2 Corinthians 2&3: Is Truth Dead?
Is Truth Dead? This was the cover of the April 3rd edition of Time Magazine. According to Time magazine it provoked a massive response. The NY Times had recently called President Trump “delusional.” It reminded many of the provocative cover in 1966 which asked: Is God Dead? It also reminded others in 1969, another Time cover which asked: Is God Coming Back to Life?’ Here are a couple of comments from readers: this one comes from Homewood Alabama, which caught my eye, because this is the location of Southern Living Corporate headquarters in Birmingham Al. This reader blamed the media both liberal and conservative alike for mixing news and opinion. Another wrote: ‘concepts once seen as absolute are now something to be defined by each individual.” This reminds me of the oft repeated statement in Judges, ‘there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.’
Remember what Jesus said as Pilate confronted Him: “For this reason, I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Paul’s first visit to the church at Corinth was so painful, he believed it would be best if he did not visit them the second time. His change in plans had caused those who were enemies of Paul to question his motives. They accused Paul of worldly, selfish motives. Paul is trying to explain as best he can why he did what he did. Listen to Paul’s heart: “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.”
Paul’s instructions to expel the man involved in sexual immorality with his stepmother was not to punish the man, but to take the drastic steps to restore him to fellowship. Evidently this had caused grief among the church. “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. “(2Cor. 2:6, 7)
Now Paul goes on to say, ‘anyone you forgive, I forgive.’ Remember what Jesus taught us in prayer in Matthew 6, ‘we are to forgive others as God has forgiven us.’ Unforgiveness is not only a sin; it is like a cancer which will consume you. Paul says the punishment was sufficient for this man, so evidently it had accomplished its purpose which was repentance and now it was up to the church to complete his restoration and reaffirm their love for him. Paul says we not only do this for Christ’s sake; but also in order that the devil does not outwit us. We must remember our enemy is very subtle. He will take advantage of unforgiveness to create bitterness, anger and resentment in our lives. The church at Corinth and the man whom they expelled had a common enemy, the devil. We must remember this when we are harsh in our judgment of a brother or sister who has fallen in sin. As we often say, ‘ there except for the grace of God go I.’ Meaning any of us can fall at any time which is why the Lord said ‘ watch and pray lest you fall into temptation.’ Paul reminds us of who our enemy is and that he is out to outwit us. “For we are not unaware of his schemes.” Yet in the times we live in, we have allowed our battle to be against flesh and blood, not spiritual wickedness. Our enemy is the father of lies, a deceiver who has deceived many in our culture there is no such thing as absolute truth, there is no all- knowing God, and there is no literal devil. He has blinded many around us to the truth, a veil is put over their mind when they read the Bible, believing it to be an ancient book written by men who were homophobic male chauvinists and point to the fact all these books credit men as authors. The truth is God is the Author. Is Truth Dead? Remember Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Here Paul tells us this truth: ‘God always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other the fragrance of life.” The Word of God, which we believe is absolute truth, condemns those who do not believe it. No wonder it is the aroma of death to those it condemns in their unbelief, and calls their lifestyle sinful. So they literally drown out the truth with their cries of intolerance, not being politically correct, and all the venomous words they can hurl at us, including homophobic, racists, and hateful, cruel people. They do not want to hear it and the enemy has blinded them and placed a veil over their minds.
As believers we can easily forget who the enemy is and find ourselves in the shouting matches and arguments until we realize we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but spiritual wickedness in high places. This is why our progressive sanctification is so critical at this time. We have a message of hope which much be spoken in love with gentleness and respect.
