Rev Kuruvilla Chandy is the Emeritus Pastor of Grace Bible Church, Lucknow in North India. Kuru, as he is popularly known, started his pastoral work in Lucknow from September 1974. After 23 years as the pastor of Lalbagh Methodist Church, in 1997 Kuru was ordained as the founding pastor of Grace Bible Church. He is an expository preacher who ministers widely in conferences and camps. His articles are featured regularly in Christian Trends and Light of Life. He is also the author of several books. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An advertising executive said, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” However, it is true only in part, because pictures do need captions sometimes to make sense. People, places and things need identification. An event captured in a photo still needs some explanation.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul gives us a series of word-pictures to tell us what Christians are to be. They are significant to understanding how we present ourselves to the watching world, or how we should function in a hostile environment.
Captives in Christ’s Triumphal Procession
“But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ's triumphal procession” (2:14, NLT).
The imagery is from the way the returning Roman victor would ride into Rome with all the spoils of war in his train. Defeated soldiers and captured goods were put on show so that the citizens of Rome could see that there had really been a victory for their own army.
Our Lord Jesus went to war against the Devil to liberate those whom the Devil had taken captive. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8). “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15).
Jesus did win that war and is the returning Victor leading in a triumphal procession those whom He liberated. We are on display as His trophies. In other words, Christians are the proof that Jesus did win the war against Satan.
We ought to be offering proof of the victory of Jesus. As Friedrich Nietzsche famously and rightly said, “I might believe in the Redeemer if his followers looked more redeemed.”
Aroma of Christ
“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life” (2 Cor. 2:15-16).
In the Law God gave Israel, there are about 40 references to offering God sacrifices that will please Him with their sweet smell: “Then burn the entire ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD, a pleasing aroma, an offering made to the LORD by fire” (Ex. 29:18). There should not be the smell of rottenness when we come to stand in the presence of God. There needs to be the “beauty of holiness”.
While Psalm 29: 2 is rendered “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness” in Hebrew it actually reads“Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” There is reason to believe that the psalmist is counselling worshippers to dress up for the occasion.
Today, many Christians don’t believe in the concept of “Sunday best”. We believe that we do not have to stand on formality with God. We can come “just as we are”. It is true that we can come to God for salvation “just as I am, without one plea” and that we can keep on returning to God after every failure. However, having come to God, we are ought not to manifest a casual and complacent attitude toward God. Think of it this way: even those who love being casual dress up for what they consider important, for a wedding, for a job-interview, etc. Can we then dishonour God by being too casual? Does our celebrated familiarity with God, breed contempt?
Our having the aroma of Christ is not only an offering to God. It has an effect on those who are in our vicinity. In the Old Testament we have the story of blind Isaac imagining that the son he smelt was his favourite. He could not see Jacob, but because Jacob was wearing Esau’s clothes, Isaac mistook him for Esau. People in our generation cannot see Jesus. But can they smell Jesus because we are dressed up in His righteousness (Rom. 13:14)?
Letter from Christ
“…known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:2-3).
Once, the Law of God was written on stone tablets. Today, the Word of God is printed on pages of paper. The Word remains something that most people think is irrelevant.
While I was in college, there was a group that organized mass distribution of a special tract that was prepared for the target audience of college students. The group’s volunteers stood at the college gate and handed out the tracts. Students would take one glance at what was given to them and throw the tracts away. That day the campus was littered everywhere. I didn’t hear of anyone coming to Christ through that effort.
In contrast, Paul said that people who came to Christ were his tracts that told people about Christ. While I was a student, I read the following poem:
I am my neighbour’s Bible;
He reads me when we meet.
Today he reads me in my home–
Tomorrow, in the street.
He may a relative or friend be;
Or slight acquaintance be;
He may not even know my name,
Yet he is reading me.
Four men wrote the gospels. They are named “the Gospel according to Matthew/Mark/Luke/John”. These gospels are distributed to people, but in most cases suffer virtually the same fate as the tracts distributed at my college. If not thrown away on the road, they are buried under old newspapers and magazines and never read. What people need is a gospel according to you (and me). We need to be a “living letter” from Christ to people whom our Lord wants to reach.
Mirrors of the Lord’s glory
“We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18)
We use mirrors to see reflections of our faces. Mirrors will reflect images of whatever is before them—a face, things in the room in front of them. Christians are the Lord’s mirrors.
Paul said that Christians are those who take the veil off our faces so that we reflect the Lord’s glory. The reference to taking the veil off recalls how Moses’s face shone so brightly after being in God’s presence on Mount Sinai that the Israelites were afraid of him and so Moses began to cover his face while in camp with the people (Ex. 34:29-34). Paul said that Moses did it so that people would not see that the glory on his face was fading as time passed by (2 Cor. 3:13).
