Archive for the ‘1 & 2 Corinthians’ Category

The powerful leaders of the world showcase their power by creating big armies, standing behind huge projects and big military investments. One, because they can and also because they’d love everyone else to see what they are capable of. But I think there’s something else that tells them they need to showcase how powerful they are. Perhaps it’s the reality of how fleeting power actually is and the need to enjoy it while it lasts. The big man needs people to see their might and in truth we are all drawn by a true showcase of power. We feel safe with a leader who’s strong and are reassured when we see his big army match infront. Human strength is measured by what we see and the methods at play. Power and wisdom is the true mark of human strength. At times you can even pretend to be powerful if you have the right gadgets. But those who are truly powerful don’t need to always showcase their power.

Our God is truly powerful, he made the heavens and the earth by a word and everything operates by his will. He doesn’t need to lift a finger to make things happen. But when it’s been appropriate to do so he’s proved to be able move mountains, to stop giants and change the course of history. The Bible story tells of a powerful God working for a weak people in impossible situations to save them for himself. So he doesn’t need to showcase his power everytime we demand it. Instead he usually shows his power not by a great show of might but mostly through seemingly weak methods. Here are 3 most powerful methods he uses which from a human eye looks so weak and ineffecctive: the cross, the Gospel and prayer.

The Cross
Think about the cross of Jesus. Nothing shows more weakness than the son of God dying on a wooden cross like a criminal. Actually that’s like the worst thing that can happen to someone who claims to be God’s son and the Lord of the world. Which powerful leader of the world would let his son suffer let alone die if they could rescue them? Humanly speaking you’d doubt the power of this God to help you if he couldn’t save his own child when he needed him most. But the Bible tells us it’s through this weakness that our salvation was born. God used weakness to showcase his greatest power and might at the cross. The power to deal with sin, to defeat Satan, the world and death. At the very center of the story of redemption, the very heart of human history is the weak sign of the cross.

But when it looked most weak, Jesus paid the ransom for our sins and won our eternal salvation. At the cross of Jesus we see God’s power most manifested. In Christ, a man deserted, denied and betrayed by his own is our victory won. At his death our penalty of sin is paid fully. And by his resurrection we are given hope for eternal life as Christ emerges as the firstborn in the new everlasting life. God used what looked so humanly weak for the most powerful act in history. He didn’t bulldoze his way but in weakness he did what seemed impossible. He didn’t call down angels to come showcase his might and force his way. Instead, he sent a man born in weakness to achieve the greatest act of redemption. The weak sign of the cross is the signature of the powerful God of the universe and the message we proclaim.

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1 NIV.

The Gospel
If you wanted the world to trust in your power and truly fear you you’d never go the Gospel way. I mean what would a bunch of weak disciples who’ve proved to fail so many times accomplish? Jesus wasn’t only entrusting the most important mission of the world to sinful men, he entrusted it to the most unlikely candidates. You ask any expert and that’s a mission bound to fail from the word go. And yet he continues to do so today using preachers and Gospel workers most of whom are uneducated, unqualified, weak and sinful. Why? Because they are just vessels for his life-changing message. It’s him and his word that does the work not them.

When this seemingly weak message takes hold of men it makes them do the impossible. Nothing changes people like the Gospel. Just look at the story of the 12 and see what God did through their witness of the Gospel. Through this message God is winning the world to himself and he’s been doing so all through history. It doesn’t always feel like it’s achieving much, sometimes we actually try to change and re-adapt it but when clearly taught the Gospel does the impossible. God works in unlikely ways, through weak unlikely people with a message that causes more offence than admiration to rescue humanity. I mean it’s a miracle that anyone would be willing to give up everything for the Gospel. But the Gospel captures, captivates and transforms unlikely people to believe and do unlikely things for God. Because the Gospel is God’s power and God at work. 

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.

Romans 1 NIV.

One of the main reasons why we struggle so much with prayer is because humanly speaking it’s a very weak strategy. Here I am facing an impossible situation and someone has the audacity to say pray about it? Your friend is ailing in hospital and all you can do is pray? Here’s a deal of a lifetime and first thing you want to do is pray? It doesn’t even sound like a strategy it speaks more of lacking in options and of last resort. And yet there’s nothing more powerful for a believer than to commit themselves in the hands of the Almighty. The history of faith shows God working by prayer to achieve great milestones for the Gospel and intervening in impossible situations for his people.

