer should recognize that his behavior—either in words or works—is not the way he would normally, intuitively, or habitually respond to his surroundings.  That is to say, the believer should recognize his response under some challenging circumstances is not of himself but is, in fact, that of Christ’s.

One example might be a no response to ‘road-rage’ under provocative circumstances.  This is personal and reassuring evidence of new-covenant living by faith.

Next, Paul alluded to God’s new-covenant promises made to His Prophet, Jeremiah, that had been believed by some saints at Corinth: “. . . I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it . . .” (Jer. 31:33), . . . written not (as Baruch had done for Jeremiah) with (scribal) ink . . . (on the book recorded in Jer. 36:18).  This statement set the stage for revealing God’s perfectly exclusive and adequate work in producing new-covenant living from His promises . . . but with the Spirit of the living God.

A more complete and explicit statement of God’s new-covenant promises from another prophet may be found in Ezek. 36:25-27.  Why New Testament writers avoided citing Ezekiel’s prophecies remains an enigma.

The substance upon which the Spirit of the living God writes the letter is not stone tablets as God had done with Moses when engraving His Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai—commandments on tablets that were external to Moses’ person.  Rather, the substance upon which the Spirit of the Living God does His writing is the internal (i.e., spiritual) tablets of (new) human hearts given individuals by God (upon removing their hearts of stone) immediately preceding the new spiritual births of those individuals (Ezek. 36:26).

Significantly, God’s law is internal to new-covenant believers in striking contradistinction to its externality under the old covenant.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that, in Paul’s spiritual vocabulary, the new human heart is the ‘organ’ of belief (Rom. 10:10).  Therefore, new-covenant living is appropriated by the believer through simple belief in God’s promises and not by self-effort—like the intuitive initiative of personal obedience to God’s law.

Christ the Lord in the believer is the one who obeys God’s will perfectly (cf. Rom. 6:16 where the word “obedience” is used as a metonymy of effect—the effect of “obedience” for the cause, i.e., “Christ”).

 

 

3.  In verses 3:4-13, the apostle Paul contrasted the superiority of new-covenant living with life under the old covenant.

 

2 Cor. 3:4-6

4Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  5Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything (emphasis mine) as [coming] from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,  6who also made us adequate [as] servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

 

This new-covenant living by faith endowed Paul with a . . . confidence through Christ toward God because Christ (not sin) was Lord of Paul’s life.

Paul next gave the correct answer to his question posed above (v. 16): “Who is adequate for these things?”  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything (emphasis mine) as [coming] from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.   Summary answer: God alone is adequate for new-covenant living, as He is uncontestably for new-covenant life.

A saint’s only role in new-covenant living: Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as from ourselves.  A saint’s only role is to simply believe God’s promises.

Anything . . . from ourselves often includes one’s own initiative and self-determination to be obedient to God’s law—an initiative both reasonable and commendable, but spiritually lethal.  God’s adequacy is His promise—appropriated by faith alone—that He will cause obedience to His law by Christ’s God-centered spiritual life in His servant—that is, the Spirit manifesting Christ’s perfectly obedient life in the believer (cf. Ezek. 36:27, wherein the cause recorded by the prophet remained unrevealed under the old covenant until Jesus’ earthly and heavenly ministries).

Paul’s answer is of primary importance in all of Second Corinthians—if not the entire New Testament—and forms the backdrop for Paul’s personal report of how his own initiative and determination to obey God’s law proved completely inadequate to new-covenant living by faith.

So important is Paul’s answer is that it should be the opening hymn in every twenty-first-century church.

Furthermore, this adequacy . . . from God had also made Paul and Timothy adequate servants of a new covenant.  Paul’s adequacy from God started at birth (Gal. 1:15) while Timothy’s adequacy from God could be traced to his grandmother and mother (2 Tim. 1:5).  God’s adequacy in their respective lives gave Paul and Timothy confidence that some of the Corinthian saints (Paul and Timothy being servants to them) were indeed living testimony to the obedience through Christ toward God (cf. 2 Cor. 2:2; 3:4).  Such living testimony was all that Paul needed as his letters of commendation from them (cf. 2 Cor. 3:1).

A short aside about old-covenant living: upon receiving God’s law at Sinai, the sons of Israel determined—not once, but thrice—to obey God’s laws (Exod. 19:8; 24:3, 7).  The results of their three-times-proclaimed determination to obey: they straightaway fashioned a golden calf and worshipped it in direct disobedience to God’s law (cf. Exod. 20:4-5; 32:1-6).

Had Moses not intervened, God would have killed them all for their sins (Exod. 32:22, 10).  Here is uncontested evidence that the letter—Paul’s synecdoche of (the letter) as a part for the whole (law)—kills spiritually—something Moses might have realized from the golden-calf incident (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6).

Not to mention the alarming and chilling consistency of this spiritual reality of death from the law: the same thing had happened to Paul early in his conversion when he decided to keep God’s law “not to covet” (Rom. 7:9).  From Paul’s own personal testimony, it was sin’s deception—a deception that suggested he could and must obey God’s law himself—which prompted his own ruinous initiative and determination to obey the law, and resulted in acts of sin followed by his own “death.”  Remember, this “death” meant separation from fellowship with the Father and Son.

