We come to the time in the Word of God this morning with great joy in our hearts as we return to 2 Corinthians chapter 4. As you know, we are working our way through this masterful epistle of the beloved Paul. We’re learning so much about ministry and so much about spiritual life because this really does come from his heart.
And as we have come to the last verse of chapter 3, and then on into the first six verses of chapter 4, we’re in a little series entitled “Looking at the Face of Jesus.” Looking at the face of Jesus.
Let me read this text for you so you’ll have it in mind. Beginning in chapter 3, verse 18, “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.
“Therefore, since we have their ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the Word of God, but by the manifestation of truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the one who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
The Christian life, as we noted last time, is after all as blown away, and the truth remains; a life related to Jesus Christ in a very personal and intimate way. In fact, this is the distinction of the new covenant. The gospel of the new covenant is that God may be personally and intimately known to us because he is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. To look fully into the face of Jesus Christ we find to be a saving and a sanctifying look. It is that look which saves; it is that look which brings about growth.
We suggested to you last time that the Scripture is very clear that the Christian life is all about gazing at the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. It is a Christ-centered life. It is Christ focused. The vision is Christ at all times in Christ experience. And that’s the way it began. Even our Lord Jesus Himself describes salvation in these terms, when in John chapter 6 and verse 40 He said, “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life.”
Eternal life belongs to those who see Christ, who see Him for who He is, and who is revealed in Him – namely God the Father, Jesus Christ is the one in whom the fullness of the Godhead is expressed visibly. Jesus Christ is the one full of grace and truth - that grace and truth which is the very glory of the Father.
So, new life begins when we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And growth in that new life continues as we look at the face of Jesus. Christian life then, again, I say, after all is blown away and the truth remains, is a life related to Jesus Christ in a very personal and intimate way.
A songwriter, many years ago, captured this truth when he wrote these familiar words, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus/Look full in His wonderful face/And the things of earth will grow strangely dim/In the light of His glory and grace.”
There is great truth in that. There is biblical truth in that. There is profound truth in that. That Christian life is gazing at the glory of Jesus Christ and watching the things of this earth grow dim.
The Christian life is looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, fixing our eyes on him as Hebrews 12:2 says it. As we run the faith race with endurance, free from entanglements and besetting sins, we do so with our eyes on Jesus Christ. A more modern chorus that we often sing puts it this way, “Open our eyes, Lord/We want to see Jesus/To reach out and touch Him/And say that we love Him.”
Your spiritual condition is measured by your gaze at the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. That’s how it all started when you were saved. And I hope that vision is unsullied, and unhindered, and unobstructed, and the constant focus of our life every day. A vision of the Lord Jesus, at one point in time, lifted the veil of spiritual ignorance and brought you to the knowledge of the truth in your heart.
The vision of Jesus Christ dispelled the fog of confusion that was produced by your sins so that you could see the work of God in salvation and reach out to receive the blessing of the gift that He offered you.
If you’re a Christian, at some point in time you saw Jesus. You beheld the Son, to borrow His own words, and you received eternal life. You looked into His face, and you saw in His face the revelation of the glory of God. You saw God; you saw who He was, and what He required, and what He provided; and you believed and were saved.
Let’s go back and talk about the apostle Paul since this text is really a personal testimony of his. And let’s remember that Paul had never seen Jesus physically. Unlike the other apostles, he was an apostle sort of out of due season. He was a unique apostle who had never seen Jesus physically during His earthly ministry. The first vision he ever had of Jesus was a blinding, blazing vision of His glory on the Damascus Road.
There were several other visions of the glorified Christ after that, but up until the time of his conversion, he had never seen Jesus. And yet, in 2 Corinthians 5:16, he says he knew Christ after the flesh. What did he mean by that? He had never seen Jesus; how did he know Him after the flesh? He simply meant, “I knew the historical story of Jesus. I knew the human Jesus. I was familiar with the historical information and data about Him.”
In fact, do you want to know something? He was so familiar with the life of Jesus, so familiar with the history of His life, so familiar with His teachings that Jesus had become the focus of his whole life, even though he wasn’t a Christian. In fact, he knew enough about Jesus so that Jesus dominated his life - not in a positive sense, but in a negative sense. He knew enough about Jesus to hate Him with a passion and to hate everything that Jesus stood for and to literally devote his life to the persecution, the imprisonment, and the execution of the followers of Jesus.
So, even as an unbeliever, Jesus was the focal point of His life. Jesus after the flesh. The historical Jesus, the earthly Jesus. He knew Him well enough. He saw Him clearly enough to hate Him. What He never saw with his physical eyes he saw with his mental eyes and rejected.
But wonder of wonders, one day, on the Damascus Road, he came to Jesus not with his mind and not with his physical eyes, but with his heart. He came to see with spiritual eyes. And for the first time, he looked into the face of Jesus spiritually. He didn’t see Him physically because the blinding glory literally left him without sight. And in his blindness, his heart saw Jesus for the first time as He really was. He looked into the face of Jesus with spiritual eyes, and he was so totally transformed that Jesus was still the consuming passion of his life, but it wasn’t the hate for Jesus; it was the love for Jesus that drove him.
