CHANGED FROM GLORY INTO GLORY

“The activity of the Spirit … is the activity which brings salvation! We may say that because of the far brighter glory now the glory that was so bright in the past is gone”.

2 Cor 3:8, 9, 10 GNB

Many Christian believers who have witnessed the charismatic renewal, have been aware of the power of the Holy Spirit bestowing his various gifts on themselves and other believers. As a result of this emphasis on gifts the impression sometimes created was that bestowing exceptional and dramatic gifts was the Holy Spirit’s main role – or even his only role. The Bible paints a much broader picture and Paul gives deeper insights into the work of the Spirit than the “gifts” story.

Here in 2 Corinthians he says, “the activity of the Spirit … brings salvation”. When the apostles arrived in a city and preached the Good News of Jesus some of the people believed in Jesus and experienced salvation in his name. They were mostly people who were either born and brought up Jewish or who had been converted to Judaism from whatever pagan faith they had previously practiced. This latter group were fertile ground for the preaching of the gospel. What Paul calls “the activity of the Spirit” refers to the spiritual experience these people had when they were converted to Jesus. This conversion showed the glory of God and Jesus in coming into these peoples’ lives. It was a “brighter glory” than the glory on the mountain when Moses received the Ten Commandments – the heart of the Old Testament covenant.

Don’t look for “weird and wonderful” signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence in your church. Look for people coming to know Jesus and then for them growing in grace and maturity.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, increase the work of the Holy Spirit in our congregation.

THE GLORY OF THE SPIRIT

“How much greater is the glory that belongs to the activity of the Spirit”.

2 Cor 3:8 GNB

We usually associate the coming of the Holy Spirit with the event of Pentecost in Jerusalem and more latterly with the gifts of the Spirit that have been accorded greater prominence since the charismatic renewal. But those who know and understand the Bible know that there is a very close relationship of the Holy Spirit and the church. The Holy Spirit’s dramatic presence at Pentecost was merely the beginning of his ongoing work, influence and presence in the church. The Spirit and the church are related as are a glove and a hand. They fit together. The Spirit fills the church and he empowers the church. He gives the charismatic gifts, not for the personal glory of the believer who has them, but for the upbuilding of the church. What is more the Spirit promotes the unity of the church and works for that unity – that is broken by human sinfulness.

But where God breaks into the human situation it is a manifestation of his glory. And where the Holy Spirit drove the apostles to the far-flung extremities of the Roman Empire with the Good News of Jesus Christ – there was the glory of God causing one spiritual explosion after another. And where a person found the Spirit pointing him or her to Jesus and created faith in that person – there again the glory of God was being manifested.

The glory of God is not dead. He is radiant wherever the Spirit brings faith to a convert, or renewal to a believer, where he awakens a seemingly dead church and makes it vibrant with spiritual vitality – there the glory of God is present in power and radiance.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let your Spirit radiate your glory in your church.

GOD’S GLORY

“The Law was carved in letters on stone tablets, and God’s glory appeared when it was given”.

2 Cor 3:7 GNB

Not many Christian believers know all that much about the Old Testament. The high point in its story was the event that happened when Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness on their journey of escape from the Egyptians at the time of the exodus. They came to Mount Sinai which is right at the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula. Moses climbed up the mountain, leaving the people down at the foot. Whilst on the Mountain God appeared to him and revealed to him the Ten Commandments which were written on stone tablets. The record in Exodus reads, “the dazzling light of the Lord’s presence came down on the mountain. To the Israelites the light looked like a fire burning on top of the mountain” (Ex 24:16-17).

The idea of the glory of God being present whenever a bright light shines, especially on a hill or a high place is common. God is associated with light, and his glory reflects a radiance that emanates from him. The glory indicates God’s presence and his power. It is seen whenever he visits his people and usually also accompanies some special and dramatic action. Modern Christianity has largely lost this sense of God’s glory which points to his transcendence and “otherness”. In our desire to make God more “human” we have ignored the glory. In so doing we have lost something important, the sense of awe in God’s presence. The glory of God is often mentioned in the New Testament – John often mentions the glory of Jesus being manifest in his miracles. It means special action, special presence and the “specialness” of God himself.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, reveal your glory as you did in the days of the Bible.

THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE

“The capacity we have comes from God; it is he who made us capable of serving the new covenant, which consists not of a written law but of the Spirit”.

