I heard about a 5-year-old boy by the name of Nick who came home from school after spending two weeks at Pre-K and proudly announced to his grandmother that he was the smartest kid in the class. His grandmother, of course, was very proud of Nick and asked him if that was what his teacher said. Nick said, “No ma’am. I had to tell her.”
I suspect we’ve all known a few people like that who make sure they let you know that they are somebody special. And so, we understand the need for Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:3 where he said, “For I say…to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.”
But I would have to say that, over the years, I’ve known very few Christians who thought too highly of themselves. There have been a few, but not many.
But I’ve known many Christians who thought too little of themselves. People who are like Gideon in the Old Testament. When God came to Gideon and called him to lead the Israelites into battle against their enemy, Gideon’s response was, “How can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” (Judges 6:15).
“Sorry, God, but you’ve got the wrong guy. I’m a nobody. I’ve always been a nobody. And I can’t do it. You need to find somebody more qualified.”
And I think we can all relate to that because we’ve all had those moments in our lives when we wonder, “Am I good enough?” And the answer we almost always come up with is, “No, I’m not good enough.” We feel like nothing we ever do is “enough”.
And it’s amazing how quickly we can feel incredibly inadequate. Maybe you’re sitting in a work meeting and you listen to other people make all these insightful comments and you don’t really have much to contribute and you feel insignificant.
Or maybe you’re a student and you study as hard as you can and make B’s and C’s, and your best friend doesn’t even crack a book and makes straight A’s. And you think, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I having so much trouble?”
Or maybe you’ve even felt spiritually inadequate at times. You’re a Christian, but there’s somebody else in the church who just seems to be a “super Christian.” You know what I mean. You’ll make a comment and they go, “Oh yeah, that reminds me of 2 Chronicles 12:14, and then they quote the verse. And you’re thinking, “How do they do that? I didn’t even know that was a book in the Bible.”
Or they pray and their prayers are so good, you just know God’s up in heaven going, “Wow, that was a really good prayer.” And then they ask you to pray and you’re embarrassed to admit, “I don’t even know how to pray.” You just feel so inadequate as a Christian.
And if you feel that way, I completely understand. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more inadequate than when our first child, Charity, was born. And here I am with this baby that I’m now responsible for. And I’m thinking, “I can’t even keep the plants in the house alive, and now I’ve got to raise this child.”
And then you add what I do for a living. I don’t think you realize how inadequate I feel as a preacher. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t feel like I’m not good enough. I fail in so many things that I need to be doing. And every week, I find myself praying, “God, I feel like I’ve let you down once again, but please take what I’ve got and use it in some way to accomplish your purpose.”
So, maybe you can relate to these feelings of inadequacy. But, this morning, I want us to see that that’s not always such a bad thing.
We’re going to pick up in 2 Corinthians, chapter 3 this morning. Last week, at the end of chapter 2, Paul described the Roman Triumphal Entry where we had a picture of Christ as the conquering general and all of us as the slaves that follow behind, with the reminder that when the parade comes through town, there’s only one person who receives the applause and that’s Christ. Our job is simply to carry the aroma of Jesus wherever we go.
And then Paul said in verse 16, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Some translations say, “Who is adequate?” God’s Word translation says, “Who is qualified to tell about Christ?” And the implied answer is, “I’m certainly not.” And then he says, “I’m not like all those other preachers who peddle God’s Word.”
You need to understand that the early church had a problem. It was a blessing, but it became a problem — there were a lot of itinerant traveling preachers. They would go from congregation to congregation and preach. Which was a blessing. The problem was, you didn’t always know exactly who they were. They didn’t have social media back then then. They didn’t have computers. You couldn’t Google the preachers and look at some of their past sermons. You just had to take a chance.
Some itinerant preachers took advantage of this, and, as some preachers still do today, they used their ministry as a way to make a profit. They saw preaching simply as a moneymaking business endeavor, peddling, as it were, the Word of God, and that became a problem for the church.
