An earnest desire

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was meant to restore the fellowship that he had with them when he first established their church. The dishonorable behavior of some of the church’s members had caused Paul to pay them an unpleasant visit and resulted in harsh treatment of the offender. Paul urged the Corinthian believers to forgive the sinner (2 Corinthians 2:7) so that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Paul said, “So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:8-11). Paul went on to explain that his ministry of reconciliation was intended to restore fellowship between God and mankind and that we are all new creatures in Christ. Paul stated:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:16-19)

The Greek word that is translated reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:18, katallage (kat-al-lay-ay’) means exchange “i.e. restoration to (the divine) favor” (G2643). Reconciliation has to do with God’s ability to give us credit for Christ’s righteousness even though we haven’t done anything to earn or deserve it. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talked about putting off the old self and putting on the new self in order to be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:22-23). Paul said that the new self is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Paul addressed the Corinthian sinner’s transgression by admonishing him to cleanse himself from the moral pollution that had affected not only his body, but also his spirit. Paul said, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Paul’s use of the term beloved indicated that he was speaking to someone that was a follower of Christ. The Greek term that is translated beloved, agapetos (ag-ap-ay-tos’) is “spoken of Christians as united with God or with each other in the bonds of holy love…meaning conjoined in the bonds of faith and love” (G27). Bringing holiness to completion was probably Paul’s way of referring to the process of sanctification which unites believers with Christ and each other. Paul implied in his letter to the Ephesians that it is possible for us to achieve spiritual success. He said that we are to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1). Paul’s reference to a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God was connected to the peace offering that was a part of the moral and ethical instruction of God’s chosen people (Leviticus, Introduction, p. 113). Leviticus 1:3-9 states:

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”

The offering of a male without blemish signified the perfection, as well as the completion of the sacrifice that was being made. The Hebrew word that is translated blemish, tamiym (taw-meem’) “means complete, in the sense of the entire or whole thing” (H8549). Tamiym is translated blameless in Genesis 17:1-2 where it says, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.'” Christ’s atoning sacrifice fulfilled the requirement of perfection that God demanded from Abraham and all those who would seek entrance into his kingdom. Jesus told his followers, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and he later instructed a rich young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).

The blood of the sacrificed animal was symbolically thrown against the sides of the altar in order to depict the violence involved in the act of atonement. Leviticus 17:11 states, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” The Hebrew word that is translated “to make atonement for” in Leviticus 1:4 is kaphar (kaw-far’). “On its most basic level of meaning, kaphar denotes a material transaction of ‘ransom’…The righteous God is neither implacable nor capricious, but provides Himself the ‘ransom’ or substitute sacrifice that would satisfy Him. The priest at the altar represents God Himself, bringing the requisite offering before God; sacrifice is not essentially man’s action, but God’s own act of pardoning mercy. Kaphar is first found in Genesis 6:14, where it is used in its primary sense of ‘to cover over.’ Here God gives Noah instructions concerning the ark, including, ‘Pitch it within and without with pitch.’ Most of the uses of the word, however, involve the theological meaning of ‘covering over,’ often with the blood of sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. This means that the ‘covering over’ hides the sin from God’s sight until the death of Christ takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29, Hebrews 10:4)” (H3722).

When he instituted the Lord’s Supper, a celebration of his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus told his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). The Greek words that Jesus used that are translated earnestly desired, epithumia (ep-ee-thoo-mee’-ah) epithumeo (ep-ee-thoo-meh’-o) were meant to emphasize the passion that Jesus had to complete his mission of saving the world. Epithumeo means “to fix the desire upon” and stresses the inward impulse to do something regardless of the outcome (G1937). Epithumia suggests that it was an irrational longing that drove Jesus to give up his life for his friends (G1939). During the Lord’s Supper, Jesus revealed that he would be betrayed by one of the twelve apostles that he had personally chosen to serve with him. Luke’s account of the incident states it this way:

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. (Luke 22:17-23)

Jesus’ earnest desire to institute the Lord’s Supper may have been centered around the fact that it would be the remembrance of him that would keep his ministry active in the hearts of believers. Jesus pointed out that even Peter, who was the most vocal in his allegiance to Christ, would be subject to Satan’s devices. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).

