The Fourth in a Series of Sermons on Select Passages in Second Corinthians
Face it, not one of us here is getting any younger. As Paul puts it, we are wasting away. In speaking as he does, the Apostle doesn’t mean to say that we are starving to death as a consequence of some fad diet, or as a result of a serious illness. Rather, Paul says we are wasting away because of the fall of the human race into sin. Because of the curse brought upon us by Adam, we are all dying. We are wasting away–some of us faster than others. Yet, this fact does not cause Paul to despair, or to give up on the Corinthians. Instead, Paul looks ahead to the glories of the age to come. That jar of clay, that “tent” which is our body, will not last forever. But our resurrection bodies will. In light of our human frailty, says Paul, we must walk by faith, and not by sight.
We are continuing our series on 2 Corinthians, and we now take up Paul’s discussion of the frailty of sinful human nature in light of the glories of the age to come–the focus of 2 Corinthians 4:1-5:10. Recall that in the opening chapters of 2 Corinthians, Paul defines and defends the nature of his apostolic office in the light of the stinging criticism raised against him by certain men in the Corinthian church. These men identify themselves as “apostles,” and who in doing so, seek to undercut Paul’s apostolic authority to make room for their own. Paul, however, sees these men as “false apostles” (chapter 11), men who count upon their impressive rhetorical skills and their popularity among the Corinthians as the basis for their self-proclaimed apostolic status.
Because these men have charismatic personalities and are eloquent speakers, they are able to rely upon their own natural abilities and achieve some degree of success. But Paul knows his own weakness and frailty. This is why he relies upon the power of God, not flowery speech, or lofty rhetoric. Paul understands that God’s power is revealed in the scandalous proclamation of a crucified Savior. But the false apostles do not understand this. They avoid saying anything which might offend their hearers.
Furthermore, flowery rhetoric doesn’t help much in times of trial. So Paul reminds the Corinthians that God is the source of all comfort. Even when Paul faced such severe affliction, and underwent trials so difficult that he (as an apostle) despaired even of life itself, nevertheless God opened a door for Paul to go and preach the gospel in Troas and Macedonia. In light of this remarkable and unexpected turn of events, Paul describes how the preaching of the gospel amounts to a triumphal procession of Jesus Christ. This triumph is a fragrant offering unto God, a point in light of the Old Testament background of sin and thanksgiving offerings which are described as an aroma which pleases God. Paul points out that God is pleased with the proclamation of the sacrificial death of Jesus, that once for all sacrifice for sin, through which sinners are saved, and made forever right before God.
In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul contrasts the fading glory of the Old Covenant–made by God with Israel at Mount Sinai, of which Moses was mediator, and which came in the form of types and shadow–with the far greater glory of the New Covenant, ratified in the blood of Jesus Christ. Paul has argued that the law–first written upon stone tablets, and then in the Torah–pales in comparison with the glories of the New Covenant, in which the law is now written upon the human heart in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. When Paul contrasts the law with the Spirit, he is not saying that the Old Covenant (external authority) is torn up and thrown away so that New Covenant believers rely solely upon the Holy Spirit living in the human heart for revelation from God (internal authority).
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