Finally, in new-covenant living, it is the Spirit that gives life.  That is, God’s Spirit manifests Jesus’ life through the believer simply by the believer’s faith.  The Spirit’s ministry in new-covenant living is readily available to all saints who are chosen by God to live by faith.

    2 Cor. 3:7-8

7But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was,  8how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be with even more with glory?

 

Since “the letter kills” (v. 6), Paul referred to the Law as the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones.

Next, in 2 Cor. 3:7, Paul noted an unprecedented anomaly described by Moses in Exod. 34:30-35.  To wit: because of Moses’ veil-unfettered external exposure to God’s glory on Mt. Sinai (a glory Moses had requested to see, Exod. 33:18), the skin of Moses’ face had begun to shine—an anomaly of which Moses was totally unaware, and for which he had done nothing to achieve.

This was the glory that accompanied Moses’ delivery of the letters engraved on stones from Mt. Sinai—a glory to which the sons of Israel reacted in fear of Moses.  They could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was.  One might easily imagine that Moses looked like an alien from another planet, thus engendering fear in the sons of Israel.  This fear prohibited them from looking intently at Moses’ face (Num. 34:30).

Where Paul got the information that the glory of Moses’ face was fading is enigmatic.

However, after speaking with the sons of Israel about God’s law, he covered his face with a veil.  God never commanded Moses to veil his shining face.  Moses took his own personal initiative of covering his face with a veil because he had discovered that the glory of his shinning facial skin began to fade.

Paul later wrote (2 Cor. 3:13) that this initiative on Moses’ part was motivated by Moses’ desire to prevent the sons of Israel from looking intently at his un-shinning, fully-bearded face.  Where Paul got the information about Moses’ motivation is also enigmatic.

Moses also discovered that when he went into the tabernacle to speak with the Lord face-to-face (Exod. 33:11; 34:35), his face’s brightness would be replenished when he removed the veil.

Among the possible speculative motivations for Moses’ act of veiling his face might be:

Perhaps because of his timidity, Moses might have reasoned thusly: my shinning face represents visually ‘a sign’ of my authority from the Lord God, much like the second sign God had given me (i.e., my hand would become leprous when placed in my bosom) for authoritatively leading the sons of Israel out of Egypt (Exod. 4:6).

However, Moses’ shining face began to fade.  Perhaps Moses became self-conscious, thinking the sons of Israel will probably wonder about what I have done to cause my face to fade.  So, impetuously, Moses might have veiled his face to assuage his timidity before human audiences.

Whatever Moses’ reasons were, the stunning fact remains that God never corrected this veil initiative undertaken by Moses.

The spiritually shattering results of Moses’ impetuous initiative with the veil had unintended spiritual consequences.  The sons of Israel may have concluded from their leader’s actions that human initiative (e.g., the veil) was continually necessary when dealing with spiritual matters.

But more significantly, the Israelites may have concluded that the glory of God incorporated under the old covenant would never end because they never saw an end to the glory on Moses’ face.

Both these unintended consequences, continual human initiative and the permanency of the Law, could have originated from sin’s deceptive promptings and Moses’ positive response to them.

Before continuing with Second Corinthians, it is instructive to review the catastrophic and wide-spread unintended consequences of another initiative taken by Moses in unbelief of God’s adequacy that seriously affected his life and the lives of those he led.  Moses had acquiesced to rebellious pressure from the Jews to send spies into the land (Deut. 1:22-37).

Moses’ acquiescence to pressure from the Jews is particularly instructive.  God had promised that He would send His angel before the sons of Israel to guard them along the way in entering the land (Exod. 23:20-23).  At a pre-entrance meeting, the sons of Israel argued—from their own unbelief in God’s adequacy to fulfill His promise—that Moses should send spies into the land based the Israelites’ fear of the land’s inhabitants and their cities (Deut. 1:22-31).

Alas, Moses capitulated to their fears and then placed the suggestion of sending spies before God who, not surprisingly, acceded to the suggestion (Num. 13:1-2).  Remember, God usually accedes to mans’ unbelieving initiatives that often end in terrible results.

The result: God was angry with the sons of Israel for not believing His promise of protection in entering the land.  Out of His anger, God took an oath that not one of that grumbling, evil generation would enter the land—except for Caleb and Joshua because they had believed God’s protection promise (Num. 14:22-35; Deut. 1:34-38).  God was also angry with Moses (for entertaining the spies suggestion and presenting that suggestion before God) and later promised Moses himself would not enter the land (Deut. 1:37).

The unintended consequences: all the sons of Israel would wander in the wilderness for forty years—one year for each of the forty days the spies spent in reconnoitering the land (Num. 14:34).  In other words, mans’ unbelief or sin-prompted initiative to help God with His plan for protection ended in wandering and death for an entire generation numbering thousands-upon-thousands of people.

Here are the dramatic unintended consequences of not believing in God’s adequacy.

Some significant space has been taken here to review Moses’ spy-initiative and its consequences.  Why?  Answer: to encourage saints in the twenty-first-century church.  In spite of sin and Moses’ attempt to augment God’s adequacy, we find him on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus in the land (Matt. 17:3).  So God remained merciful to Moses—an encouragement to those not practicing new-covenant living that some of them might still be saved from slavery to sin.

