2 Corinthians 3:7-11
February 10, 2010
Nostalgia can be deadly to your faith.
I suppose there is always a temptation to look back at the past and imagine that it is better than the present, especially if you find yourself in a hard place.
If you are old, you may wish you were young again.
If your children have left home, you may wish they were young again.
If you enjoyed your college years, perhaps you dream of reliving them again.
Just yesterday I received a notice for the 40th anniversary reunion of my high school graduating class. Never mind that it seems impossible that I graduated 40 years ago. Reunions can make us nostalgic for happier, simpler times. And sometimes those nostalgic thoughts can lead us in a wrong direction:
Those were happy days. These are hard days.
Those were good times. These are bad times.
Things were better then. Things are worse now.
Remembering the past is always important lest we forget who we are and where we come from, but living in the past can be deadly to our spiritual health. If we spend too much time pining for the past, we may miss God’s blessings in the present. And we end up dreaming about what used to be instead of giving thanks for what we have right now.
The devil knows this, and that’s why he uses our hazy memories of yesterday to trip us up spiritually. If only he can get us yearning for what used to be, he can distract us from what God has given us right now.
Nostalgia can be deadly to your faith.
That’s the basic background of 2 Corinthians 3. A group of false teachers had convinced the Corinthians of the great glory of Moses’ day. They spoke so much of Moses and the law that Christ somehow seemed diminished in the process. In replying to these false teachers, Paul nowhere denigrates the days of Moses. He makes one point and he makes it in three ways: We should be grateful for our blessings because what Jesus gives us is so much more glorious than anything we had in the past.
While reading this passage I was struck with the words “glory” and “glorious.” In just five verses those two words show up ten times. If the false teachers said, “The law is glorious,” Paul says, “But what Jesus gives us is more glorious.” It’s not bad versus good but rather good versus better. What Jesus brings us in the gospel is better in every way.
How exactly is the gospel “better” for us? Paul provides three answers in 2 Corinthians 3:7-11.
I. It Provides Life Instead of Death.
Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? (vv. 7-8)
Last week I taught Galatians to 350 enthusiastic students at Word of Life Bible Institute in New York. A big part of my task involved helping them understand Paul’s argument in Galatians 3 that the law could not bring life. By giving us a set of standards, it tells us what is right and what is wrong, but it can’t inspire us to obedience. In fact, the law by itself arouses within us the desire to disobey. I illustrated it this way. Suppose, I said, that you are walking along the sidewalk and you see a sign on a bench that says, “Wet Paint. Do Not Touch.” What do you do? The class laughed knowingly at the question. You reach out and touch the bench. Why do you do that?
To see if the paint is still wet or not.
But the sign said, “Wet Paint. Do Not Touch.”
If there had been no sign, you wouldn’t have touched the bench. In fact, the thought of touching the bench would never have occurred to you.
The law by itself arouses within us the desire to disobey.
The sign aroused the desire that led you to disobey.
And that’s why you have wet paint on your fingers.
Is the law therefore bad? No, the law is good.
Is it weak? Yes, in the sense that it can only regulate outward behavior.
The law that shouts from Mt. Sinai “Thou shalt not” cannot compel me to obey its demands. It leaves me locked up in disobedience, a repeat offender who wants to change but lacks the power.
II. It Provides Forgiveness Instead of Condemnation.
“If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!” (v. 9).
That’s a strange way to put it. “The ministry that condemns men is glorious.” How can condemnation be glorious? Since the law comes from God, even my breaking it proves the rightness of the law. I am condemned not for doing right but for doing wrong. There is another way to say it.
I don’t “break” the Ten Commandments.
I am “broken” by the Ten Commandments.
I don’t “break” them.
They “break” me.
The law upholds God’s glory by punishing those who do not meet his righteous demands. But that’s all the law can do. It leaves us condemned and guilty. And that’s where the gospel comes in.
What the law could not do, Christ has done for us. Rule keeping produces guilt and leaves us dead in the road. But when Christ enters, we find new life. Once you come to Christ, you’re a brand-new person. You can never go back to the old person you used to be. You can try, but you won’t like it. You won’t be happy. You won’t be satisfied.
A verse from an old hymn explains the difference between the law and the gospel:
Do this and live, the law commands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
A better word the gospel brings,
Bids me fly and gives me wings.
The law demands but gives me no power to obey. When Christ enters, he “bids me fly and gives and me wings.”
III. It Provides These Blessings Permanently.
“For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!” (vv. 10-11).
Where did we see an example of that just recently? How about the Super Bowl last Sunday night where, in the most watched television event of all time, the New Orleans Saints came from behind to defeat the Indianapolis Colts. A thrilling game if you are a football fan, and especially if you are a Saints fan.
A better word the gospel brings, Bids me fly and gives me wings. </h6 class=”pullquote”>
They’ve already had the big parade in New Orleans and a celebration that lasted several days. Meanwhile published reports said that 11 fans-that’s ten plus one-greeted the Colts when their plane returned on Monday afternoon. Eleven fans. That’s what you get for losing the big game.
Did you ever wonder how the winning team always seems to have championship caps and t-shirts immediately after the game? That happens because the NFL orders two sets of caps and two sets of t-shirts, in this case one for the Saints and one for the Colts. So that’s why Drew Brees and the other Saints players wore their championship caps and t-shirts right after the game ended. What happened to the caps and t-shirts made up in case the Colts won? The NFL donated them to World Vision who will distribute them in Haiti.
You win and you’re the world champs. You lose and eleven people greet your plane on the way back home, and oh, by the way your championship gear is in Haiti, which is actually a good thing.