2 Cor 3:5, 6 GNB

The coming of Christ was an act of salvation by God. The taking of the message of Jesus Christ to widespread parts of the Roman Empire was another act of God. The raising up of the apostle Paul at the time when the church needed inspired leadership to enable it to separate from the Jewish faith in which it had been cradled was a further act of God. Only a strong and dynamic leader such as Paul would have been able to effect this new development.

The ministry of Christ and the development of a new faith that arose out of that ministry brought into being the “new covenant”. The giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost provided the dynamic which propelled the missionary enterprise spearheaded by Paul and his various companions. Throughout his missionary journeys Paul was frequently comparing the Christian faith (the new covenant) with the Jewish faith – in which, of course, he himself had been brought up and had been a zealous proponent. The law of love which Jesus brought gave people a new life. By comparison, the old covenant – the law given by Moses – provided a burden to be borne which was like a millstone around their necks. Many of the people to whom Paul preached were in fact Gentiles who had been converted to Judaism and then converted to Christ. They often had to make the choice between Judaism and the Christianity which Paul preached.

Don’t let your Christian faith become a burden of rules and regulations like “the old covenant”. Let the Spirit breathe life and power into your living.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let me live in the Holy Spirit.

ALL FROM GOD

“There is nothing in us that allows us to claim that we are capable of doing this work. The capacity we have comes from God”.

2 Cor 3:5, 6 GNB

One of the great Christians of the twentieth century was Gladys Aylward. A chambermaid in London, she had no education to speak of but was convinced that God wanted her to go to China as a missionary. She applied to the China Inland Mission but was rejected. She saved up the fare (from her chambermaid’s wages!) and set off by train from London with two suitcases, a few coins and a traveller’s cheque for two pounds. She travelled by the Trans -Siberia Railway and eventually set foot in China where she took over a children’s home. Then came the war between Japan and China and she had to evacuate the home she ran. She trekked on foot with a hundred homeless children many, many kilometres and became a legend in her own lifetime. She knew she was in God’s hands all the way.

Paul and his companions set out to evangelise in the eastern Mediterranean with exactly the same reliance on God. Depending not on his own resources, but relying on God for everything, he went with the message of Christ and the new life in him that the gospel created. Yet he went in confidence because he knew the empowerment of the Holy Spirit would carry him through whatever opposition or enemies would throw at him. “The capacity we have comes from God” he declared. The mission, despite many setbacks, established Christianity in Greece and Asia (modern Turkey), eventually leading to it becoming the official faith of the Roman Empire.

If your own capacity is insufficient, draw on God’s. He will never fail you.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, I am a mere frail human. Fill me with your divine power.

THE SOURCE OF CONFIDENCE

“We have confidence in God through Christ”.

2 Cor 3:4 GNB

Most people display confidence in the activities they enjoy doing and in which they are good at. A professional sportsman can almost discount the chances of his opponents because he himself has just had a good run of success. A judge can work out what the outcome of a trial he is presiding at ought to be because of the credibility he commands and because of the long years of studying and experience that are behind him.

When the first Christian apostles went throughout the eastern Mediterranean, they were breaking new ground. They could expect opposition, suspicion, criticism and even violence. But if they displayed weakness, half-heartedness, or an apologetic approach, they knew they would be laughed out of their campaign. They had to be bold, confident and strong. They knew that God had called them to this ministry, that their message was the supreme thing in all the world that their hearers needed, and that they were going in love for the people. They knew, further, that the explosive power of the gospel would revolutionize people’s lives, and the new faith they would offer to people would make new men and women of those who responded. They knew also that the task that awaited them was beyond the capability of mere humans, that they had to rely on God alone and in his power. They knew also that they went in the power of the Holy Spirit and therefore that they would not, could not, fail.

Exactly the same is true of the Christian mission today, wherever it is exercised. God is not only the originator of that mission, through Christ. He empowers the frail humans who stand in his name and in his stead.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, empower all who fulfil your mission in the world.

THE PUBLIC LETTER

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts”.

2 Cor 3:3 NIV

Paul knew that the most important thing in the Christian church was the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the lives of the believers. They were his “letter of recommendation”.

“The ‘letter’ which the world at large reads, Paul also reads, but inwardly, since it is ‘written on our hearts’. When he brought the Christian message to Corinth, he came to know many of the people in a personal way. He regarded himself as their father; he had them in his heart. The reformed fornicators, … thieves and drunkards of whom he spoke were real persons with names and faces. If he taught in public, he also spoke to such people in private. It is unlikely that the new lifestyle of the Corinthians was accomplished easily, smoothly or without disappointment. The letter of the Corinthian Christians was read by all, but it was also ‘written on Paul’s heart’ and was permanently engraved there.