Returning to Second Corinthians, it’s important to review several spiritual ramifications (in no particular order) from Moses’ veil.

Now under new-covenant living by faith, the believer does not need to even think about helping God out with His new covenant.  Helping God out is many times initiated by a believer’s resolved determination—prompted by deceitful sin—to obey God’s law himself.

In contrast, God’ Spirit resides permanently within the believer (unlike Moses’ external exposure to God).  The Spirit can consistently accomplish God’s new covenant so that the glory of the Spirit’s ministry impacts many; therefore, the Spirit’s ministry is even more with glory than just one person’s shining face.

Following is a summary of God’s glory under the new covenant:

The Spirit’s new-covenant ministry—appropriated by the believer’s faith—can be permanent and unfading throughout the life of a believer.  The Spirit’s unfailing glory (not the believer’s glory) is a believer manifesting the indwelling Christ’s obedience to God through the believer’s faith in God’s promises under new-covenant living.  And God is not compelled to share His exclusive and rightly-credited glory with the believer.

 

    2 Cor. 3:9-11

9For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.  10For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses [it].  11For if that which fades away [was] with glory, much more that which remains [is] in glory.

 

The glory of God’s temporary (cf. Heb. 8:13) old covenant—that by the Law brought God’s death sentence upon the animal sacrifices (the ministry of condemnation) because of mans’ sins and sin—was displayed by way of the glory of one person’s temporarily-shining face.  In a dramatic contrast of glories between the old and new covenants (much more), God’s non-fading, or permanent, new covenant is the Spirit’s ministry of displaying God’s righteousness abound in glory through some believers living by faith in Christ as Lord of their lives (cf. 2 Cor. 5:2:10; Phil. 3:8-9).

In a glory contest between one Jew’s temporarily-shining face and Christ’s permanently righteous life on display world-wide through myriads of generations of believers by faith, the Judge would unquestionably decide the latter out-performs, or surpasses, the former.  In fact, so great is the latter (with its compelling and continually attractive generational display of God’s glory) that it dwarfs the former to such a degree that the former appears to have no glory (attractiveness) whatsoever—especially if the Judge based His findings on Moses’ fully-faded face!

 

    2 Cor. 3:12-13

12Therefore, having such a hope, we use great boldness in [our] speech,  13and [are] not like Moses, [who] used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away.

 

Paul’s hope was both future and certain because it was based on God’s unaugmented adequacy.  In belief of God’s adequacy, the apostle simply stated God’s message with great boldness, without any contributions from himself, to both Jews and gentiles—and even without endorsements from others (2 Cor. 3:1)!

It might be useful to review Moses’ initial job interview with God to help understand Moses’ notorious lack of boldness in speech (Exod. 4:10-17).

God had provided Moses with three signs to validate his credentials as God’s spokesman to the sons of Israel in Egyptian captivity:

  1. Moses’ staff became a serpent when thrown on the ground.
  2. Moses’ hand became leprous when he put it in his bosom.
  3. Water from the Nile became blood when poured on dry ground.

In spite of God’s adequate provisions, Moses complained to God that he was “heavy of tongue and heavy of speech.”  Clearly implied in Moses’ complaint was his unbelief in God’s adequacy.

God’s retort to Moses’ complaint (fostered by Moses’ perceived speech impediment leading to his lack of boldness): “Who has made man’s mouth?”  In other words, God asserted He was indeed an adequate creator of mouths—even faced with Moses’ implied claim of His inadequacy.  And so, God’s anger burned against Moses, and He appointed Moses’ brother Aaron as an alternate spokesman.

However, in Paul’s case, he recognized God’s adequacy in assigning him the role of apostle.  So he used great boldness in his speech as God’s spokesman—not like Moses.

Furthermore, in unbelief of God’s adequacy, Moses had personally augmented God’s messages to the sons of Israel.  Moses put a veil over his face after delivering God’s messages.  Moses’ intentions were self-serving, and the spiritual results for the sons of Israel proved disastrous—not only for Moses’ generation, but for generations to follow.

Paul explained the consequences of Moses’ veil act.  The sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away.  The end of what was fading away was a Jewish male’s face covered with a beard in accordance with God’s law.

Moses’ veil of unbelief gave rise to the erroneous conclusion that the glory of the old covenant was permanent so that a believer’s own personal obedience to God’s law was not only a timeless requirement, but also a universal requirement (cf. Acts 15:5 where saints of the Pharisaical sect asserted that gentiles must keep the law of Moses).

 

 

4.  In verses 3:14-18, the apostle Paul discussed some saints’ concerted opposition to new-covenant living.

 

    2 Cor. 3:14-16

14But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is being made powerless in Christ.  15But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart;  16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

 

But their minds were hardened.  The verb, were hardened is passive, meaning some minds of believers among the sons of Israel were acted upon by another agency—and that agency was none other than God Himself (cf. Deut. 29:4; Rom. 9:18; 11:25).   Here was a major spiritual problem for Jews, and perhaps gentile proselytes to Judaism who had converted to Christianity, but had been, and continued to be, taught from the Hebrew Scriptures which emphasized Torah—the Law delivered by Moses.

