Big Idea: Glory isn’t found in impressive people or things but in Jesus, so live in light of that reality.
A team of researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education asked 10,000 middle and high school students the following question: “What is most important to you? Achieving at a high level, happiness (defined, in part, as feeling good most of the time) or caring for others?” 48 percent of students selected high achievement as their top priority; 30 percent chose happiness. Only 22 percent placed caring for others at the top of their list.
The researchers said, “Some youth made it quite clear to us that their self-interest is paramount: ‘If you are not happy, life is nothing. After that, you want to do well. And after that, expend any excess energy on others.’”
Their research report was appropriately titled, “THE CHILDREN WE MEAN TO RAISE: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values,” and the first line of their Executive Summary stated, “Our youth’s values appear to be awry, and the messages that adults are sending may be at the heart of the problem.”
Indeed. We have a problem. We believe that the goal of life is feeling good, and we think the way to do that is through high achievement and happiness. We live according to what one person calls the morality of self-improvement.
The morality of self-fulfillment is everywhere, like the air we breathe. Much of the time we don’t even notice we’re constantly bombarded with messages that reinforce self-fulfillment—in music, movies, video games, apps, commercials, TV shows, and every other kind of media. (Good Faith)
This view even infects the church. And yet the results are devastating. The more we pursue self-fulfillment, the more unsatisfied we seem to be. Anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason students seek counseling. We live in an anxious age. We need a better way.
And that’s what this passage is going to help us with today.
Here’s our problem: unless we’re careful, we’re going to build our lives on being impressive, accumulating impressive things, or following others who are impressive — and in trying to be an impressive church. It’s a temptation we face every single day.
We’re not wrong to be drawn to what’s impressive. The reason is that we’re hardwired for glory. Paul David Tripp writes:
It really is the struggle of struggles. It’s what we were made for, it’s what we crave, and it’s what we manage to mess up in some way almost every day.
What’s the struggle? The struggle for glory … Human beings are glory junkies…
We’re addicted to pursuing, and basking in, our own glory…At some point or another, in my marriage, my ministry, or in mundane interactions with everyday activities, I have bought the lie that I am a glorious person.
Our whole lives are driven by glory. We are on a continual search for impressive things. This is a good thing. God made us to be wired for glory.
The problem is that we look for it in all the wrong places. We think the whole point of life is that we are impressive. We’re drawn to glory, and we begin to think that we — individually or even as a church — need to be glorious.
What’s the alternative? That’s what this passage is going to teach us. We’re in a series on a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. One of the criticisms of Paul’s ministry was that he just wasn’t that impressive, but there were others that were. Paul was okay with that, and in the passage we just read he gives us two important lessons that will help us both as individuals and as a church.
Here’s the first lesson.
Glory isn’t found in impressive people or things but in Jesus. (3:7-18)
Let’s look at two very different people.
One is Moses. In all of Jewish history, few people measured up to Moses. He was raised in Pharaoh’s household. He led Israel out of slavery and to the edge of the land God promised them. He was so close to God that the Bible says, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).
We read in Exodus:
And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (Exodus 34:34-35)
If anyone was impressive, Moses was. He literally had a glowing face. He was so close to God that people were terrified of Moses after he’d spent time with God. “Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him” (Exodus 34:30).
Then there’s Paul. We read that when Paul came to Corinth for the first time, he said he came “in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4). He had to support himself financially through manual labor. He seems to have spent quite a bit of time in jail. We’re attracted to the impressive, and Paul just didn’t measure up.
And yet Paul is okay with that. He says, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses…” (2 Corinthians 3:12-13). He’s bold in his un-impressiveness, and he gives us two reasons why.
Moses may have had a glowing face, but glowing faces lose their shine.
We know one of the reasons why Moses wore a veil: people were terrified of him if he didn’t. But Paul tells us another reason: he “put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end” (2 Corinthians 3:13). Moses covered his face so that they wouldn’t see that the glory was fading. This is true on a couple of levels. As we’re going to see in a minute, the glory of the gospel far outshines the glory of the Law. But it’s also true on a personal level. Moses’ glory was temporary as well. “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25).
