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Judaizers in Corinth

2Corinthians: Paul Most Underappreciated Epistle

May 27, 2018


by: Jack Lash Series: 2Corinthians: Paul Most Underappreciated Epistle | Category: NT books | Scripture: 2 Corinthians 3:6–3:16
  1. Introduction
    A. I would like to explain one thing before I read our passage, so that no one is lost. 
      1. In this passage, Paul talks about the old covenant and the new covenant. 
      2. So, let’s talk about what the old covenant and the new covenant are.
       a. Paul doesn’t specifically mention the old covenant in this passage until 2Cor.3:14, but it’s clear he’s talking about the old covenant all the way through. 
       b. The old covenant refers to the covenant God made with Israel through Moses when he led them to Mount Sinai after crossing the Red Sea on dry ground. God gave them the ten commandments and the rest of the law and entered into a solemn covenant there at the foot of the mountain. 
       c. By “new covenant” Paul means the covenant of Christ, which our Lord spoke of at the last supper: "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood." (Luke 22:20)
       d. And in this passage, Paul contrasts the two covenants, and the superiority of the new over the old. 
     B. 2Corinthians 3:6–16 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. 12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
    II. Explanation
     A. Beginning in v.6, Paul launches into a comparison of the new covenant and the old covenant. 
      1. This may seem very strange, and difficult to square with the flow of Paul’s thought thus far. 
      2. The nature of the NT 
       a. Case studies or a sovereign God who knew what His people would face ahead of time
       b. If it’s just case studies which don’t relate directly to us, we don’t really need to figure out what’s going on in these passages. 
      3. Why is Paul suddenly discussing the relationship between the new covenant and the old covenant?
      4. I don’t think he has randomly changed the subject. He has been trying to refute the false apostles who have undermined his ministry in Corinth. And then suddenly he’s talking about how the new covenant is so much superior to the old covenant. 
      5. It seems that Paul is addressing the superiority of the new covenant because his opponents – though they acknowledge Christ – are promoting an old covenant framework. 
      6. So, by arguing about the superiority of the new covenant, Paul IS continuing his refutation of his opponents in the Corinthian church.
     B. Let’s talk more about these opponents of Paul in the Corinthian church. 
      1. We know they were Jewish from 2Cor.11:22 “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.”  
       a. But not just that, from this we also see that they were boastful in their Jewishness.
      2. This gives us a hint about who these men were. They were Jews who came to Corinth after Paul left and used their Jewishness to worm their way into positions of influence among the predominantly Gentile church. They were Judaizers, though slightly chastened by the decision of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), and with a slightly modified set of beliefs as a result.
     C. Who were the Judaizers?
      1. The word Judaizer comes from Judaism. It refers to a group of people in the first who tried to Judaize the Christian church. 
      2. At first, they tried to convince Gentile Christians that they needed to convert to Judaism in order to be a true Christian, going through circumcision and obeying all the laws of the Jews. Paul confronts their teaching in his epistle to the Galatians.
      3. Apparently, after the Council of Jerusalem, when the circumcision idea was condemned, the Judaizers didn’t go away. They seem to have given up on the circumcision idea, but they were still trying to pull the Christian faith into the context of Judaism. 
      4. Even though they let go of some of their most obvious heresies, Paul still considers them enemies of Christ, not friends. 2Cor.11:13 “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.”
      5. Our passage indicates that they were now filling the minds of the Corinthian believers with deceptive notions that Moses was really the main man, not Jesus, and that the central feature of the Christian life was the obligation to obey the law. 
     D. Let’s dig deeper into the thinking of the Judaizers, and where they went wrong. 
      1. Judaism was a very big deal to many devout Jews in the first century. Some thought Judaism was everything. They identified Israel with the God of Israel so closely that they couldn’t see that God was the big thing and Israel was just a nation which God had adopted. 
       a. The expected the messiah to restore Israel’s glory. But that’s not what happened when Jesus came.
        (1) He was like the sun rising in the morning, which suddenly makes the moon virtually insignificant. And so Judaism faded when Jesus 