The minds the sons of Israel in Moses’ generation had been hardened into believing the old covenant was timeless and universally binding.  Because of this erroneous belief, the same veil—installed because of Moses’ unbelief—remained among the Jewish saints, even to Paul’s day.

Obviously, when Paul stated the same veil, he was not referring literally to the veil Moses had used.  Rather, Paul was speaking figuratively, using a metonymy of the adjunct where the sign (the same veil) is put for the thing signified.  The thing signified was sin.

The veil was particularly at work among the sect of the Pharisees who had believed (cf. Acts 15:5).  Remember, in Paul’s spiritual vocabulary, the heart is the ‘organ’ of belief and plays a major role in believers’ minds (i.e., their minds).

That their minds were minds of believers is suggested by the words were hardened.  Under the new covenant, God replaces one’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26).  The heart of stone—implying quintessential hardnessbelongs to an unbeliever before conversion and so, understandably, cannot be hardened.  But a believer’s heart of flesh can be hardened.

God’s solution of the veil/heart problem is that sin is being made powerless in Christ.  The Greek verb is passive and better translated as being made powerless (cf. Heb. 2:14 wherein the writer stated Jesus’ death made the devil “powerless”) because sin is never removed as suggested by the NASB translation: “is removed.”  One of Paul’s uses for the phrase in Christ meant that Christ was Lord of one’s life (cf. Phil. 3:8-10).   The apostle underscored the importance of Christ as one’s Lord by using the phrase whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is taken away.

God’s Spirit makes powerless the veil (i.e., sin) when a saint: one, confesses Jesus is Lord of his life; and two, believes in his heart that God raised Him from the dead—thereby releasing Jesus from slavery to sin (cf. Rom. 6:9-10; and Rom. 10:9-13, wherein Paul’s reference to salvation is not salvation from hell, but salvation from slavery to sin).

 

    2 Cor. 3:17

17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, [there] is liberty.

 

Now (in Paul’s day) the Lord is not the Lord God of the old covenant who appeared externally to Moses on Mt. Sinai or in the tabernacle, but rather is the Spirit permanently indwelling believers under new-covenant living (cf. John 14:16-17).  Finally, . . .and where the Spirit of the Lord is—i.e., the Spirit sent by the Lord God to dwell in the believer’s body—there is the real potential of liberty from slavery to sin (cf. Rom. 8:13b).

 

    2 Cor. 3:18

18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

 

The we all Paul referred to are those saints who enjoyed new-covenant living by faith.  With unveiled face meant that those particular saints had not, in unbelief, taken some initiative (like Moses) to augment God’s adequacy in accomplishing His plan for their lives, or for the lives of other believers with whom they made contact.

For example, such saints had consciously renounced their own personal obedience to God’s law, but rather believed that, in accordance with God’s new covenant, Christ’s perfectly obedient life in them would be manifested through them by the Spirit.

Next, Paul used the simile of beholding as in a mirror.  A mirror is an instrument of self-inspection.  A new-covenant saint practicing self-inspection would recognize the reality that Jesus Christ lives spiritually within so the saint’s words and works are not his own, but rather the glory of the Lord, that is, Christ’s own glorious and righteous words and works manifested by the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5-6).

Paul had recorded his own experience of being transformed into the same image by the life-changing reality of Christ in him (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-12).  Recall that the Lord Jesus had rightfully claimed His own body was the “temple of God” (John 2:19; Matt. 26:61).  This may well be the same image Paul had in mind—that is, God dwelling in a human body.

Here is a particularly ingenious part of God’s plan.  Mutual observation between two believers practicing new-covenant living can transform both from glory (of one) to glory (for the other).  This process had already been described by Paul in 2 Cor. 2:15-16 as a fragrance of Christ—as an aroma from life to life.

Rather than being harangued weekly in the twenty-first-century church, and being hectored about what a believer must do and what a believer must avoid doing, God’s plan for new-covenant living features exposure to new-covenant saints whose righteous lifestyles are seductively enticing to emulation.

As an aside, one reason that the Spirit may have dispensed spiritual gifts was to promote interaction among the disparate mix of people in the first-century local church, each one seeking out another for his respective gift, and thereby producing a forum for the from glory to glory interaction.

Paul’s thought behind the words, being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, was likely adapted from Moses’ experience with the Lord God when God’s glory transformed the flesh on Moses’ face into a shining glory.  And to remind his readers that Moses’ facial transformation was not something Moses himself had achieved or produced, Paul added just as from the Lord (i.e., the Lord God of the old covenant) to highlight that the same process is at work under new-covenant living, only by the Spirit.  The Spirit is the one who transforms believers from glory to glory, not the believers.

 

5.  In verses 4:1-12, the apostle Paul reviewed the key requirements for conduct under new-covenant living.

 

    2 Cor. 4:1-2

1Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart,            2but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

 

Shortly after his conversion from Judaism—having been a law-abiding Pharisee almost from adolescence—Paul decided to supplement God’s adequacy by keeping the commandment not to covet (Rom. 7:7-25).  The outcome of his resolve to obey the commandment may be summarized in his own words: “Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom. 7:24).”  The outcome, in one word: ‘failure!’  Please note that God did not enable Paul, the believer, to obey Him (cf. v. 2:15 above).

