Freedom. The Miriam-Webster online dictionary defines this word as
the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another
Last week’s battles with chains has led me today to a study of several verses in 2 Corinthians 3. During the fiercest battles last week, I felt removed from reality. It was like I read scripture but had something heavy covering me that prevented the words from sinking in. I was reading the words, but they were not penetrating the veil that had settled on my brow.
As part of my effort to buy less and create meaningful home-made gifts this year, I had to make a trip to my favorite craft store, Hobby Lobby. I love the scent that immediately surrounds me when I walk into that store; yesterday, it smelled like cinnamon. The flip side to those lovely aromas is a heady battle with allergies. By the time I left the store, my eyes burned and felt gritty. My vision was obscured by a film that built up over my eyes so that the world looked cloudy. I kept having to blink and squeeze my eyes shut to get everything back in focus. The dust and allergens in the air at Hobby Lobby essentially placed a veil over my eyes so that I could not see clearly.
It occurred to me this morning during my quiet time that this is what I experienced last week on a spiritual level. In looking up the word “free” in my Bible, I came across one of those passages in my Bible that isn’t really marked up with highlighter and pencil marks. The verse pertaining to freedom is 2 Corinthians 3, verse 17, but it doesn’t make complete sense unless it is read in context.
Paul is writing to the Corinthians about the new covenant that we have received through Christ. He tells them that he can see that he has done a good job teaching them just by looking at their lives.
The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.
Think about this for a moment: the Spirit of the living God is written on our hearts. I lost sight of that truth last week. Perhaps you have lost sight of what that means for your life, as well. When we became believers, our hearts became living tablets on which the Holy Spirit writes. No circumstances in our lives will ever change that truth. Now we may fall away for a time, but there’s still that connection with our living God. That connection is the lifeline that got me through last week, and it is what will get you through your strongholds as well.
Then Paul spends some time detailing the new covenant we have received from God by comparing it with the old covenant given to the people of Israel.
The old way, with laws etched in stone
Notice the old way was not written on hearts, but on stone…
led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face….So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever! Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold.
Moses’ encounter with the Lord made his face shine so brightly that the people could not bear to see him. When we watched the shuttle launch last month, I understood at once how hard it is to look upon something so bright. I had to squint my eyes even though it was night. Paul is telling us that the new covenant gives us boldness so that we CAN bear to look upon the glory…so that we CAN understand the truth.
We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth.
Last week there is no doubt that my mind was hardened. A veil covered my mind as my thoughts went around and around in panic mode. I was single-minded not towards God, but towards the problem — towards my fear. I may as well have donned a heavy veil as I got dressed each morning…my attitude was preventing me from understanding the truth.
But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
I asked a question of Christ in my last blog — why was he allowing me be suffer such oppression? I believe the answer is right in front of me. I just couldn’t see it because my fears obscured my vision…I was under oppression because I was not turning to the Lord. Like a kidnapper drops a hood over his quarry’s head, my focus on that which caused extreme fear lowered the veil.
There is another aspect to the word freedom here. The veil separates us from God’s glory just as it separated the Israelites from seeing the glory on Moses’ face. Because the Spirit of the Lord is writing on our hearts, we have freedom — we have liberty — to come into his glorious presence. The Greek word is eleutheria.
The connotation of the word freedom is more than the kind of freedom we talk about when we discuss what it means to be an American. It was specifically used here to denote our freedom to access the presence of God. We don’t have to hide behind a veil.
So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
When I’m going through a valley, it helps to remember that God isn’t finished with me yet. He is writing on my heart even when I’m wallowing in my bed, afraid to get up. When I am at my worst, that’s when God is at his best. My fragility does not hinder God’s light. Neither does yours. Whether it’s depression and other health issues, financial troubles, struggles with sins and various strongholds…whatever it is that has you by the scruff of the neck…those things are really little insignificant bumps in the road when we step back and see ourselves from God’s eyes.
Fast forward through 2 Corinthians to chapter 4 and you’ll find this:
We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
Do you feel that? The One who spoke light into being makes a light shine in our hearts. Why? Why would God want to waste light on a weakling like me? So that I could know His glory. The KJV puts it this way:
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
God has put a shining light of knowledge in my heart so that I can see, love, and understand just how great is His glory in the person of Jesus Christ. This knowledge is separate from whatever it is I might be feeling. In fact, this knowledge is power — but it doesn’t come from me at all.
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.[b] This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
Could it be that God, in his infinite wisdom, has allowed my body to be weak (a fragile jar) in order to clarify that any power in me comes from Him alone, and not from myself?
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
Paul has given us clues to removing the chains, hasn’t he? He reminds us that whatever we are facing at the moment is small and won’t last long. The ordeal I went through last week is over. And you know what? It has served a purpose I never thought it would while I was pressed down under it…it has ultimately brought me closer to God. It has spurred me on towards a deeper study of what it means to have freedom in Christ. Paul and his helpers didn’t dwell on their troubles, did they? No…rather they fixed their sights on things that cannot be seen. What things are those? The things of God!
God is helping me rip away the veil of darkness that closed in over my head. It is very comforting to know that God knows how fragile we really are. It is calming to know that there are those who have gone before us — even Paul — who felt tempted to despair at circumstances surrounding him.
Like Paul, we are modern day warriors. Some of us, like Paul, are even in chains. Sometimes our battles are within our own minds or bodies. But each day our spirits are being renewed. The troubles we are going through will ultimately produce for us a glory that far outweighs them and will last forever.