God uses three disciplines to transform us and carry out the process of sanctification. He uses people for we are told ‘iron sharpens iron.’ Sometimes the people God uses in our lives are loved ones and sometimes He uses our enemies. God uses circumstances. And these can involve health, finances and relationships. Stormy times and times of peace are both used by our all-wise God who administers both with love which always has our best interests at heart. God also uses the Word of God. What is interesting is the first two disciplines work from the outside to the inside. They also are not something we really have control over. The third discipline is different in two key areas: the Word of God works from the inside out to transform and we do have control over how much time we spend with the Lord in His Word. This is why daily time spent in meditation on the Word of God is so important to each of us. *Today’s lesson will remind us how important this disciple of daily Bible intake is in our lives. For truth has never been more important than it is here in the 21st century.
Notice Paul has a word for the prosperity preachers, those who corrupt the Word of God for profit. In the NIV, the word ‘peddlers’ is used to describe them. Think about those who preach the ‘believe it and receive it’ gospel, which is no gospel at all. Paul wrote most of the New Testament which they peddle for their own good. Yet look at Paul’s resume. Paul spent most of his time in jail or prison. When he came to town he started either a revival or a riot, usually both. He had no large salary; he had no huge home; he never built a church building; he had not big budget; and by his own admission, he was a poor speaker and we read he had an unimpressive appearance. Have you ever seen a church hire an ugly, poor preacher, who was an ex-convict?
Now as we move into the third chapter, Paul says do we need like some people do, letters of recommendation? Paul is accused of not being a real apostle by his enemies. It is as if Paul saying to them, do I really need to have a letter of recommendation from Peter or John that I am an apostle of Jesus Christ? You, the believers of Corinth, are my letter of recommendation. You are a letter or recommendation from Jesus Christ that the message I brought to you, the Gospel has saved you and made you a new creature. The result of this ministry of the Lord’s is written not on stones as with Moses and the first covenant, nor is it written on paper from men, it is written on the tablets of your heart, the Holy Spirit being the very ink with which it is written.
The Law written on those stone tables on Mount Sinai was broken no sooner than they had been written. The old covenant could not save you; it was the Law of Sin and Death. You could not keep the law, no one could. Jesus came to establish the New Covenant, the Law of Spirit of Life which set us free from the Law of sin and death. So each one of us are a letter to others, to our community. We are a letter from Christ Jesus. And they may never have opened the Bible, God’s letter to mankind, but we who have been changed can be a living letter from the Lord. Those who knew me before I was saved knew what a sinner I was, a drunk, and an alcoholic who could not stay sober. As Paul would say as ‘such were some of you.’ I went down on my knees that day almost 40 years ago a sot, I arose from them a saint. All of this has happened because Christ had changed my life. My changed life became a letter to others. You are the only letter from the Lord some people will ever read. Our church is the only letter some in the community will ever read. What are they reading? Or do they read us and see nothing to attract them? Is the radiance of God’s Glory being reflected? Or have we put our lights which come from the Glory of God under a bushel or behind a veil or maybe basked in His Glory as if it was our glory? Do we have a veil, a mask of hypocrisy others see when the observe us?
THE GLORY OF THE NEW CONVENANT
Paul makes an interesting analogy here in these verses. Speaking of the old covenant that brought death which was engraved on stone tablets, Paul says “ if this came with glory so that the Israelites could not look steadily on the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was , will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? “ The book of Hebrews tells us of the greater and even greatest glory of the New Covenant and the Great High Priest who is above all. Paul would refer to the Old Covenant as ‘the law was our school master whose purpose was to bring us to Christ to be justified by faith. But after faith comes, we are not under the schoolmaster (the law), for you are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. And as many of you have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Christ is our righteousness, which we are all in need of- it is in fact our greatest need.