When God’s people pray they are not saying we have no other option. Actually it’s by prayer that we open our options and access real help from our very able Father. Prayer says I can’t do it but I trust in the one who’s not only able but is available and willing to help us. Praying is calling in the big guns to come to our aid in a war we would otherwise never win on our own. Though seemingly weak, believers have never been able to achieve anything without prayer because without God we can do nothing. Any real Gospel progress has been born of God working through weak people by weak methods like the Gospel and prayer. That’s why we should commit fully to the ministry of the cross, the work of the Gospel by the power of prayer. Because the ministry of word and prayer is the power of God at work. 

1 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. 2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

Psalms 116 NIV.

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Well according to Paul – 2 Corinthians 4:

  1. Careful – we do not distort the Word of God (v2)
  2. Clear – setting forth the truth plainly (v2)
  3. Cutting – we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience (v2)
  4. Christ-centred – we preach Jesus Christ (v5)
  5. Compassionate – ourselves as your servants (v5)

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JPiper: I stand vigilantly on the precipice of eternity speaking 2 people who this wk could go over the edge whether they are ready 2 or not

NewtonG: We don’t go 2 get but 2 serve. We don’t go in our smartness, intellect or in the flesh, we go bowed down, by God’s grace. Love them

Luther: The chief article & foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept & recognize him as a gift.

God can use a crooked stick to draw a straight line. #LutherAgain

PstAnthonyBones: By the grace of God I am what I am.

Anthony Bones

And some more notes:

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There was a fierce debate in the 16th century about whether or not Jesus was really present in the bread and wine given in Holy Communion. Leaving that to one side, where do we expect Jesus to be specially present today? Where are we confident that we will meet him?

Four suggestions:

1. Real presence in preaching. A few examples: The elders of Israel are to go and say to Pharaoh, “The LORD… has met with us” (Exodus 3:18) – He had actually only met with Moses but as Moses preached the wonderful words of the LORD to the elders (Exodus 3:16-17) in that gospel preaching event they did truly meet with the LORD. In the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel, as Peter Adam shows, we find that we encounter Jesus not so much in the empty tomb or in mystical experience or in the Lord’s Supper but in the Scriptures – and specifically the Scriptures opened and exposed as all about Christ – that is when we experience the best sort of heart burn (Luke 24:32). In Colossians Paul describes his preaching – “Him we proclaim” (Col. 1:24-2:5) and then he continues, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…” (Col. 2:6). The implication is that it was in Paul’s preaching of Christ they received Christ. Paul’s preaching of Christ was, as Wesley and Whitfield later put it, ‘offering them Christ’ , holding out the bread of life and saying, ‘Have Him’.

2. Real presence in mission and suffering. There is the great mission promise of Matthew 28:20 and there is the less often celebrated Philippians 3:10 – Paul’s desire to share/participate/fellowship/commune in Christ’s sufferings. And often these two come together – suffering in mission. I am always moved by reading the accounts of 19th century missionary John Paton’s suffering on the island of Tanna and especially the way that he records having the sweetest communion with Christ precisely when he was in the deepest trials and greatest danger (read page 7 of Lessons from the life of John Paton). Then I received this in a prayer letter from our friend Newton Gatambia, on mission in the UK (shared with permission):

When our Lord Jesus gives the great commission to his disciples he makes a promise to be with them/us till the end of ages. To some this may sound like a mere saying or even an incentive to motivate the disciples to ensure they take on the great commission; however this to me has been the unbreakable hook where all my hope has continually been firmly pegged, the pillar upon which all my trust has been anchored. Amidst a so fast changing youth and children culture in the West it takes more than passion to serve the Lord among this young people, it takes more than experience, it takes more than one availing themselves for the work. It indeed has wholly drawn from the faith on the promise that the Lord is indeed with me every single hour of this journey. At the time of blossoming joy and smooth sailing it is easy to not realize the existence or the significance of such a promise yet at the point of sorrow and dismay, at the point of fear and doubt there is nothing else left for us but this true assurance that the Lord is with us till the end of ages.

3. Real presence in the Church as court. As many have noted the promise of Matthew 18:19 – “where two or three are gathered in my name…” is in the context of church discipline, evidence, witnesses, judgement. The same thing seems to be going on in 1 Cor. 5 (“gathered in the name” – v4). Church discipline is not in the same category as a workplace disciplinary procedure – the Judge of the Universe is present in the courtroom.

