2 Cor 3:7-4:6
7 The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. 8 Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? 9 If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! 10 In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. 11 So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever!
12 Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. 14 But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. 15 Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.
16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. 2 We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.
3 If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. 4 Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
5 You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
If that passage, at least the first half of it, sounds familiar, it may be because you have a fantastic memory and recall in great detail that I preached on that passage back on September 23, 2012, as we began a focus on the topic of “The Glory of God”. We traced that theme through the fall, and it was very present during our Advent season as we reflected on the Glory of God revealed to us in the incarnation of Jesus, and now I want to return to that theme for the next four weeks until we begin the season of Lent on Feb 17. To do so, we are going to narrow our focus to the theme of the Glory of God in a little section in the middle of the book of 2 Corinthians.
Here is the outline:
Glory Experienced: 2 Cor 3:7-4:6 Jan 20
Glory Internalized: 2 Cor 4:7-16a Jan 27
Glory Produced: 2 Cor 4:16b-5:10 Feb 3
Glory Shared: 2 Cor 5:11-6:2 Feb 10
Before diving in to the section of Scripture for today, let’s review: what is “the glory of God”? Shout it out, I’ll jot it down.
The best simple description I’ve found that answers that question is one I showed you back in September, that I felt was good enough to show again as we review. It is the words of Pastor-theologian John Piper, whom I introduced last week: (play video embedded in powerpoint) http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/what-is-gods-glory
The following is an edited transcript of the audio.
What is God's glory?
Wow. That's a good question, because we talk about it endlessly, don't we? And we should know what we're talking about. And yet it is very difficult to define. I'll make a stab at it.
The reason it is so important is because in the Bible I don't know of any truth that is more fundamentally pervasive than God's zeal to be glorified, which means his zeal for us so to think, so to feel, and so to act as to make him look as glorious as he is. We don't add to his glory.
So we want to make God's glory shine. We want to make it visible. "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). So the goal of my life should be to so live that when people know me well enough, they would say, "God is glorious!" Not "John is glorious," but "God is glorious!" (Which is probably why God lets us sin as much as he does. But that's another question.)
What is it? I believe the glory of God is the going public of his infinite worth. I define the holiness of God as the infinite value of God, the infinite intrinsic worth of God. And when that goes public in creation, the heavens are telling the glory of God, and human beings are manifesting his glory, because we're created in his image, and we're trusting his promises so that we make him look gloriously trustworthy.
The public display of the infinite beauty and worth of God is what I mean by "glory," and I base that partly on Isaiah 6, where the seraphim say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his—" and you would expect them to say "holiness" and they say "glory." They're ascribing "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his—" and when that goes public in the earth and fills it, you call it "glory."
So God's glory is the radiance of his holiness, the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections.
“the going public of God’s infinite worth”.
You ain’t seen nothin yet…
The passage of Scripture I read earlier contrast two different ways God has “gone public with His infinite worth”. The first is inferior, which is the point of the first paragraph. “that first glory was not glorious at all compared with…”, and that is a really fascinating place to start after we spent a lot of time in the book of Exodus, with the stories of Moses encountering the glory of God, and with the stories of the mountains shaking and lightening flashing and the consuming fire and pillar of cloud and all the rest. We studied those stories, and were awed by the majesty and glory of God. But now we come to 2 Corinthians, and Paul says, if you will allow me to paraphrase, “you ain’t seen nothin yet… if you thought THAT was impressive…” Verse 10: “In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way.”
How can that be? What could possibly be more overwhelmingly glorious than those mighty displays of power manifested through nature and through meeting God like the Elders did on the mountain? It certainly isn’t bigger mountains shaking, more lightening flashing, larger pillars of fire and smoke. Then what is it – what is this “greater glory”? We have to work for it, we have to look closely at the passage, can you find it?
The glory of a transformed life:
The new, greater glory is this: a transformed life. A person, like you and me, who is re-made to be like Jesus. It is here: “the Holy Spirit is giving life” (8b); and it is here: “how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God!”; and it is here: “all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (18).
The new, greater glory is not a supernatural manifestation of the person of God in a given time and place as it was when Moses and the Israelites saw God in the smoke and fire in the distance. Now it is in people like you and me, who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God, who transforms us from the inside so that we are “more and more like (Jesus) as we are changed into his glorious image.” And this is far greater, far superior, according to Paul, and this makes sense to me, because now this glory of God can be everywhere, can be living, can be shared (as we will see in 3 weeks), can be approached and known and touched by people far from God, and (even better!) can be experienced by you and I each and every moment of each and every day.
Provided we walk with Jesus.
Put that way, doesn’t the “lure” of the fleeting pleasures of our world lose some of its appeal? Given the choice between a momentary, fleeting pleasure that feels good for a moment; and to become as glorious as we know God to be through the work of the Holy Spirit within us, doesn’t it seem a fairly obvious choice? I’ll borrow a phrase from chapter 5: “these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life”, and that is the choice. You know, I really believe that if we changed our viewpoint away from thinking of “sin” as “stuff we shouldn’t do because it makes God mad” towards thinking of how glorious God is and how full of life and joy and energy and love God’s way is, we might find it easier and ourselves more motivated to live as God has called us. In other words, living God’s way really is the way for us to enjoy life the most. Because the Spirit transforms us, and we become like Jesus, and that is far more glorious than all the old stories of Moses and the Israelites.
