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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Welcome to HBS. I pray you’re as eager to study this week’s lesson as I am to guide you through it. My other prayer is that you would use your Bible as you study these lessons each week, i.e. look up each Bible reference, Scripture quote, etc. and take God at His Word. I started asking the people in my classroom to “open their Bibles” soon after I began to teach simply because I wanted them to see what God had said. I’m merely “building” on the foundation laid by our Apostle Paul, so what I’m trying to say is my sole responsibility in this undertaking is to explain the Bible to you (Acts 8:30-31). The first and last Word will always belong to the Creator God.
We finished our study of the 8 covenants last week. The majority of these are between the LORD and the nation of Israel. According to the LORD’s plan revealed in the covenants and through His prophets to the nation of Israel, the gentile nations would one day be blessed through Israel (Zechariah 14:9). But here’s the thing, the promised blessings and the kingdom required the whole house of Israel to accept her Messiah (Acts 2:22-23, 3:13-14).
In addition, God revealed Himself through Jewish prophets, and the Jews became the recipients and custodians of the “written Word of God” (Romans 3:1-2). These divine actions meant the Jews became the repository of God’s revelation to man and the mediator’s of His divine blessing. What this means to us gentiles, in a nutshell, is the only path of God’s blessing lay through the Jews (Genesis 12:1-3; Ephesians 2:11-22).
Please open your Bible at 2 Corinthians 3:7.
So, in the Age of Grace (national Israel will experience this in the Millennial Kingdom) when the Holy Spirit gives the Believer the gift of eternal life, it‘s not based on keeping the letter of the Law, it’s based on one’s faith in Jesus Christ’s finished work on the Cross.
2 Corinthians 3
But if the ministry of death in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory (7-9).
The Law’s ministry was one of death and nothing else. The Law killed. There are many people in Christendom that don’t agree with that; can’t come to terms with that statement, but there it is. Far too many Christians are working very hard, hoping and trying their best to earn their way to heaven despite what this book says.
Paul is contrasting the New Covenant with the Old Covenant in this section of Scripture, pointing out that “the letter, engraved on stones, came with glory.” But in truth it also came with requirements and penalties, which meant “the letter kills.” Therefore, the Dispensation of the Law is called the ministry of death and the ministry of condemnation.
The ministration of the Law had a glorious beginning. Mt. Sinai “was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire (Exodus 19:18a). There was loud thundering, lightning all about the mountain top, and an earthquake. There was the sound of a trumpet, “which grew louder and louder.” There was the glorious Shekinah cloud in which the LORD God appeared and literally spoke “all these words.” The people trembled in fear (Exodus 20:1, 20:18).
Moses was with the LORD for “forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 34:28). The people below Mt. Sinai grew impatient waiting on Moses, so they asked his brother, Aaron, to make them a god because they did not know what had become of Moses (Exodus 32:1). Aaron told them to go and collect all the gold they could and he fashioned it into a golden calf and the people said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:2-4). After hearing this, Aaron built an altar for the false god and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD” (Exodus 32:5).
Meanwhile, back atop Mt. Sinai, the LORD spoke to Moses saying, “Go down at once, for your people (as you study your Old Testament, you’ll discover whenever the LORD is displeased with the Israelites He’ll refer to them as “your people” and not My people as He does here), whom you (and not I) brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. “They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7-8).
I’m doing my best to show you, using Scripture, that the Law’s ministry was death. This incident took place at the birthplace of the Law and these are the LORD’s own words, starting in verse 9: The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them; and that I may (do what) destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.
The LORD anticipated destroying the whole lot of them. According to historical accounts, there were approximately 3-4 million Jews assembled at the base of Mt. Sinai at that particular time. But the LORD God’s promise to Abraham, which had been confirmed with his Issac and Jacob would not cease for He intended to start anew, making a great nation from Moses. However, Moses interceded for the people and he was able to persuade the LORD to change His mind (Exodus 32:11-14). The LORD exhibited His matchless grace on this day but the disobedient experienced His wrath for on the same day the sons of Levi, upon the command of the LORD, struck down with their swords about three thousand men who were out of control (behaving wickedly) before the LORD God (Exodus 32:25-28). It was a dark day indeed for many.