It reversed completely the direction of his whole life, and for that matter, the direction of the whole world. He became the notable – most notable describer of Jesus that ever lived. And he became the greatest advocate for spiritual sight that ever lived. So well and so clearly did he see the face of Jesus that he became the number one articulator of who He is, and why He came, and what He will do.
He wrote 13 epistles of the New Testament. He founded churches all over the known world, led myriads uncountable to Jesus Christ and is still doing it through the impact and power of his letters. With his physical eyes he never saw Jesus. He thought he saw Jesus with his mind, but he was wrong.
One day, in his physical blindness, he saw the pure face of Jesus and the blinding glory of God. And he says it was, in Acts 26:19, a heavenly vision. That’s the vision of Jesus that counts. I’ve never seen Jesus, nor have any of us, obviously, because He’s been long gone from this earth, but whom having not seen, we yet love, because though we have not seen Him in the physical sense, we have seen Him with the spiritual eyes.
It’s wonderful that people who never saw Him physically can see and know Him spiritually. And that’s the story of salvation. But it’s so tragic to think back to the fact that there were so many people who were alive when Jesus walked on the earth, who saw Him physically, but never understood Him. They saw Him with their physical eyes, and they never saw the glory of God at all.
They looked into the face of Jesus, but never saw the glory of God. It was their all the time, manifestly there. He was in the world. The world was made by Him, and the world – what? – knew Him not. He came into His own, and His own received Him not. There they were, looking into the face of the revealed glory of God, and they never saw it. How sad.
A. T. Robertson writes in his book The Glory of the Ministry, “Many persons had looked on the face of Jesus, while in the flesh, who did not understand Him. There was beyond doubt a wondrous fascination in the face of Jesus that no artist has succeeded in putting upon canvas.
“The pictures of Jesus are either too effeminate or too crude. No face has ever so haunted and baffled the greatest artists. His face was really human but free from the taint of sin and disease. No specter of the past looked through those eyes. No shadows of forbidden secrets flitted past. Pity, unutterable compassion looked out of the depths of purity and unsullied strength. Untarnished truth looked out on a world of lies. The noblest impulses of man met the shock of hate and envy. The clear light of heaven’s love gazed longingly at the suffering and the sinning. Those eyes could flash with terrific power upon hypocrites who used the livery of heaven to serve the devil in.
“Before his wrath, men slunk away like cowed beasts, guilty and condemned. But the penitent and the contrite saw a new hope as they looked in the face of Jesus. There were some who could never forget the thrill of joy which came to their hearts as they gazed into that face. At moments, they could be amazed at the struggling emotions in His countenance. And there were three who beheld His majestic glory on the mount.
“But not all men could see all this in the face of Jesus. The rabbis were angered to desperation as they saw that calm and powerful face; its very innocence enraged them.” End quote.
What a face. What a face. But for Paul, finally he looked into the face of Jesus and saw the reality. And so has everyone who’s come to Christ; so has everyone born again under the new covenant. It is a coming to see the face of Christ and in that face the glory of God revealed.
A famous blind preacher named Matheson wrote these words about Paul. He said, “Remember the Christ whom Paul first saw was the Christ of heaven. He never gazed upon the man of Galilee. His earliest vision was the vision of a Jesus glorified.
“Not on the road to the cross did Christ meet Him; He came to him panoplied in heavenly splendor. What his inner eye beheld was the Christ of the future, a Christ of majesty, a Christ of power, a Christ who came clothed in the lightning and wreathed in the conqueror’s robe. That was the first Christ Paul’s soul saw. It is wonderful that it should have been the first Christian image in his writings.”
Well, that famous blind preacher had seen into the secret of Paul’s heart, hadn’t he? He saw Jesus. He saw him on the road to Damascus. He saw him not with his eyes, but with his heart, and he never stopped gazing at Him as long as he lived. And even when he came to the very end, in 2 Timothy chapter 4, and he takes up his pen for the very last time and writes his last letter and waits to be executed, he identifies himself as a member of an association of people who love His appearing.
He has seen Him all his spiritual life with the eyes of his heart, and he longs to see Him with those glorified, physical eyes. And he will, and so will all of us. Once Paul saw Christ on the Damascus road, he never again took his eyes off Jesus. And that’s why he was the man that he was. That’s where all of his strength and power came from that’s where the truth came from, that vision, that perception. That’s where courage and boldness came from. It’s where virtue came from and wisdom. He never took his gaze off Jesus Christ.
He said to the Philippians, “This one thing I do: I press toward the goal.” And who was the goal for him? Jesus Christ, the prize of the upward call. His whole life was focused on following Christ and following Christ and following Christ. And he said on several occasions, “Be ye followers of me as I am of Christ.” He never took his eyes off Christ.