Paul’s compassion for the sinner in Corinth that had disrupted his ministry was most likely a result of his understanding of the schemes of the devil. Paul talked extensively about spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul encouraged believers to be joined together with the Lord in order to defeat Satan. Paul told them, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13). Paul mentioned his own struggle against spiritual forces in connection with the incident in Corinth which had disrupted his ministry. Paul said, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7). Paul was encouraged by the fact that the Corinthians had repented and were also seeking a restoration of their fellowship with him. The Greek word that Paul used that is translated longing in 2 Corinthians 7:7 is translated earnestly desire in the King James Version of the Bible. In the same way that Jesus earnestly desired to eat the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, the Corinthians wanted to restore fellowship, or you might say, have communion with Paul.

Paul explained to the Corinthians that the grief he had caused them had served a purpose in that it worked to bring them back together and strengthened their relationship with each other and the Lord. Paul said, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us” (2 Corinthians 7:8-9). Paul referred to a godly grief that brought the Corinthians to a place of repentance. Repentance has to do with thinking differently about our behavior. The Greek word metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) in a religious sense implies “pious sorrow for unbelief and sin and a turning from them unto God and the gospel of Christ” (G3341). The reason why Paul associated repentance with godly sorrow may have been because it is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that produces repentance in the believer’s heart. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 15:26). Paul talked about God as the one who comforts the downcast (2 Corinthians 7:6). In this instance, comfort has to do with coming along side and encouraging someone that is in need of help (G3870).

Paul talked in his letter to the Ephesians about Christians being fellow citizens and “members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21). The metaphor Paul used of a holy temple in the Lord was meant to connect the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law with the process of sanctification which unites believers in and to Christ. Paul identified the Holy Spirit as the source, or you might say, the power that drives sanctification when he said, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). The Greek word that is translated are being built together, sunoikodomeo (soon-oy-kod-om-eh’-o) is derived from the words sun (soon) which signifies union (G4862) and oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) which means “to be a house-builder” (G3618). Oikodomeo “is used metaphorically, in the sense of ‘edifying,’ promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example, suggesting such spiritual progress as the result of patient labor.” Paul wanted both the Ephesians and Corinthians to understand that what he was doing may have been painful for them, but was necessary for their spiritual growth. Paul told the Corinthians, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Paul contrasted godly grief with worldly grief in order to point out that grief in and of itself was not the objective of his message. Paul wanted the Corinthians to see that the work of the Holy Spirit was essential for his preaching and teaching to be effective. Paul said that worldly grief produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10). What he likely meant by that was that the sorrow we feel when we do something wrong can sometimes be overwhelming, Excessive grief can lead to things like suicide and depression. One of the ways that we know that the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts is that we experience the comfort of God as we admit our mistakes and take responsibility for our wrong actions. Paul said “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). In other words, godly grief draws us closer to God, not away from him. Paul said that godly grief also produces earnestness. The Greek word spoude (spoo-day’), which means “speed,” is translated many different ways, e.g. diligence, haste, earnest care, and forwardness (G4710). One of the ways to think of earnestness is a person in motion, someone that is always making forward progress. This is an important aspect of the Christian life because believers will inevitably experience setbacks and must be able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start over again whenever they are overtaken by sin or become the target of Satan’s devices. An example of this was Peter’s restoration to the ministry after he had denied Jesus three times. Jesus asked Peter, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’…And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me'” (John 21:17-19).