4. Real presence in respect to our personal sin. This is perhaps the most difficult one. We don’t in any way want to say that Jesus ever sins or is comfortable with our sinning or is in any way responsible for or complicit with our sins. He is the perfect high priest, ‘holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens’ (Heb. 7:26). But the implication of 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 seems to be that, while Christ is separated from sinners in respect to his office and nature, he is genuinely united with justified sinners in a one flesh, one spirit union, even when we are sinning with our bodies. Glen Scrivener shows how this is the strongest possible motivation to cease sin and do good:

Paul writes to Corinthians visiting brothels and what does he say? Does he say, “Stop it, Jesus remains outside the brothel, arms-folded waiting for a very good display of contrition before He’ll even consider forgiving this“?  No, he says to the Corinthians “Stop it, you’re taking Jesus into the brothel with you!” (1 Corinthians 6:15-17)  And you say, “How horrible!”  Well exactly.  So don’t do it.  But don’t give up fornicating because Jesus isn’t with you all the way.  Stop it because He is. (post: Why be good?)

When did Peter crumple in repentance? Luke 22:60-62: when he suddenly realised that his Lord was present, when he locked eyes with his bruised Saviour in the very moment of his denial.


More on presence:

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This is an attempt to start to answer the comments of our friend Oral Roberts to a recent post based on 2 Corinthians 8:9. It was a lengthy comment raising lots of important issues so it’ll need a few posts to respond. And please – other brothers and sisters do come in on the debate and comment below.

I wonder why we glorify poverty and condemn prosperity. Are we living in the real world? How is God glorified when a family has not had a meal for a whole day? While the scripture says “I HAVE BEEN YOUNG AND NOW I AM OLD, YET I HAVE NOT SEEN THE RIGHTEOUS FORSAKEN NOR THEIR CHILDREN BEGGING BREAD”.

  1. There is certainly no reason to glorify poverty in itself. In fact one of the points of the argument I was making in relation to 2 Cor. 8:9 is that someone being materially poor is not in itself of any benefit to anyone; there is nothing intrinsically good or worthy or glorious about poverty that can save people. Ironically, it is the prosperity preachers who want to use this verse to argue that Jesus has come to make us materially rich who must imply that there is something glorious and powerful in (Jesus’) material poverty. I was arguing that the verse is probably not about physical riches or poverty but about the glory of the willingly-chosen, vicarious spiritual/relational poverty of the Cross and the undeserved riches of sonship.
  2. The call to live in the real world is a very helpful reminder though. How do we face the daily realities of grinding poverty and appalling abuse and vast inequality? And what does the gospel mean in the everyday concerns of life? Oral says a lot more on this further on in his comment so we’ll save commenting on this for another post.
  3. How is God glorified? The rhetorical question implies only one answer but – and this is a hard thing to say – we need to be careful before assuming we know what will or will not glorify God. This is a God who was glorified as he hung on a cross, battered, bleeding, naked and dying. His definition of glory may be a million miles from ours. It would be a good exercise to go through the letter of 1 Peter and see what brings glory to God.
  4. What about the quote from Psalm 37:25? Well there are a number of ways to respond to that:
    • For one thing it is, strictly speaking, an observation, not a promise: “I have seen…” It is anecdotal, experience, not a full survey of the world population through all time. Solomon, when he looks at the world, finds something very different (e.g. Eccl. 7:15; 8:14), so do the Sons of Korah (Psalm 44:9-26), so does Job (e.g. Job 21:7-21), so does the author of Hebrews (Heb. 11:35-38), the Apostle Paul is familiar with hunger (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27; Phil. 4:12) and then you have the supreme exception Jesus The Righteous One crying out in forsakenness.
    • We also need to be careful to read all Scripture together, particularly when it comes to the three great poetic books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job. They speak with very different voices but we need to hear all of them and the conversations between them. Many of us were very struck recently as we went through the book of Job how Job’s ‘comforters’ throw at him stuff like “Consider now: Who being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7). (Will Keynes, My Psalm Has Turned Into Weeping shows how Job’s friends allude to and (mis)quote the Psalms). One of the dangers is that if we throw around verses like Psalm 37:25, one day it could hit someone in a situation like Job, righteous and abandoned, children not just begging but dead, and on that day it would have the very opposite effect to comfort.
    • And another thing is to notice that Psalm 37 seems very tied into the Old Covenant. The ‘land’ is mentioned no less than 7 times. So it’s impossible to apply directly to us. The blessings and curses (v22) seem to be tied into Deut. 28. The Psalmist has never ‘seen’ the righteous forsaken because under the Old Covenant there were very visible evidences of God’s presence and favour – dwelling in the land, good harvests, large families, lending and never begging. In the new covenant blessedness seems to be defined not so much in terms of these tangibles but in terms of fellowship with Christ  in his suffering now and in his glories later (again see 1 Peter). The great comfort is indeed that, one with the Son, we will never be forsaken, even though it might often look like we are.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

…as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Cor. 6:9-10)

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My attention has been captured recently by a theme that I’d not noticed much before but I’m now seeing all over Scripture.