And, beloved, it is that glorious vision of God revealed in Christ that is the essence of new covenant blessing. It is that which the Old Testament saint never saw. It is that reality which sets the new covenant apart. The veil is gone, and we see Christ, and we see the glory of God blazingly revealed in His fullness in the face of Jesus Christ. And Paul says, “I came to that vision, and I’ve never left it. Jesus is my vision and my focus, the object of all my life.”
And he found, in looking into the face of Jesus Christ, strength for every issue, grace for every need. And that is the plea of the great text before us. The plea of this text is to hear the testimony of a man who had an indomitable life; who had a successful spiritual life; who is mightily used by God; who enjoyed peace, and comfort, and tranquility, and hope in the midst of turmoil, because he never took his eyes of Jesus Christ. That is the plea of this text, to call us to that same vision, to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and find a glory sufficient for every issue of life.
Now remember, we’ve already learned that at the time in which Paul writes this, he is no doubt in the greatest turmoil and distress of his own personal ministry. The accumulated difficulties of this period of time are heavier than any other time. Not only the external persecution, the threat of death which was already around him, in an endless way, every turn he took was potentially the last term, but also this burden of carrying the pain of defection in the Church, people leaving sound doctrine, falling into sin, being disobedient. And add to that the unending character assassination that was going on against him to totally discredit and destroy him.
All of this mounted accumulated stuff placed him under a burden which was more than he could bear. He even says, “I was depressed.” But he never lost his vision of Christ. And as he turned to look at the face of Jesus, in the midst of all of this, he found joy, he found hope, he found reassurance, he found confidence.
And he gives us his testimony here, but it’s the testimony – or should be – of every new covenant believer. And that’s why it starts in chapter 3, verse 18, “But we all...” This is not something isolated only to the apostle Paul any more than the glory of God on the face of Moses was isolated to him. This is for all of us.
We can all now behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus as 3:18 and 4:6 both say. This section is bracketed in verse 18 and down in verse 6 with the same concept: the glory of God is revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, into whose face we now look by faith. And in that face we find the glory of God revealed, and it is a sufficient glory to sustain us in every issue of life.
So, we’re talking, then, about looking into the face of Jesus, aren’t we? And I told you last time, first of all, it is a clarifying look. Go back to verse 18 of chapter 3, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.” Contrary to the old covenant - with its shadows, and its pictures, and its types – we now, without a veil, without a hindrance, can look directly right into the glory of the Lord revealed to us in the mirror of Jesus Christ who is the theme of Scripture.
God is on display, and he’s on display in Christ. And there’s nothing hindering us: there’s no veil; there’s no obstruction. We’re out of the shadows; we’re into the reality. We’re out of the types and the pictures; we’re into the reality. And as we look clearly into the face of Christ, we see the glory of God, and we see that He is sovereign. He is able; He is trustworthy for all the issues of life. The new covenant vision of Jesus Christ is a clarifying look.
Secondly, we said it is a transforming look – and this is just review. The middle of the verse says, “We are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory by the Holy Spirit.”
As we look at the face of Jesus Christ, we begin to become like Him. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Maintaining that look makes us like Him. That’s why Paul says, “I press toward that. That’s the one thing I do; I never take my eyes off Jesus, because as I gaze at Him, the Holy Spirit makes me like Him, moving me from one level of glory to a higher, to a higher, to a higher, ever increasingly like Him.
That old blind preacher that I quoted a moment ago – Matheson – said this, and it’s a beautiful thing. He said, “As Paul looked at Jesus, there happened a strange thing. The picture crept into his own soul.” The picture crept into his own soul. It is a transforming look.
And then thirdly, we said it is a strengthening look. “Therefore” – verse 1 says – “since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart.”
“Because of the overwhelming privilege of new covenant calling, because of the overwhelming privilege of being redeemed by grace, because of the tremendous privilege of being called to ministry, all from God, all amazing, all undeserved to the chief of sinners. Because of all of those privileges, how could I lose heart?” he says. “New covenant privilege compels me.”
Remember now, the word “lose heart” means to abandon oneself to cowardly surrender. And under the heat of the battle, as he was assaulted and assassinated in terms of his character, as he was attacked on every front, as his life was jeopardized, and his people were defecting, and those who he loved most were breaking his heart, he never lost heart. Why? Because he never got his ego tied up in all of that. He was always aware he was the chief of sinners and anything that God ever game him was all pure grace anyway, and he just remained utterly overwhelmed by the privilege of being a new covenant person as well as a new covenant preacher.
The basis of his courage was not the appreciation of men; it wasn’t the success of his efforts, the size of his church. It wasn’t a pain-free life. The basis of his courage was the privilege of gazing into the face of Jesus Christ and seeing the full, blazing glory of God. The basis of his courage was a fresh vision of mercy and grace to save and call a wicked sinner like him. And what did he deserve anyway?
So, he found as long as he gazed at the beauty of Jesus Christ, he found in that not only a clarifying look, but he found in that a strengthening look as well as a transforming look.
