26 May 2010

2 Corinthians 3:4-18

"Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God." (v.4-5)


Some scholars believe that this passage from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians is directed against the Judaizers - a group of visiting teachers who were seeking to impose the demands of the Jewish law (eg circumcision, only eating Kosher food) upon the new Christian community.

Paul is encouraging the Christians at Corinth to recognise that the gospel (the good news of Jesus) emphasises the permanent things of a new age as revealed in the splendour of God through Christ. He does not reject the importance of the Law, but suggests that it is of fading significance when compared with the grace of Christ. Paul uses the image of the veil, which Moses wore after being in the presence of God (Exodus 34:29-35), to great effect.

In the old dispensation - the time when the Israelites alone were deemed to be God's chosen nation - the people were not allowed to behold the glory in all its splendour. In the new dispensation of God's Spirit - in which the coming of Christ opened God's Covenant up to everyone - the people themselves become the glory of God. As we consider the impact of the descending Spirit on the Christian community, so we recognise the egalitarian and universal significance of the Pentecost event.

In the Christian community of Paul's time, the old glory has been surpassed by the new glory of the Spirit. Paul uses this as a metaphor, pointing to the new way of thinking and suggesting that the old order based upon the Jewish Law has been surpassed by the new order of the freedom of the Spirit (see Romans, Galatians). This is not to suggest that in the new order the Christian community is not to be bound by any laws at all, and the people are free to do whatever they wish. To suggest that would be a heresy. Paul's point is that the children of God, living in the liberty of the Spirit, will live Godly and rightful lives because of the influence of that same Spirit upon them. Through the power and influence of the Spirit of God, the people of God will be changed "from glory into glory".

To Ponder

The apostle Paul reminds the people of Corinth that their strength is in Christ and not in their own merit. Have you ever felt so worthless and weak that you have found the only way forward was to trust in God? What happened?

Think about the mission implications found within this passage. There are some people whom wider society disregards or treats with suspicion or fear - asylum seekers, prisoners, the elderly, the homeless, 'hoodies', bearded Asian men. What is the mission of the Church to such people? How do we encourage the wider society to recognise worth and dignity in everyone?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Adrian Burdon

The Revd Dr Adrian Burdon is superintendent minister at Oxford Place Centre (part of the Leeds Methodist Mission), former mission partner to Tonga and founding member of the Leeds 'Street Chaplains' scheme..