August 5: The New Covenant (it’s kind of a big deal).

2 Corinthians 3:4-6. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…

For us as Christians the New Covenant is a pretty big deal. Because Paul has been writing about our union with Christ, he has been writing about the blessings of the New Covenant in all of his letters so far. But here in 2 Corinthians is one of the first time we hear it called “the New Covenant” by name (the term was used by the Prophet Jeremiah and by Jesus before Paul used it).

So what is the New Covenant? Before we answer this, let’s answer the question: What is a covenant?

God is a covenant making God. Throughout history he has made covenants with mankind. A covenant is an agreement between two parties that they will live by promises that they have made to one another (like a marriage). In the Bible, covenant is the primary way God relates to his people. God’s covenants with his people ARE the story of redemption, they are his plan to save the world. There are several covenants, but only ONE plan of redemption.

What covenants did God make with mankind?

After the Flood, God made a covenant with Noah, and with the earth itself, promising that he would preserve creation and restore it someday. Then, God made a covenant with Abraham and his family that they would be used to save the world and reverse the effects of sin and death, as they thrived in a land of promise. Next, God made a covenant with Moses and the nation of Israel, often called the “Old Covenant.” It more specifically outlined how God would use Abraham’s family to save the world, end sin and death, and draw the world to himself in the promised land. The Old Covenant made it clear to the nation of Israel that there were blessings for obedience but also curses for disobedience, including death. The last covenant in the Old Testament was a covenant with King David. God promised that King David’s son will rule forever and restore justice through a kingdom in the promised land. This son of David will be God’s Messiah (hero) who will save the world.

Why did we need a New Covenant?

The covenants above were both unconditional and conditional (except the one with Noah was only unconditional). Unconditionally, God in his grace would make them happen. Conditionally, they were each dependent on the people being obedient and doing what God said. Which of course, none of them did. This is why God sent Jesus to fulfill each of these covenants. In Jesus Christ, the God-man, both sides of each covenant are faithfully fulfilled by God – he does the God part and the human part.

What is the Good News of the New Covenant?

Jesus fully obeyed the Old Covenant’s laws, and then also took the curse that comes with disobeying those laws – the curse of death and separation from God. A covenant can only be ended by the death of one the covenant members. In his death on the cross, Jesus made the Old Covenant obsolete. “It is finished,” he cried!

It was in his resurrection that Jesus could inaugurate the New Covenant. You see, just fulfilling and ending the Old Covenant does not deal with our ongoing sin problem. Our sins must be forgiven AND our hearts must be changed. Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our union with Christ that follows from the Spirit, will solve this biggest of problems, forever.

Hebrews 8:10-12. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

The New Covenant is God’s agreement with Israel through Christ to take away their sins and change their heart’s desires. But it is not only Israel that benefits. Every nation on earth can be brought into the blessing of Israel, the blessing of Abraham, the blessing of King David, by the mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. By joining his life to ours he brings us into each covenant unconditionally and offers us a real solution to sin. He offers us a regenerate heart, reconciliation with God, and complete righteousness. He offers us a unified humanity – every tribe and nation unified in Christ.

“To live is Christ” is to live IN and AS the New Covenant. The indwelling life of Christ is the blessing of the New Covenant right now, and the guarantee of the New Covenant’s ultimate fulfillment someday. Because of our union with Christ we have the full assurance of no condemnation and every sin forgiven forever. We also share the heart of Christ; a new heart bent towards God ready to be his instrument of righteousness.

Have you experienced the joy of forgiveness of sins and the joy of the new heart? How would you explain the New Covenant to someone? How does our union with Christ satisfy all of God’s promises to mankind and complete his redemption plan?

August 4: Your Life Letter.

2 Corinthians 3:1-3. 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.

Walking around with letters of recommendation was a pretty common thing back in Paul’s day. It is pretty clear that some had come to Corinth with such letters, and then they proceeded to challenge Paul’s authority and his gospel message. Where were Paul’s recommendation letters? Is he just commending himself? Is he even really an apostle? Or is he just a big phony?

This was clearly painful and personal for Paul. But out of his pain and suffering we, by God’s grace, gain even greater insights into our union with Christ and the New Covenant. And so, as we see in the scripture above, Paul’s answer concerning his letters of recommendation is, “My letters are in the very lives of the Christians of Corinth. I will stake my authority and reputation on the love of this church.”

Paul is placing his faith, not in the Corinthians alone, but in the Spirit of Christ, and in the New Covenant. Notice how Paul describes the Corinthians in verse 3. They are letters from Christ, written on human hearts not stone tablets. He is contrasting the Old Covenant law (the Ten Commandments written on stone) with the New Covenant life of love.