Now, that takes us to a fourth point, and this is an important one. Gazing into the face of Jesus Christ is a purifying look. It is a purifying look. This is indicated to us in verse 2 by these words, “But we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness” – we’ll stop right there. Paul says, “From the start, when the chief of sinners was saved, there was a renouncing.” There was a renouncing.
Well, what do you mean a “renouncing?” Well, the word basically means to turn from. Turn away from. “I just turned my back on that stuff. I wanted no part of it from the start until now. From the very beginning, when I first saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, in that moment when I saw that everything I had achieved in my works was scubalon, filth, rubbish, dung, manure” – as he calls it in Philippians 3 – “when I saw that all of that stuff was filth, and I saw Christ - and in Him was beauty and glory; in Him was righteousness, and power, and peace; in Him was sympathy, and compassion, and eternal hope – from that moment on I renounced the things hidden because of shame and walking in craftiness.
And he also adds, and we’ll say more about that in a moment – adulterating the Word of God. “From the very start,” he said, “I was committed to purity. When I saw the glory of God purely revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, it was a vision of holiness; it was a vision of righteousness; it was a vision of virtue; it was a vision of purity.” From that moment on, he devoted his life to the pursuit of godliness. And from that moment on, I can promise you he hated sin. Read about it in Romans chapter 7, “O wretched man that I am,” he says, “who will deliver me from the body of this death? There is in me a principle of sin, and I despise it; I loathe it; I hate it. Who will deliver me from it?”
No, there is a renouncing that happens at salvation – a real renouncing. And Paul is simply testifying to that renouncing. When a person is born again, and when they really see the vision of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, they understand who God is, what he requires, what he’s done in Christ, the provision of salvation, and they see the vision and believe and receive eternal life. At that moment there is a renouncing; there is a turning from sin and a devoting of one’s life toward the pursuit of godliness. And so, he is confessing to that reality of renunciation, turning away.
Here’s a little footnote I need to give you here, very important. I’m quite confident that these specific things that he mentions here are the very things that the false apostles in Corinth were accusing him of. I think in their attempt to sully his reputation and to destroy his character and to eliminate any trust that the people had in him, they were saying these things, “There’s a secret life of this man you don’t know about.” They were saying things like, “You know, underneath this is a sinful man. There’s a lot of wickedness in his life, and it’s under the surface, and it’s hidden, and you don’t know it.”
And I think they were saying also that he walks in deceit, “He is a deceiver; he’s a crafty fellow. He’s very deceptive; he’s very manipulative.” They were trying to destroy people’s confidence in him by questioning, of course, his character. And I am confident they also accused him of adulterating the Word of God. It may have been that some of them were carrying a Judaizing message and saying, “He’s eliminated the law of God. He’s turned his back on the inspired truth that was given in the Old Testament, and now he twists and perverts even the teaching of Jesus.”
I think these are the very things the false apostles were accusing Paul of doing, and that’s why he picks these out. And he says at the beginning, “We have renounced the things hidden because of shame. Listen, from the moment of my salvation on, I turned my back on a second hidden life.”
You can believe he had one. You can believe while he was running around like a pious Jew, he was keeping the law outwardly and blameless outwardly, and a Pharisee, and towing the line, and walking the mark, having been circumcised, keeping the Jewish tradition, zealous, and all of those things that he lists there in Philippians 3 - you can believe that while he was doing that to the outside, he was wretched down underneath, and there was some hidden shame in his life. There was a hypocrisy at a profound level, because this was no Old Testament believer; this was no Christian man. This was no Old Testament saint either, because even the Old Testament saints were saved by grace through faith. And he certainly believed in salvation by works. And that doesn’t save anybody. Never did.
So, here was a man who knew what it was to be running around as a pious Pharisee, holding up the standard of Judaism and killing the people who threatened Judaism, while underneath there was a life of shame because legalism cannot restrain the flesh; it never could; it never will. And a false means of salvation doesn’t transform anybody, but the point at which he came to Christ, he renounced that hidden life.
That’s what happens when you’re saved; you turn your back on that old life, that hypocritical life underneath the – the sort of good citizen life on the outside that you may have maintained even as a non-Christian. You turned our back on the secret things that are hidden because of their shame. He says, “I renounced all that stuff. I turned my back on that when I came to Christ. I don’t have a secret sinful life. They may be accusing me of it, but I don’t have that.
That doesn’t mean that sin never crept into his life, but when it did, he dealt with it, confessed it, and asked the Lord to help him turn from it. It doesn’t mean that he didn’t feel the plague of sin hanging on, but it wasn’t a willful second hidden life of shame that he was conducting. There was no secret, sinful life.
The word “shame” there – aischunō – means ugly, disgraceful. It has to do with secret immoralities, secret hypocrisies, things that are hidden deep down in the darkness of our life that nobody sees. Boy, it’s such a low blow to accuse somebody of that. For those false apostles to go into the city of Corinth and say, “Well, he’s got a secret life; he’s got a hidden iniquity. There’s a whole life of shame down under the hypocritical surface of this man, and you don’t know about it.” What a terrible thing to say, that his life is filled with hidden, disgraceful, underhanded things that are deeply personal and shameful.
