Read 2 Corinthians 3:1-18
The 2nd letter to the Corinthian church was something that Paul wrote after an agonising and tortuous wait to see what the results were to be from his first letter. Paul had had to be very tough with the Corinthians who were leading very sensuous and carnal lives amongst a carnal people and He had read them the riot act.
In truth we must be thankful he did because 1st Corinthians carries some of the most important teachings for understanding Christian basics such as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the communion table and the resurrection both of Christ and our selves. But he hadn’t sent the letter because he was fed up of them or embarrassed by them, or even that he felt they reflected poorly on him, but that he felt and intense burden for them as their Spiritual father in Christ.
For out of much trouble and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have more abundantly to you.
2 corinthians 2:4
He sent Titus to them to help bring order to the church and waited anxiously for his return and what news of their repentant hearts.
Had he been to harsh, had he crushed them or had they been able to respond to the message of change.
I have previously brought a message that we needed to change as a Church. To except that attending church is not the same as getting to know the Lord. That we must honour our commitment to the Lord to be His bond servant and that we look for our Joy to be in our relationship with Christ as our beloved.
I’m not looking for sycophants who enjoy my cult of personality, I’m not looking for you to love this church. Instead we must look to ourselves to mature from seeing God as just our great provider to our loving Husband and that as such we should desire to reek of Jesus. Friends I will not be satisfied until your conversations are of Christ, your thoughts are of His compassion and your Joy is in your fellowship with Him. Why? because that’s what you were created for and that’s what I am called here to do and that’s the direction the Lord has started us on.
Titus he had struggled with the Corinthians but was able to return and give Paul the good news that many had responded to His call. They were a good church at heart, Acts tells us so. But they had become worldly and having been corrected it was now time for the difficult element which was to actually change.
In Titus’s report to Paul he could tell him that many of the Corinthians had changed and we read that in this letter in which Paul commends the Corinthians for responding to His words
But He who comforts the lowly comforted us by the coming of Titus. And not only by his coming, but by the comfort with which he was comforted over you, telling us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced the more. For even if I grieved you in the letter, I do not regret; if indeed I did regret; for I see that that letter grieved you for an hour. Now I rejoice, not that you were grieved, but that you grieved to repentance. For you were grieved according to God, so that you might suffer loss by nothing in us. 2Corinthians 7:6-9
But in Titus report he mentioned there were still those in Corinth who refused to change and instead had gone on the attack suggesting that Paul was not a real Jew, had no right to talk to them this way, never came with letters of recommendation and could not even be called an Apostle, and so now the good work was being undone, because these men tried to pull the Corinthians back down again to their level.
Friends whenever change comes it makes the idle, the wicked and plotters jealous and they will do all they can to pull you back down. The Lord spoke to you, but they don’t want to hear, they will steal your joy and make you doubt and call it all a lie.
Who else used those tactics in the Garden of Eden?
In Corinth these people were spilt into two groups; the Judiaser’s who had come up from Jerusalem and wanted the gentiles to come under the law, similar to that which Galatians was written about; and then their was the those who had shown no fruits worthy of repentance. it is to this group that Paul writes chapter 3, Those who challenge Paul’s authority to tell them what is right or wrong, who wanted to have their cake and eat it.
Now I don’t bring this chapter because I feel we have a hardcore of stubborn unrepentant carnal people in the Church and somehow, I want to challenge you to change your ways. But I do want to look at a very important subject which is the next logical step for those of us who have chosen to draw closer to Jesus and that is holiness.
Paul begins this chapter by answering his critics who say he never came with recommendations by agreeing with them.
In an age without passports or photos, unless somebody already knew who you were, you could turn up somewhere and say by the way I’m Paul. This would be Identity theft the easy way! It had become the church way, before the introduction of denominations that a person carrying a recommendation letter, signed by the Church, especially Jerusalem would be welcomed no questions asked. This most definitely made the gift of discernment very important, where as persons fruits or actions could determine who they really were. Paul didn’t carry letters of recommendations because he knew he had been called to do this work and that his fruits would prove he was who he said he was.
This is a good rule, here at grace we want you all to have chances to serve the Lord, but to those who arrive new into our church we ask them to wait a few months so that we as a body we may see their fruits, If we don’t see your servant heart you will never be allowed to run any meetings, because it is humility and hard work that the Lord builds with, we must always work as though it is a privilege to serve the Lord, and never as though it is a privilege to God that we are willing to work for him, if that is your attitude your fruits will show.