The New Covenant was prophesied by Jeremiah hundreds of years earlier:

Jeremiah 31:31-33. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LordI will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 

The New Covenant was like a marriage covenant made between God and Israel, and mediated by Christ. All who trust in Christ for life are brought into this covenant and our the “spiritual Israel.” The New Covenant places us into Christ. All of our sins are removed and we are given a new heart full of new desires for the things of God. We now love what he loves. I know it doesn’t always seem like it, but at our deepest level, we now desire to serve and love God and others. We desire holiness. We desire grace.

The Corinthians, as messed up as they were, proved the reality of the New Covenant. They did the right thing. They eventually chose holiness and grace. They confronted the problem in their church and they were learning to forgive. This is why Paul could say about one of the most messed up churches in the Bible that they were his living letters of recommendation. Not because he trusted them, but because he trusted the Christ in them. He trusted the New Covenant work of the Spirit.

Christian, your life itself is God’s letter of recommendation –  you are a letter from Christ, written by the Spirit. And this is true of every Christian. This is true of the church. Our lives are the living proof of God and his grace. Because we have been rescued from the Old Covenant law keeping, and been placed into Christ, our lives will be living letters testifying to the reality of God’s salvation for all of mankind. We’re not just talking about some transient spiritual or religious experience here. This isn’t about law keeping as a testimony to your own goodness. This is about real heart change. This is a whole new reality for us. A new life force, the Spirit, motivating and directing us. This is way beyond living by the Old Covenant Law and trying to figure out good and evil on our own. This is living by faith beyond sight.

“To live is Christ” makes each of us a living letter from God. This letter of his grace and love is written onto our hearts. It proves his reality and his salvation to a questioning and skeptical world.

Do you see your life as a letter from Christ written by the Spirit? If everyone was to read the letter of your life would they read a letter of grace or a letter of law keeping? How does your union with Christ radically change the content of your “life letter?”

August 3: Speaking As Christ.

2 Corinthians 2:17. For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

It is truly an amazing thought that if the life of Christ indwells us, then we speak in Christ? Christ’s life manifested in us means that at any given moment we can speak the words of Christ himself. Our words are his words when spoken in faith by the Spirit.

You might ask, “isn’t something like that only for spiritual people like Paul?”

But aren’t we all like Paul?

Aren’t we all commissioned by God to go and make disciples? Doesn’t the Great Commission apply to all disciples of Jesus Christ?

Aren’t we all living in the sight of God, under his judgment?

Aren’t we all called to a life of sincerity?

Aren’t we all spiritual? Haven’t we all been taught spiritual truths by the Spirit?

1 Corinthians 2:13. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

I know this can kind of sound “super spiritual.” Or maybe it’s just a normal and natural part of living in faith. Isn’t that what “to live is Christ” really means? It means that my words and actions, when lived from the grace of God by faith, could actually be Christ’s very own words and actions by our mystical union with the Spirit of Christ that we share?

If this is possible, it might be time to take what we say a bit more seriously. There’s power inside of us. And that power is released as words. Power to give life, Christ’s life, to others. Or power to hurt others with our selfish words. Thank God, no matter what we say, he can still use it for good.

Do you think before you speak? Do you consider that the next things that come out of your mouth could be the words of Christ to someone else? How does union with Christ empower you to say the grace-filled words of Christ to others?

 

 

 

August 2: Smells Like Christ’s Spirit.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16. But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

In the Roman Empire when a general or emperor would win a big battle they would plan a massive triumphal procession back into the city. Like a championship parade for us today, but with a major twist – the conquered enemies would be paraded around for everyone to see. They were the prisoners of war and the spoils of war. Along with the conquered enemies, this triumphal parade would also include lots and lots of incense. The spoils and smells of victory!

The sense of smell is a powerful thing. Have you ever smelled something from your past and all kinds of memories come back? Maybe there is a smell that reminds you of a great time in your life. This is the picture Paul has in mind when he describes us in Christ. We are the spoils and smells of Christ’s victory. Our lives are incense in Christ’s fragrant victory parade. God parades us in Christ’s triumphal procession.

2000 years ago, Christ himself was paraded out of the city to the cross by his enemies. He was the conquered one who smelled of defeat. But, by his resurrection, he is now the Conquering One. The Valiant Hero. Our Christus Victor.

Because of Christ’s willingness to turn our defeat into victory, we who once lived in open rebellion against Christ are now in his victory parade. We have been defeated by Christ’s love. But our defeat is not bad news; it is THE good news. We have been defeated and set free to be the aroma of Christ. Christ has conquered our rebellious hearts and now in our weakness his strength is made known.

