II Corinthians 3:18 –4:6. Beholding the Glory.
Key Notes: Analysis of IICor. 3:18. Our focus. The glory of God and our faces.
II Corinthians 3:18 is a single verse which deserves careful analysis and memorizing. Its core is that we are being changed into the likeness of Christ. The concept of being conformed to the image of Christ is taught in other places, but only in the II Corinthians passage do we have a description of our part in bringing it about.
First we will study the verse phrase by phrase.
“And we all…”
The opportunity for the transformed life is not just for rare souls like Saint Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Mother Theresa, but for common Christians like the Corinthians and us.
“…with unveiled face…”
We look up to God by faith, our unbelief removed.
“…beholding as in a mirror…”
The Greek word for “beholding” is rare and difficult to translate. It has been interpreted as quoted here (RSV); it may simply mean ”beholding”. It may also mean “the face reflected as in a mirror”. Moses was not allowed to look on the face of God directly. Ex.33:20–23
Since Paul has made the point that the veil has been removed and that we are very bold, it seems unlikely that any restraint on our gaze was intended.
“…the glory of the Lord….”
We have knowledge of the glory of the Lord from reading Scripture. We experience the presence of God in prayer. But it does not say “reading about”, or “praying to”; it says “beholding the glory”. Here language fails us.
“…are being transformed ….”
We note the passive voice. We do not transform; we are being transformed.
“…into His likeness….”
We are becoming like Jesus when we behold Him.
“…from one degree of glory to another….”
This is a continuous lifelong process, a growing likeness.
“…for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
The removal of the veil and the process of transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit.
The part we play is two-fold: pulling the veil away and “beholding”. Getting the veil away from our eyes is a metaphor for getting rid our weak faith and our resistance to God. It is important to understand that the resistance is real. If we were to completely surrender our lives to Him, what might happen? We are afraid. Many people, when offered the opportunity to seek the face of God, to see the glory of God, back away. In fairness, we must note that Moses asked for the vision of God’s glory only when he had come to despair of going on without God.
“If your presence will not go with me, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? It is not in your going with us…?” (Ex.33:15–16).
He simply could not go on without knowing the presence of God. Can we?
The second part is “beholding”. We all have an internal focus of attention, inner eyes that look backward and forward, up and down. They are normally focused on ourselves, who we are and what we are becoming. Many young people will express their inner focus-- what they think is most important-- on their education, their freedom, their future, their ambitions or their family. What we think is most important, what is worth most us is what we worship (worth-ship) . So for many of us the internal focus, our worship center, is ourselves,. Others will point to some person to idolize: young preachers look up to and talk like Billy Graham or Bill Hybels; young women dress like Britney Spears; young men walk like Michael Jordan. Bill Clinton talked like J.F. Kennedy. For some of us, it may be our parents, leaning over our shoulders, pressing us on.
Shifting the focus of our inward gaze is not easy or automatic. It is a personal choice, aided by the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to bring us to Christ.
After this climactic verse, Paul goes on to address his work not from the perspective of the Old Testament, as before, but to the Gentile world of the Corinthians.
4:1–2 Toward God, Paul is very bold (3:12) and toward his human constituency, he does not lose heart. No spin may be put on the Gospel. It is not a matter of technique but an appeal to each person’s conscience.
4:3–4 There are, after all, real reasons why people refuse the Gospel. The god of this world (Satan) has veiled the eyes of pagans as he has the Jews. We should not be naïve and think that if we only could only say it right, the reaction would be positive. Jesus is held up as the image of the invisible God and people flatly refuse Him.
4:5 Jesus is Lord. Paul is His servant / slave.
4:6 God originally commanded light to shine at the Creation. Now God Himself shines in the face of Christ.
So Paul has the light of Christ in His own heart. He sees the glory of God.
This is the central goal of the Christian life. It is also spelled out in other places:
“For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the first-born among many brethren.” (Rom.8:29)
“…becoming like Him in His death.” (Phil.3:11)
“Beloved, we are God’s children; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as His is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies Himself as he is pure.” (IJn.3:2)
“…Christ in you the hope of glory.” (Col.1:27)
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. (Isa.6:1)
“Your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.” (Psa.45:8)
“…to behold the beauty of the Lord….” (Psa.27:4)
“O taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psa.34:8)
“Let me see your face. Let me hear your voice.” (Song of S. 2:14)
“I pray, show me your Glory.” (Ex.33:18)
Seek the glory of God.
For background reading, consider The Pursuit of God. A.W. Tozer; Christian Publ. Harrisburg;’44.