The test of true ministry to which Paul submitted himself is one which other ministers can apply to themselves. It is one thing to possess appropriate ordination documents or the framed university degree proudly displayed; but are there ‘living’ letters? The confirmation of a person’s ministry lies in the effects of that ministry in human lives. This will depend upon having ministered a pure, undiluted gospel and also upon having taken people into our hearts. It requires faithfulness to the gospel and pastoral love of the people” (P. Barnett, The Message of II Corinthians, p61).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help the world to see the gospel in our Christian lives.

LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION

“You yourselves are the letter we have, written on our hearts for everyone to know and read”.

2 Cor 3:2 GNB

Today communication is fast. Look around and you see that (almost) everyone is twiddling some message on their mobile phone to someone else. Some seem to do nothing else all day. It was not so in Paul’s day. Very few people were literate. They could neither read nor write. The only communication was by word of mouth to people in the immediate vicinity. There was no radio, no television, no telephone, and no mobile phones. So when Paul wrote a letter to a Christian congregation far from where he was, its arrival was a very significant occasion. No doubt it was read many times over. Its meaning and message would be discussed. Probably those with more education than others, or in positions of leadership, read and explained its meaning to the others.

In Corinth rival ministers or teachers had arrived. In order to boost their own credibility, they brought “letters of recommendation” from somewhere else. These letters enhanced their reputation and, in the process, cast aspersions on Paul’s. Paul had gone there with no letters of recommendation. He didn’t need any. The people who had come to believe in Christ under his ministry and were growing in grace and holiness were his idea of “letters of recommendation”. He had come at the command of God, worked in the strength and guidance given him by the Holy Spirit, and the new Christians were the evidence of God’s work in their midst and his approval of Paul’s efforts.

Rejoice if this kind of evidence of God at work is apparent in your fellowship. Do all you can to support and help your pastoral team.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, strengthen and encourage our ministers.

SERVANTS OF CHRIST

“We are not like many others, who handle God’s message as if it were cheap merchandise; but because God has sent us, we speak with sincerity in his presence, as servants of Christ”.

2 Cor 2:17 GNB

The work of a Christian minister is one that attracts all manner of people. Some are deeply dedicated servants of the Lord, called to be his servants. But charlatans abound. In the early years of the Methodist movement in Britain before it had been constituted as a church separate from the Church of England, it was quite common for the head of the movement, John Wesley, to hear a rumour that a new “Methodist” congregation had been formed in a town he knew nothing about. Upon visiting the place and meeting the one who was “in charge” he would often discover a “minister” who was self-appointed and completely unknown to Wesley, with no training and no knowledge of Methodist discipline at all. He had “ordained” himself – and pocketed all the collections! Similar things happened in Paul’s day. They still do today.

There is a world of difference between a person who is called of God and one who “calls” himself. The former person gives up his (or her) secular occupation, goes through all the rigorous training prescribed by a church body and spends the rest of his life serving congregations under the aegis of a properly organised church. Those who appoint themselves, sell themselves, ordain themselves, and pay themselves and are a different kind of person altogether. Usually such a person is what psychologists call a “sociopath” a formal word for a conman.

Pray that God will raise up servants of Christ who will be genuine teachers and pastors, serve the church and bring glory to Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, bless and guide all your servants.

THE FRAGRANCE OF CHRIST

“We are like a sweet-smelling incense offered by Christ to God, which spreads among those who are being saved and those who are being lost”.

2 Cor 2:15 GNB

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the leader of the confessing church in Germany in World War II. He was imprisoned for his anti-Nazi stance and executed on 9th April 1945, just before the war ended. Witnessing his death was the resident doctor at the Flossenburg concentration camp. He said, “Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God” (E. Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p532). Bonhoeffer’s life and death (he was only 39 years old) were an offering to God and the phrase used by Paul here, “a sweet-smelling incense offered by Christ to God” well sums up the effect he had on the Christian world.

Many Christian believers in Paul’s day were, in the hostile world of the first century, also sweet-smelling incense offered to God. They filled the world around them with a holy fragrance that was pleasing to God. And they drew other people into the orbit of God’s love in Christ. People were converted to Christ as much by their influence as by the preaching of the apostles.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make my life an offering to you.