But even when you win, the glory fades eventually. In the early 1970s the Dallas Cowboys had a star running back named Duane Thomas who was known to be somewhat unpredictable. One year the Cowboys made it to the Super Bowl. During the lead-up to the big game, someone asked Duane Thomas what he thought about playing in the “ultimate game.” He replied with an answer that might have come right out of the book of Ecclesiastes. “If this is the Ultimate Game, why do they play it again next year?”
That’s all we get in this world.
But even when you win, the glory fades eventually.
But in Jesus Christ we have something that lasts forever. Think of what that means. We are . . .
Born again forever.
That’s the whole point of the New Covenant. God writes his law in our hearts and forgives our sins so that we might be saved forever. That’s why Hebrews 10:18 says, “Where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” You don’t need any other sacrifice for sin because the blood of Jesus Christ covers all our sins forever.
Christ is all we need, now and forever.
So, then, here is Paul’s answer to the spiritual nostalgia of those who want to go back to the law:
Are you nuts?
You were dead, now you are alive.
You were condemned, now you are forgiven.
All this is yours forever.
Rejoice and give thanks to God.
Why would anyone ever give this up?
I love Paul’s application of this truth in verse 12. “Therefore, since we have this hope, we are very bold.” The word “bold” means literally “freedom of speech.” I checked and the Greek text has an extra word that can mean “very” so the translation is very accurate.
We are very bold.
Other versions handle it in different ways:
“We use great plainness of speech” (KJV).
“Nothing holds us back” (MSG).
“We speak very freely and openly and fearlessly” (AMP).
I particularly like the way J. B. Phillips renders it, “With this hope in our hearts we are quite frank and open in our ministry.” It’s that little phrase “in our hearts” that attracts me. It’s fairly easy to read 2 Corinthians 3 (admittedly a difficult passage) with all its references to Moses and the Ten Commandments and the fading glory of the old system and to think, “This doesn’t really apply to me, does it?” The answer is, yes it does, if (and this is a big if) the hope of the gospel is firmly implanted in your heart.
If you know it . . .
If you understand it . . .
If you believe it . . .
If you see what Christ has accomplished for you . . .
If that truth ever grips your heart . . .
If you see what Christ has accomplished for you, you can never be the same.
You will never be the same again. You can’t be the same.
I received a prayer letter from Becky Pippert who with her husband Dick has spent the last few months speaking and teaching in the British Isles and across Europe, training college students to do evangelism and challenging them to reach out to their neighbors with the Good News. The irony of this is that Europe was once considered a “Christian continent.” Perhaps that was always too optimistic a reading of the spiritual condition, but few would use that term now. With churches largely empty, and with the masses turned to secular pursuits, Europe has become a “post-Christian” land. Becky mentioned that she and Dick spent time with Michael Green, the noted Christian author, apologist, and Anglican priest whose great burden has been to equip lay Christians to share the gospel effectively. The letter mentioned something he said that I could not put out of my mind:
Michael said something quite sobering. He said that there are factions within the European Union that are hoping to pass a bill that will make evangelism an illegal activity. “How much time do you think you have to freely share the gospel?” He said “Becky, I know of a Dr. who simply told a distraught patient of his: Don’t worry, God loves you. He is now under investigation and was recently grilled for 8 solid hours by a medical board. He isn’t allowed to return to his practice until his “case” has been cleared. If the EU should pass this bill then I am fully prepared to go to prison for I will never cease to be a witness for Christ.”
I think Paul would say “Amen” to that.
“I am fully prepared to go to prison for I will never cease to be a witness for Christ.”
It’s easy to see that this sort of thing is likely to happen more and more in the days to come. In fact, it’s already happening in many places in the United States as the opponents of Jesus Christ (for that is what they are) unite to punish anyone who dares to speak in his name.
So this is what I think it all means. We need this strong theology that Paul lays down in 2 Corinthians 3 so we can be ready when our time comes. What God has given us in Christ so far surpasses anything the world offers that we ought to be “very bold” in our witness for Christ.
Let me press home this point and we will be done. Do you have this hope “in your heart”? I’m not asking about your religious nametag-Baptist, Catholic, Mennonite, Lutheran, Apostolic, Methodist, Presbyterian. Those things matter but not when it comes to having this hope “in your heart.” Religion can’t give you a hope that makes you “very bold.”
Do you have this hope “in your heart”?
Religion makes you religious.
Christ gives you a living hope.
Yesterday I got a call from a friend who has a relative in hospice care. The doctors say she is down to her last few days. She is a believer but doesn’t understand her faith very well so my friend wants to help her know what death will be like. I told my friend to remind her of the words Jesus spoke to the dying thief who cried out to him for mercy: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). There are three wonderful parts to that statement:
We tend to focus on the first and the last, but it is the middle one that we need to know. For the believer death is not the end but rather the beginning. Death means leaving this life behind so that we can be with Christ. “Today” means it happens at the moment of death. “In paradise” means we will be eternally happy. But those things matter because heaven is where Jesus is. And when we die, we will go to be with him.
For the believer death is not the end but rather the beginning.
I have often told Christians at the point of death not to worry. “If you die at 2 AM, before your friends can call me to let me know, you will already be in heaven.” That statement always seems to give them comfort. Death ushers us into the presence of the Lord for to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
That’s what a living hope is. It’s a hope so solid and strong that even death itself cannot destroy it. That’s a hope that will last forever because it is anchored in eternity.
Do you have that living hope or are you still clinging to your religion to get you to heaven? You can have the fading glory of the law and all you’ll get for it is death and condemnation. Or you can come to Christ and you will have the unfading glory of life and righteousness forever.
Are we saved by what we do or by what Christ has done for us? Thanks be to God, we do not have to wonder about the answer.
Christ is all we need for salvation.
Christ is all we need for the Christian life.
Christ is all we need at the moment of death.
Christ is all we need, now and forever. Amen.