Paul says, “No, at the time of my vision of Jesus Christ, I renounced those things. I got rid of that hypocritical life; it’s a thing of the past. It’s gone. One who looks into the face of Jesus at salvation will renounce such things.”
Another word for that is repentance, folks. Repentance. And as those things may creep back into our lives through the flesh, daily looks into the pure face of Jesus Christ in the Word and in prayer lead us to shun them and send them racing back out. “No,” he says, “I didn’t do that.”
“Nor,” he says, “walking in craftiness.” Here’s another thing they accused him of – craftiness, panourgia. Interesting word. Panourgia was a word used to describe – get this – someone willing to do anything to accomplish his goals. A panourgia was someone who would do anything to achieve his goals. In other words, he had no scruples. He had no standards. Shrewd, unscrupulous, mean. It’s even implied in Luke 20:23 that it means trickery. He’ll do anything, any kind of deception. Satan is the arch purveyor of this panourgia. He did it with Even in the garden. That very word is used in chapter 11, verse 3, a person willing to do anything. A person who, because he wants to achieve a certain goal, will twist and pervert and manipulate.
Paul says, “I haven’t done that. I haven’t done that. There’s not deception in my life. They were saying, “Oh, he’s a deceiver. Boy does he. See, he’s manipulating you. He wants money; he wants sexual favors; he wants power; he wants influence, and he’s twisting and manipulating you any way he can. This is a clever man. This is a wily fox. This man is doing everything he can to twist and pervert. He’s really after you.” It wasn’t true. There was nothing deceptive about him at all.
In fact, do you know something? He was so open and so plain in everything he said, it would be hard for people to believe that, I would think. I mean after all, everything he said was just plain. I mean just plain, straightforward. In 1 Corinthians chapter 2, “I didn’t come to you with superiority of speech or of wisdom. Not so.” There’s a lot in that statement. You see, because that’s a Gentile world. And follow this now, in the Gentile world they were into wisdom – the deep, mystical, magical wisdom. That’s where Gnosticism came from, which is the secret knowledge. And only the ascended masters can reach the secret knowledge. We have that same Gnosticism incipient in, for example, modern-day Masonry and in a number of the New Age kind of cults of today, where there is supposedly an elevated, mystical, magical level. And when you reach that mystical, magical level, you understand the secret things. You become part of the initiated.
They used to think, in ancient pagan religions, the Babylonian mystery religions that grew up and developed into the various things in the Hellenistic world at the time of the New Testament, that somehow they could ascend into the other world. They could, by sexual orgies or by terrible kinds of eating, to the point of vomiting and indulgencies, and by drunkenness and bacchanalian feasts, that they could somehow induce a high that would elevate them into the mystical land where they would know the secret things. They were into secret knowledge. Why? Because it appealed to human pride. It always appeals to human pride to be in the in-group. And here came Paul. And he didn’t have anything to say about wisdom, and his speeches weren’t very fancy. He just said, “I proclaim to you the testimony of God. I told you what God said. I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and that was it. I didn’t want your faith to rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”
You could say about Paul he was a plain preacher. Very clear, straightforward, and very non-deceptive. It was just so straightforward. You know, part of the reason that Paul was attacked was because of this. It was because he was so plain. And he was so open. And he held nothing back, and there weren’t any secrets; he just put it all out there, and it was clear, and there was very, very little question about what he meant.
And when they attacked him and assaulted him, it didn’t change anything. He didn’t compromise; he didn’t alter anything; he just spoke as plainly and as straightforwardly and as simply as he’d always spoken. And frankly, the false teachers didn’t like it. They didn’t like that. They didn’t like his plainness. They didn’t like his clarity. They didn’t like his straightforwardness. They wanted a greater subtlety. They wanted to keep the truth shrouded in more appealing and more palatable terms. First of all, very plain preachers are very offensive. And secondly, they make it seem like religion and truth is a very plain thing. And these guys, one, didn’t want to offend people because they wanted to get rich off them; that’s what false teachers always do. And secondly, they wanted to give them something that appealed to their ego, something that appealed to their cultural orientation so they would be more likely to buy into it.
You know what happened to Paul? A lot of people rejected him. So, they wanted to find a way to market the message that would make them wealthy and gain a lot of followers. So, they decided, “You better be subtle. You better shroud the truth in more appealing and palatable terms.” And the false apostles in Corinth saw themselves no doubt as first-century marketing experts. “We’re selling a new product.” And part of selling that new product was veiling the truth a little bit and adding some magic and some mystery. They felt if it was going to sell well, they had to package it in the genre of first-century consumerism. And the first century religionists liked their religion a little magical, and a little mystical, and a little secretive.