       b. And it was very hard for them to think of Judaism being sidelined. 
       c. And so, some Jews accepted Jesus as the Jewish messiah, but still tried to cram Him into their thinking of who the messiah was supposed to be. 
       d. The Judaizers were Jews who believed that Jesus was the messiah, but they saw Him on a level with Moses and Abraham, etc.
      2. But side-lining Judaism is exactly what Jesus did. He was too big. 
       a. Isaiah 49:6 “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” 
       b. There was too much water of life to be contained in the river bed of Judaism. Like Noah’s flood, the whole world became His river bed.
       c. He was even much bigger than Abraham, the father of the Jews. 
       d. They asked him, “Who do you make yourself out to be? Are you greater than our father Abraham?” (John 8:53) To them, this was preposterous! 
        (1) John 8:58 “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
       e. The Christian faith exalted Jesus as the big thing, far outshining Abraham, and Moses and the law and even Judaism itself. Like John, all the OT greats were not worthy to untie His sandals.
       f. Jesus came to fulfill the old. But Jesus also came to exceed and supersede many aspects of the old.
       g. Christ was so much more than a piece added to complete the Jewish puzzle. He was “the building block that was rejected, which became the cornerstone of a whole new world.” (Paul Stookey) 
        (1) Psalm 118:22 “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
        (2) A cornerstone doesn’t finish a building, it begins one. 
      3. Christ is the glory of God. But they thought that Judaism – including Christ, of course – was the glory of God. 
       a. They kept trying to cram Jesus into Judaism, trying to make Christianity merely a form of, or a branch of Judaism. 
       b. They kept trying to get the Gentiles to conform to the practices and culture of the Jews in order to be saved or to enjoy Christian fellowship. 
       c. That’s why we call them Judaizers. They were adherents of Judaism who were trying to Judaize Christianity. Claiming to preach Christ, they preached a message in which Christ was fit into the context of Moses. But they were pouring new wine into old wineskins (Mark 2:21-22). They were sowing new patches onto old pieces of clothing, and it ripped the new patch (Luke 5:36).
      4. You see, the coming of Jesus was much more than just adding the messiah puzzle piece to a Jewish puzzle. It was too great just to be that. It was a new covenant, far greater than the covenant God made through Moses. 
     E. Paul goes on in our passage to refute some of their thinking, describing some of the ways the new covenant of Christ was vastly superior to the old covenant of Moses. 
      1. He makes three major points in comparing the old covenant with the new.
       a. The old covenant was primarily a covenant of letter, and as such was a ministry of death. The new covenant, on the other hand, is a covenant of the Spirit, and therefore a ministry of life.
       b. The new covenant has far more glory than the old ever had.
       c. The old has now lost its glory, and was originally designed to fade. The new covenant is permanent and eternal.
      2. We will take one week on each.
    III. Why is this so important?
     A. OT Christianity is still a problem today. Something about it very much appeals to our flesh.
      1. Most of Christianity in history has been OT Christianity. 
      2. It’s all about living up to the law. Or it’s all about the ceremonies.
      3. Satan’s number one focus is on the gospel — and how he can ruin it.
      4. We’ll talk more about this next week.
     B. Trying to fit Jesus into our little boxes of what’s important to us
      1. So, a lot of people try to cram Jesus into their thing, whatever their thing is. But He won’t fit. 
      2. Jesus does a lot of things well. But one thing He doesn’t do well is fit into our little boxes. 
      3. He came as Lord, and He will not relinquish His lordship. 
      4. Jesus outshines everything. He’s bigger than your family, your education, your career, your sexual orientation, your identity, your philosophy of life, your political point-of-view, 
      5. You can’t add Him in to your life. If He comes into your life, He come as Lord, to rule, to be preeminent, to be first. He doesn’t do well as second or third or fourth. 
      6. It’s not a matter of pride. Fitting Jesus into our box is like fitting a hurricane into a shoebox. 
      7. Man who couldn’t handle heaven without his marriage – He got it.
      8. And so they invent new Jesuses, smaller, more flexible, more adaptable Jesuses. 
       a. The Judaizers invented a Jesus who fit into the box of Judaism. So, they could have Jesus and also have their precious Judaism. 
      9. That’s why Paul says in 2Cor.11:4 that they “proclaim another Jesus.”