‘Enable’ has become a popular definition for God’s grace.  But the biblical definition for God’s grace is God Himself doing what God requires of man.

God left Paul to fail so He could teach His apostle-to-be about new-covenant living (cf. Rom. 8:1-17 to discover Paul’s critically important lesson from God).  God had used the Law lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8) as Paul’s tutor to Christ (cf. Gal.3:24). God’s teaching qualified Paul as an apostle so he could declare, we have this ministry (as a servant of the new covenant—2 Cor. 3:6), as we received mercy (from God, following Paul’s sinful failures to obey God’s law).

The mercy Paul had received from God was his ministry as an apostle after confessing he had indulged in “coveting of every kind” right after resolving to keep God’s tenth commandment, “You shall not covet . . .” (cf. 1 John 1:7, 9).

From this episode, Paul discovered that God allows believers to fail and then still uses them (cf. Rom. 11:23).  So, Paul did not lose heart because he realized he served a God who sometimes responded with mercy to the sins of saints.

Now our curiosity about exactly what shameful things Paul had coveted is not assuaged because he chose not to reveal them.  But we have renounced (emphasis mine) the things hidden because of shame, so we are assured Paul’s conscience about the things he had coveted was clear before God.

Further, we are reassured that he was . . . not walking in craftiness . . . (a possible allusion to Moses’ actions with the veil).  Nor was he . . . adulterating the word of God . . . with his own personal biases, views, interpretations, traditions, or improvisations.

On the contrary, Paul’s life as God’s apostle was a . . . manifestation of truth . . . most probably by the Spirit’s ministry within him.  Finally, he was . . . commending ‘himself’ [sic “ourselves”] to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.  In other words, those listening to the apostle’s words could judge for themselves the accuracy of his words, providing such judgment was done in the sight of God.

Perhaps Paul’s confidence in this process of individual believers judging the truth was alluded to by the apostle John when he commented on the believers’ ability to judge rightly the truth through the Spirit’s ministry within them (1 John 2:27).

 

    2 Cor. 4:3-4

3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are ruining themselves,   4in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so they might not see the light of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

 

Paul’s gospel was two-fold (cf. Acts 13:38-39).  For unbelievers on the way to hell, the first part of the gospel was forgiveness of their sins through Jesus.  For saints, the second part of the gospel was freedom from slavery to sin which the Law of Moses could not accomplish.  The second part of this two-fold distinction is often ignored in twenty-first-century churches to the spiritual disadvantage of believers.

First-century saints were divided into two groups: one, those who believed the gospel’s second part; and two, those who did not believe the second part—that is, those who didn’t live by faith (cf. Rom. 1:17).  Paul referred to this group as the unbelieving, not ‘the unbelievers’—‘unbelievers’ being a term reserved for those who had not yet been born again (1 Cor. 6:6).  Furthermore, the writer to the Hebrews warned saints of those “among them” (not “in them”) with an evil unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God (Heb. 3:12).  Unbelievers don’t fall away from the living God.  Twenty-first-century saints are divided into the same two groups.

For an example of the two groups: Paul wanted to preach the gospel of God to the saints in Rome (Rom. 1:15).  All the saints were already permanently and irreversibly bound for heaven.  So the only way preaching the gospel to saints could make sense is if it were the gospel about freedom from slavery to sin—a freedom not experienced by Jews who boasted in the Law (cf. Rom. 2:23-29).  Further on in Romans, Paul used the metaphor of the rich-root (i.e., Jesus) of the olive tree with its natural branches (Jewish saints).  Some natural branches (Jewish saints) were broken off from the root because of their unbelief (Rom. 11:20).

Another example of saints at spiritual risk came early in Paul’s ministry to the churches of Galatia.  Some gentile saints were being encouraged to keep the law by their Jewish brethren.  Paul’s diagnoses and warning, in the event any saints decided to keep the law: “You have been severed from Christ . . . you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).

Does this mean those saints would lose their salvation and go to hell?  No!  It meant ‘the veil of unbelief’ would come into play with the second part of the gospel and they would become enslaved to sin; their words, works, and attitudes would no longer be those of Christ.  They would no longer be a part of new-covenant living and thereby would lose the heavenly rewards attached thereto (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16-18 for rewards).

This was also the spiritual warning Paul delivered in this section of his letter to the Corinthian saints.  Paul introduced a spiritual mechanism whereby the veil of unbelief came into play for saints who failed to believe the second part of Paul’s gospel: . . . in whose case the god of this world has blinded the eyes of the unbelieving . . . (2 Cor. 4:4).  The god of this world is none other than Satan!

Remember Jesus’ parable of the four soils (Matt. 13:3-9)?  In His parable, Jesus identified the birds as the evil one (i.e., Satan) who came and snatched away the word of the kingdom sown in a person’s heart.  Observe, ‘snatching away’ is quite a different activity from ‘blinding’ which Paul had just described.