Clearly, Christians will be able to reflect the glory of the Lord only if they are facing Him. If they are facing something else, then it is whatever they face that will be reflected in their lives. If we look on the world with covetousness, then it is the world that will dazzle our eyes and people will know that we have a hankering for the world and its goodies.
How then do we face the Lord whom we do not see today? Significantly, this reference to us being those who reflect the Lord’s glory comes right after Paul talked about having God’s Word written on our hearts (2 Cor. 3:2-3). It is when we take the Word of God to heart that we will begin to look like Jesus. Do you take time and trouble to read what God has to say? Do you read the gospels to see Jesus?
Cultivating spiritual habits is as important as having hygienic habits. We believe it is important that we brush our teeth daily. We do it without questioning why we need to do it daily. We don’t think it is boring to have to do things like that day after day after day… We are committed to such habits because they are good for our health. Similarly, our spiritual health and welfare require maintaining a spiritual regimen. The spiritual disciplines we follow will show others what the Lord means to us.
The words “discipline” and “disciple” share the same root. To be a disciple of Jesus means that we follow His discipline in our lives. Our Lord thought that feeding on God’s Word is more important than food itself (Matt. 4:4). He was known and admired for His life of prayer (Lk. 11:1). When we follow what Jesus taught and did, there will be remarkable changes that are apparent to all who observe us and like the disciples of old we will be assessed as those who have “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). They will note that we reflect the glory of the Lord Jesus.
Jars of Clay with Treasure
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).
We are jars of clay and Jesus is the treasure in the jars of our lives.
A jar is of no consequence. It is only clay. The treasure is what is important. A Christian is one who stands in line with the forerunner of our Lord to proclaim, “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). Being a Christian is not about sitting in our corner and remarking like Little Jack Horner “What a good boy am I.” We don’t project ourselves. We project Him. “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:6).Don’t forget: we are to reflect Him in the mirror that is our life.
It is the treasure that they contain that give jars of clay any significance. By themselves, jars of clay have no significance at all.
However, no one will know that there is anything significant about such jars of clay until they are broken to reveal the hidden treasure. Jars of clay are very temporary. As long as they are kept on a shelf they will be well-preserved, but they will not serve any purpose. If they are to have any purpose, jars of clay have to be used, knowing that there are very strong chances that they will be broken sooner or later. “If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!” (vv. 8-12, MSG).
This then is the bottom line: If we seek our own preservation, Jesus is not served. If Jesus is to be served, we must be vulnerable, ready to be broken like jars of clay.
“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor. 5:1-2).
We’re only a mirror, not the source of the Light. We’re only jars of clay, not the Treasure. It follows that Christians don’t have a permanent place in this life, only a temporary home. Today, we do not live in tents, but we must not think of earth as where we must make something of our lives, build castles and hoard treasures. Jim Reeves popularized this song that says it well,
This world is not my home
I'm just a passing through
My treasures are laid up
somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me
from heaven’s open door
and I can’t feel at home
in this world anymore.
The writer of Hebrews described the Father of the Faithful and his ancient descendants thus: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:8-10, 13-16). Will anyone today be able to see similarity between the Father of the Faithful and modern day Christians?
Our Lord counselled, nay, commanded, “Don’t store treasures for yourselves here on earth where moths and rust will destroy them and thieves can break in and steal them. But store your treasures in heaven where they cannot be destroyed by moths or rust and where thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will be where your treasure is” (Matt. 6: 19-21, NCV).
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
Christians are to be captives in Christ’s triumphal procession, the aroma of Christ Himself, the letter of Christ, the mirror of the Lord’s glory, jars of clay treasuring Jesus, tent-dwellers so that we can mediate Christ Jesus to our world. We are His ambassadors. We represent Him.
An ambassador goes to a foreign land to represent his own nation there. He is not permitted to speak his own mind or express his own views on a matter concerning his homeland. He is to convey only what his own nation feels and wants.
We are foreigners here in this world. This world is not our home. We are only passing through. We are citizens of heaven (Phil.3:20). While we sojourn here, we share the message of our Lord to the people of the places we pass through.
Did you notice that Paul wrote of six forms of non-verbal communications, before he wrote about having a responsibility to communicate verbally? We can’t make a rule about this, but that is significant. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” Put simply, actions speak louder than words. Our verbal witnessing will be ineffective if we do not exemplify what we proclaim.
What are Christians like? How do people see us? It’s more important than you think.