So liberty comes from a loving relationship with God through faith in the finished work which the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus provided. Each believer is clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The law is our standard. But we need strength to live Spirit-controlled lives. We do not have the strength to keep the law, no one does. We are to walk in the Spirit. Holiness is not the way to Christ. Christ is the way to holiness. We are to be led by the Spirit, for where the Spirit is there is liberty. We will never become sinless, however when we believe, our sins past, present and future are forgiven. From that moment we have two natures. The old nature is as incorrigible as always. The new nature cannot sin. The old nature is viewed by God as having been crucified. We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin and no longer a slave to sin. I was a slave to alcohol. I know exactly how Paul felt when he said the thing I do not want to do, I do, and the thing I want to do, I do not. I was miserable and so was Paul. Now as a Christian I will still sin, not habitually, but there will be digressions. However we must all keep in mind, if you are a child of God and sin, you have not lost your salvation, but communion is interrupted and joy is lost, but the relationship remains untouched. God will chasten you and the punishment will be in accordance with the seriousness of the sin. But it is always for the purpose of restoration. (Read Hebrews 12 for a more complete explanation of God’s disciple for those He loves.)
Now I want to make it clear- the Old Testament is not bad and the New Testament good. The law of the Old Testament, the 10 Commandments are our standard. But it was given by God as Paul explains not as a means of salvation that is being saved by works. For the Old Covenant was a school master who taught us none us could keep the law, no not one. And from the very beginning when the first law was broken in the Garden, God revealed it was only in the shedding of blood that sins would be forgiven, for the wages of sin is death. A lamb without defect would be sacrificed. The blood which was posted on the door posts in Egypt was memorialized by God into the Passover. And was a picture of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
Now back to Moses and his veiled face. Moses put a veil over his face after being in God’s presence for the glory of God shining through him made the Israelites afraid. In other words, God’s Glory shining on Moses’ face the Israelites uncomfortable. We can expect our sharing of the Gospel to make some uncomfortable. We read this account in Exodus 34. We also read when Moses entered into the presence of the Lord, he took off the veil. Moses entered into the presence of God with unveiled face. This is the privilege we have to enter behind the curtain into the most holy of holies into the very presence of God. Do you believe this? Because if you do, what could ever keep you from not wanting to enter there?
Paul says we are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at his fading glory. Paul says their minds were blinded and even to this day when they read Moses the veil remains. How is this veil removed? When we turn to Christ, He takes away the veil. Just like the bridegroom does when he and his wife have entered into marriage, he removes her veil and kisses her.
“Now the Lord is Spirit and where the Spirit is there is liberty. But we all with open (unveiled) face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord are changed into the same image from glory to glory, ( ever-increasing glory ,NIV) even as by the Spirit of the Lord. “
Do you see the veil interferes with the work of the Spirit in obeying the law? The veil can deceive us into thinking we are pleasing the Lord. But if it is of works and not faith – it is not of grace. But more than that- the veil keeps us from putting to death that which is needed in order to have new life. We all have areas which we try to control or pet sins which we have rationalized are not that serious. These are veils which keep us from beholding the glory of God in those areas of our lives. Listen to what James says: “But be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word , and not a doer, he is like a man beholding his natural face in a glass; for he beholds his face in a mirror and after looking at himself goes away immediately and forgets what manner of man he was. But whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues to do this, being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed indeed.” (James 1)
Paul is talking about an ongoing, progressive work of sanctification in our lives. He is talking about removing all veils by yielding all our lives to God, every area. Glory comes from God, but it only comes through a life yielded to Him.
The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make us like the Son of God. This is accomplished through the spiritual discipline of beholding. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind and soul. As a result it is a reasonable act of worship to yield your body to His service also. Why does God want us to worship Him? Because God knows what we worship we become like. For where our treasure is our heart is also. God knows He is the only One we can worship that will not lead us into destruction, degeneration. The law of worship says by beholding we can become changed, transformed. Therefore the devil has always wanted to be worshipped and he wants you to worship him and the things of the world of which he is ruler. Therefore what we worship and aspire to be like is what will influence our thought process. And remember as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. So guard your heart with all diligence for out it come the issues of life. Our will is designed as a faculty of the mind and is to function in the direction of reason and conscience. God beckons us to come reason together with Him. God does not want your worship because HE has an ego which demands worship. God made you to worship Him and He knows this is what will bring you the most enjoyment.
For the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
“If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”