And so, the false apostles were going to succeed in making money and in collecting a lot of converts if they could kind of tweak their message a little bit so that it was popular and trendy. Boy, nothing new under the sun is there? Their preaching had to be fashionable and admired and had to show the contemporary Gentiles some secret knowledge. The approach had to be appealing, and no emphasis on flat, plain doctrine, repentance, sin, judgment, hell, the cross. They’re not going to buy that. I mean look, they’re not going to buy that, Paul. And they even confront him with that, “They’re not going to buy that.”
In verse 3, he says, “Well, if our gospel’s veiled, don’t blame the gospel, blame the perishing and their minds that have been blinded by Satan,” verse 4. It just drove them batty that Paul was so plain, so straightforward. They were trying to entice people with their cleverness, and they were the ones who had the secret life of shame. And I think that’s implied right in here. And when he says, “We have renounced the hidden – the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness,” the “but” there could be translated – because it’s alla – “on the other hand” and actually be a comparative between himself and the false teacher. They’re the ones with the secret life of shame. They’re the ones with the deception. They’ve cleverly veiled the hard truth. You know?
Paul, on the other hand, straight, open, clear, truth of the gospel. And surely they were saying to him, “Look, most people reject his preaching. It doesn’t sell; people aren’t buying. It’s too plain; it’s too open; it’s too offensive.
Well, in any case, he was open; he was bold; he was unthreatened; he was strong in his message. And there was no secret life, there was no hidden shame, and there was no deception. You can’t look into the face of Jesus Christ and come away a deceiver. You can’t look into the face of Jesus Christ and come away with a secret life you’re cultivating. You can’t look into the face of Jesus Christ and be cowardly and weak. You look into the face of Jesus Christ, God becomes clear to you, and you become transformed into the image of Christ. You’re going to be strong; you’re going to be pure. That’s how it is.
And you can tell when someone’s looking into the face of Christ because it’ll show up in their life.
Now, there’s a fifth thing, and I want to give that to you, the last point. Looking into the face of Jesus, there’s a truth-loving look. It’s a truth-loving look. It is certainly a purifying look and a strengthening look, but it’s also a truth-loving look. When you look into the face of Jesus Christ, you’re looking into the face of the truth. Jesus said, “I am the truth. I’m the truth.”
When a person becomes a Christian, he falls in love with the truth. That’s exactly what 2 Thessalonians 2:10 says, that people are going to be judged and perish because they didn’t receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. Being saved means loving the truth. What happened when you came to Christ, and the first time you saw him you fell in love with the truth? Not only the truth incarnate, but the truth revealed. Truth became the issue in your life, the love of the truth.
And look what Paul says now; go back to verse 2, “At the time of my salvation, I renounced the things that are hidden because of shame, that secret underlying life of hypocrisy. I renounced any deception, any deceit, for the clear, straightforward, honest integrity that you’ve seen.” And he said, “I renounce adulterating the Word of God and turned rather to the manifestation of truth.”
The false apostles were busy adulterating the Word of God, by the way, so that comparison is still here. Back in chapter 2, verse 17, he calls them hucksters, kapēlos of the Word of God, who operate not out of sincerity; they’re conmen; they’re cheating people; they’re charlatans and frauds. And he says, “I have renounced that.”
They may have accused him of adulterating the Scripture by taking out some of the Mosaic part. They may have accuse him of adulterating the gospel somehow with his simple message of grace. They said he made the message too simple, and too straightforward, and too unclever. And he denied the deep things, the secret things of God. And he made the message overly simplistic, like those people today who would tell us somehow there’s a lot of spiritual secrets and some mystical psychology that we need to learn before we can unscramble the complications of our life and to say there’s sufficiency in Christ is an over-simplistic statement. Boy, have I heard that.
There are always those people who will accuse the one who is faithful to the Scripture of adulterating it. By the way, the word “adulterating” means to tamper with. To tamper with. It’s used in extrabiblical places to speak of diluting wine with water, and the idea is of simplifying or diluting or watering down. Paul says, “I don’t water down the truth to make myself clear. I don’t dilute it with any human philosophy, any human wisdom. I just proclaim the pure, unadulterated, unmixed, simple truth of God. People want clever subtleties. “They will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears,” 2 Timothy 4:3 and 4 says. Paul says, “I’m not interested in that. I preach the pure and undiluted, untampered gospel, the uncluttered truth of grace, the new covenant of Jesus Christ, His person, and His work. And he said, “I believe the truth will do its work.”
Well, what do you mean? Look what he says in verse 2 – tremendous. He says, “I’m not adulterating the Word of God, but by the manifestation of truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience.” What’s he saying? He is saying, “Look, I know something, and what I know is that God has programmed men with a conscience.” It’s a God-given gift, according to Romans chapter 2, verses 14 and 15, “The law of God written in the heart is the conscience, and it bears witness to the truth.” God has put it in every human being.