Paul told the Corinthians that they had proved themselves innocent by their indignation, longing, and vindication by God (2 Corinthians 7:11). The Greek word that is translated proved, sunistemi (soon-is’-tay-mee) means “to set together” (G4921). What Paul may have meant by proved themselves innocent was that the Corinthians he was talking to had remained members of the body of Christ. They had not left the church because of the trouble they had gotten into, but had stuck it out and worked through their conflict with Paul. Paul was commending them for it and said, “So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Corinthians 7:12-13). Paul’s experience with the Corinthians was considered to be a success because it led to the church being built up and the faith of the believers that were there being strengthened to the point that they became an encouragement to others that were struggling. Paul said that Titus’ spirit had been refreshed by the Corinthians. In other words, Titus, a fellow minister and friend of Paul’s, was able to take a spiritual vacation because of the remarkable turnaround at the Corinthian church.

The end result

The dilemma that became apparent after the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt was that the sinful nature of mankind made it impossible for the children of Israel to have fellowship with the LORD. God told Moses:

Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’” (Exodus 33:3-5)

God described the Israelites as stiff-necked because they disobeyed one the most important of his Ten Commandments shortly after the commandments had been directly communicated to them (Exodus 20:1, 32:1). The Hebrew word that is translated consume, kalah (kaw-law’) “describes the transitory reality of fallen human nature” (H3615). What God was saying was that it was inevitable that he would have to punish the Israelites for their sin. It was only a matter of time before their rebellion against him would bring about disastrous results.

Moses was an exception to the rule in that he wanted to please God and was doing his best to fulfill his mission of bringing the people of Israel to the land that God had promised to give them (Exodus 3:7-11). Exodus 33:9-11 indicates that Moses was experiencing intimate fellowship with God. It states:

When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.

The Hebrew word that is translated friend in this passage, reya (ray’-ah) is translated neighbor in the ninth and tenth commandments which state, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:16-17). When a lawyer asked him the question, “who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:29), Jesus responded with the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) and then asked the lawyer, “‘Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise'” (Luke 10:36-37).

The lawyer’s interpretation of the Ten Commandments brought him to the conclusion that God wanted the Israelites to show mercy to each other, a characteristic of God that is demonstrated throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. When it says that the Lord spoke to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11), it is implied that God was showing Moses mercy when he talked with him face to face. The Hebrew word that is translated face in Exodus 33:11 is translated “presence” in Exodus 33:13-15 where Moses requested that the Lord show him his ways. These verses state:

Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

Moses asked God to show him his ways so that he would know the Lord better and could do what pleased him. Moses realized that God had a different way of doing things than he did and that Moses needed to adapt to God’s way of doing things rather than the other way around. The Hebrew word derek (deh’-rek) means a road and is used figuratively to represent “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). The basic idea of the Hebrew word derek is that it represents the path that one travels through life. If you think of life as a journey that gets you from point A (birth) to point B (death), then your “ways” are the different twists and turns you take that will ultimately determine the quality and outcome of your life. Moses wanted to find favor in God’s sight which meant that he wanted God to bless his life. The King James Version of the Bible indicates that Moses wanted to find “grace” in God’s sight (Exodus 33:13). Grace or chen (khane) in Hebrew has to do with receiving special attention from God. Chen is derived from the Hebrew word chanan (khaw-nan’) which means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior…Generally, this word implies the extending of ‘favor’ often when it is neither expected nor deserved” (H2603).

The LORD told Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But, he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live'” (Exodus 33:19-20). God equated his face with his entire person (H6440) and told Moses that seeing him would result in eternal life (H2425). God couldn’t give Moses eternal life because his New Covenant of grace hadn’t yet been enacted (Matthew 26:27-28) and therefore, Moses’ sins weren’t forgiven (Hebrews 9:19-28). God’s plan for the Israelites was to transform them into a different kind of people, but he planned to do it by a different means that he did after Jesus came to the earth and died for the sins of the world. The Israelites would become a nation, one that would stand out as being devoted to God. The Lord told Moses, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you” (Exodus 34:10). Similar to God’s creation of the planet that we live on, his involvement with the people of Israel was expected to result in a product that was different than anything that had ever been seen before. The Hebrew word that is translated created in Exodus 34:10, bara’ (baw-raw’) is only used with God as the subject. “The verb expresses creation out of nothing, an idea seen clearly in passages having to do with creation on a cosmic scale…All other verbs for ‘creating’ allow a much broader range of meaning; they have both divine and human subjects, and are used in contexts where bringing something or someone into existence is not the issue” (H1254).

