TRANSFORMATION 2 Corinthians 2:5–3:18
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).It’s not what we are, but what we are becoming, that communicates Christ.
Paul urged restoration of the penitent sinner (2:5–11). He spoke of his motives (vv. 12–17) and explained implications of the Spirit’s New Covenant ministry (3:1–18).
Understanding the Text
“Reaffirm your love for him” 2 Cor. 2:5–11. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul demanded that a brother living in open immorality be expelled. A majority (2 Cor. 2:6) did as Paul commanded, and the brother repented and broke off the illicit relationship. While the Corinthians may not have known how to handle repentance, I suspect many felt the sinner deserved to be punished anyway. It seems too easy to let folks who have done wrong off the hook, just because they say, “I’m sorry,” and promise not to do it again. It goes against our human sense of justice. A person who does wrong ought to pay. But the purpose of Christian discipline isn’t to punish! It’s to restore. We’re not out to make a person suffer for his sins. Christ has already suffered for those. What we’re out to do is to bring a sinner back to righteousness and to fellowship with the Lord. Repentance—turning away from the sin and back to God—is everything. How we need to remember this in our families, with our spouses, with our children. We punish to restore, not to make a person pay. Afterward, as Paul said, “You ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (v. 7). Love without discipline encourages a self-indulgent life. But discipline without love encourages bitterness and rebellion. “We are not unaware of his schemes” 2 Cor. 2:11. Satan is much too clever to incite us to do open violence to others. We’d realize how wrong this is, and draw back from our hostile, angry feelings. So Satan encourages us to do destructive things that we can feel holy about. That’s what was happening in Corinth. The penitent sinner was left hanging, even after he renounced his sin, and most of the Corinthians felt self-righteously that justice was being done! Watch out for self-righteousness. “Well, they deserve it” is true. But it isn’t a Christian attitude. We all “deserve it.” Yet what God poured out on us so richly was forgiveness, not punishment. Forgiveness is a gift that has the power to transform. No wonder Satan schemes and struggles to convince us that we should punish instead. “The aroma of Christ” 2 Cor. 2:12–16. The Gospel message stimulates conflicting reactions. Some who hear respond like a child who smells his mother’s chocolate chip cookies baking. Some who hear react with wrinkled noses and expressions of disgust, as though a skunk had just passed by. People’s reactions to the Gospel tell us nothing about Jesus. Their reactions tell us everything about them. “We do not peddle the Word of God for profit” 2 Cor. 2:17. The reaction of the hearer to the Gospel reveals their character. The motive of the preacher reveals his. Even in the first century, traveling evangelists could draw crowds and make a good living off offerings! We have no right to judge the motives of anyone in ministry. If you should give, and later discover the ministry was run by a peddler who was only interested in his own profit, don’t condemn yourself. God may even lead us to give to a religious huckster, for the Word of God is powerful even when preached with twisted motives. The peddler, who is paid in cash for his services, is the real loser. You still win, for you’ll be rewarded in heaven for yours. “Written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” 2 Cor. 3:1–3. With this chapter Paul began his exposition of New Covenant ministry. The “New Covenant” is that special way in which God relates to human beings now that Jesus has died and been raised again. The “Old Covenant” refers to Mosaic Law, which defined the way God related to human beings from the time of Moses till Christ came. In the earlier age “ministry” involved teaching the commandments and lifestyle God ordained for the Jews. In the present age “ministry” involves sharing the Good News of Jesus, and opening hearts to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that there is one unmistakable mark of New Covenant ministry. People are transformed, so that what was written in stone is written now on the heart. The world knows of righteousness, not because it is recorded on stone tablets, but because it is engraved on the hearts of Christian men and women around them, and seen in their lives. “Competent as ministers of a New Covenant” 2 Cor. 3:4–6. What an idea for the church’s search committee. Next time you send out a questionnaire, don’t ask folks to say how well the candidate preaches, or how often he visits. Simply ask, Has he helped the members of your church be like Jesus Christ? “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold” 2 Cor. 3:12–18. New Covenant ministry calls for transparency and honesty. It calls for taking off our masks, and being our real selves with