But there’s no such darkness associated with the administration of the New Covenant for under it righteousness and life are ministered to all who receive them by faith (alone). This is because the claims of the Old Covenant were fully met by Jesus Christ at Calvary. Thus, the ministration of the New Covenant outshines that of the Old Covenant in every respect: For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.
The word righteousness in verse 9 doesn’t express the full meaning of the original Greek word which is Dikaiosune (pronounced: dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay), Noun Feminine, Strong’s Greek #1343, meaning: the doctrine concerning the way in which a person may attain a state approved of God; justification (See Romans 1:17, 3:28). The Law of Moses condemns. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the plan of God by which the individual is justified by faith (alone). If that which condemns could be labeled glorious, and it was according to this book, how much more glorious is the administration of God’s Grace by which a person is declared justified, acquitted, and saved.
Let’s go to verses 10-11.
For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory – We’re not changing canoes in the middle of the river folks; Paul’s still referring to the Law of Moses here. He’s merely repeating the fact that the Law had glory. And I keep pointing out the Law came from the Creator of everything seen and unseen, how could it be anything but perfect. The manner in which the LORD introduced Himself to His people through the Tabernacle, the priesthood, and the way in which He was worshiped was glorious indeed if not magnificent. But it was all surpassed in the brighter glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
because of the glory that surpasses it - here’s the thing, everything written in the O.T. Scriptures, the Psalms, and spoken of by the prophets pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ being the promised Messiah (Luke 24:27, 44). The Lord Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17; Romans 15:8). He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him (John 1:11). But in the incarnation, His life, sufferings, death, burial, and resurrection, and in the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) mankind’s sin have been forgiven and the Believer experiences justification, the peace of God, and peace with God. In addition, we are no longer enemies of God but instead we’re called children of God and co-heirs with Jesus Christ and our citizenship is in heaven, and more… thus God’s Grace or the glory, as Paul put it, surpasses it.
For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. What faded away? That religious (legal) system of “Thou Shall Not’s” as a means of trying to earn God’s favor is history. Our Apostle Paul wants you to know the LORD never intended the Mosaic Law to be permanent. Its glory could never be compared to that which remains which is God’s Grace. The word remains means permanent, i.e. everlasting unlike the Law.
As President Nixon used to say, “Let me make myself perfectly clear,” by God’s design, the Dispensation of God’s Grace is not to be superseded by any other new administration. It is the dispensation by which all the affairs of the world will be “closed out,” using an accounting term (See 1 Corinthians 15:51-52), for God said there will be an accounting on the great and terrible day of the Lord (Isaiah 7:18-25; Zephaniah 1:14-18). The final outcome of the day of the Lord will be that “the arrogance of man (and woman) will be brought low and the pride of men (and women) will be humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day” (Isaiah 2:17). The final fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the day of the Lord will come at the end of history when God, with wondrous power, will punish evil and fulfill all His promises.
Let’s go to verse 12.
2 Corinthians 3
12: Therefore having such a hope (having left all that legalism behind us), we use great boldness in our speech.
There was the perfect Mosaic Law, which no imperfect human could ever hope to keep (Romans 7:14-25), and then God ushered in the Dispensation of Grace, when He saved Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road (Acts 9). The sad truth is a great many people in the church are still adhering to the legalistic practices of the Law, in effect declaring Jesus Christ’s finished work of the Cross was insufficient; they’re still working to gain God’s favor. I was raised in one of these churches and spent the first 18 years of my life there, adhering to their legalistic system of “thou shall not’s.” But according to the gospel that saves (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), God the Father was completely satisfied with His Son’s sacrificial death on Calvary; nothing more was needed, which is why Jesus, at the end of His life said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). But people are still trying to obey the Law rather than God.
I worked at the VA Hospital here in town for many years. I recall one morning several of us were in the break room looking for coffee when the subject turned “religious.” Someone asked, “Who thinks they’re going to heaven?” A nurse quickly replied, “I hope so! I’m trying awful hard.” Based on our previous conversations, I already knew the church he belonged to, so I knew exactly what he was saying. He’s spent 50 years of his life working and hoping God will notice his efforts but he’s unsure of the outcome. I said, “Wouldn’t you like to know for certain you’re saved and have eternal life?” They all looked at me as if horns suddenly grew out of the top of my head. But while I had the floor, I took them down the “Roman Road” using these Bible verses:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through (what) faith in Jesus Christ (and not works) for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being (what) justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-24).