Christian, you smell like Christ’s Spirit (no not literally). To some your life is the sweet smell of the victory of Jesus – a fragrance from life to life. To others it is the stench of their own rebellion – a fragrance from death to death. How do we smell like Christ?  The images Paul uses here are many and mixed, but also quite vivid. We are humbled, conquered prisoners of war in the triumphal procession. We are a fragrance of joy and honor to the King. And we are the sacrificial fragrance of Christ to God. We smell like Christ when we live his same sacrificial life. His humbled, obedient life. His joy filled life. 

This is no small thing. In fact, Paul asks who is sufficient for these things? Of course the answer is no one apart from Christ. None of us could be the aroma of Christ’s life without the imputed righteousness of Christ freely given to us by grace. But that is the whole point of “to live is Christ” isn’t it? We can never do it alone. If our weakness, sacrifice, and humility are going to be the fragrance of Christ’s own sacrifice then we will need to live by faith in the one who loved us and gave himself for us.

When we choose to embrace the cruciform life, our suffering and weakness will always be the aroma of the crucified Christ to others. To some it will smell sweet, and to others it will be a stench. For some your growth in Christ will be a blessing and to others it will be a curse. Some will embrace you, others will reject you. Our response is a life of hope and humility that spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. The rest is up to God. 

What does your life “smell” like? Is it Christ and his sacrifice? Have you experienced acceptance by some and yet rejection by others for your faith in Christ? How does union with Christ allow you to see yourself humbly as the conquered one, and joyfully as the sweet aroma to God?

 

 

August 1: Freedom, Confrontation, and Forgiveness.

2 Corinthians 2:5-11. Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 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. 10 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, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

The details of the drama that Paul is talking about here are fuzzy at best. It appears that someone in the Corinthian church has slandered Paul and his credibility and apostleship. We know that this was a common problem that Paul faced. After he would preach the gospel in a place, someone would come in and say that Paul’s gospel was false. Most likely this was a Jewish missionary who wanted the Gentiles to keep the Old Testament law in order to maintain their relationship with God. Some in the Corinthian church may have taken up this cause and continued to attack Paul.

We also know that Paul had made a hard visit to the Corinthian church earlier and then he wrote a pretty harsh letter to them telling them that they needed to discipline this divisive person for the sake of the gospel message.

Which they did. Which is great!

But what wasn’t so great was that even after this person repented, the church was still not forgiving him, comforting him, and welcoming him back into fellowship (v.7-8).

You see, all discipline is meant to be restorative. Life isn’t supposed to be about status. It’s about love and relationships. We must always fight for the relationship. No matter what. We don’t fight for our honor, or our reputation, or our standing. We fight for the heart of the other person. The offending person. That is what Paul is calling on the church to do here- so I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.

Yes, sometimes we have to respond to each other in such a way that it brings sorrow. Sometimes when confronting sin, we must load that person down with guilt. But we must never ever leave them there, especially if they have seen their own sin and turned away from it. We must not drown them in excessive sorrow. Excessive sorrow, devoid of grace, will only drive a person deeper into isolation and bitterness. There will not be restoration, and there will be no relationship left to save.

Confrontation must always go hand in hand with humble forgiveness. If you are not ready to comfort, you are not ready to confront. 

Notice the personal freedom Paul exhibits which allows him to forgive. The offense was against Paul, but Paul did not make it personal. He made it about the church. In what might be a little bit of tongue in cheek, Paul says if I have forgiven anything, that is, “I can’t remember what I’ve forgiven because I’ve let it go.” It is his freedom in Christ that allows Paul to confront, forgive, and comfort those who oppose the gospel and attack his reputation, without making it about himself. 

Notice also the communal nature of this whole passage. The church as a community is under attack – We would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. Our Enemy will do whatever it takes to water down, pollute, or hinder the gospel. It takes discipline within a church to prevent this from happening. The church must protect the gospel, and confront those who violate it. A church must maintain great grace, humility and balance when practicing this kind of discipline. But it can be done in love. This letter is an example for us all.

“To live is Christ” is the freedom to confront, forgive, and comfort. It is the freedom to not take up a personal offense, but rather to take up the cause of the gospel. Union with Christ means that the unified church must stand in protection of the gospel, even if it means disciplining a member of a specific church. This is one of many reasons why attaching yourself to a local church is so important.

Are you easily offended? Do you take personal offense to things, or do you take up the cause of the gospel? Do you confront with a readiness to forgive and comfort? How can your union with Christ free you to forgive today? To comfort? Are you part of a local church that proclaims and protects the gospel?

July 31: Yes!

2 Corinthians 1:19-22. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Paul wanted to visit Corinth again but plans kept changing. As a result, they thought he was saying “yes” out of one side of his mouth and “no” out of the other (see 1:15-18). But in Christ, Paul says, his answer to the Corinthians was always “yes.” Why? Because Christ would say yes.

