Second Corinthians 3:12-4:2
From Glory To Glory
Just Like The Lord Is
1. "If I change myself, the world will change too. If I don't change, nothing else will either. As long as we don't change it matters not how much we want to change every thing around us, it is impossible to do." This is not from the Bible. It's something I saw once somewhere. These words get the attention of someone having people problems, troubles in their relationships with others. We might try real hard to put them to use in changing someone who is problematic to us in some way. But, things don't usually work out like we want them to. It is so irritating when they don't change. Our relationships get worse and worse. Then we run into the advice we have in the above words. "You had better change yourself first." When we hear that, we get shaken up a bit, but then we agree to it and begin to make an effort to change ourselves from there on. Then, strange as it is, the other person's attitude might even change. Your relationship changes. It seems to be going great, really great.
2. But, the real story is not always so great. We bust it to change ourselves. We have some hopes that they changed a little. But, they haven't changed a bit. It's so frustrating. Then if we notice, we're back to being angry all over again like we were before. We get obsessed with self disgust. Our personalities warp. Then finally, things in the relationship keep getting worse and worse.
3. We should change ourselves. That is certainly important. Because it involves both the happiness and the sadness in a person's life. We know this all too well, but I would like to raise some questions. When saying we had better change do we say that just so that we might change our situations and those around us or to change things in a relationship? What is it that really has decisive meaning in our lives, is it the temporary things right under our noses, or the ultimate direction in which we are heading, the direction where we are ultimately heading and changing towards?
4. The Bible doesn't teach us that "To change others, first you have to change yourself." We do need to change, but not based on this reason. The Bible does point to the direction where we need to make our changes. For example, in chapter eight and verse twenty-nine of The Epistle To The Roman Disciples, it says the following: "God has foreordained that those whom he has known in advance should be like the figure of His son. He did this so that his son would be the eldest son among many brothers," (Romans 8:29). The following words are written in the biblical passage we have been given for today: "As we all remove the veil over our faces and reflect the glory of the Lord like a mirror, we are made over and over from glory to glory into the same likeness as the Lord. This comes by the working of the Lord's Spirit," (Second Corinthians 3:18). It says, "be like the figure of His son," and it says, "into the same likeness as the Lord." This is the direction to which the Bible points. It is the figure and person of Christ.
5. But, as for the meaning of being changed into the same likeness as the Lord, how are we to be changed specifically? We would agree to it as far as the words, but we can't explain it clearly. We most likely will bring in a selfish image of Christ to any definition of it, but we had better not. We must think about its meaning based on what the Bible says and nothing more and nothing less.
6. This chapter is a passage where Paul speaks in regards to his own apostleship. In regard to his having been given the office of an apostle, he states, "God has given us qualifications to serve by the new covenant, qualifications to serve by the spirit and not the letter," (3:6). And in regard to the duty of serving by this new covenant he speaks of it while contrasting it with the office of Moses when he had served by the old covenant. Verse eighteen, which I read earlier, is found within the flow of our verses. So, we must understand this in association with "the new covenant."
The Law Of God Written On The Heart
7. Now, what does this "new covenant" mean? This phrase is found in the book of Jeremiah. It's a little bit long but, I will read it from chapter thirty-one and verses thirty-one to thirty-four. "Behold, the day is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, says the Lord. This covenant is not the one I made when I took their forefathers by the hand and lead them out of the land of Egypt. Even though I have been their master, they have broken this covenant, says the Lord. But, on the day that is to come, this will be the covenant that I make with the house of Israel, says the Lord. Namely, I will place my laws into their chests and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. At that time, people will not have to teach their neighbors or their brothers saying, 'Know the Lord;' for, they will all know me, both small and great, says the Lord. I will forgive their evil and will not remember their sins ever again," (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
8. At one time God had lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and then he gave them the ten commandments and made a covenant with them. They became the people of God and God became their God. It was Moses who had served in this covenant. They were expected to obey the law given them through Moses and to be the people to point to God's rule in this world and to God's plan of salvation. But, they turned against God's commands. They broke the covenant with God. The Old Testament provides an unfalsified record of the history of the sins of this disobedient people. Then God had his covenant with them annulled.
