Paul’s Service: Delivering a Glorious Message
God makes us adequate (II Corinthians 3:5-6)
Paul’s accomplishments were not due to his abilities (II Peter 1:21). By himself, he was insufficient for the task given to him. Only because of God was he made equal to the task (John 15:5; I Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:13). These statements are in answer to the question Paul asked back in II Corinthians 2:16.
The apostles were servants of a new covenant. By using the word “new,” it implies that the former is old and to be replaced (Hebrews 8:13). Paul uses two sets of terms to contrast the Old Testament with the New Testament. The “letter” is a reference to the Old Testament (II Corinthians 3:14). It is also called “the ministry of death” (II Corinthians 3:7) and the “ministry of condemnation” (II Corinthians 3:9). The “spirit” refers to the New Testament. It is called the “ministry of the new covenant” (II Corinthians 3:6), the “ministry of the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:8), and the “ministry of righteousness” (II Corinthians 3:9). Paul and the other apostles were not ministers of the Old Testament but of the New Testament.
The contrast is between the two covenants, not between the methods of interpreting law, as some attempt to say. “Letter” well describes the Old Testament because it was introduced to men by being engraved on stone (Exodus 31:18). “Spirit” well describes the New Testament because it was introduced by Holy Spirit coming upon the apostles (Acts 2:1-4). It was written on the hearts of men (II Corinthians 3:3).
The Old Testament, the “letter,” kills because it taught about sin and condemned the sinner (Romans 7:9-14). Sin is the breaking of law (I John 3:4). Yet no one, barring Jesus, is able to live without violating the law (Romans 3:23).
The New Testament, the “spirit,” brings life because it teaches the way to salvation (John 6:63; Romans 1:16). It frees us from the death the Old Testament forced us to face (Romans 8:2; I Peter 3:18).
The Old Testament was glorious, but the New Testament is more glorious (II Corinthians 3:7-11)
Paul calls the Old Testament the “ministry of death” in contrast to the New Testament being called the “ministry of the Spirit.” “Death” because the Law kills, as we saw before; not absolutely, but it creates a trend toward death – it served the cause of death.
It is clear that Paul is talking about the Law of Moses because he mentioned that it was written and engraved on stones. This upsets a number of people because they want to separate the Ten Commandments from the rest of the Law. But it was the Ten Commandment section of the Law which was engraved on stones (Exodus 34:28). The Ten Commandments were not distinct from the Old Law but represented the whole of that Law, being a summary of the Law.
Though the Law served death, it was a glorious law; after all, it came from the hand of God (Deuteronomy 4:8). The glory was seen in the glowing of Moses’ face (Exodus 34:29-35), but it was a glory that faded over time, just as the Old Law was passing away (Hebrews 8:13).
In comparison, the New Law must be all that more glorious because it is a law that serves the Spirit and the Spirit brings life. If the Old Law, called the “ministry of condemnation” had glory, then the New Law, called the “ministry of righteousness,” must exceed it. The word “righteous” translates the Greek word dikaiosune, which combines the idea of being judged righteous, equity, and justice (Romans 4:22-25). Thus, it is a contrast to “condemnation,” which is from the Greek word katakrisis, which literally means a judgment against a person (Romans 8:1-4). The New Law is so much more glorious that it makes the Old Law appear to have no glory at all (Romans 5:20-21).
- II Corinthians 3:12 starts with a conclusion that since we have such hope ... Hope in what?
Bold to look and be transformed (II Corinthians 3:12-18)
Because we have the hope of life, living under the New Law, Paul and the rest could talk frankly or bluntly about the Gospel (II Corinthians 2:17; 4:2). This is in contrast to Moses who wore a veil (Exodus 34:33-35). Moses spoke without a veil, but when he was done he veiled himself so the people would not see the glory in his face fade. Paul uses this to represent the fact that the Jews refused to see the end of the Law, so the Law is read with a veil (blinders) on. But in Christ, the veil is lifted (Romans 10:14; Galatians 3:23).
