2nd Corinthians 3:4-18
4We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. 5It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. 6He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.
The Glory of the New Covenant
7The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. 8Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? 9If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! 10In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. 11So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever!
12Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. 13We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. 14But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. 15Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.
16But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
The prayer of the elders is that these sermons on 2nd Corinthians will whip up your curiosity that you will pick up the book and read it for yourself, even tonight. Because honestly, the letter itself is better than any sermon anyone can deliver.
If you had the chance to listen to Lincoln himself, why would you want a commentator to tell you what Lincoln said.
So what we do, preaching, teaching, all of it is useful only if it gets you to sit at the foot of the masters.
Especially this letter. This is an emotional letter. Paul sounds like a wounded lover and as such he confesses love, praises his beloved, the Corinthian church, then berates her flirting, preens his feathers, then begs her to come back. Paul is shamefully vulnerable. If I was Paul and I could have selected the letters that would make the cut for the New Testament canon, I would have asked them to burn this one up. It doesn’t show Paul at his best.
In Romans, Paul comes out like an intellectual giant, sure of himself and of the gospel with firm purpose to go to Spain. In 2nd Corinthians, a man unsure of himself, planned to go to Corinth then cancelled at the last minute.
But it is this messiness that encourages us. For we see in this letter a man who is like us, in great need of encouragement. Paul gets vexed like us, and says things he needs to explain later. Yet in midst of this storm of emotions, what gets him through is Christ. So if Christ is enough for him, then Christ is enough for us. If Paul can do it with Christ, then we can do it with Christ.
That ballast in the storm of emotions for Paul is Christ and this new covenant. Paul’s boldness stands on this new covenant.
Paul believes there is beauty in the mess because he is committed to reconciliation. Paul is committed to reconciliation because Paul knows the glory of this new covenant in Christ.
Today, I pray that the Spirit will use this message to remove the veil from our faces, to see the glory of the new covenant as Paul saw it. Then to have the confidence and resolve to reflect that glory in our lives.
To see the brilliance of that glory we are going to do the following.
Firstly, understand covenant by contrasting it with its opposite, contract.
Secondly, compare the old covenant with the new covenant.
Thirdly, how we can live in that new covenant by covenanting with God and with our neighbors.
Two types of relationships
All of our relationships is either a covenant or a contract. For all of our human relationships, whatever its dynamics and expressions, come down to these two fundamental ways of relating, contractual and covenantal.
Spoken or unspoken, written or unwritten, we enter into relationships, and interact, either as contracts or covenants.
What is the difference?
Contractual is relationship with conditions and defined limits. We are in relationship only when certain conditions are met (he is 6 feet tall, she graduated from ivy school, he has a house), and we will interact only concerning specific issues. The place we see this nature of contract is of course in businesses. All business is done through a contract. Contract makes relationships less messy, more efficient.
And the purpose of a contract is benefit. Relationship is not the main point. The result is the main point. Relationship is a means to the result. Which is another way to say, people are not the ends but the means to another end.
The purpose or the end of a contract is benefit.
Contract is naturally selfish. A good contract is enlightened self-interest. It will benefit both parties. But we are never certain because we enter into contract with selfishness so we assume the selfishness of others. So the nature of contract is to define as many conditions and limitations as possible so you don’t get screwed. The higher the stake, the more pages containing conditions and limitations.
When you buy a house you have columns of papers to sign. When you sign for your mortgage you feel like you are signing your life away. Actually, you are 30 years.
-I said to my wife as we were signing ours, “I swear somewhere in the details, I am agreeing to give my soul away.”
About the 50th line tagged with a yellow label saying “sign here,” your signature doesn’t look like your signature. Your hands are so tired it can’t make the same movement. By the end of it, you are just scratching dashes. Not even curves.
It seems the more important a decision, the thicker the contract.
We can’t escape contracts. It’s everywhere. When you think of it, it’s the way we interact in most all relationships.
For contracts doesn’t always come with papers to sign.
Anytime we buy something it is a contract. We buy that shirt for $30 dollars, and we expect that the workmanship will make it last. But we bring it home and we find a tear, we did not get what we signed up for, so we bring back our little contract, receipt. And we get our money back because the store didn’t keep their end of the contract.
I remember long time ago when some friends from Korea had come over and could not believe that stores in America would take back almost anything as long as you have a receipt.
-I said, “In Walmart you even have 90 days!”
-“After three months you can return a shirt?!” My friend asked incredulously.
-“Well, then you can basically rent it for free! Return it for 90 days, then get another one.”