others. It requires us to let others know us as we are. Warts and all. That’s the message of this important passage. It’s not a message most are comfortable with. But it’s one Paul desperately wanted us to understand. To help us, he looked back to Moses and the incident of the veil (v. 13). Whenever Moses met with God, his face shone with an awe-inspiring splendor. But the brightness faded in time. Since Moses wanted the people of Israel to see only the splendor, he began putting on a veil to hide his face. Maybe then the people would assume he was still bright with glory. With us, Paul said, it’s just the opposite. We’re not like Moses. We’re bold! We meet others with “unveiled” faces (v. 18). The reason is a basic difference in our relationship with God. We don’t go to meet Him. He has come into our hearts! His Holy Spirit is present within us, and is in the process of transforming us “into His [Jesus’] likeness with ever-increasing glory.” The glory seen on Moses’ face was marred by deterioration. The glory that shines out through our faces is magnified by ever-increasing transformation! Thus we take the veils off our faces, convinced that as others are allowed to see the work that God is doing in our lives, they will be convinced that Jesus is real. I know. It goes against everything most of us have been taught. After all, people say we have to try to present our best face as a “testimony” to Jesus. But people are wrong. If we pretend, if we try to act holy, all that others will see is our posturing. But if we are real with others—if we don’t hide our fears, our doubts, our weaknesses, our struggles—they will know that we are real. And because the Holy Spirit is in our lives, they will sense the reality of Jesus as our transformation continues to take place. Let’s be bold. Let’s believe the Good News of the New Covenant. Trust the Holy Spirit to do His transforming work in your life. And be honest with others, so they can see that Christ is really in you (see DEVOTIONAL). Moses’ face shone with glory after each visit he had with God. But that glory faded after a time, and the veil Moses wore was intended to disguise that fact. Paul used this Old Testament incident to contrast Old and New Covenants. The glory of the Old, in which Moses went to God, faded as Moses left His presence. The glory of the New shines ever brighter, for God’s Spirit has come to us never to depart, and He is transforming us from within (vv. 7–18).
“Norm, Meet Jesus”(2 Cor. 3:12–18)Dwight buttonholed me as soon as we came out of church. “Larry, I want to talk to you,” he said. And for 10 minutes he proceeded to recount the sermon I’d just preached. Later my friend Norm grinned. “He didn’t want to talk to you,” Norm said. “He wanted to talk at you.” I smiled. If Norm had only known. Eighteen months before two members of our church picked Dwight up off the street. He’d just been released from a local mental hospital, but still was unable to speak a sentence. They took him into their home, where he spent most of the time curled up in a dark closet. They brought him to church, but often Dwight would get up in the middle of the service and run out into the yard. Then they started bringing Dwight over to my house each Wednesday evening. We’d play basketball, eat hot dogs, and talk together about Dwight’s progress and how the couple could best help him. In time we learned Dwight’s story. He’d been a successful young businessman, with a wife and two kids, a nice home, two cars, a boat. But then he’d become obsessed with illicit sex. Gradually his world fell apart. He lost his job, his home, his family, his cars and boat. Finally he even lost the capacity to talk in sentences. He was below rock bottom when the couple from our church found him and took him into their home. The morning Norm made his joking remark I thought back over the months since Dwight had come to us. As he experienced the love of his new friends, he’d gradually calmed. As he participated with us in church, he’d found the Saviour. And then, not suddenly but surely, he’d begun to heal. That very week Dwight had begun to work again—he’d started a lawn service. And that morning he’d been able to tell me, in great detail, exactly what my sermon was about, and what it meant to him. I had the overwhelming realization as I looked that morning at Dwight, that the Person I saw was Jesus. It was Jesus, looking out through the unveiled face of Dwight, revealed clearly through the transformation His Holy Spirit had worked in Dwight’s life. Each Sunday that I came to our little church and looked around, I saw Jesus everywhere. For each of us, like Dwight, had shared our lives with the others. We were an imperfect people. The warts and blemishes of our humanity were all too visible. But we were growing and changing too. In the ever-increasing glory of the transformations taking place, we recognized and knew our Lord.
Let the glory of Jesus be seen in you.
“The Christian is a person who makes it easy for others to believe in God.”—Robert M. McCheyne