The fault wasn’t in the law, but in the people who refused to see. Such characterized the Jews (Isaiah 6:10; Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2; Acts 28:26-27; Romans 11:8). Though Paul wrote this decades after the ending of the Old Law, the Jews still would not see the truth (John 8:43). It remains veiled until the person turns to Christ. It is possible that Paul is alluding to Isaiah 25:7.
It is Jesus who is the Spirit of the New Law (Romans 8:2; I Corinthians 15:45; Revelation 19:10). Where he is, that is in the hearts of his followers (II Corinthians 3:3; Romans 8:9-11; Galatians 4:6), there is liberty (John 8:36).
Unlike the Jews, Christians are able to look with unveiled faces and see the glory of Jesus reflected in the pages of the New Testament (I Corinthians 13:12). Because of that, we are transformed by what we see into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; Psalms 17:15), from something glorious into something more glorious (Psalms 84:7; James 1:23-25; Philippians 3:21). It is a step-by-step change in degree (Ephesians 4:13).
- What kind of liberty do you think Paul was referring to in II Corinthians 3:17?
Some will not look (II Corinthians 4:1-6)
Because the apostles and other preachers have been assigned the duty of delivering this glorious message (II Corinthians 3:6, 8-11), they do not become discouraged when that message is rejected. The privilege of delivering this message was seen as a mercy from God (I Timothy 1:11-13; I Corinthians 7:25). God has often called upon his prophets to deliver His message with courage (Jeremiah 1:8,17-19; Ezekiel 2:6).
In delivering this message, the apostles, prophets, and preachers do not use trickery or subtlety. They are not out to trick people into becoming believers (II Corinthians 2:17; Romans 1:16; I Thessalonians 2:3-5). Appealing to each person’s conscience – that part of us that distinguishes right from wrong – they teach the truth while God watches on (John 8:9).
While the gospel is glorious and appealing, it does not mean that all who hear it will listen (Romans 10:16; I Corinthians 1:18). Those who are perishing will not be able to see its glory (John 1:5; 9:39; 12:40; Romans 11:7). The fault isn’t in the message but in the hearer (John 3:19-21; I Corinthians 1:21-23; II Thessalonians 2:10-12). Satan keeps people from seeing who Jesus really is (John 1:18; 14:9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). Contrast this to what Paul said about Christians in II Corinthians 3:18.
The preaching of the gospel is not about the preachers but about Christ. The preachers are merely the Lord’s slaves for the sake of Christians (I Corinthians 9:19). Thus, the blindness of those who reject the gospel is not the fault of those teaching the message.
Those who preach the gospel are following the command of God. The source of their teaching is God and not man (Galatians 1:10; II Timothy 3:16-17). “The God who commanded light to shine out of darkness” is an allusion back to the creation (Genesis 1:3), which Paul uses as an illustration of how the gospel shines out at the command of God into a dark world (I Peter 2:9; II Peter 1:19). Jesus is the light this dark world of sin needs (John 8:12).
- Does the gospel need help in making it appealing to people?
- What might be some ways people use trickery to promote a religion?
A treasure in earthen vessels (II Corinthians 4:7-10)
Further emphasizing his point that the preaching of the gospel is not about the preacher but about the Lord, Paul states that preachers carry this glorious message in clay pots. It is mere men whom God chose to deliver His message (I Corinthians 1:18), men who do not have much value. The gospel is a valuable treasure (Matthew 13:46). Perhaps Paul is alluding back to Gideon and his men carrying torches in clay pots (Judges 7:16-22). Yet, God chose men to deliver His message so that the focus would be on the message and not the messengers (I Corinthians 2:5).
Paul illustrates the frailty of the messengers and the power of the message with four contrasts: being squeezed from every direction (as in wrestling) but not crushed by the pressure, perplex at being unable to find a way out but not despairing, persecuted but not abandoned by God, struck down (as in being hunted) but not destroyed.
Instead, Paul and other preachers carry with them the knowledge that Jesus died for their sins so that resurrection and life that followed Jesus’ death can be seen in them (I Corinthians 15:31; Galatians 6:17; Philippians 1:20; 3:8-11; II Timothy 2:11; I Peter 4:13).