Then, how is the different activity of ‘blinding the minds’ carried out by Satan?  The answer was provided by Paul in 2 Cor. 11:13-15.  Satan’s activity was carried out by false apostles and their deceitful teachings.  That is one reason why Paul had taken such pains earlier to identify himself as God’s authentic apostle (2 Cor. 2:14-3:6, particularly vs. 2:17).

Satan’s activity was likely through teachers that were unbelieving Jewish saints who believed they had to supplement God’s adequacy to fulfill His new-covenant by doing something (the law) rather than by just believing something (God’s promise).  The spiritual consequence for saints who listened to those teachers: their ‘unbelieving’ choice enlivened sin so they were unable to see . . . the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God living spiritually through Paul.  And Christ was the image of God, not an image produced by human hands, but fashioned and given by God Himself as the exact representation of His nature, including godliness (cf. Heb. 1:3; 1 Tim. 3:16).

Hence, Paul, who had died to sin, became an aroma of death (to sin) to death (from sin) for those saints who, from sin, were ruining themselves by their catastrophic choice (2 Cor. 2:15-16).  Death—separation from fellowship with Christ and God—had come to those saints because they had rejected Paul’s accurate teachings by his own death to sin.

 

    2 Cor. 4:5-6

5For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.  6For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

 

For we do not preach ourselves . . . was Paul’s affirmation of his own death to sin with the resultant spiritual reality that Another had control of his life.  In sin’s place, the authority over the apostle’s life was none other than . . . Christ Jesus as Lord . . .  Therefore, Paul was Jesus’ bond-servant (cf. Rom. 1:1).  And having Jesus as the Lord of one’s life was Paul’s consistent message for the essence of new-covenant living. 

However, Paul also included the Corinthians as those to whom he served as a bond-servant: . . . and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.  For those Corinthian saints that still served sin rather than Jesus as Lord of their lives, it had been—and continued to be—Paul’s stated intention to become their bond-servant so he might save some from slavery to sin (1 Cor. 9:19-22; cf. Rom. 9:1-4).

Paul was quick to acknowledge that it was not he, himself, who would save some saints from slavery.  Salvation was exclusively God’s work.  To illustrate this point, the apostle cited God’s own words recorded by Moses in Gen. 1:3 (‘Light shall shine out of darkness’).  God forced darkness to produce light.  Some conjecture that the Light may have been God’s Shekinah glory, which had also subsequently caused Moses’ face to shine temporarily because the glory was not intrinsic or internal.

In any event, what is truly remarkable about Paul’s use of God’s words is that no human existed at the point in time when God made darkness produce light.  Therefore, God’s light-command and its fulfillment were unarguably God’s adequacy alone for the task because no human existed to help God (cf. Job 38:4)!  Uncontestably, no human could have accomplished this illuminating feat within the physical creation.

An aside: one other possible demonstration of God’s adequacy occurred in another creation that was, and will remain, unparalleled in human history.  God created the man—Jesus—without sin.  God did this by His Spirit conceiving Jesus using only the material from Mary’s seed.  Known biblically and doctrinally as the virgin birth, Jesus was created apart from Adam’s DNA which carried the sin virus to all his progeny without exception (cf. Rom. 5:12).  The virgin birth was a dramatic example of man’s total inadequacy in matters spiritual.  Thus, from the very beginning, God alone is perfectly adequate for His salvation from sins and sin.

Using a comparison between the physical creation and God’s work within His spiritual creation, Paul next acknowledged that God . . . is the One who has shown in our hearts to give the Light . . .  The point in Paul’s comparison was that, since God was the acknowledged exclusive adequate agent of the physical creation, He is also the exclusive and adequate agent of spiritual enlightenment: . . . the One who has shown in our hearts . . . the new heart being the seat of belief.  In other words, Paul, himself, was not adequate to save any saint from slavery to sin—spiritual enlightenment and belief were totally a demonstration of God’s adequacy.

Paul next defined God’s spiritual enlightenment of saints’ darkened hearts—the Light—as  . . . the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  Note: for additional evidence that saints can have darkened hearts, see Rom. 1:21.

The face of Christ to which Paul referred was likely not Jesus’ appearance during His earthly ministry because He looked like any other Jewish male with a bearded face (cf. Isa. 53:2).  Also, Paul’s reference was not based on Paul’s experience on the Damascus road when he and his travelling companions were suddenly surrounded by a blinding light flashing from heaven (Acts 9:3; 26:13).  So, to what did Paul refer?

For Paul personally, following his spiritual birth, there were likely at least two possible occasions where he may have seen . . . the glory of God in the face of Christ.  The first occasion may have been when the ascended Christ revealed Himself to Paul in Arabia (cf. Acts 26:16 where Jesus promised Paul that He would reveal Himself; and Gal. 1:17-18 where Paul reported his approximately-three-year stay in Arabia).  The other possible occasion was mentioned by Paul (later in his Second Corinthian letter) when he “. . . was caught up to the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:1-4).

In all likelihood, Paul’s third-heaven experience was probably much like that of the apostle John’s experience in the Spirit when he saw, “. . . one like the Son of Man . . . (Rev. 1:13).”  According to John, “. . . His face was like the sun shining in its strength (Rev. 1:16).”