But most of us don’t do that. Because it would be a breach of contract. We never signed it but it is there all the same. That we would not return a completely good one simply because we can return it.
We love the simplicity of contracts. Conditions and defined limits. It’s effective. It’s useful.
But there is another reason why we prefer contractual relationships. It limits our responsibility, to those conditions, to the limits set by contract. It keeps us from the mess of personal relationships.
You have heard this phrase, “It’s nothing personal. It’s just business.” Even if you don’t like what I am doing to you, don’t take it personally. It sounds like it is said to protect the other person. But it is to protect myself from the responsibility for another human person.
How many lives were ruined because “It’s just business?”
Today, orphans are kidnapped and sold as slaves because “it’s just business.”
Today, men go to little girls and buy their sex and then go on their way because “It’s just business.”
Today, we pay people wages that doesn’t match the living costs because “It’s just business.”
I wonder how many friendships were burned because “It’s just business.”
Here is the danger of contractual agreement. It allows us to be selfish. It allows us to negotiate all of our relationships so we can get what we need and not get tangled up.
And it is this very selfishness that makes it cold. Contracts don’t fulfill our lives. For this reason, when it comes to relationships that are important, we don’t enter into it as contract. We enter into a covenant.
What is a covenant?
Covenant is unconditional and without limit. There are no conditions to a relationship, and there is no limit to the relationship. If business shows the nature of contract, marriage shows us the nature of covenant. Marriage is a covenant and not a contract. If you think marriage is a contract, then you are in big trouble.
I got married in New York. And I was a bit disappointed in the fact that to get married all we needed to do was go to a judge and sign our marriage certificate which was a single paper. Getting an apartment to rent took longer.
I asked the judge, ”Marriage is such an important commitment, shouldn’t there be more papers to sign than getting an apartment rental?”
There isn’t lot of papers to sign because the point of a covenant is that there are no conditions. It is unconditional. And there are no limits to the relationships. You are not husbands and wives only for the morning hours or the evening hours. We are husbands and wives in every aspect of our self and in every part of our life.
Thus in marriage, we are not feverishly scribbling our John Hancock. We are not making a wedding contract. We speak the wedding vow. And no matter how fancy we might want to make it, at the end the vow is simple:
I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded(husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part
It is a simple vow that needs no lawyers to decipher, because it is a commitment to a relationship without conditions and without limits.
The power of a marital relationship is that two people have agreed to covenant and not live contractually. The strength is not the two people, or even their relationship, but the commitment that glues the relationship, and that relationships transforms a man and a woman into a husband and wife.
This is the weight, the glory of a covenant. Without it, there would be no love. Without it, our life would be cold, we would die in the isolation of our selfishness.
Even in human relationships we know the importance and long for covenantal relationships.
In the light of human need for covenants, the glory of the Mosaic Covenant shines brilliantly. The glory of the Mosaic Covenant is that Eternal God enters into a covenant with mortal human beings.
Paul calls this the old covenant. But don’t read in our prejudice against the old. Old doesn’t mean worse. Paul says that the new covenant is more glorious for sure, but that is because of Christ. But that does not mean that the old covenant was not glorious. In fact, he says it was glorious. And only if we see that, can we understand how glorious the new covenant in Christ is.
Consider when God covenants with the people of Israel through Moses. Israel had just narrowly escaped the Egyptians. Pharaoh and his chariots representing his power over the Israelites were drowned in the sea. It was the final act of liberation. The slaves were no longer slaves. They were free!
But now who were they?
Identity is such an essential need that we are willing to build our identity on even things that are dangerous.
We would rather be a victim, and play the victim card, rather than be without identity.
We would rather be an addict, and be identified as the addict, then to be without identity.
Israelites were happy they were no longer slaves and they were slaves for 400 years. It was the only thing they knew for generations. From birth they were told they were slaves of Pharaoh. Now they were no longer slaves. Then who were they? They did not like being without identity. They would rather go back to being slaves.
This is why in their every complain against Moses, they kept saying, “Back in Egypt” for the exact same reason, why we go back to an abusive relationships or return to our addictions, because we need an identity.
To these people without identity, God gives them an identity by entering into a covenant. A covenant gives an identity because it creates a committed relationship. That relationships creates an identity. For and identity is the statement of our belonging, a statement of our relationships.
In a wedding, after the vow, I say I pronounce you husband and wife, and the man and the woman is given a new identity, and identity of belonging to one another. Their covenant creates a new identity through belonging.