The work that the LORD planned to do with the Israelites was intended to be a witness to the nations around them that God was worthy of their respect and admiration (H3372). God said that he would do marvels (Exodus 34:10). The Hebrew word pala (paw-law’) means to separate, i.e. distinguish and frequently signifies the wondrous works of God (H6381). A unique sign of God’s transformative power were the rays of light that came from Moses’ face after he talked with God. Exodus 34:29-30 tells us:

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.

The fact that the rays of light came from Moses’ face seems to suggests that they were somehow associated with his personality reflecting the image of Jesus Christ. During Jesus’ transfiguration, Matthew’s gospel tells us that “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2) indicating that he had been transformed into his glorified state. Moses’ experience of talking face to face with God may have been similar to what happens when Christians die because the separation of our souls from our bodies makes it possible for us to immediately enter into the presence of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). It could be that the last 40 years of Moses’ life was spent in some type of transitory state, somewhere between physical and spiritual life.

Exodus 34:33-35 tells us that when Moses spoke to the people of Israel, he put a veil over his face and “Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.” The interesting thing about Moses covering his face with a veil was that it prevented the people from seeing the end result of his personal communication with God. Moses could have used his shining face as a means of drawing attention to himself, but he chose to keep his own glory covered up so that God’s glory would be the focus of everyone’s attention.

The Apostle Paul talked about the believers in Corinth being letters of recommendation that attested to the authenticity of his ministry. Paul began by asking the Corinthians:

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:1-3)

The phrase Paul used “tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3) refers to the way God communicates with people today as opposed to the way his Ten Commandments were originally communicated to the Israelites. Paul said God’s commandments are not written with ink, “but with the Spirit of the living God.” The Spirit of the living God is “the vital spirit or life, the principle of life residing in man. The breath breathed by God into man and again returning to God” (G4151). In the New Testament of the Bible, the Spirit of God is in as absolute sense the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is described as descending in bodily form upon Jesus after His baptism and “as coming to and acting upon Christians, illuminating and empowering them, and remaining with them, imparting to them spiritual knowledge, aid, consolation, sanctification, and making intercession with and for them.”

Paul went on to explain that the expression of God’s glory is something that comes naturally to believers because they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Paul indicated that Moses covered his face with a veil because the rays of light that shone from it revealed the end result of salvation, but weren’t permanent in the same way that the Holy Spirit secures the believer’s salvation in Christ until the day of redemption (2 Corinthians 1:22). Paul stated:

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Corinthians 3:7-11)

Paul described Moses’ ministry as a “ministry of condemnation” (2 Corinthians 3:9). What he meant by that was that the Mosaic Law made it possible for God to punish the Israelites because he had given them his Ten Commandments, what he considered to be illegal activities, therefore they were aware of what they weren’t supposed to do and did it anyway. Paul indicated that the ministry of condemnation would be brought to an end and the ministry of the Spirit would far exceed its glory. It’s likely that Jesus’ death on the cross was intended to be the capstone of the Mosaic Law in that it accomplished God’s will with regards to saving mankind. Even though he was falsely condemned under the Mosaic Law, Jesus was able to fulfill its intent because he lived a perfect life according to the standard it established.