For other saints who had not personally seen the ascended Christ, they may have relied upon Paul’s own personal testimony of his experience (or, the post-resurrection testimonies of Peter, James, and John regarding Jesus’ Transfiguration).

In any event, the knowledge consisted of the following five facts:

Therefore, choosing Christ as Lord over one’s life is tantamount to the Deity ruling one’s life.  Servitude to Christ does not demean, dishonor, nor circumvent God the Father.  Furthermore, Christ dwelling spiritually in the believer brings all the power and authority in heaven and on earth necessary to deliver from slavery to sin and manifest the obedient lifestyle of new-covenant living by the saint.

 

    2 Cor. 4:7

7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

 

In contrast to Christ’s glorified body, . . . we (believers) have this treasure (Christ in His deity) in earthen vessels.  The earthen vessels probably hark back to God’s using dust from the ground as the original material for His creation of the man’s body (Gen. 2:5).  The emphasis on earthen material called attention to man’s physical constitution.

However, the human problem is sin which is spiritual in nature, impacting the human mind and heart.  The enemy—the god of this world—is likewise operating in the spiritual realm (cf. Eph. 2:2; 6:12).  Therefore, material man is totally inadequate and powerless for dealing with matters in the spiritual domain.

On the other hand, God is completely adequate and forthcoming with . . . the surpassing greatness of the power . . . required to completely and perfectly resolve mankind’s spiritual problems.  Thus, Paul juxtaposed God’s adequacy with man’s inadequacy: . . . the power will be of God and not from ourselves, acknowledging Deity dwells in our earthen vessels and no longer in a tabernacle or temple as under the old covenant.

 

    2 Cor. 4:8-9

8[we are] afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;    9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

 

The twenty-first century church is sometimes confronted with the ‘health and wealth’ gospel.  However, Paul’s experience in new-covenant living had been filled with anything but health and wealth.  Rather, he had been universally afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.  Why?

The answer: for discipline or training leading to spiritual maturity as well as providing a forum for the visible manifestation of new-covenant living.

Probably most saints recognize that if life were filled with health and wealth, there would be little-or-no incentive to seek God or to change.  But the writer to the Hebrews explained that part-and-parcel with new-covenant living—that is, striving against sin—are the goads of the Father’s discipline in order to train His children so they might yield the peaceful fruit of (Christ’s) righteousness (cf. Heb. 12:4-11).  As the Hebrews writer aptly recorded, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful . . . (Heb. 12:11).

Notice with Paul, all the trials and tribulations were dramatically contrasted with human responses that were not ‘natural:’ not crushed, not despairing, not forsaken, and not destroyed.  The responses were, in fact, supernatural thereby manifesting new-covenant living.

For example, after Paul and Silas had been savagely beaten and then incarcerated in a Philippian jail, they had begun—in a very unnatural way—to pray and sing hymns to God (Acts 16:22-25).  A more natural response would have been to scream invectives and curses at those inflicting pain, discomfort, and detention.

The spiritual bases for their out-of-the-ordinary and odd responses follow.

 

    2 Cor. 4:10-11

10Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our (the saints’) body.  11For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death (to sin) for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

 

The spiritual reality of always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus pointed to the period on the cross when Jesus had cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt.27:46).  During those moments, Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of those God calls. Those sins ruptured the fellowship between Jesus and God.

For Paul and Silas in Philippi, through their belief in the above spiritual reality, forgiveness of their sins was only a confession away, thus insuring continued fellowship with the Father and Son. That fellowship was expressed in prayer and song.

Jesus was without sins but suffered terribly on behalf of those His Father calls.  Yet, He withstood the awesome trial of the cross, together with the indignities leading up to His death, without retaliation or repudiation—but simply with a prayer for His Father’s forgiveness of His detractors and hecklers.  Thus, as mediator of the new covenant, He became the archetypical pattern for all those who would live under the new covenant.

One of the ultimate goals of Jesus’ dying was so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our (the saints’) body.  Paul next explained the mechanism whereby Jesus’ life is manifested in the saints.

For we who live (i.e., have eternal life) are constantly being delivered over to death (to sin) . . .  A saint can easily become a slave to sin by sinning (John 8:34).  To be delivered constantly from this potential spiritual catastrophe of slavery to sin—often initiated by a saint’s determination to obey law—the saint must believe God’s promise to put to death the practices of sin by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:13).

A constant reminder of God’s promise is the mechanism that brings about . . . constantly being delivered over to death . . .  This death, on a daily basis, (cf. 1 Cor. 15:31) is for Jesus’ sake so that He can be Lord of one’s life and not sin.  As Lord, His life then may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

This brief statement by Paul summarizes the key requirements to living eternal life under the new covenant.  But what about those saints that are not living under the new covenant?

 

    2 Cor. 4:12

12So death (to sin) works in us, but (eternal) life in you.

 

Paul next added these words of encouragement to those saints not living under the new covenant.  Because death (to sin) works in us, his theologically-correct encouragement was spiritually valid for those who had eternal life—but (eternal) life in you.