To ex-slaves without land, without any memory of being anything else than a slave, anything else than worthless, anything else than a cog in production, God says, “I am your God and you are my people.”
We misunderstand the 10 commandments from the very fact that we call it commandments. It has a ring of contract. It was not a contract. It was a covenant. In fact, the word “commandment” is actually dabar in Hebrew, which means Word, which can mean promise, as in when we say, “I give you my word.” God committed himself unconditional and without limit to these slaves and raised them up to a new identity, the people of God.
It is a glorious covenant.
This past week was the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth of England. People camped out for days to celebrate her birthday. She outdid iphone launches. I wouldn’t do it but I know why. It reflects a vestige of the worldview of old days when a people got their identity from their king. To be English was to be subjects of the King of England.
In Ancient Near East, to be a people was to be with land and a king. So many countries around Israel had a similar covenant, between the king and the people.
To a people who were without land and without king, God says I am your king. I am your God and you are mine. And it gives them the greatest identity anyone can possibly ask for.
-So who are you Israelites? Were you not slaves of Pharaoh?
-No Pharaoh is dead. We are not slaves anymore. We are the holy people of the living God who is eternal.
The everlasting God enters into a covenant directly with people who will die.
How glorious! This covenant, this vow of love.
Now Paul says, as glorious as this old covenant is, it is not nothing compared to the new covenant.
Because the old covenant showing God great commitment also showed us that we cannot meet God’s great demands.
Wait a minute, I thought you said that a covenant is unconditional?
It is unconditional. But it is for that very reason that it demands our everything. It is the nature of covenant that I give everything to you and I expect you to give everything to me. Now my giving everything to you is not conditioned on you giving everything to me, but I nevertheless want it. For my desire to love you and my desire for your love is the same fire. Anytime I stop wanting your love is the time I stop loving you.
Thus the first word after the commitment from God is the demand for unconditional commitment from Israel, you shall have no other gods before me.
It is in the wedding vow. If the man makes a vow and the woman doesn’t then there is no marriage, no matter how eloquent the vow or how fervor the man. A covenant is both parties demanding all from each other.
So Jesus says, following all Jewish rabbis, that all the commands in the covenant can be summed up with one commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”
But we fail to love God in this way.
When God was putting this covenant together, Israelites basically broke the covenant even as the stone tablets were being rubbed to a shine. They built a calf, much like the god of their Egyptians masters, and worshiped in wild orgy. They broke their covenant. They broke God’s heart.
In anger Moses breaks the tablet. They had already broken what was demanded of them. Yet, God does not give up on them. God actually has Moses rewrite the covenant on a second slab of stones. And it is in this God’s recommitment that Moses’ face shines gloriously.
1Then the lord told Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones. I will write on them the same words that were on the tablets you smashed. 2Be ready in the morning to climb up Mount Sinai and present yourself to me on the top of the mountain. 3No one else may come with you. In fact, no one is to appear anywhere on the mountain. Do not even let the flocks or herds graze near the mountain.”
4So Moses chiseled out two tablets of stone like the first ones. Early in the morning he climbed Mount Sinai as the lord had commanded him, and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands.
5Then the lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. 6The lord passed in front of Moses, calling out,
“Yahweh! The lord!
The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
7I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren;
the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.”
God will not give up on us. That is God’s covenant with us, unconditional commitment and without limit. But God still demands. And there is sin, the breaking of the covenant. God is willing to forgive. But what about the guilt? Who will take away the guilt of the sin?
Christ comes and creates a new covenant. This new covenant is the perfection of the old covenant. Christ takes away the guilt. It is not a new covenant because old is broken. It is new because we were broken and Christ stands with us and for us to mend what was broken so we have a new way to covenant with God. It is new in that Christ himself offers us sinners a way to keep our part of the covenant but dying the death we deserve, by taking the guilt of the sin away, and fulfilling the covenant himself. Christ loved God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength.
How glorious is God’s love? In the old, the eternal God entered into a covenant with dying human being. In the new, the eternal God becomes human being, and dies our death! In the old, we are condemned for we know we can never love God the way God deserves and rightfully demands. In the new, Christ takes away our guilt and Christ fulfills God’s demand in our behalf so we can now learn to imitate Christ in loving God.
In the old covenant, only Moses had the veil for only Moses saw the glory of the Father.
But in this new covenant, every one of us are radiant with Father’s glory because the Son has died our death. Guilt has been removed. The veil has been removed. We can now see God with our own eyes. We can see God more clearly than Moses did. We can see him so clearly, that the vision transforms us, changes us. We can do it not because we are more right than Moses but because Christ died for us.
