Investing in hope: A hope that makes us boldby Ervin Stutzman
One sign of hope that I see in the church today is the call from our youth and young adults for authenticity in relationships. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is a fascinating example to consider. It is one of the most emotionally honest and vulnerable epistles in the New Testament.
Paul pours out his heart to the Corinthian people, begging them to open up their hearts to him. Although he had planted the church at Corinth, they now doubted his apostleship. So he wrote to them “out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears” (2:4).
As part of the argument to show that he was a true apostle, Paul tells the Corinthians how he had made the difficult transition from the ministry of the “old” covenant to the ministry of the “new.” The reality of the new covenant, initiated by Jesus Christ, was Paul’s primary source of hope and inspiration.
Yet this did not shield him from times of deep discouragement. In chapter 1, he tells about a time in the province of Asia when he lived under such great pressure that he despaired of life itself. In the midst of this difficult circumstance he experienced a time of great comfort from God.
Paul laid claim to competence as a minister of the new covenant. In contrast to the ministry of the old covenant, revealed in the stone cold commandments delivered on Mount Sinai, the ministry of the new covenant pulses with the vibrant life of the Spirit. The former was revealed in the face of Moses, the latter in the face of Jesus. The new covenant is far superior to the old. The new arrangement with God gives us great hope and emboldens us to live before God and others with an open face.
Paul asserts that such boldness contrasts with the timidity (and likely pride) of Moses, who hid his face from the people in order to maintain a facade of perfection (see 2 Corinthians 3:12-18). He shows how Moses gave people the impression that his face was always glowing with God’s presence, when in reality it was fading. Read the background story in Exodus 34:29-35. It tells how Moses came down from the mountain with his face glowing with the presence of God. But later, he put a veil over his face to hide the fading glory. When he came back into the presence of God (in the Tent of Meeting), he unveiled his face to soak again in the rays of God’s shekinah glory. After briefly showing his radiant face to the people, Moses veiled it again lest the people watch as the glory faded away.
Paul sees in this story a crucial difference between the old and the new covenant. In the new covenant, we have such hope in Christ that we gain the boldness to reveal our inadequacies and shortcomings to each other. We need not fear that the glory will fade from our face, since we continually look in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
That is good news for us as Anabaptist Christians who often struggle with the temptation to hide our imperfections from brothers and sisters in the faith. Perhaps because of our commitment to discipleship, we feel a particular burden to make a good impression on others. At times we worry that others may come to know us as we really are.
We nurture Christian hope in each other when we imitate the honesty, vulnerability and grace with which Paul wrote to the Corinthian people. Together, as we look into the face of Jesus Christ, we are transformed into his image. And the unfading glory of God, which comes from the Spirit, shows in our faces.
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