Paul wanted to put so much distance between the Law and God’s Grace that in Romans 4:4-5 he wrote: Now to him (or her) who works, his (or her) wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but (does what) believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his (or her) faith is credited as righteousness,
Skip on over to Romans 5:1: Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I added, instead of trying to please their church, try pleasing God; spend more time in the Bible and heed what God has to say on this subject. You’ll find to be saved all you need to do is believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for your sins and hold fast to that (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Any other way of self-justification is not going to work. It didn’t work for the Jews, and it won’t work for you. Only One thing will, Jesus Christ said, “The Truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32; 14:6).
Now would be a good time to mention, in light of all the above, that it is not Peter or any of the twelve, but our Apostle Paul, by the inspiration and revelation of God, who calls himself and his co-workers “able ministers of the New Covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:6). This is also why Paul and the apostles used great boldness in their speech. You see, the mystery of God’s Church had to be revealed before the promise (to the nation of Israel) could be fulfilled.
Now we’re ready for verses 13-18.
2 Corinthians 3
…and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
The mistranslation of a single word from Scripture can obscure the meaning of the passage or in some cases several passages of Scripture. That’s unfortunate, but it happens all too frequently. We’ve encountered this problem a time or two before while studying the Scriptures. I bring this up because verse 13 is one of those passages.
The legalistic church I was raised in taught us that Moses, having come from the presence of the LORD God, had a countenance so glorious that he had to cover it with a veil before addressing the children of Israel. That isn’t what verse 13 is saying. I had to study the Scriptures on my own before I realized the truth.
Although it is true the Israelites could not “look intently at” Moses’ face; and they were afraid to come near him. He did not hide his glory from them. The incident Paul mentions above took place after the apostasy of “the golden calf,” when Moses brought down the Ten Commandments – the second time (Exodus 34:27-35; 2 Corinthians 3:7).
Please read the account in Scripture. Nothing is said about Moses covering his face with a veil. It is clearly stated when Moses came out from the presence of the LORD a second time, “the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone” (Exodus 34:35). Now what this passage of Scripture is saying is this. It was when he had finished speaking with them that he put the veil over his face. Why did he do this? So they could not see the glory fade.
The confusion came about when the Authorized Bible version introduced the word “till” into this verse. It’s not found in the original translation; we know this because it’s in italics. If you remove this word, the text would read thusly, “And Moses, done speaking with them, put a veil on his face.” This cleans it up! Moses had no intention of hiding the glory of his countenance from God’s people – he wanted them to experience it. This is why he called them back to it when they ran away in fear. As this book says, Moses put the veil on his face when he had finished speaking, only that they might not see the glory fade.
This explains 2 Corinthians 3:7 and 13, where we read because of the glory of his face, was fading away,” and Moses put a veil over his face, so that the children of Israel could not look intently – at that which was to (literally speaking) disappear, meaning the Law because the Lord never intended it to be permanent.
Now the glory of the Law will never fade away; we’re still experiencing the effects and the ramifications of it today, especially if you should get on the wrong side of it, but the ministration of it, although it originated in glory, it ended in shame and disgrace because the people failed to keep it, and this is what Moses’ fading glory symbolized.
Think about this. The Dispensation of the Law began with the glory of God on Moses face, as He gave the LORD’s divine commandments to Israel. It ended as Stephen, his face also aglow, “like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15), gave his testimony before the Jewish council. Stephen finished it with these words:”You men who are stiffnecked and uncircumcised in the heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your father’s did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53).
But the glory left Stephen’s face too; not because he failed to do something, but because of the religious leaders’ hardened hearts and their wickedness. For in response to “the truth” or his spoken words, they dragged him out and stoned him to death. And so the ministration of the Law ended in gloom, indeed. The reality is the nation of Israel could not, and cannot yet – see the truth. As our Apostle Paul stated, although the veil is off of Moses’ face it still covers their hearts (v15); they think there is something superior or more glorious in the ministry of Moses as compared to that of the Lord Jesus Christ.
They do not see that the Law can only condemn them: For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who (does what) believes (Romans 10:3-4).
Let’s go to verse 16.