And Paul says, “God put the truth in the human heart. So, when I confront the human heart with the truth, it rings true in the conscience.” That’s the point, because the conscience is God-given, and the conscience reacts to what it hears on the basis of the truth that God has place in the fabric of human life. “Men are born so much aware of truth that they are without excuse,” Romans 1 says.
So, Paul says, “I’m not trying to sucker people into the gospel; I’m not trying to invent someone clever, magical, mystical way to get them in. I’m not into marketing techniques that kind of soft sell the deal to make them buy. I’m telling you this; they are programmed with a certain amount of divine knowledge that is in them. They will be activated by their conscience when it’s confronted.
And so, what’s my job? To speak simple, clear, plain, undiluted, untampered, uncluttered truth, and it will activate the human conscience if, in fact, there’s enough conscience left to be activated. Some have destroyed their conscience. We know that. But he relied only on the truth, preached with no deception and no cunning. Doesn’t need cunning, doesn’t need cleverness.
The great theologian Hodge wrote, “He knew that the truth had such a self-evidencing power that even where it was rejected and hated, it commended itself to the conscience as true. And those ministers who are humble and sincere - who are not wise in their own conceit, but simply declare the truth as God revealed it – commend themselves to the consciences of men.” End quote.
I’ll tell you something. When you look at the face of Jesus Christ, you’re going to see the truth – simple, straightforward truth. And you’re going to love that truth, and you’re going to be committed to proclaiming that truth. That’s all there is to ministry, really. That’s all there is to preaching: the love of the truth. You can check the progress of a Christian by whether they love the truth. Those who are content with human ideas, those who can sit under preachers who preach human wisdom, contemporary insights, and the cunning, and the plotting and planning of men to solve human problems, those who are concerned about their own ingenuity reveal a low commitment to the love of the truth, which is a condition of retarded spiritual growth.
Paul says, “By the manifestation of the truth.” What do you mean “manifestation?” Open, clear exposition of the truth by transparent fidelity to revelation - without tampering, without diluting he speaks the truth. And a faithful preacher’s world, beloved, is a world of biblical truth. That’s our world; that’s where we live and move and have our being. We live for that for clear, pure doctrine, which is the foundation of faith and obedience, and so it should be for every Christian. You should love the truth and your heart should cry out for the truth; and you should long for the truth; and hunger and thirst for the truth, as babes desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow by it.
I love to be where there are congregations of people who love the truth. I love to see people coming and crowding and jamming into places to hear the truth. That signifies to me that God has done a work in their hearts because they have the love of the truth. And I love to hear preachers whose passion is to preach the truth, because they believe in the truth, and they see the truth revealed in Jesus Christ; they understand the power of the truth as it – as it confronts the conscience. It’s not your cleverness that’s going to reach somebody, even if you witness to them. It’s not the subtlety, and the cunning, and the cleverness of your presentation that’s going to cause somebody to be converted. It is going to be when the truth hits the conscience. And the conscience is already prepared because the truth is in the human heart, and people hear the truth, and it rings in their conscience with conviction, and that’s what the Spirit of God moves in on to activate saving faith.
Even where people reject the truth, it still has a way of gripping, and that’s why they run from it. That’s why their hostile. Why is there an anti-Christian movement in the world? Because the preaching of the simple truth of the Scriptures causes either a reaction of acceptance, belief, and conversion, or hostility because people don’t like their conscience assaulted.
So, Paul says, “I am committed to the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves” – he uses the editorial “we” here; it’s less personal and doesn’t want to be thought of as pridefully defending only himself – “by the manifestation of truth, commending ourselves to ever man’s conscience.” Straightforward nature of his preaching brought conviction, and that’s the point. That is crucial to salvation; that is crucial to sanctification. You can’t just sort of baby people along. Before they’re saved, they need to be confronted with saving truth. When they’re saved, they need to be confronted with sanctifying truth, and there is no other purpose for the preaching and teaching of God’s Word than that.
The faithful preacher then becomes the master of men’s hearts – not because of some ability he has, but because he speaks the truth, and the truth cuts deeply. “The Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” Hebrews 4:12 says. Nothing penetrates and cuts like the Word of God. And if people are offended by the cut, then that’s the purpose. And he says, “I do all this” – at the end of verse 2 – “in the sight of God.” I do all this in the sight of God; my accountability is to God.
First Corinthians 4:3, he said, “It doesn’t matter to me what you say about me; it doesn’t matter to me what anybody says about me. It doesn’t even matter what I think about myself. The one who judges me is the Lord. I seek God’s approval.
So, here is a noble preacher characterized by integrity, no deception; characterized by fidelity, no alteration; characterized by intelligibility, no obscuring; and characterized by humility, no adulation. Integrity, fidelity, intelligibility, and humility. Some marvelous components for the true preacher. He sought God’s approval. He said, “I do it in the sight of God. The only one I’m going to answer to is Him.” That’s a look at his motive. He’s the only one to whom every preacher and every believer is bound to answer.