“9 If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God!”
The Veil Removed:
Since last time, in September, I focused on this imagery of the “veil” and of it being removed and us being transformed as a result as we simply turn to Jesus, I’m not going to spend a ton of time on it today. But we can’t just completely ignore it, either. It shows us what to do, it shows us how to participate, it shows us what the choice for us is: “16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Here is our action, our responsibility, our great privilege because of what Jesus has done for us: we turn to the Lord. The act of “turning” is one of tangible change, not simply words or decisions (though those are important), but words put into action, decisions followed through with. “Turning to the Lord” means “turning away” from something else, and here is where some of us hesitate. We like the familiar, the comfortable, the easy, but those things from which we need to turn away bring condemnation, and death – they are actually killing us! – when the alternative is so much better. The glorious God, offering to make us glorious like Him.
“18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”
“see” and “reflect” the glory of the Lord. Now, let’s consider two different ways we “see” the glory of the Lord, especially in light of this idea that the transformation of people like you and me is the expression of this new and greater glory. Obviously, there are those experiences we have of transcendence, when we encounter Jesus for ourselves, those spiritual encounter stories we celebrate and rejoice in, as we should. For Paul, the author, he would remind us of his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road, and he would no doubt smile and tear up and be energized by the memory. We know from Paul’s life there were other similar encounters. In my own life, I have foundational stories of encountering Jesus as a boy of 9 in a church service, of times around a campfire where the presence of Jesus was palpable, of times in ministry where I got to be around as others – including many of you – got to encounter Jesus, of times with our boys at camp seeing them begin to awaken to the person of Jesus and His incredible love for them. You have your stories as well, I trust, and I encourage you to revisit them, to remember God’s goodness to you in them, to remember how it felt and how eager you were to respond with love and action.
But that is just the first part of it. If the new and greater glory is a transformed life, then the second incredible and powerful way that we have to experience the glory of God is in one another. I think we tend to exalt those first ways, and look for them, and miss out on this second way. If the Spirit actually is “mak(ing) us more and more like (Jesus) as we are changed into his glorious image”, then maybe the way to really see God’s glorious image is to really see one another. We will find the glory of God in each other. That is what this passage is saying! This is the “new” and “more glorious” way!!
I’m guessing some of us are resisting that truth. I’m guessing that some of us are hearing that and are either thinking, “ya right… I do see some of these people and it isn’t the glory of God I see…”; or else you are thinking “ya right… if someone really saw me they wouldn’t see the glory of God, they would see the ugliness of me.” If you have turned to Jesus, and are following Him, then those are both complete lies. In both cases, the problem is not with the passage and the teaching, it is in what we are choosing to see both in others and in ourselves. Of course we can find some ugliness, God isn’t finished yet – next week’s passage begins with “we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure”, and my point right now is are you looking at the jar or at the treasure it contains? The packaging is just that – packaging – and no matter how lovely it may be – think of a beautifully wrapped Christmas present – the wrapping is not what matters. We can, we will find the glory of God in one another if we choose to look, if we choose relationships that are not surface level and mediocre, and if we choose to ignore the wrapping paper or the clay jar and see, find, embrace, and love the treasure, the glory, that is the “light shining in our hearts”.
I know our world specializes in identifying the problems, seeing the errors, focusing on the blemishes. Let’s be different from that. Let’s focus on what is right, what is lovely, what is pure, what is excellent or praise-worthy. When your kid comes home with 75%, celebrate all the answers they got correct. When your husband cleans up after himself for a change, don’t mutter “it’s about time… why can’t you do that all the time”, instead celebrate the goodness of the action. When you go to church, don’t waste your emotional and spiritual energy on the one song you don’t like or the style you don’t relate to, thank God you have a community of brothers and sisters in Christ and a warm free place to worship and resources like a Bible freely available in every pew. When someone asks how you are, don’t complain about all the other people that didn’t: see the glory of God in the one person who asked. It is too easy to see the problems, and it is wrong when what we can really see is the glory of God revealed to us in each other.
We don’t give up:
The passage I read at the beginning continues into chapter 4, and just two brief points from there. First, “since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.” Over the next few weeks we are going to see some of the challenges and hardships Paul faced, and this prepares us. “We never give up.” It is a process of transformation, not a magic pill, and sometimes it is long and hard work. But we don’t quit. We don’t throw in the towel. We stand fast and refuse to give up. Where does that strength and determination come from? Taking the long view, which again will be a major theme ahead. It comes from our hope for eternity, beginning now.
Last, this idea of glory experienced reminds us that we (like Paul) are “servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” Let this light shine in your heart. Let it in. Let it glow, let it warm, let it grow in brightness and intensity. Don’t shut the door, restrict the flow of air or the fuel it needs, don’t make the conditions difficult. This light is good, for you and for others. It is infinitely better than messing around in the dark and the cold.
John Piper defines “glory” as “the going public of God’s infinite worth”. And God has chosen to do that – go public – through you and through me. As ambassadors. As representatives. As His children, His very own adopted family. Let it shine! Walk with the Spirit, turn to God, so that God’s glory may shine through your life, enriching you and all who come into contact with you. To God be the glory.