In fact, there was a book in the second century called the Didache, which summarized the teachings of the apostles, and they had a whole chapter on how to spot false teachers, what to look for, and when to kick them out, like if they stayed too long (they said two days was the limit). If they begged for money, or if they wanted you to prepare them a big meal.” Kick him out. He’s a false prophet.
So, Paul says, “We’re not like that. We’re not out here because we want to make a buck. We’re not out here to make a name for ourselves. Those preachers, they want to talk about how important they are. I’m not going to do that. I’m just a servant of Christ.”
Which leads us now to chapter 3, verse 1, “Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3, NLT)
Some of you may remember a time in the church when, if you moved from one city to another, you would need to get a letter from your preacher or elders at your church who would say, “So and So was baptized here at this congregation, and leaves us in good standing. They’re a faithful member.” And then you would carry that letter to your new church and give it to them so that they would know.
Well, back in the first century, they did something similar. Religious teachers carried with them a letter of commendation, a letter that was their credential for ministry. And it seems that there were some Christians in Corinth who were raising the question, “What are Paul’s credentials? Where’s Paul’s letter? We’d like to see his letter.”
So, Paul responds by saying, “Do we really have to go through this? My credential is that your lives have been radically changed by the Spirit of God through the power of the gospel.” Paul lived with them for eighteen months. He delivered the message of the gospel and their lives will never be the same. He says, “That’s my credential; you’re my letter. That’s the only letter I need. People can see your life and read your life.”
Paul says, “I’m not out here preaching to make a name for myself. I’m preaching to make a difference in people’s lives.” But only the Spirit of God, through the power of the gospel, has the ability to change someone’s life. So, Paul says, “I’ve got a letter, but it’s not written in ink, it’s written with the Spirit of God. You are my letter. Your changed lives – that my credentials.”
You see, what makes us adequate is not ourselves. It’s not the messenger that’s adequate; it’s the message that’s adequate. I’m not adequate, you’re not adequate. But the Spirit of God is adequate, and he can change people’s lives through the message of the gospel.
In verse 4, “We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:4, NLT)
This whole idea of religious credentials has always been a problem in the church. In various denominations today you still have a strong emphasis on a clergy class and everybody else. They separate them out by titles, they separate them out by clothing, they separate them out as a clergy class over here and everybody else over here. And they want the clergy to have certain credentials.
But in the New Testament church, there is no such distinction. There is no clergy class. And in order to be adequate for ministry, you don’t need to go to Bible college, you don’t need to go to seminary, you don’t need to be ordained, you don’t need to have credentials. I went to Freed-Hardeman College and I got a degree in Bible, and I’ve been preaching for 47 years, but that doesn’t make me adequate as a minister. The only thing that makes me adequate is God’s Holy Spirit and the power of the message. The adequacy is not in the minister; it’s in the message, the message of the gospel.
And then, in verse 5, Paul says “[God] 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.” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6, NLT)
In the next few verses, Paul is going to compare the Old Testament with the New Testament — the old covenant of Moses with the new covenant under Christ. And the reason he does that is because it appears that these false teachers in Corinth had a Jewish background.
We sometimes refer to them as Judaizers. They taught that Gentiles could become Christians, but first they had to be circumcised and keep the Jewish law. These teachers were a problem in the earl church. And it appears that some of these teachers were the ones who were in Corinth talking to the Corinthians, dividing that church against Paul.
As Paul has to emphasize in several of his letters, we are no longer under that Old Covenant, the Law of Moses. Paul says here that the old covenant ends in death. The way Paul put it in Romans was this, “I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead.” (Romans 7:10, NLT)
Why would Paul say that the Law of Moses brought death? Because that’s all it could do. It could only give you the standard that God demanded. Thou shalt do this. Thou shalt not do this. Thou shalt not do that. But the old covenant didn’t give you any power to help you to keep that standard.
You see, one of the shortcomings of law is that it can’t do anything to make us any better. It’s like the speed limit law on the Interstate, “You’re not allowed to drive any faster than 65 mph.” That law can tell you what you not allowed to do, it can tell you what the punishment is for doing it, but that law will never change your heart and make you a better person.