How glorious this new covenant! You and I can see God!
Not only have we received this new covenant, we are the ministers of this covenant. We are to shine the glory of this new covenant. How do we do this?
First, believe in this covenant.
Paul says some still put on the veil of Moses. Some are still afraid to see God. You can see God today. Your sins can be washed away. I want you to make that decision today. You can trust God in Christ.
Secondly, boldly enter into covenants with others
Paul says this is his own moving words.
2nd Corinthians 4:1-2
1Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. 2We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.
Every relationship must be a covenantal relationship. We are to love others in this covenantal way, to see the person in front of us as the most important person, and to love that person unconditionally and without limit. We don’t see anyone in contractual way. So we have no need for deeds or methods. Just simple unconditional love without limits.
Well how are we to love everyone we see in that way? The person in front of us is to be loved unconditionally in that gift of time. And we are to love that person with our whole self and so related to him as a whole person.
We are to fight the urge to reduce our relationships into contracts. Even if they begin in contracts, whether they are customers or patients or hired hands. In that time together, they are to be treated as a full human being to be loved unconditionally and without limits within our time. We cannot love that person eternally. But that is not our call. We are to love temporally, right now, unconditionally and without limits.
Or there is even a simpler way to put it. “Love your neighbor as you would love yourself.”
Paul doesn’t just leave us with words. He models it himself. This letter itself is a model.
Corinthians was comparing Paul. They were shopping around. They were turning their covenant into a contract. And where Paul failed they were ready to let him go. Paul, on the other hand, was unwilling. Paul does not give up on them.
2nd Corinthians 6:8-13
8We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. 9We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 10Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
11Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you. 12There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us. 13I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!
Live like this. Don’t let people off the hook. Demand their love. But love them whether they meet the demand.
You are doing it.
There was a person who was in need of $300 dollars because the electricity was off. And anonymously, you helped pay it. And the person in need paid the part that was loaned to him.
Desmond needed gas. Bert who himself is strapped for cash went out and got him gas. A person anonymously gave Bert cash.
You are doing it already and keep doing it for that covenantal love changes the world.
Serve. Prepare food.
Serve. Teach our children. We need teachers who will love these children as if they are your own.
Aziz Abu Sarah is a Palestinian born in East Jerusalem. As the youngest of seven, he adored his oldest brother, Tashir. The oldest brother was a dad to him, took him to school, set up birthday parties. Tashir meant everything to Aziz.
The one Ramadan, 5am in the morning. The Israelites forced their way into their home and took his father and Tashir. Father came back, but not Tashir. They accused him of throwing rocks. He nednied it. They beat him until he finally confessed it. Several days later he was returned to his home, but the damage was done. Tashir spent most of his time in the hospital until the year after he was arrested, he died, internal injuries, spleen and liver failure.
Aziz became angry, bitter, and looking for ways to get revenge. He became a young adult and needed a job. In Jerusalem you needed to speak Hebrew to get a job. So he had to learn it. He found an intensive Hebrew class meant for Jewish immigrants. He signed up for it. A necessary evil to get enough resources to get his revenge. He swore to himself to learn the language without relating with anyone.
But when he went, his worldview was shattered. For the Israeli teachers treated him nicely, like a fellow human being. He asked himself, “Why are they so nice?”
This simply respect first made him question his identity built on hatred of evil Israelites. Then he build a new identity. I am going to work for the reconciliation of these two people. He visited a Holocaust museum, worked with an Orthodox family.
Then he started a tourism where people got to visit all the sights, and have a dinner with an Israelite and a Palestinian. He shared, “billion people come to Jerusalem.” What if they really got to know an Israelite and a Palestinian as a friend.
The powerful glory of a covenant.
Jobs for Life is amazing organization that helps people find job and keep it through teaching of job skills and grounding of their identity and value in God. It is 9 countries and 300 cities and it started right here. And it started over a lunch betweenPastor Donald McCoy, pastor of Pleasant Hill United Church of Christ and Christopher Mangum, Andrea’s dad.
So, Chris went. He met Pastor McCoy and one of his church leaders and began measuring the area for the parking lot. After he was finished and as they discussed the project, Pastor McCoy invited Chris to follow them into the church sanctuary. Chris watched as the two men went to the front altar and fell down prostrate. Chris, not knowing what to do, continued to watch until they waved him down the aisle to join them.
That day, Chris found himself lying prostrate between two African American men praying for a parking lot. But as Chris told this story countless times, he realized later they were not praying for a parking lot, they were praying for a relationship instead.