However, Paul’s letter here is an after the fact statement.
Paul had already been with them, he had helped to plant their church, to teach and to preach, they knew of His works, they understood his teaching, they had been blessed, and now others had come and said, o he’s not a real apostle.
Don’t people annoy you, they seem to find that chink in the armour and exploit it.
If you genuinely made a commitment to get closer to the Lord and you are beginning to feel that in your own Heart don’t be surprised if somebody comes and attacks this church, your life or me in order to steal away your joy.
But Paul points not to his hard work as his fruit, or even his life of suffering for the gospel as his vindication. Instead he points to themselves and their own lives as the fruits not of his labour but in Christ Jesus, in whom he boasts to others but in whom others should see Christ Jesus.
For the Corinthians, if we had been in letter number 1 we could have probably said no not really. But why would we say that? Because of their selfishness, immorality, impetuousness, childishness and ungodliness, they are probably all good reasons.
If that were the reason, Corinth wouldn’t be a very good letter of recommendation for Paul. Choosing to be a holy people is really a no brainier; the scriptures teach us to be holy for He is holy. But what does it mean to be holy, to be a letter of recommendation to others to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
For the Judiasers it was clearly to live up to the Law of the Old Testament and if were honest for many of us we think this to be true also in part. I don’t mean the sacrifices, the feasts or the laws concerning mould or leprosy but definitely the Ten Commandments. Yet to this group Paul had already taught
All things are lawful to me, but not all things profit. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 1 Corinthians 6:12
And of course we then have the age old argument of permissibility against the law.
so lets address this issue for us as a church because I believe sincerely that having decided to follow Jesus we must now show fruits worthy of repentance. And in truth it is this very issue that Paul is addressing as he is not arguing with the Judiasers but with the unrepentant. Hence his teaching is to instruct those who don’t believe there should be any limitations on what we can or cant do, that after salvation we can carry on much the same.
Why not, if we peddle a gospel which suggests we are beautiful wonderful creations whom the Lord loves so much if only we will come to him, then we are suggesting they are already near perfection and they only need Christ to finish off the puzzle. Of course verse 3 gives away a simple truth we all know, and affirms the words of prophecy of Jeremiah
but this shall be the covenant that I will cut with the house of Israel: After those days, says Jehovah, I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Jeremiah 31:33
Today the Law of the Lord is written on our hearts and not on tablets of stone, or with ink, but in the heart by the Spirit of the living God, this is the same term used as the finger of God which actually carved the commandments into the stones of which Moses carried down from Sinai. For each of us here it means that the moment of sin is met with the heart pangs of conviction and this is what the prophet meant by written upon our heart. Where as with the old covenant, conviction came in the form of direct intervention and wrath of the Lord.
Paul highlights the difference in verse 6, when he says the letter kills. Romans teaches us very clearly that the purpose of the giving of the law was to show us our sin nature and to highlight that we were unable to be righteous on our own. Hence why we say it is a stick which chases us to the cross, or where sin abounds grace abounds far more. Without the Law we would not know of sin, and because of the law we desire to sin more, hence it kills. But the purpose of the new covenant of which the Lord convicts before the fact and not after it, is the purpose to bring life into the believer, so that they are able to come out of Sins snare. The two covenants have that marked difference, one points to your sin and condemns you the other warns you of sins snare.
The unrepentant group threw the allegation back at Paul that their sin meant they could receive more grace, an allegation which he addresses in the book of Romans
And not rather, (as we are wrongly accused, and as some affirm that we say), Let us do bad things that good may come? Their condemnation is just. Romans 3:8
I’m sure none of us in the church would be sucked into such a ridiculous idea, Yet many in the church have come to the conclusion because the law is only to show us to the cross and it has no power to save that now we are saved we no longer need to pay any attention to the old testament, in particular the Law.
Hence the Judiasers came and said you must conform to all the laws of God, because that is the only way you will stay Holy. To which Paul says in Galatians
knowing that a man is not justified by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ; even we believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith in Christ, and not by works of the Law. For all flesh will not be justified by works of law. Galatians 2:16
It would seem that the Corinthian’s were stuck between an all or nothing agenda. Paul sends this letter to help them, and us that we might know, how is it that we may grow in Christ. How might we be distinctive fruit of Christ Jesus?