  • Gen. 1:2 – ‘the face of the waters’
  • Gen. 1:9-13 – the third day – the separation of the waters and the dry land – interestingly this is the longest day account with the exception of day 6 (which corresponds to day 3)
  • Gen. 6-8 – the great global judgement is the reversal of Day 3, the elimination of dry land and a return to waters covering the whole face of the earth; the flood ending with the long awaited appearance of dry ground
  • Ex. 14 – in a great sovereign salvation-judgement event the LORD divides sea from dry land (‘dry land’ repeated 4 times) while the Egyptians are destroyed by the sea returning to cover the dry land (this Ex. 14 event later echoed in the days of Joshua and Elijah/Elisha)
  • Job 38 – most of the chapter concerns the limiting of the boundaries of the waters (cf. similarly Ps. 33:7; 104:5-11; Jer. 5:22)
  • Jonah 2 – the prophet is cast into the flood waters and then on the third day cast onto ‘dry land’
  • Matt. 8:21-27; 12:39-41; 16:4 – Jesus is the true and better Jonah who will rise on the third day
  • Matt. 25:37-41 – the final judgement is going to be like the flood of Noah’s day
  • Mark 10:38 – Jesus is going to be ‘baptized’ submerged, like Jonah and like Noah’s generation, under the flood waters of judgement
  • 1 Cor. 15:4 – ‘raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures’ – possibly alluding to ‘The Third Day’, the day when the dry land (salvation) appeared?
  • 1 Peter 3:20-21 – linking the flood and ark to baptism and the resurrection of Jesus
  • 2 Peter 3 – linking the coming of Christ to the initial waters (Gen. 1:2) and the flood (Gen. 6-8)

So when we start to see the waters transgressing their boundaries and covering the land we should think ‘Judgement’ and run to the solid rock, the ark, the dry ground of Christ.

solid rock


[And for a discussion-provoking reflection on recent flooding in the UK see here.]

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Thanks for all those who prayed for this conference a couple of weeks ago. Great to see 143 students from all over Uganda with noses in the Bible, hungry to learn and grow. I’ve reflected it on it a bit elsewhere and there’s an Evangelicals Now article coming out from the organisers soon. But just a couple of quick thoughts and then some pics (from Chris Howles).

  1. There are things of first importance and things of secondary importance. This struck me between the eyes from 1 Cor. 15:3. There’s a place for discussing our differing understandings of tongues & prophecy or head coverings or creation or baptism – they are important things – but these are not of ‘first importance’. It was great to see various different organisations working together at LWU and students and lecturers from different backgrounds and denominations coming together at the conference around the Word and Christ and the Gospel of the Cross. On the flip side it was sobering to think that if we leave the gospel out of our preaching and pastoring then we have left out the most important thing.
  2. Small group work is tremendously valuable. It might not be as high profile as talking to hundreds in one go but much of the real work of the conference went on in the small groups at the end of each day, 5 or so students and a facilitator, looking at the Bible together, asking each other questions, seeking the Truth. The testimony of many students was that this was the first time they had been in a genuinely small group (uni small groups often being 15-30) able to genuinely interact with the Word and each other and go at the right pace for everyone.

praise at LWU

ABU chapel

meal times

small group leaders meeting


resources at LW

LWU Small group leaders

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What does Paul mean in 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 when he talks of how God “through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere, for we are the aroma of Christ”?

Sometimes we pray that there would be the ‘aroma of Christ’ in a home or a city. Perhaps we hope that through our presence around non-Christians, without having to say a word, they would pick up something of the ‘fragrance of Jesus’. What are we talking about? What does Jesus smell like? A flowery meadow? I guess – if we were pushed – we might say we’re talking about ‘life-style evangelism’, about ‘preach the gospel and if necessary use words’, about ‘being Christ to people’, about ‘living such good lives that people would see something of God in us’.

But is that what 2 Cor. 2:14-15 is about? What’s the context? (Sorry it’s the C-word again!)

When I came to Troas to preach the gospel… (v12)

Who is sufficient to these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (v16-17)

And in between those two brackets, what does it say this fragrance is all about? “…the knowledge of him” (v14). And what are the reactions to this fragrance? Interestingly it is not that everyone is attracted by the wonderful flowery scent:

to one [perishing] a fragrance from death to death, to the other [being saved] a fragrance from life to life. (v16)

Haven’t we heard that somewhere before?