Corinthians: Will you come visit us?

Paul: Well, what would Christ say to that? Yes?! Then let’s get to Corinth!

But then it suddenly gets even deeper. Christ not only says “yes” to us, he IS God’s “yes.” All the promises of God find their Yes in him. 

Every promise made by God to Israel and to us, every story in the Bible, every part of his redemptive plan finds it’s YES in Jesus’ life and death. The resurrection was God screaming YES to them and to us. Yes, I love you. Yes, you’re my people. Yes, I will give you everything. And this living and breathing Yes of God lives inside of us. Every promise of God is now manifest in and through our lives as the people of God, the Church of God. And one day Christ will return as God’s final YES, as he establishes his Kingdom on earth forever. Every promise will be kept by God through Christ.  

The result of this is that through him we utter our Amen to God for his glory. Our “Amen” is our yes (that’s what “amen” means). When we pray, we are agreeing with God. He has said yes to us, now we say “I agree” or “amen” back to him. God says yes and we say yes. This brings glory to God. This simple word is an act of great faith. 

Then Paul goes on to give us one of the greatest statements about our union with Christ that he has written so far. God has established us with you in Christ, and he has anointed us and sealed us by giving us the Holy Spirit into our hearts. 

Just like Christ is the anointed one (that’s what “Christ” means), we too are anointed kings and priests in God’s kingdom. Because we share in Christ’s life and death we have nothing to fear, nothing to prove, and nothing to lose. Why? Because God has sealed us as his possession and given us the Spirit as the guarantee, or down payment, of future glory. We are “already” anointed or set apart for Christ’s Kingdom, but “not yet” fully glorified. But that day is coming.

The Old Testament story of David illustrates this. David was anointed as king long before he would actually serve as king. He would spend decades being chased through the wilderness, fighting battles, and facing severe trials. So how could he trust God’s promise through all of that? He was given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee at the time of his anointing.

1 Samuel 16:13. Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

The Spirit would empower David to persevere until the day he was crowned in glory.

“To live is Christ” means we are the living embodiment of God’s great big YES. All of his promises are fulfilled in Christ and now in us. How do we know? Because he has anointed and sealed us with himself, the Spirit, by the indwelling life of Christ. God has preserved us for future glory. Now we can say yes to God.

And maybe it’s time to start saying yes to others. Yes to serving. Yes to sacrifice. Yes to love.

How does it encourage you that God has said yes to you in Christ? Do you agree with God even when it’s hard or doesn’t make sense? Have you said yes to others where Christ would say yes? How can union with Christ and God’s YES to you in Christ give you the courage to say yes to God todayt today?

 

 

July 30: Sharing Suffering, Sharing Comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:6-7. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

In Paul’s mind there was no such thing as an isolated Christian. In fact, for the truths of the gospel to take shape in our lives, we must do life together, not alone. The sorrows and comforts of life are meant to be shared. How does this happen? How do we share in suffering and the comfort of God?

First when we suffer in affliction it is for the sake of others. And when we are comforted, we are comforted for the sake of others. What does this mean? It means that when we experience affliction and then comfort from God, it allows us to empathize with others and serve others. We can pass on the comfort of God to others. Then when we see them endure through trials, we know that they too have received the same comfort of God.

Also, all Christians, when we suffer, share the suffering of Christ. And all Christians, when we are comforted by God, share the comfort of Christ. Paul and the Corinthians did not share the same exact suffering. Paul wasn’t even literally with them. Yet he spoke about them sharing in his suffering. They weren’t shipwrecked with him, or locked in jail with him. So how did they share his suffering? Because whenever a Christian suffers it is the suffering of Christ. Why? Because we are united to Christ. Our suffering is his suffering, and his suffering is our suffering. Because all Christians are united to Christ in this way, we all share the same suffering.

So often when we go through a trial we are blinded by the Enemy and deceived into thinking that we are alone on an island. But we never are. Our affliction is the shared affliction of Christ. Our comfort is the shared comfort of Christ. And now, through our union with the Church, that affliction and comfort is shared with the Body of Christ. No matter how much we might feel like we are alone, we are never alone. What happens to one Christian happens to the Body. What happens to any Christian happens to Christ.

“To live is Christ” unites all of our suffering and all of our comfort to Christ and to the Body of Christ. We never have to suffer alone. Christ is always with us. And the Body is meant to be there for each other as well. This simple yet amazing truth is what gives us a hope that is unshaken.

Do you tend to suffer alone? Do you see your sufferings as part of Christ’s suffering? Shared suffering is endurable suffering. Do you believe this? Do you practice this with others? How can union with Christ give us the hope of comfort in our suffering?