Paul begins by explaining the limitations of the law, by invoking Moses, When two rabbis were arguing the one who could get Moses to agree with him won, Moses was the checkmate. Yet Paul shows here that even Moses knew the limitations of the law of God.
When we read this about the veil we can be forgiven for thinking that what it means is when ever Moses was with the Lord His face began to shine with the radiance of God that the people were terrified and so he had to veil Himself. This is the mistake we often make, believing that it is the Glory of God, the Dunamis radiantly shinning through our faces that will define us as different to the rest of the world. Therefore making them want to come to Christ to see this Dunamis in their own life. Except the word for glory here is not Dunamis its Duxha, and it means to praise and worship.
Moses face shone in worship of God because his of the holy law, but the point of Paul’s usage is to point to why Moses wore a veil, and it wasn’t to hide the glory away from the people. Verse 7 ends with the reason, because the glory was passing away. The people could not see the temporary nature of the Law of God, that its praise would pass away replaced by the glory of Christ Jesus who didn’t come to end the law but fulfil it. Even as Jesus was paying the cost for sin, the veil was still over their eyes unable to see its passing away.
So if there is no law what is the purpose of conviction of Sin, and how might we measure being Holy as he is Holy? How then today might we leave, having known we have been challenged to grow up in Christ and cleave to Him, that to do so requires us to choose to be Holy, but still failing to find a definition of what Holiness is, if the law has been fulfilled by Christ.
I have been crucified with Christ, and I live; yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me. And that life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith toward the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself on my behalf. Galatians 2:20
So we must desire to live by faith toward the son of God even though we cannot see Him, in other words to do what please Him, rather than selfishly pleases myself. Yet this is still not a specific instruction and leaves us open to become carnal as the Corinthian church were.Paul finishes in verse 18, by revealing to us what the specific is, and that is what we see in the Spiritual mirror.
But we all, with our face having been unveiled, having beheld the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18
The word for transform here is one which is an important word that when I say it will make you understand how we can specifically know what is Holy without ever been specifically told what is holy. The word is metamorphous, as we might understand of the caterpillar, transformed into the butterfly. The act of Salvation has set in motion a metamorphous in you, where day by day we are being transformed from our selfish fleshly selves, to the likeness of Christ Jesus. What is that Likeness, well it says in scripture that he knew no sin but was tempted in every way. That he was a holy vessel fit for the service of the King. And obedient to the Calling of the Lord.
What Paul teaches us here is that we don’t require a list of Rules, such as the Law to measure our holiness, but that it is measured in transforming and renewing of our minds into the likeness of Christ our Lord. This in essence is the fruit of repentance. Knowing that through the new covenant written on your hearts, conviction would be its policeman, does your heart convict you.
Christ came to pay the price for the Law, it can no longer condemn you, because for every one of the laws you have broken, the cost of which is death, the Lord can say paid in full. Yet Christ lived a sinless life and if we are being transformed into his likeness then it is his incorruptible nature which we must begin to desire to inherit. In other words, we must listen to our hearts conviction, and be prepared to give up that which we have come to love, and as you do, His glory, your salvation will shine out, because you are showing more of Christ in your life.
I ask again, do people see Christ in you.
What Paul brings together here in this chapter is to knock out both those who say we must live under the law and those who say we can do as we please. Putting together what we have learnt we can see that the scriptures teach us that we have a liberty under grace which means that many things of themselves are not sin. But that Christ wrote upon our hearts His new covenant that we may feel that great conviction when we do that which is not pleasing to the Lord. Therefore Holiness is not about keeping a list of do’s and don’ts but it is defined by getting a closer relationship with Christ This relationship is defined by the fact that we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ Jesus and we are advised to regularly look in the mirror, do you see a bit more of Christ shinning back every month .If not this is the Challenge.
I have set a challenge that I will not list what you can and can’t do, no long rules of what is right and wrong. Some things are a given, fornication, homosexuality, lying, adultery, murder and stealing. You know these are things which you should not do. But it’s not because I have listed them that you shouldn’t do them, it is because you want to get closer and closer to the Lord.
If we have truly matured then it is time for us to discover more of the Lord, knowing that our hearts will convict us and guide us to be Holy as he is Holy. And in so doing, we will be the epistle of Christ Jesus, the letter of recommendation that others may taste and see that the Lord is good.