VS 1-3 Living Letters
Here Paul teaches an interesting lesson. It’s not letters of recommendation that qualify ministry: it’s the fruit you bear. The subject of commendation is frequent in 2 Corinthians. This passage reveals a sobering truth: the real success is revealed by the lives of those you minister to. Notice the progression that follows….
- You are our letter (of commendation)
- This letter is written on our (the minister’s) hearts, which is read by all
- Ultimately you are Christ’s letter also
- Written by us (since our ministry came from Him)
- This is written by the Spirit of God on human hearts
Paul will contrast the old and new covenants later in this chapter so his words “..not on stone tablets but on tablets that are hearts of flesh” was clearly precluding it. For examples and further study see Ex. 24:12; 31:18; 32:15; 34:1; Deut. 9:10 & Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26
VS 4-6 True competence in ministry
Because of the great harvest and growth the Corinthians have shown this gave deep satisfaction to the Apostle. He realized, as we should, that our competence comes from God. It does not come from men.
Edward Sheldon said “God will look you over, not for medals or degrees, but for scars.“
As much as human preparation is important it is God who wins the battle. He should be given the praise and credit.
Notice the wisdom of God in VS 6. There is purpose in God’s commendation. We are ministers of the New Covenant, it is of the Spirit, who gives life. Any less is insufficient at best and damaging at worst.
VS 7-18 Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom
The lesson here is learned in contrasts, the new and the old covenant. A covenant was an agreement or contract between two parties (or families) which could only be broken in death. There were often meals involved. Paul will use words here that must have shocked to his original audience: “Ministry of death” & “ministry of condemnation” in reference to the old covenant. He uses titles such as these to show what the purpose of the old covenant really was. It was a guardian until the time of Christ. The law can diagnose sin but cannot remove it. The law says “you are wrong” and “you must pay.” For an extended passage on the purpose of the law see Galatians 3:19-26.
There is no doubt, the law is good, it is not evil. This is made abundantly clear in Romans 7:7-8.
The new covenant brings life because Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice to God for the sins of all mankind. The new covenant is described here as the “ministry of the Spirit” and “ministry of righteousness.” God’s wrath against sin was forever satisfied in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. After the resurrection Jesus sent the Spirit to empower us to be His witnesses and through us reconcile the world to God the Father. We see in VS 12 that such hope gives us boldness. What great news!!
The new covenant is what is in effect now, the old covenant has been completed and fulfilled in Christ.
Because the term covenant cannot be thoroughly discussed here and because of the need of further study I highly recommend a book by Malcom Smith entitled The Power of the Blood Covenant. Go here for the book on Amazon: http://amzn.com/1577948165 It’s also available as a Kindle edition: http://amzn.com/B00486U462 It is also available for the Nook: http://bit.ly/nHb1Nl
Paul uses a well-known story about Moses as an example. You can read the account it Exodus 34:29-35.
Moses experienced the glory of the old covenant and his face glowed bright! It was so bright that no one could look at him. This caused him to put a veil over his face until the glory faded. The radiance of Moses’ face resulted from him spending 40 days and nights on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. It is interesting if you visit the text in Exodus to find that the people were afraid to look at Moses and when Moses talked with Yahweh he removed the veil.
If the old covenant was glorious how much more glorious is the new? It does NOT fade away. Here we learn that the old covenant is not glorious today at all
The veil had a spiritual lesson. It represents the blinding of the non-Christian. When the law is read they are blinded from the truth. Man-made arguments and reasoning will not remove the veil. Spiritually the veil lies over their hearts. In Moses’ day it was over their minds (VS 14.) We see here one must open their heart to God. Paul in clear…”because it is set aside [only] in Christ….whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” VS 14b & 16b. Jesus Christ, who ushers in the New Covenant, takes away the veil which blinds.
In VS 17 we read a well-loved verse: “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” This is often quoted in the context of the freedom the Lord allows during worship services. While that may be true that is not the context here. Paul is strategically using the word freedom to highlight what belongs to the Christian in the new covenant. This is in contrast to the veil which is blind to salvation. When we come to Christ we now have liberty not bondage!
VS 18 says “We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” We together (as Christians) fully behold the glory of the Lord (in the Spirit) and reflect that same glory (still united together as the church) and are being transformed into the image of the Lord (God’s original plan when creating man – Genesis 1:26-27) from glory to glory (ascending or progressive in glory.) All this is from the Lord, the Lord is the Spirit.
What does 2 Corinthians 3 teach for us today?….
- God qualifies us
- Real success is faithfulness to God in the fruit we produce
- Look fully to and participate in God’s glory. This is found in Christ alone.
Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture is taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible ® Copyright © 2003, 2002, 2000, 1999 by Holman Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.