Jars of Clay: The Key to Bold Living

jars - calendar2 Cor 3: 7-18

A Bit of Background

Moses’ breaking the tablets of the law in response to Israel’s sin with the golden calf demonstrated that the Sinai covenant was broken from the beginning.

Although Israel had been rescued from slavery her idolatry revealed that her "neck" remained "stiff," enslaved to sin.

As a result, the Sinai covenant failed in its purpose: , Israel’s on-going experience of the glory of God had been intended to purify them to become a holy "kingdom of priests".

Instead, faced with the sin of the nation, God proclaimed a desire to destroy the people and to start over with Moses (cf. Ex 32:10).

How can God’s glory continue to dwell in the midst of Israel without destroying her?

Initially, God’s glory was forced to dwell outside the camp in the "tent of Hireling," lest God’s presence destroy the people (cf. Ex. 33:7-11). Only Moses (as part of the faithful "remnant," could approach the presence of God”’

In the end, therefore, Moses becomes the answer to his own prayers and the covenant is restored (Ex Moses receives the law a second time and, with the glory of God beaming on his face, mediates God’s presence to his people (34:1 1-35).

The presence of God’s glory means Israel’s death.

In response, after speaking God’s word to the people, Moses veils his face, not to hide the fact that the glory is but in order to protect Israel from being destroyed (34:32-33).

Moses’ veiled mediation of God’s glory permits his presence to remain in Israel’s midst without destroying her. In this regard, Moses’ veiling himself is an act of mercy.

The Old Covenant Ministry of Death (3:7)

Moses’ ministry came in glory but brings death (2 Cor 3:7). When Moses subsequently returned to the tent of meeting, he removed the veil, thereby "recharging" the glory on his face.

Afterwards, Moses would then quickly veil himself to hide the fact that the glory was fading away. Paul’s point is that the glory on Moses’ face was continuously being brought to an end or cut off in regard to its impact.

The Contrast Between the Two Ministries (3:8-11)

It possible for God to dwell in the midst of his people without destroying them, thereby bringing about their righteousness. This real manifestation of God’s glory, is the ministry of the Spirit (3:8)

Paul is not saying that the glory of the old covenant pales in comparison to the new, but that the "surpassing glory" of the new covenant now brings "that which had been glorified," that is, the old covenant, to an end. When one compares the purposes and results of the two covenants, the former has no glory at all.

“Once the new covenant arrives, with its primary purpose of granting new life in the Spirit, the old covenant, with its primary purpose of condemnation, is no longer the locus of God’s glory in the world.”

The Boldness of the New Covenant Ministry (3:12-18)

Paul’s confident expectation is that through his own life and message as a minister of the new covenant (3:6) the glory of God is being mediated to God’s people in the Spirit (3:11). Because he has this "hope," Paul is therefore "very bold".

The word "bold" is a technical term from the political realm that was associated with freedom and truth. It refers to shamelessness in one’s behaviour that leads to a free, courageous, and open manner of speech.

The power of the Spirit in Paul’s ministry (3:8) has made him fearless and forthright in his proclamation of the gospel (3:12, Rom. 1:16-17).

Ultimately, this boldness arises from our assurance that our lives and labours:

  derive from God’s grace in his life,

  that they are being carried out in God’s presence,

  and that they will be vindicated before God’s judgment (2 Cor. 1:12,- Phil. 1:20).

Israel’s persistent hardening to the demands of the old covenant is evidence of her continuing separation from God.

Christians’ "freedom" confirms their being in the presence of their Lord. The transformation of God’s people "comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit," since the Spirit is the down payment of God’s presence and power in our lives (1:20-22,- 3:3-6, 8).

We too derive our sufficiency for the tasks to which God has called us from the power of his Spirit in and through us.

The confidence that undergirds the ministry and the life of the believer does not come from techniques or training, but from God’s call and the reality of God’s Spirit.

This is the great news. It is the gospel and the foundation of our "hope." It is our absolute confidence for the future. Our confidence and boldness is a result of the life-changing reality of the Spirit.

We all, like Moses, can enter into the presence if God with unveiled faces Those who know Christ are being transformed by God’s glory into the glory of God’s likeness.

We, like the Corinthians of Paul’s day, are often tempted by the lure of an "over-realised eschatology" that promises an escape from the consequences of living in the midst of a sinful world.

Like Paul’s opponents, we too are often convinced that Paul suffered too much to be a Spirit-filled apostle of Christ.

Nevertheless, God is creating a people who, by their on-going transformation, testify to the presence and power of God’s Spirit in their lives. For those who have benefited from the "ministry of the Spirit" and "righteousness," conformity to Christ in the midst of adversity is the primary evidence that the kingdom of God is here (1:7,- 2:12-14, 3:18).

Their "obedience that comes from faith" (Rom. 1:5) makes it evident that only "in Christ" can such a salvation take place, since only Christ’s death can make it possible for the Holy Spirit of God to invade our lives with mercy rather than judgment (3:15-16).

As the "letter from Christ" written "with the Spirit of the living God" (3:3), the church is therefore a local outpost of the kingdom of God and his righteousness in the midst of this evil age.

As such, she lives in confident anticipation of her final redemption, having received the Spirit as God’s own "deposit" or down payment (1:22).

Having received the Spirit, the believer has also received a revelation of God’s righteousness (cf. 3:8 with 3:9). This righteousness consists in his unswerving commitment to glorify himself by maintaining his moral standards in judgment, by revealing his sovereignty in election, and by showing his mercy through meeting the needs of his sinful people.

Because of Christ’s life and death, these displays of God’s righteousness are not in conflict with one another.

In Christ, God’s righteousness towards his sinful people can begin with their election, work itself out in the forgiveness of their sins, and culminate in their deliverance from sin.

The display of God’s righteous activity toward his sinful people thus includes:
  their redemption because of Christ
   their transformation in Christ,
     their final restoration into the image of Christ in the age to come (3:18,- 4:4-6,- 5:21,- 8:9).

Hence, the flip side and expression of God’s righteousness displayed on our behalf is our transformation into the likeness of God himself. The evidence that we have been sealed in the Spirit is the growing life of the obedience of faith that flows from the presence and power of the Spirit in one’s life.

All of this is from God.

God ever call for and anticipate that anybody can or should try and merit grace.

He never says, "Get your act together for six weeks and then I »ill bless you."

The indicatives always precede the imperatives. God’s work of transforming jars of clay into his image is seen in the perseverance of the saints, even in the face of their broken lives of suffering and death.

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