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How to be transformed – the missionary context of 2 Corinthians 3:18

Outgoing GodWhat's this verse about?

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory...  (2 Cor 3:18)

Is it about enjoying private devotional experiences with Jesus so that we become like Him?   That's a popular interpretation.  And it's half right.  But it's really not the full story.

The NIV footnote says that 'reflect' can be translated 'contemplate'.  But I think 'reflect' is a better translation.  It's a word that means 'showing like a mirror shows'.  The question is this - Is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the beholder looks at the mirror?  Or is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the mirror itself reflects outwardly?

My guess is the latter.  Our faces are like mirrors reflecting outwardly to the world the glory of Jesus.

This fits the context.  Paul has been reminding us about Moses's face-to-face encounters with the Lord (2 Cor 3:7,13).  He put a veil on to stop the Israelites seeing this fading glory.  But we (as v18 says) have unveiled faces.  And so what happens?   Others see the glory of Christ as we reflect it out to the world.

So this verse does indeed depend on our having devotional experiences with Jesus - just as Moses did (e.g. Exodus 33:7-11).  But that in itself will not transform us into Christ's likeness.  Reflecting Christ's glory out into the world - that will transform us.

Which is what the next two chapters of 2 Corinthians are all about.

Too often we think of holiness as one thing and mission as another.  Really they are mutually defining and mutually achieved.  Just as God's own being is a being in outreach, so our Christian character is a character in outreach.  To divorce the two is disastrous.

Holiness-in-mission is parallel to God's being-in-becoming. Just as God is who He is in His mission, so are we. Reflecting the Lord's glory is not a private activity - or at least it must not end there.  It's not essentially pietistic but proclamatory.  It's not about locking ourselves in a "prayer closet" - it's outgoing witness (to believers and unbelievers).

3 thoughts on “How to be transformed – the missionary context of 2 Corinthians 3:18

  1. the Old Adam

    Well...we are 'declared' holy and righteous, for Jesus' sake.

    And then the mission is just what holy people do. To varying degrees and often with mixed and sinful motives. But even that is not a barrier to God's purposes in it all.

  2. Ben

    Thanks for that, Glen. You've stimulated my quiet time today :)
    2 Cor 3:18 is certainly tricky. We rejoice that we’re waiting for the complete sharing of Christ’s glory (1 Pet 5:1; 2 Thess 2:14; Rom 8:17-18). But what leads to our increasing glorification now? Beholding or reflecting? Loving Jesus or proclaiming Him? Which to choose?
    Hey, it could always be both – perhaps Paul was being deliberately ambiguous! After all, in the context, Paul does say that our glory is increased through suffering-obedience for the gospel (4:17, cf Phil 3:10).
    Yet I'm not so sure 2 Cor 3:18 itself is about proclamation (reflection) leading to our internal glorification. At root, 4:4 shows our problem: it’s not our failure to REFLECT Christ; rather it’s our failure to SEE his glory (4:6).
    That’s why Paul is bold to proclaim Christ (3:12-18), for when His gospel is preached and the Spirit brings freedom from the heart-veil and gives spiritual sight, people are glorified (as in Jn 17:22) far more than under Moses. We’re glorified by seeing Jesus. After all, Moses himself was glorified by seeing the face of the Lord!
    Hence I lean towards thinking that we increase in Christ’s glory by seeing and adoring Him. To borrow a familiar book title, “we become what we worship.”
    Now, mission is both integral to and an outflow of that adoration of Christ, but it’s not the whole story by any means. We’re also changed within by the Word (Jn 17:17), by putting sin to death and loving other believers (Col 3:10 and context) and by any other act of faith (hence Paul’s prayer in 2 Thess 1:11-12 “…so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”)
    So I reckon it’s a little limiting to make 2 Cor 3:18 all about mission. It’s about life in Christ. A life of knowing Christ better. Of sharing in his sufferings, his compassion, and oh yes, his mission. :)

  3. Glen

    Thanks Old Adam - yes it's definitely organic: "mission is just what holy people do". Amen.

    Hi Ben, nice to hear from you. I wasn't trying to say that it's all about mission and *not* about worship. I was saying that mission and holiness are "mutually defining and mutually achieved." As you say it's "about life in Christ". I'd just add that since Christ's life is outgoing, we can't grow in Christlikeness without that outgoing quality ourselves. :)

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