2 Corinthians 3
16: but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away – this is the NASB translation. I need to show y’all how the KJV translates this same Bible verse: Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. I pray you see the difference. The New American Standard Bible translation’s focal point is on the individual’s salvation, obviously, whereas the King James Version translators have remained true to Paul’s theme; the word “it” in verse 16 refers to the nation of Israel. Both sentences are accurate statements; one is just more true to the Bible text. Paul has been talking about national Israel here and not individual salvation; so let’s be clear.
The Doctrine of the (partial) Hardening of Israel is one of the mysteries the risen, glorified Lord revealed to the apostle Paul. It can be found at Romans 11:25-26: When the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” “And so all Israel will be saved… This book says “a nation will be born in one day” (Isaiah 66:8; Zechariah 12:10, 13:6). Now I know this book says one day on earth is like a thousand years to God, but when I read/study this verse from the book of Isaiah; I take it to mean one, literal day.
Let’s move on to verses 17-18.
2 Corinthians 3
17: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (changed) into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
Now the Lord is the Spirit - the Lord in verse 17 refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is making the point that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to magnify, or glorify Jesus Christ (John 16:8-14). Paul is also saying Jesus was “the Spirit” of the Old Testament; He was hidden there in the pages of the Torah, in the Law, and in the Tabernacle itself even though His own people could not see Him. After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to two of His disciples walking along the road to Emmaus and while eating a meal “explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty – here Paul is building on his previous statement found in 3:12: Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, i.e. our preaching because there is liberty or freedom of access. This is because of the great work of the Holy Spirit working in the apostles through the new covenant. They have a bold, liberated relationship with God. Paul said he was able to speak openly, with boldness, and in truth about what God had revealed to him. The Jews could not say the same thing for Christ was a stumblingblock to the Jews; a rock of offense (1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Peter 2:8).
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (v17)
The mirror in which we behold the Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God. There’s another passage where God’s Word is called a mirror. It’s found in the book of James.
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he (or she) is like a man (or woman) beholding his (or her) natural face in a glass (i.e. a mirror). For he (or she) beholdeth (herself or) himself, and goeth his (or her) way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man (or woman) he (or she) was (James 1:23-24 - KJV).
This book is referred to as a mirror by the Holy Spirit because when created men and women look into it they can see the holiness of the Triune Godhead and if they’re being totally honest they can also see they’re rebellious, sinful nature in contrast to God’s righteousness. Thank God this condition of the heart is not permanent!
But (now) whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away (v16).
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (changed) into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (v18).
Every person who has put their trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins through faith in what God has said, or revealed in His Word (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), have been changed, i.e. transformed inwardly already. The Holy Spirit accomplished this the moment they first believed. You and I can’t see the change when we look into the mirror but God can because he sees our true heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Matthew 15:8, 22:36-40; Hebrews 4:12).
But as we study our Bible, as we gain more knowledge of God and our Savior, our understanding and comprehension naturally grows. You’ll also find the more time you spend in God’s Word, which in effect is the same thing as spending time with the Lord, you’re going to quite naturally become more and more like Him. This produces a visible, outward change.
For we are being transformed (changed outwardly) into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
From glory to glory – the work of transformation is a continual process. Paul says it works from glory to glory. It doesn’t have to work from backsliding to glory to backsliding to glory. God’s work in our lives can be a continual progression, from glory to glory and here’s how:
Just as from the Lord, the Spirit – Here Paul is actually emphasizing two things. First, this access to God and His transforming presence is ours by the New Covenant, because it is through the New Covenant that we are gifted with the Holy Spirit, which brings me to my second point. This work of transformation or God’s work in us is by way of the Lord, the Spirit and not by the will or effort of any man or woman. No individual can ever hope to experience or complete this transformation process in and of themselves or earn it by beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord. A Believer simply puts themselves in a place where the Spirit of the Lord can transform us.
God will change our lives; He began the process on the inside of us and it will continue until it is reflected on the outside of us as well. You don’t think God does anything half- heartedly do you? I’m going to go by what this book says and I suggest y’all do the same: For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (or the Rapture) – Philippians 1:6.
The Old Covenant had its glory to be sure, but it could never transform lives through the Law. God uses the New Covenant to make Believers transformed people and not just nice people. If you think about this, it’s an awesome responsibility because not only is the Church watching and judging you and me, but the world is doing the same. They’re listening to our words and watching us; they’re waiting for us to make a mistake and holding us to the letter of the Law to be sure and not to Grace.
(To be continued)
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