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:18)

So now I’m starting to think (and I find that the old commentators got there hundreds of years before me) that Paul is just using a very powerful metaphor to talk of his preaching of the Cross in terms of smell. To some, Christ-centred preaching will stink. To others it will be like heaven itself has been opened and they catch the fragrant wafts of Eden, of the Banquet and of the Beloved (SoS 1:12-13; 2:4,12-13; 3:6; 5;13; 7:12-13).

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In Galatia, Colossae, Philippi and Ephesus there were outright attacks on the gospel. But in Corinth something more subtle was going on. Something that, like almost every verse of 1 Corinthians, feels bitingly contemporary.

In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Calvin notices that, despite it being a long letter,

there is not a single word about corrupt teaching. I am therefore quite sure that they did not openly detract from the substance of the gospel in any respect; but since they were burning with a misguided and passionate desire for prominence, I think they devised a new method of teaching, that was not consistent with the simplicity of Christ; and they hoped that it would make them the objects of people’s admiration.

Since the Corinthians had a liking for teaching that was clever rather than beneficial, they had no relish for the gospel. Since they were eager for new things, Christ was already out of date for them.

…the teaching of Christ [was] painted a different colour [to put it] on a level with world philosophy… In order to suit the Corinthians’ taste, they added seasoning to their teaching, with the result that the true flavour of the gospel was ruined.

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Here’s another great excerpt from research Getrude Namapiion worship by alumnus Getrude Namapii:


The old covenant

In Exodus 24:1-2 only Moses could approach the Lord at the top of the mountain, the other men were to worship from a distance. Moses had to sprinkle to blood of the covenant to the people first then he was lost in the presence of God for forty days. The scene is described as overwhelming!

The worship structure, designed in accordance with the instructions given to Moses by God (Ex. 25):

  • Had a lamp stand to signify the source of light – Jesus is the light of the world
  • A gold table in the Holy place upon which was placed the consecrated bread – Jesus is the bread of life
  • Golden altar of incense in the Most Holy place for burning sacrifices – Jesus intercedes for us, our advocate
  • Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy place which signified the presence of God – Jesus is Immanuel God with us


Entry to the tabernacle was highly restricted! Under the Aaronic priesthood, only the family of the Levites had the right to serve as priests in the tabernacle. They could enter the Holy place to carry out their priestly duties. The Most Holy place was hidden behind a curtain, entered only by the High priest once a year on the Day of Atonement with blood of special animals which he offered for himself and for the sins of the people.   Ordinary people thus had no access to God’s presence even after they had been sprinkled with blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of heifers. The other challenge to this covenant was that the priests were mortal thus death prevented them from continuing in office forever. (Heb. 7:23)

The Holy Spirit was showing that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle stood.

CurtainWhen Christ came as High Priest, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made. He entered with His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. He is Holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners and exalted above the heavens. Unlike other high priests, He sacrificed for their sins once and for all since He does not need to offer His own sin offering. Jesus offered Himself to die on the cross in our place – we who were dead in sin, that we may be alive in Him. As the writer of Hebrews asks in Heb. 9:14, how much more the blood of Christ Jesus, who through eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanses our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!  Through His death, we have access to the Most Holy place since the curtain that hid the presence of God from us was torn in to two (Mark 15:38). He is the fulfillment of the structure that had been shown to Moses: the Light of the world, the bread of life, our intercessor, and Immanuel God with us! Moreover, since Jesus rose from the dead and lives forever, His priesthood is everlasting.  For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant which God promised according to Heb. 8:10-12. It is a relational covenant of love to all those who are called to receive eternal inheritance. This is our identity in Christ as children of God: a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light! Glory be to God forever, amen.

In the light of these Gospel facts, we realize that Jesus alone can lead us into God’s presence and cause us to worship God. Our question stands; then what is the role of the ‘worship team’? In most common cases we have heard it said that the worship team lead people into the presence of God…this is not true. We are all men, and we need Christ to help us worship God. No one is perfect, no not one that he may lead others to God. Jn. 14:6 reminds us the words of Jesus: I am the way, the truth and life; no one comes to the Father except by me.

We are ministers of the new covenant. In view of God’s love to us by calling us to His eternal inheritance, we are confident through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God (2 Cor. 3:4-5). He has made us ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord Jesus has granted us freedom. This was so by removing the veil from our faces so that we may reflect the Lord’s glory. This is real worship, as we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, with ever increasing glory which comes from our Lord.

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