That’s true of any law, and it was true of the Law of Moses, the Old Covenant. When the Israelites were at the foot of Mount Sinai, they said to Moses, “Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.” (Deuteronomy 5:27).
And God’s response was, “Oh that they would always have hearts like this!” (Deuteronomy 5:29, NLT). God said, “I appreciate their sentiment. I wish they would always have the heart and the ability to do that, but they don’t.” So, at its very best, the old covenant was a standard that mankind could never fully keep. It was a ministry of condemnation. It was a ministry that brought death. That’s all it could do.
Verse 7, “The 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.” (2 Corinthians 3:7)
Yes, it’s true that the old covenant led to death, but it’s also true that it began with great glory. Let’s go back to Exodus chapter 34. Moses is up on Mount Sinai. The glory of the Lord surrounded that mountain. It was filled with smoke. There was thunder and lightning. The children of Israel didn’t want to even get close to that mountain while Moses was up there communing with God. God gave Moses the law. And then Moses came down.
When Moses came down off the mountain, the Israelites looked at him, they could see that his face was glowing. And we’re told that the children of Israel were afraid to get close to Moses because it was like, this guy is radiating the glory of God. So, they were afraid. So, Moses put a veil over his face. You might assume that he put the veil over his face so the people wouldn’t be afraid to get close to him.
But we learn something here in 2 Corinthians that we don’t learn from reading Exodus chapter 34. What we learn here is that the glow on Moses’ face, which was miraculous, didn’t last long. In fact, Paul is going to tell us several times here that that glory didn’t last. It faded away.
And that’s significant. What God was trying to say is that the Old Covenant wouldn’t last. It would fade away and give way to a New Covenant that would be far more glorious. So, when Moses came down — he had the glory — but the glory would fade as God’s way of saying, “This is temporary. This covenant will serve a purpose and when the purpose has been completed, it will fade away and it will be replaced by a new covenant.”
Verse 8, “Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever!” (2 Corinthians 3:8-11, NLT)
Paul said this new covenant under Christ is so much better than the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses. The old covenant couldn’t save anyone. The law of Moses couldn’t save. All it could do it tell you, don’t do this. And if you do, you deserve to die.
So, the Old Testament pointed out sin. But the new covenant produces righteousness. That’s a huge difference. The first only points out our flaws. The second helps us to do what’s right. But what the Law of Moses could do, and what it did do, is to point us to Jesus, to tell us that something better is coming.
Verse 12, “Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. We 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. But 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. Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.” (2 Corinthians 3:12-15, NLT)
So, we learn something interesting here. Moses didn’t wear that veil over his face to protect the Israelites. He did it so that they wouldn’t see that his glow was fading away. And Paul said there were still some Jews, even some Jewish Christians, who kept a veil over their face because they didn’t want to acknowledge that the glory of the Old Covenant was fading away.
The only way we can understand that is to believe in Christ, to see that the purpose of the old covenant was to point to Jesus and a new and better covenant. But Paul said, “even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil.”
Paul knew all about that veil. At one time, Paul had that veil over his face. At one time, he rejected the message about Jesus and was focused only on the Law of Moses. So, he knew what it was like to have a veil when the Jews studied the Old Testament Scripture.
Sometimes we wonder, how could the Jews read Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22, passages that plainly foretell the coming of Christ and the suffering of Christ, but still not understand. It’s because “when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil.”
Remember what Jesus said to the religious leaders? “You search the Scriptures because in them you think that you have eternal life, but these are they which testify of Me.” (John 5:39). You’re reading the Old Testament, you’re studying all the verses, but you ignore the fact that these Scriptures are pointing to me. Everything in the law, — the sacrifices, the Tabernacle, the temple, the priests—they all point to me.
Verse 16, “But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (2 Corinthians 3:16, NLT). And that’s exactly what happens. Ask any Jewish convert. They’ll say, “This is how I used to interpret this passage. But now my eyes have been opened. This is how I see it now. It’s so plain to me. It’s so obvious.
