by Mark Frost –
We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing
glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
–2 Corinthians 3:18
The promise of the gospel message is transformation. That expectation is expressed biblically by words like regeneration, new birth, new creation, metamorphosis, new life and resurrection. Yet in many gatherings of Christians, it is hard to find much hard evidence of any kind of transformation; most of the data point instead toward “business as usual.”
The opening words of 2 Corinthians 3:18—“we all”—make it clear that the transformative process is not optional. It is not just for people who are “really messed up,” nor is it solely for new believers or people who are just “into church.” All genuine believers pursue transformation. All faithful church leaders pray for God to reshape their congregations into the image of Jesus.
While transformation is normal and expected for all Christians, we are not capable of producing it. Flesh can only beget flesh; the Spirit alone can bring new life. But we can and must cultivate the conditions under which the Spirit can best perform his work. The first of these, according to Paul, is “unveiled faces.” To understand his meaning, a little background is in order.
Earlier, Paul had said, “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.” (2 Corinthians 3:13) The reference is to a story in Exodus 34, where it is recorded that whenever Moses spoke with the Lord, his face would glow, and that afterward he would cover his radiant face with a veil. I had always assumed that he wore this veil because the Israelites couldn’t stand the brightness of his countenance. But the text doesn’t say that. In fact, it says that Moses would not veil his face immediately after leaving the Lord’s presence. Rather, he would speak the words of God to the people, his glowing face unveiled. Only then would he put on the veil, wearing it until he returned to God’s presence so that the glow could be restored.
Paul finds significance in this fact. He says that the veil was not to hide the brilliance of Moses’ face; rather it was to hide the fact that its intensity faded over time. A leader with a glowing face inspires confidence, but if the luster fades, doubts about his fitness will surely arise. Better to cover the face while it’s still glowing and let everyone assume that its brightness continues unabated! After the next mountain-top experience with God, it will be safe to take the veil off again—at least for a little while.
It’s easy to be open and authentic with each other when we’ve just returned from a mountain-top spiritual experience. It’s harder to do so when we’re enmeshed in the daily grind of life, struggling to remember and apply spiritual principles to complex challenges. That’s why so many of us tend to “veil up” as the radiance of our last spiritual high begins to fade. We hide our true selves under a façade of normalcy in hopes that others will assume all is well. Tragically, we can use that veil to hide ourselves from God as well. The mask that was intended to prevent others from seeing our weaknesses actually shields us from the transformative power of God, which alone can remedy those flaws.
Transformation is only possible when our faces are unveiled! This is certainly true of our individual imperfections: “You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there!” (Jeremiah 6:14, TLB) But I believe this is true for congregations as well. We tend to hide the realities that make us the most uncomfortable, that reflect most poorly on our leadership. But God can bring about no positive change until a church is willing to drop the mask and let reality shine through.
I have served several congregations where a church-wide anonymous survey has revealed serious and embarrassing shortcomings. Perhaps it showed that the church had lost an entire generation of members. Or that the leadership was perceived to be out of touch with the congregation. Or that the preaching was not challenging or inspiring anyone. The tendency of leaders in these churches is to hush up or whitewash the survey results. One elder told me, “If we let the people see this, they’ll be calling for our heads!”
I understand that fear, but it keeps churches from receiving the Spirit’s power to heal and bring new life. However, if we courageously face unpleasant realities, we will find a powerful resource available to us. Being unveiled may make us feel vulnerable and exposed, but it exposes us to the intimate presence of the Almighty God. There—and only there—is where the transforming power lies.
God open our eyes so that we may see ourselves and our churches as you see us. Let us see where change
needs to take place, even if it is painful to us. May we be courageous to stand vulnerable before you so that
we may receive the transforming power that you alone can give.