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Bible: What Does 2 Corinthians 3-4 Teach Us About the Ministry of the "New Testament"?
The Apostle Paul
II Corinthians 3
Implementing his favorite teaching method (namely, rhetorical questions), Paul points out that he is offering no word of commendation from anyone to prove the worth of his ministry to his critics (v. 1).
Sufficient evidence of Paul’s value manifests itself in the changed lives of the Corinthians, who are not only the apostle’s intimate disciples—“our epistle written in our hearts”—but especially the work of God—“an epistle of Christ, ministered by us” (vv. 2-3a).
Unlike the time of Moses when the Spirit of God wrote the words on stone tablets, He has now written His “law” of life in the hearts of believers through Paul’s preaching (v. 3b).
Paul asserts that he relies on Christ for success in his ministry; he does not misplace such trust, he says, when God weighs it in His balances (v. 4).
He acknowledges that the Lord made him an adequate servant of the new covenant for this age, realizing that he does not have the personal wherewithal to accomplish this spiritual work on his own (vv. 5-6a).
[On the night of His betrayal, Jesus ratified a new covenant that Paul mentions here, manifesting it with His death.
By virtue of being “in Christ,” the Church (the body of Christ) receives spiritual benefits from her relationship to the Lord through His substitutionary sacrifice.
This “new covenant” will find fulfillment one day when God makes it with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (See Jeremiah 31).]
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The Ten Words
God never meant people to be servants of “the letter,” resulting in legalism, for that type of works-righteousness brings death to the sinner.
On the contrary, the Lord directed Christians to minister by means of the Spirit, for the Spirit gives God’s eternal life to those who believe the gospel of the Savior (v. 6b).
The apostle spends the rest of this section comparing and contrasting the older way of ministering with the newer one (vv. 7-18).
Glorious for a short while, Moses’ “ministry of death,” the Ten Words, does not compare favorably to the glory of “the ministry of the Spirit” (vv. 7-8).
Paul acknowledges the glory of Moses’ service, designating it “the ministry of condemnation,” yet points out that “the ministry of righteousness” possesses far greater glory (v. 9).
“The glory that excels” (the ministry of the Spirit) makes “what was made glorious” (namely, Moses’ work) to lack glory (v. 10).
Moses’ glory, temporary as God meant it to be, is passing away; what remains (the Spirit’s glory) far exceeds that of Moses’ (v. 11).
The following chart summarizes this comparison thus far:
Written with ink on tablets of stone
Spirit writing on tablets of the heart
of the letter; kills
Of the Spirit; gives life
ministry of death; glorious
Ministry of Spirit; far more glorious
ministry of condemnation; glory
Ministry of Righteousness; exceeds much more in glory
made glorious; no glory
Glory that excels
passing away; glorious
What remains--much more glorious
The Spirit Removes the Veil
The hope the new covenant brings emboldens Paul as he proclaims the gospel; he contrasts his confidence with Moses’ awareness that the glorious law was not the permanent solution to “the human condition.”
Paul notes that Moses wore a veil over his face to hide from the Israelites the transitory nature of the Law’s glory (vv. 12-13).
From Moses’ day to Paul’s, the same veil on the heart of the Jews still prevents them from understanding the Old Testament’s impermanence; only when they turn to Christ will He take the blindness away (vv. 14-16).
Having established that this veil no longer blinds repentant believers, Paul now links the Spirit to this phenomenon.
He asserts that the Spirit possesses an equality of essence with the Son (the Lord) that enables Him not only to free believers from blindness by removing the veil, but also transform them gradually into the glorious image of the Son depending upon how intently they “look at” the glory of Christ (vv. 17-18).
II Corinthians 4
Paul credits God’s mercy not only with making him a servant of this new covenant, but also with enabling him to persevere through the trials associated with the work of this ministry (v. 1).
Rather than seek his own profit, the apostle avers that he has repudiated the shameful practices of those teachers who live dishonestly and attempt to discredit the Scriptures by interpreting them incorrectly (v. 2a).
Paul conducts himself in such an honorable way that people can rest assured that he is not seeking to deceive them (v. 2b).
Some still oppose him, however, and continue to wear the veil; in such cases, the apostle maintains that Satan (“the god of this age”) has blinded the minds of those who remain in unbelief and are perishing spiritually, preventing the gospel’s revelatory truth (“light”) centered in the glorious Person of Christ from penetrating their darkness (vv. 3-4).
Unlike the self-aggrandizing teachers referred to in verse two, Paul preaches solely about “Christ Jesus the Lord,” and regards himself (and Timothy, his protégé) as “your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (v. 5).
He proclaims the good news about Jesus because the God of Genesis, who spoke physical light into existence out of darkness, has spiritually illuminated them so that they have come to know Him personally through Christ (v. 6; cf. Gen. 1:3).
Again, the apostle reinforces the complementary ideas that
(1) the gospel itself (“this treasure”) has the inherent power of spiritual transformation and
(2) his great rhetorical skills do not change people’s lives.
He regards his body as just an earthen vessel, an ordinary, fragile receptacle for the gospel (v. 7a); the omnipotence of God’s word, not his persuasive gifts, regenerates lost sinners into saved saints (v. 7b; cf. 1 Cor. 1: 18; 2:4-5). In his ministry,
Paul has experienced much physical and emotional turmoil (“hard-pressed,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” “struck down,” “carrying about . . . the dying of the Lord Jesus”), but he has survived (“not crushed,” “not in despair,” “not forsaken,” “not destroyed”) [vv. 8-10a].
Through his “dying” and being “always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake,” Paul manifests “the life of Jesus” (v. 10b-11).
In other words, as Paul “dies” to his “self life,” Jesus lives His resurrection life through him; consequently, the Corinthian church benefits spiritually through the apostle’s service (v. 12).
As one who shares the same faith as the Corinthians, the apostle testifies to the truth that one day all suffering will cease, the Spirit will resurrect both him and them, and present every believer to the Father (v. 14).
Paul refers to “all things”—the sufferings he endures?—as being “for your sakes.”
The grace that the Spirit pours through Paul in the trials of his ministry permeates “the many,” thereby causing them to glorify God through their abounding thanks (v. 15).
Paul does not allow his sufferings to cause him to give up (cf. v. 1); he knows that the Holy Spirit continues to work in him every day, renewing the strength of his “inward man” (v. 16).
The apostle is able to sustain hope as he views his afflictions from an eternal, not a temporal perspective.
He regards the trials as light, momentary, and productive of a greater reward in God’s presence (“a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”) [vv. 17-18].
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