Americans like mirrors. We check that we’re presentable, admire our perceived good-looks, bemoan our perceived ugliness, talk to ourselves, and gets sadder from there. In America’s obsession with self, you could say we worship at them like altars! In 2Corinthians recently, I noticed Paul the Apostle looks at a new kind of mirror than what we’re used to.
You see, in the ancient days of Israel God spoke to Moses “as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33.11). Exodus 34 records that when Moses would return from speaking with God, “the skin on his face shone.” The people were afraid at this (understandably, I would be too). Therefore, Moses put a veil (think Middle-Eastern head-covering, not some flimsy linen thing) over his face whenever he returned to the people from having the Law revealed to him from God.
In 2Corinthians 3, Paul draws on this story to say that if the Law, though not able to give salvation still “came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” (3.7-8). The glory of Christ being the Savior that frees us from the Law by faith in Him, and His Spirit coming to empower believers, was the message of Paul and his missionary associates.
Paul was a successful man in the world before he became a Christian and Apostle. Being of a more upper class, he had access to reflective mirrors (unlike the poor) and probably saw a stately figure looking back at him. But nice mirors and all his other wealth left him when he became a Messenger of Jesus. Despite beatings, hunger, thirst, imprisonment, riots, and a host of other nasty experiences they yet had “great boldness in speech” to speak about Christ (3.12). How did he give it all away, going from the comforts and prestige of being a successful Pharisee to become “the dregs of the earth”? How did Paul and his missionary associates trade their health and looks for starvation and scars all over their bodies from the beatings? How did they get over themselves? Verse 18 reveals an answer:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
When you look at a regular mirror, you see yourself. But when you look at the truths and experience of God’s glory in His grace, mercy and holiness, you see all that Jesus is. And when one stares at this kind of mirror, the mirror called Christ, he or she begins to be transformed into what they see. Instead of transforming yourself by looking at yourself more, you look at Christ and Christ transforms you.
For these missionaries, their modus operandi was to behold the glory of their Lord Jesus Christ. The missionary’s inner well-being and action doesn’t form from doing nice things for poor people, although that is good – it is gazing intently at the glory of Christ, directing ourselves toward seeing, experiencing, and knowing God. If we want to be changed into better, more Christ-like people and to do effective missions, we look to Christ first – not to ourselves, nor to other people, or other ideologies. As the Scandanavian missionary Frederick Franson’s motto went, a missionary must have “constant, conscious communion with God.”
And of course, this applies to all Christians. In the book of Romans, Paul expounds eloquently on the grace and holiness of God for 11 chapters. When he finishes at chapter 12, he stops and says “Therefore, I beseech you . . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12.1-2). Then goes on to 5 chapters of the actual actions fitting for those saved by God’s grace. We renew our minds by setting our minds on the glories of the grace, mercy, and holiness of God. Yet too often we are looking in the wrong mirror. Tired of the evil you find in you? Desire to be loving, joyful, forgiving, not bitter, not unhappy, not quarrelsome, etc., etc.? And the most longing desire – to get to know God Himself? Let’s stop looking at the shattered mirror of ourselves and gaze at the glory of God in the face of Christ. And the more we look, the more we become like the glory we see.