The veil that Moses used to cover his face appears to represent at a personal level the veil inside the tabernacle that divided the two areas know as the holy place and the most holy place (Exodus 26:33). After Jesus yielded up his spirit on the cross, Matthew’s gospel tells us, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51) indicating that the barrier that separated God and man had been permanently eliminated. Paul told the Corinthians:

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (2 Corinthians 3:12-16)

Paul’s reference to the outcome of what was being brought to an end was intended to let the Corinthians know that the end result of the legal system that God put in place was the death of Israel’s Messiah, an act that made it possible for God and man to be permanently reconciled. This was a much more meaningful outcome than the sanctification that took place through Moses’ direct communication with God. Paul said that the Israelites minds were hardened, meaning they were unable to comprehend God’s intention for giving them the Ten Commandments, because there was a veil over their hearts. Paul used the descriptor of a veil over the heart to illustrate how the process of salvation works. Like the high priest that entered the most holy place once a year on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:13-15), Christ enters the hearts of believers and applies his own blood to the mercy seat of their consciences in order to take away the guilt of their sins (Leviticus 16:20-22). Therefore, Paul said, “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Corinthians 3:16). In other words, there is no more need for atonement because Christ’s perfect life has been substituted for our own (Hebrews 10:12).

Paul wrapped up his explanation of how God’s glory is manifested in believers with a concluding statement that eluded to the fact that the end result of a believer’s sanctification is the liberty to do as one pleases. Paul said:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

The Greek word that is translated freedom in 2 Corinthians 3:17, eleutheria (el-yoo-ther-ee’-ah) means freedom from the Mosaic Law and from the yoke of external observances in general, but the primary function of this freedom is to deliver us “from the dominion of sinful appetites and passions” (G1657). Paul said, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). In other words, it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes freedom possible and our submission to him that brings about our transformation into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). The unveiled face that Paul referred to could be thought of as intimacy with God. It says in Exodus 33:11 that “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” The image of being face to face with God has to do with the essence of who we really are being revealed to another person. When we get to the point where we are being completely transparent with God about our thoughts, feelings, and desires; we connect with him at the core of our being and are transformed into a new person, one that wants to please God more than anything else.

The finish line

Paul’s second letter to Timothy is believed to be the last message he wrote before he was beheaded by the Roman Emperor Nero. His instructions to Timothy reflected the importance of having a successful transition after Paul was removed from his leadership role. Paul encouraged Timothy to not be ashamed of the work he had been called to do and told him to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). Paul also focused on the process of sanctification which he probably thought Timothy was going through in order to prepare him for the increased responsibility he would have after Paul was gone. Paul told Timothy regarding confessing his sins, “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

Paul used his own life as an example for Timothy to follow in his pursuit of evangelism and told Timothy that he should expect his ministry to be challenged by unbelievers. Paul said, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:10-12, ESV). One of things that Paul was clear about was that suffering and doing God’s work would always go hand in hand. There was no way to escape the persecution that resulted from preaching the gospel.

Paul told Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Greek words Paul used that are translated perfect and thoroughly furnished had to do with the process of sanctification being completed in the life of a believer. Paul linked scripture to this process and indicated that God’s word is sufficient to complete that process. There is no other requirement to reach spiritual maturity than to understand or fully comprehend all of God’s word.

Paul concluded his final message with these words, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Paul had likely already been condemned to death when he wrote this message to Timothy. Paul was careful to note that he didn’t expect to be used any further in his ministry of preaching the gospel. It was Paul’s imminent death that prompted him to urge Timothy to keep his ministry going. Paul’s mention of a crown of righteousness was probably meant to encourage Timothy to work as hard as he had to spread the gospel around the world because he would be rewarded in heaven.

Paul’s comparison of the completion of ministry to a good fight and a finished course was his way of communicating the importance of endurance in serving God. Roman boxing was popular in the time period in which Paul lived. “Some boxers were known for their skill; others were known for simply being able to take punishment…Romans used gloves with pieces of metal placed around the knuckles (caestus) to inflict the most damage possible. Moreover, there was no time limit or weight classification. Proclaiming a winner resulted from either a knockout or the conceding of defeat by one of the boxers” (factsanddetails.com, Ancient Roman Sport). Paul’s declaration that he had fought a good fight implied that he had knocked out his opponent or at the very least gotten him to concede defeat.