All that was necessary for saints who believed in their own adequacy for spiritual living was to confess their sins and thus be restored to fellowship with the Father and Son (cf. 1 John 2:7, 9), followed by the simple confession that Jesus was their Lord, resulting in being saved from their slavery to sin (Rom. 10:9).  These simple beliefs would provide living testimony that only God Himself was adequate for spiritual life and new-covenant living.

They could put to death the practices of sin by the Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:13) and discover that Jesus’ life was being manifested through them; by so doing, they would begin living life under the new covenant.

 

6.  In verses 4:13-18, the apostle Paul elaborated the eternal credit (recognition) beyond comparison for earthly living under the new covenant.

 

    2 Cor. 4:13-14

13But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore we also speak,  14knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.

 

Paul reassured the Corinthian saints—both those saints living, and not living, under the new covenant—that they had the same spirit of faith as did he.  That spirit of faith, the new spirit installed in those who had been called by God (Ezek. 36:26), caused all those born again to believe God’s promise of forgiveness of their sins through Jesus’ death.  Such belief resulted, permanently and irrevocably, in new-covenant life.

Quoting Psalm 116:10 (I believed, therefore I spoke), Paul underscored his own belief in God’s promise of forgiveness—we also believe.  Based on Paul’s faith, or belief in God’s promises and adequacy, it followed logically from the scriptures that we also speak.  Much of what Paul had boldly spoken about in this section of Second Corinthians was about new-covenant living, even for those unbelieving saints.

For both believing and unbelieving saints, Paul asserted his knowledge that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.  Paul knew indisputably that his eternal destination was heaven and assured both groups they were also irreversibly on their respective journeys to heaven.

The phrase will raise us could imply Paul and Timothy were near physical death (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16).  Or, an alternate explanation might be that the us Paul had in mind were all presently deceased saints (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-14).  Irrespective of the explanation, Paul was assured that he was permanently and irrevocably saved from the lake of fire judgment (cf. Rev. 19:20)—an assurance for all saints and one in which they can all rejoice (cf. John 5:24).

 

    2 Cor. 4:15

15For all things [are] for your sakes, so that the grace which is being multiplied through the many may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

 

Paul explained to the Corinthian saints that all things he had written about God’s promises and adequacy were for your sakes.  The apostle’s purpose: so that the grace which is being multiplied through the many may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.  Five noteworthy facts are:

 

    2 Cor. 4:16-18

16Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  17For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,  18while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

 

Because spiritual life and new-covenant living are rooted in God’s grace and promises, and appropriated by those He calls through His gift of faith to them, Paul could write we do not lose heart . . . though our outer man is decaying.  Although new-covenant living did not reverse or terminate physical mortality, it did provide courage and boldness in Paul’s life of many trials because of God’s adequacy.

Furthermore, Paul realized that his inner man (new heart and new spirit) was being renewed day by day through a daily God-focused and God-enlightened perspective that remained positive and optimistic despite the world’s obviously deteriorating spiritual and moral condition, and even his own personal deteriorating physical condition.

What possibly could maintain the apostle’s overwhelmingly positive attitude?  The answer most assuredly did not originate with any motivational speaker or seminar!  Paul’s attitude originated and was sustained from his awareness that this momentary light affliction was producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.  Here are five factors buttressing Paul’s positive attitude:

Coming from an ordinary human, Paul’s words might sound like a sports coach regaling his team at half-time because of some difficulties suffered at the game’s outset.  But this man was not ordinary.  He had been caught up to The third heaven and heard things not permissible for a man to describe (2 Cor. 12:2-4).  Thus, what was behind Paul’s positive thinking was a revelation from God Himself, so magnificent that to tell other saints might end in their immediate and premature departure for The third heaven.

So Paul’s worldly perspective was not biased by looking at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  In the apostle’s mind’s-eye of faith, he was privileged to picture The third heaven.  For the things which are seen are temporal.  That is, temporal things are temporary, changing, partial, distorted, incomplete, and oftentimes evil.  In contrast, the things which are not seen are eternal.  That is, eternal things are permanent, unchanging, complete, without distortion, and finished.  And above all things, eternal things are good!

 

Conclusion

New-covenant living has been unveiled.  From 2 Cor. 3:5, the principle of new-covenant living may be stated simply as: “Nothing coming from us; everything coming from God!” (Stedman, Ray C. Authentic Christianity. Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1996, p. 45).

God’s promise for new-covenant living given His prophet Ezekiel: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you and cause (emphasis mine) you to walk in My statutes, and you will be (emphasis mine) careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezek. 36:26-27).

God “causes” perfect conformance to His statutes and ordinances by the Lord Jesus living spiritually in the saint and manifesting His perfectly obedient life by the Spirit’s power through the saint in response to the saint’s belief alone in God’s promise of new-covenant living.

The major obstacle to new-covenant living is the saint’s resolve, decision, or determination to obey God’s law himself.  Such a spiritually devastating choice by any saint activates sin causing the saint to commit sins, thereby becoming a slave to sin, and rupturing fellowship with the Father and the Son.

Ruptured fellowship can be repaired by confessing the act of sin—or, sins—to God.

Finally, the difficulties experienced by saints living under the new covenant are producing for them an eternal recognition far beyond all comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  

 

 

 

 

 

                  

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