One day everything that impresses others about you will be gone. Every year the website 24/7 Wall Street runs their list of the “50 Least Powerful People in the World.” This year’s list included an intro that could have come straight from a typical church sermon:
Fame, fortune, and power in all its forms are glorified in American culture. Entire media networks are dedicated to covering celebrity news and gossip—and television programs that showcase the lifestyles of the rich and the famous regularly draw millions of viewers. However, power can be fleeting. Circumstances can change rapidly; fortunes can be lost overnight; and the masters of the universe today can wind up unemployable tomorrow. 24/7 Wall St. compiled a list of 50 well-known individuals around the world who have recently experienced a precipitous loss in stature.
The 2017 list included the White House Communications Director less than two weeks after his appointment, a co-owner of a national chain who stepped down after E.coli outbreaks, and a president of a country who was impeached.
Even if you become impressive, it won’t last. It’s like building a house out of snow. Your house may look pretty good in February around here — but even though it’s hard to believe now, Spring is coming, and everything you build will be destroyed.
There’s a second problem with being impressive.
The impressive leaves out a lot of us.
Good for Moses that his face was shining. What about the rest of us? The rest of Israel didn’t benefit. In fact, Paul says in verses 14 to 16 that their hearts were hardened.
Don’t look for impressive leaders or impressive churches! Even if you find them, you’ll still be unimpressive yourself. It won’t really help you.
So what’s the alternative?
But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)
There’s only one place to find the glory that we’re all searching for. And it’s available for everyone. And if you get this glory, it will change you. Your face will shine. You will be transformed from one degree of glory to another, and that glory will never be taken away.
Where do we get that glory? By beholding the glory of the Lord. The weakest Christian who looks at Jesus is more glorious than the most impressive person who doesn’t. That’s where the glory you’re looking for is found.
Don’t waste your time trying to be glorious. Don’t waste your time trying to make this church impressive. The best thing we can do is to find the glory you’re looking for in Jesus. If you do, it will change your life forever. Look to him today.
So live in light of that reality. (4:1-6)
Let me ask you a question: If you really believed that glory isn’t found in impressive people or things but in Jesus, how would you live? Paul tells us in the rest of this passage.
Let’s just make a list:
- We don’t need to get discouraged (4:1). Paul says that he doesn’t lose heart. How could he? He’s so gripped by God’s glory that problems can’t bring him down.
- We don’t need to resort to gimmicks (4:2). He renounces tricks that hucksters use. He doesn’t need to use them because he trusts in the power of God. You don’t need to rely on cheap tricks when you have God’s Word, because God’s Word is more powerful than anything else available to us. That’s why we must rely on God’s Word as individuals and as a church. God uses his Word to do his work.
- We can maintain perspective when people reject the gospel (4:3-4). Some people will reject the gospel, but Paul knows the problem isn’t with him or the gospel. The problem is the spiritual condition of the listeners. This allows Paul to keep going with confidence in the gospel.
- We can make Jesus great rather than trying to make ourselves great. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). It’s not about how great the church is. It’s not about how great we are. It’s about how great Jesus us. We can make that our focus.
We were made to pursue glory. We go wrong when we try to be glorious ourselves. We go wrong when we try to be impressive ourselves. But when we see the glory of Jesus, it gives us everything we were looking for. It satisfies our souls and gives us something to offer the world.
Glory isn’t found in impressive people or things but in Jesus, so live in light of that reality.
Small Group Questions
- Moses had a glowing face from spending time with God, but Paul spent a lot of time being persecuted and jailed. Why does Paul state that his ministry is more glorious?
- How is the new covenant better than the old one from what you can see in this passage?
- Moses’ glory faded (3:13), but our glory keeps increasing (3:18). How does this encourage you, especially when you don’t feel that glorious?
- How does Paul translate all of this into his life and ministry (4:1-6)? What can we learn from his example?