Paul talked about his conflict with Satan in his second letter to the Corinthians. He stated, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7). The Greek word translated buffet, kolaphizo (kol-af-id’-zo) means “to rap with the fist” (G2852). Paul indicated the source of his afflictions were the revelations he received which were a progressive, private unveiling of the otherwise unknown and unknowable facts about God (G602). Paul’s numerous epistles are a testimony to the surpassing knowledge he had of Jesus and his future kingdom on Earth.

Paul likened his career in ministry to a race that was completed. Interestingly, Paul didn’t say he had won the race, but had merely finished the course. Paul’s humility in judging his importance in spreading the gospel around the Roman Empire showed that he genuinely viewed himself as an instrument in God’s hand. Paul didn’t take credit for any of his accomplishments. Most of what Paul talked about had to do with the suffering he endured while serving in the ministry of Jesus Christ. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul boasted of his sufferings and mentioned in detail the various trials he had experienced (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). The only evidence that Paul was content with what he had done at the end of his life was his statement, “I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). The Greek word translated kept, tereo (tay-reh’-o) means to fulfill a command (G5083). In other words, Paul felt he had done everything God had told him to.

God’s approval

Paul’s second letter to Timothy focused on how he could win God’s approval. Paul instructed Timothy “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV). Paul was encouraging Timothy to exhibit Christ-like behavior so that he wouldn’t have to fear God’s judgment. It seems that Timothy was afraid of making mistakes and wasn’t preaching the gospel as boldly as Paul had. In order to rightly handle the word of truth, Paul was saying that Timothy needed to rely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus referred to as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17).

Jesus told the believers that followed him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32, NKJV). The Greek word translated free, eleutheroo (el-yoo-ther-o’-o) means to exempt someone from moral, ceremonial, or mortal liability (G1659). Essentially, what Jesus was saying was that a relationship with him was all that was necessary to win God’s approval. Jesus told Thomas, one of his disciple that is sometimes referred to as doubting Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6, NKJV).

Paul assured Timothy that he was secure in his relationship with Christ. He told Timothy, “But the truth of God cannot be changed. It says, ‘The Lord knows those who are His.’ And, ‘Everyone who says he is a Christian must turn away from sin!’” (2 Timothy 2:19, NLV). The stipulation that a Christian must turn away from sin doesn’t imply that believers are expected to live a sinless life. The Greek word translated turn away, aphistemi (af-is’-tay-mee) refers to the removal of sin that is associated with the blood of Jesus Christ. What Paul was getting at was the evidence of someone being saved; which is the change in behavior that occurs as a result of having our sins forgiven by God.

Paul used the example of different types of dishes to illustrate that some Christians are very valuable to God even though they may be used less frequently. Paul stated, “In a big house there are not only things made of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay. Some are of more use than others. Some are used every day. If a man lives a clean life, he will be like a dish made of gold. He will be respected and set apart for good use by the owner of the house” (2 Timothy 2:20-21, NLV). Paul went on to talk about how sanctification prepares us for God’s work and he instructed Timothy to, “turn away from the sinful things young people want to do” (2 Timothy 2:22, NLV).

One of the keys to sanctification, the process whereby Christians are equipped for service in God’s kingdom, is confession of sins. Paul’s reference to being set apart for good use in 2 Timothy 2:21 has to do with being cleansed from sin. The Greek word ekkathairo (ek-kath-ah’-ee’ro) means to cleanse thoroughly (G1571). Its root word kathairo is used metaphorically of purging worshippers from guilt in Hebrews 10:2 where is states, “For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins” (NKJV). Believers are considered to be pure or approved by God when their consciences are free from guilt. The Apostle John encouraged believers to admit their failures and said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).