In my previous post we saw that at the heart of the new covenant is God revealing the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and through the Good News about him. Christians are being touched by, overwhelmed by, absorbed and obsessed by the glory of God. Remember the majestic glory in the Old Testament - seen in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night and the shekeinah in the Tabernacle and Temple that was so great that Isaiah was completely unmanned by it and the whole building shook? John says "that was Jesus' glory that Isaiah saw" (John 12:41).
This starts to make sense of Paul's statement in 2:14 that God spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ through Paul (and, by extension, others) who are recipients of this revelation. We are captured and captivated by glory. The message we bring is the message of his glory. The way that we bring it is tinged with and smells of his glory. In v17 he describes himself and his colleagues thus:
as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ
Therefore he expects that as he preaches the message of God, his hearers are going to get touched and transformed by the Holy Spirit. The message is, in a real sense, alive with glory. It transforms because God comes in power through it and touches people as they hear. This new covenant message is described variously as:
- being written on the heart by the Spirit 3:3
- being the means by which the Spirit gives life 3:6
- being much more glorious than the glory of the Old Covenant 3:8
- bringing freedom to know God without any veil separating us from him 3:17
- bringing the ability to behold God's glory which transforms us into the same image, with ever increasing glory 3:18
All of this, Paul concludes, comes "from the Lord who is the Spirit."
That is what is happening when real biblical preaching is going on. It is supernatural, it is divinely empowered. It is redolent of glory and used by God to actually reveal and touch people with his glory right there and then. Not abstractly in some kind of vague theological sense, but really. People meet God and are changed.
Let me go out on a bit of a limb. I think I - and many of my preaching friends - regularly don't expect evidently supernatural activity to accompany preaching. Or, if we do, we expect it to be at the level of conviction and conversion that is mostly within the category of changing people's minds. We can be content when they have understood and appreciated the facts that we have put before them from the text. We can have a low level of expectation of it driving people to delighted worship, thanksgiving and adoration, falling down in homage or changing their lives because they have been assaulted by glory. And a similarly low level of expectation of God doing miracles to accompany the preaching (except in externally invisible conviction and conversion).
Paul didn't. When he preached in the power of the Holy Spirit he expected (according to Romans 15):
- the Gentiles to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit v16
- Christ to accomplish the task of bring people into obedience to God v18
- the preaching word to be accompanied by deeds, signs and wonders and by the evident power of the Holy Spirit v19
All of which he describes as "fulfilling the ministry of the gospel of Christ." And then he says he wants to go on to preach Christ where he isn't yet known, which preaching is presumably going to be marked by the same things.
Any preaching friends reading this: let's have a holy dissatisfaction if we have fallen into the trap of thinking that because we don't see a great deal of supernatural accompanyment to our preaching at the moment that therefore we shouldn't or that God doesn't do that today. Let's not justify our powerlessness on the grounds that we shouldn't expect God's power to be at work. Let's get on our knees - fall on our faces even - and beseech him. So that, like Paul, our preaching of the glorious new covenant in the Spirit might come:
not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thes. 1:5)