9. But, God did not abandon his people or the world. God's plan of salvation proceeded in spite of Israel's disobedience. God gave the prophecy of "the new covenant" to Jeremiah. God made a covenant with humanity again. He made a new covenant based on the forgiveness of sin. That's why the Lord says, "I will place my laws into their chests and write them on their hearts." Under the old covenant the law was engraved on stone tablets. But, the Israelites didn't keep those laws. Therefore, under the new covenant, God says that he will write his laws on the heart.
10. Please call to mind the Word of God which is read every time we have the Lord's Supper service here. On his last supper, Christ took a cup, offered a prayer of thanksgiving, and said this, "This cup is the new covenant established by my blood. Whenever you drink, please do as I am now doing as a memorial to me," (First Corinthians 11:25). The prophecy of Jeremiah is fulfilled here. By the blood that was shed when Christ was crucified, the new covenant was established. Today the same words of the Lord are still read and the Lord's table is still practiced. To take part in Holy Communion as christians means to be living in this new covenant. The church is the people of God according to the new covenant that was established by the blood of Christ. Thus, the apostle Paul speaks of himself as one who serves by the new covenant.
11. Under the new covenant, the law is not written on tablets of stone but on the heart. We have already been shown in the ten commandments what the law is that is supposed to be inscribed on the heart. Jesus summarized the law into two top commandments. "The first command is this. 'O Israel, hear, the Lord our God is one and only one Lord. Love the Lord your God exhausting all your heart, your spirit, your mind, and your strength.' The second command is this. 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There are no commands greater than these two," (Mark 12:29-31). To have the law written on the heart means the same as to have these commands fulfilled in us. That is to say, we are to truly love God and love others.
12. For a person who lives in the new covenant, the meaning of his or her life is pure and simple. The meaning of one's life is in loving God and loving others. Every task in life whether in our home life or social life is an application of these principles. We must change. The direction of our change is clearly shown to us. It is to become persons who love God and love people. If someone were to perfect this completely, who would they look like? It would be "the same likeness as the Lord." For it was truly Christ indeed who loved God the Father and loved people. The reality of his love was manifested in his walk to the cross and the glory of it was manifested in his resurrection. We are heading for that likeness of his. It isn't cheap talk to say first you must change yourself to change someone troublesome to you. This is a major goal of our lives. It has been a major historical goal of the church.
By The Spirit Of The Lord
13. Well, if we say we are changing ourselves so that we might change those around us, with a little bit of effort we may just get by with that. But, if we are getting to the point of truly loving God and others and we are turning into the same likeness as the Lord, the goal of our human efforts and what have you will not be wasted for nothing. Thus, Paul states here that "we are built over and over again" into the same likeness as the Lord. Humanity is always a passive recipient. A human being is unable to write the law on his or her own hearts. We only have it written on us. Therefore, it says, "This comes by the working of the Lord's Spirit."
14. Being changed into the same likeness as the Lord means that since it comes by "the Lord's Spirit" then the most important thing is the kind of relationship there is between us and the Lord. It says in the text that "If we change directions towards the Lord, the veil will be taken away." The reason Paul is writing this way is he is thinking of his countrymen and women the Jews. As ever, the books of the law of Moses are read among them. They strove hard to observe the law, but still as always a veil covered their hearts.
15. The veil must needs be removed. In order to do that, the way to write the law on one's heart is to recognize that it is the work of the Lord's Spirit and to change directions and live for the Lord. Changing one's direction to the Lord is not an idealistic notion. It is not just a mental thing. The day to day life that lives with a changed direction to the Lord takes on a specific form. It is formed by the life that is lived all the while partaking in the body and blood of the Lord in the Holy Communion of the Lord's supper. It is the life that is lived in worshipping the Lord, keeps the holy table, and hears the words, "This cup is the new testament established by my blood." So when we don't put value on the lifestyle that turns to the Lord in this specific way, then if we moan that "I'm not even changing one bit," our complaining will be only gibberish nonsense.
16. On the other hand, if we live for the Lord as people of the new covenant, even though we might feel like "I'm not even changing one bit," we need not worry one bit. The Spirit of the Lord is building us over and over into the same likeness as the Lord. This is a doing that exceeds our efforts, it is the work of the Lord's salvation. When we live in the new covenant, the time will come when his work will one day be perfected. Paul puts it like this, "The one who began a good work in you will accomplish that work until the day of Christ Jesus, I am convinced of that," (Philippians 1:6). We want to trust in the promises of the Lord and to say an Amen in unison with joy and thanksgiving to this statement from Paul.