I think about when Jesus rose from the dead, he met with two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. And it says, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he showed them everything in the Law, in the Psalms, in the prophets that talked about him. And then, they understood. Because when you put Christ in the middle of any Old Testament passage, it makes sense. It becomes clear. The veil is taken away in Christ.
Verse 17, “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, NLT)
The new covenant, the covenant of Christ brings freedom. The old system — the system of legalism — was a system of condemnation. Because every day you live in the reality that you may not be good enough. Every day you try to do what’s right, but you mess up and you don’t know if you’re good enough. So, it’s a system filled with fear and anxiety. It’s a system filled with this sense of pressure every day to measure up, hoping you make it in. And you end hoping that God grades on a curve, so your goal is just to be better than most everyone else.
But when you understand that you can’t be good enough — that’s why Jesus died in your place on the cross — and when you believe, by faith, Jesus did that for me, there’s freedom. There’s no more need to be better than everyone else, no more pressure of feeling I’ve got to be good enough, no more fear and anxiety of wondering every day if I’m going to measure up.
Paul closes this section with verse 18, which is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV)
The word Paul uses here for “transformed” is the Greek word metamorphosis. It’s the word that refers to a larva being changed into a pupa being changed into a fully mature butterfly. And it’s such a beautiful description of our Christian life. All of us who are Christians are like caterpillars becoming butterflies – we are all being transformed. Yes, there a sense in which we are instantly transformed in our relationship to God the moment we are baptized into Christ. But then we are continually being transformed the more and more we fix our eyes on Jesus
There’s a great story by Nathaniel Hawthorne you may have heard — the Gret Stone Face. It’s a story about a little village near a mountain. And on that mountain — carved into the mountain, or at least it appeared that way – that was the face of a man looking down, kind of solemnly, sternly looking down at the people in the village. And there was a legend, according to this story of Hawthorne, that one day somebody would come to that village who looked like the face in the mountain. And he would come to that village and bring great blessing and make wonderful changes to that village.
And that legend got the imagination of one little boy. And he would go out every day and just stare at that face in the mountain and imagine what it would be like when that man to town. Well, that little boy grew up to be a teenager. But he still loved that story and he continued to look up at that face on the mountain. And then that teenager became a young man, then a middle-aged man, then an old man. But he still loved that story.
One day he was walking through the village, somebody said to him, “Hey, you’re the guy we’ve been waiting for. You look just like that face in the mountain.” And the story is that the boy and eventually the man became like what he was looking at.
There is much truth in the statement, “What you behold, you will eventually become.” Whatever you look at is what you turn into. Some of you get so distracted every day by looking at your cell phone constantly. You just can’t get rid of that dopamine fix of looking at that as minutes turn into hours. Be careful, you become what you behold. If you look at filth, you become what you behold. But if you gaze upon Christ, and you look to him, and behold his glory, and spend time with him, you become like what you behold.
“[As we] contemplate the Lord’s glory, [we] are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.”
The Old Covenant — the covenant of law, the covenant of legalism, the covenant of religious performance, it reminded people that we need help, we need a Savior, we need someone who can change our hearts. And then Jesus came and brought with him a new covenant. And now that the new has come, the old has faded away.
Why would we want to hang onto the old that has faded away when the new is obviously superior? Through the new covenant, God has made a way of salvation where I can be forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ. And so, now, I don’t have to live in anxiety and fear wondering if I’m good enough. I don’t have to get into a competition with anyone else to make sure that I’m better than others.
I have God’s Spirit in my life, shaping me and changing me on a daily basis to make me more and more like Jesus. And, rather than the glory fading, the glory is getting greater with every passing day and will culminate in the presence of Jesus.
Are we adequate? Are we good enough? No! But, thank God, our adequacy is not in us. It’s in our message — the message of the power of the Spirit of God and the life-changing message of the gospel. Paul reminds us that this magnificent message of liberty, this message of hope, this message of freedom, is a message that allows us to stand with confidence in the presence of a holy God. What an awesome message that is!