So, with every believer, we love the truth because God loves truth, and God is truth, and Christ is truth. And as we look at the face of Christ, it is a truth-loving look. If you love the truth, it’s because you’re looking into the face of Jesus. You cannot look into the glory of God, shining in the face of Jesus, and not be consumed with love of the truth and conviction by the truth. That is the commendation or the condemnation of every preacher, a preacher whose love and loyalty is to the truth is to be commended. One who’s not is to be condemned.
And I’ll tell you; those who are gazing at the face of Jesus love the truth. And with all of its power, they are endeavoring to apply it in their life. And he says he does all of this in the sight of God. I mean that’s the ultimate. No God, no consequences. No consequences, no conscience. And the problem we’re having in our culture today is the vanishing conscience, because it’s directly related to the vanishing God. If there’s no God, there’s no consequences. If there’s no consequences, why worry? But where there is God, and where there is belief in God, and where there is love of God, there will be love of truth and love of obedience to that truth.
And I’ll tell you, throughout the history of the Church, the most powerful people in the life of the Church have been those who have been most clear in articulating the truth. They always make the greatest impact and have the greatest effect. The history of the Church turns on those who live and proclaim truth that convicts the conscience. And if you want to be a powerful Christian, that’s the way you’re going to have to live as well.
So, keep your eyes on Jesus. To know Him deeply, to gaze at the glory of God revealed in Him is a clarifying look, a transforming look, a strengthening look, a purifying look, and a truth-loving look. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what ministries all about, that’s what Christian living is all about.
And that’s what Paul’s life was all about. He never took his eyes off Christ. He said, “For to me, to live is Christ.” He doesn’t mean by that that Christ was the source of his life, though He is. He doesn’t mean He lives in Paul, though He does. He doesn’t mean his life is controlled by Christ, though it is. He doesn’t mean He submits to Christ obediently, though He does. He means Christ is His life. He lives to serve Him, to speak with Him, to fellowship with Him. He has no conception of life apart from Christ. That’s the simple direction of every life in Christ.
I want to close with a verse, 2 Corinthians chapter 11, because I think this sums up what Paul’s fear was. Second Corinthians chapter 11, verse 3, Paul says this – and he really does sum up his concern in this whole letter – “I am afraid,” he says. “I am afraid” – now wait a minute. Let’s go back and find out what’s led to this fear. He says in verse 2, “I’m jealous for you with a godly jealousy: I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.”
Okay, you’re the Bride of Christ, and I want to give you to Christ as a pure virgin. I want you to be singularly and solely devoted to Christ. I mean that’s obviously what a marriage is all about. Right? It’s all about a woman saying, “I am yours, and yours alone. I am singularly and purposefully and permanently devoted to you.”
So, he says, “When I brought you to the knowledge of the gospel, I betrothed you to one husband with the purpose that you would devote yourself to that one and that one alone as a pure virgin” – in other words, you’d never adulterate yourself; you’d never commit an act of fornication on the spiritual level; you would never deviate from the single devotion of purity to your husband.
But verse 3, “I’m afraid. I am afraid lest as the serpent deceived Eve by” - his panourgia – “his craftiness, your minds will should be led astray” – here it is – “from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” See the point? “My concern for you,” Paul says, “is that you’re going to be an unfaithful bride, that you’re going to be distracted by other lovers, and that you’re going to deviate from single, wholehearted devotion to Jesus Christ.”
And, beloved, we go right back to where we started. When all is blown away, and you get down to the heart of Christian living, it is a singular devotion to Jesus Christ. That’s what it is. It is looking into the face of Christ. Single-minded, pure, loyal love to Christ, undivided attraction and undivided affection. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Paul says, “I am afraid that you would be led astray, deceived by the serpent from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” Yes, they accused him of being simple, but it was that simplicity that is the message of the new covenant.
Father, we thank You this morning for Your Word again, and for its power, its clarity. We thank You for this beloved man Paul, who as an instrument of the Holy Spirit was inspired to write things that are so potent, so clear, so straightforward. Lord, we thank You that there aren’t any hidden, magical, mysterious things, but that everything is open and clear.
Lord, give us eyes to see Christ. If there are some in our midst this morning who have not seen Him for the first time, who may know Jesus after the flesh – that is like Paul knew Him before his conversion; they know He existed and a few facts about His life, maybe enough to even make them mad – may they see Him with spiritual eyes. And may they, in looking at the face of Jesus, see the glory of God revealed and be transformed.
And I pray for those who are Christians, who have seen the face of Jesus, and in His face Your glory revealed, but have let all kinds of distractions come into life and maybe have even been deceived from simplicity and devotion to the vision of Christ. O Lord, call us back, fix our eyes on Jesus.
And may we ever and always, with our hearts gaze at His glory. May He be the constant focus of our thoughts; may He be the friend not only who sticks closer than a brother, who is so utterly aware of us, but of whom we are equally aware. Help us to live in the light of His presence and see in Him the fullness of Your glory, which is more than enough to sustain us through the issues of life. Grant us that by Your Spirit we pray in Christ’s name, amen.
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