We are sons, not slaves.
2 Corinthians 3:4-18
As I mentioned last time, we have not yet unpacked verses 4-6 or verses 12-16 directly and I know that bothers some of you… as it should. One of the things we do not want to do as a church is avoid uncomfortable or difficult passages. If all we ever did as a church was topical studies we would be liable to miss important things that the Lord has revealed for our progress and joy in the faith. And so one of the major reasons we practice expository (explaining the text) preaching through whole books the Bible is so that we discipline ourselves to listen and submit to the whole counsel of God together.
So, we should not be ok with preachers who, in explaining a text, skip over any word or thought in that text. So, why did I jump from verses 1-3 to verses 7-11? And then from 7-11 to 17-18? I have done it in on order to clarify the text, rather than muddle it. If we had tried to tackle this section verse by verse we would have had to run very quickly past things that I believe needed our careful consideration. So what we have done is to focus on how Paul describes the nature of the New Covenant with the intention then of going back and seeing how he applies that to his own ministry.
We need to remember what Paul’s goal has been in this section of the letter. He has been defending himself against the accusations of teachers who had come into the church (he calls them false apostles and peddlers of God’s Word). These false teachers were seeking to discount and discredit Paul as a minister of God. One of the things they were pointing to in their endeavor to discredit him was his change of travel plans, claiming that Paul was fickle and indecisive. You will recall that Paul patiently explained in chapter 1 and 2 that in fact his change of plans was entirely motivated by love for the Corinthian believers. His actions had been fully in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so Paul has taken the occasion of these accusations to teach God’s people about the New Covenant and New Covenant Ministry.
And in chapter 3 that is exactly what Paul has been powerfully doing. He has been contrasting the surpassing glory of the New Covenant in Christ with the lesser preparatory glory of the Old Covenant, in order to show that his life and actions have been in complete harmony with the New Covenant in Christ. At the same time Paul is also showing the enormous contrast between the ministry of the Old Covenant and the ministry of the New in order to guard God’s people from being drawn away from the perfection and sufficiency of Christ and the glory of the New Covenant in Him.
So what we have done over the past three weeks is to focus on how Paul unpacks the nature of the New Covenant in contrast to the Old. And now we will go back and take a look at how the Nature of the New Covenant shapes the nature of ministry and ministers in the New Covenant as Paul is making that connection in 3:4-6 and 3:12-16.
Before diving into 2 Corinthians 3 let me preface what we will see there with Ephesians 4:11-16, the context of which is Christ’s victorious ascension ton high after having first descended and suffered winning the victory over sin and death. So Christ, the victorious Messiah ascended far above the heavens, with all authority in heaven and on earth, and Ephesians 4 tells us He gave gifts to men. And what are those gifts?
And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
I am starting with this passage in Ephesians so that we understand very clearly that 2 Corinthians 3 is necessarily applicable to each one of us who are members of the body of Christ. Each one of us in the body of Christ has a share in the work of ministry, in the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God. Each one has a share in the work of ministry until we attain to maturity and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ being fully transformed into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each one of us has a share in the work of ministry so that we may no longer be immature children, tossed back and forth by the wind and waves of false teaching but are instead a local body growing up in every way into Christ as we each speak the truth to one another in love. The whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each member is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love and this is from Christ.
Each one who is a member in the body (and that is one in the same as being a member of the New Covenant and having Christ in you) has a crucial ministry in this New Covenant.
So, again, in 2 Corinthians Paul is defending his ministry, showing it to be consistent with the nature of the New Covenant. And it is our job to learn of the New Covenant and what ministry in the New Covenant looks like, not just to know about people long ago and far away, but so that we will be equipped for the fruitful ministry Christ has for each one of us here.
Now, what has Paul taught us about the nature of the New Covenant? In the past 4 weeks we have been exposed to the wonderful glory of the New Covenant.
First, we were given a picture in verses 1-3: the members of the New Covenant look a certain way because they are not of the letter but of the Spirit. In other words they themselves are living letters having had the Spirit of the Living God written on their hearts to be known and read by all. The New Covenant does not leave people as they were because the New Covenant is of the Spirit.
As Paul described in verse 6 the New Covenant is the ministry of the Spirit which gives life, not the ministry of letter which kills. He told us the Old Covenant was the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone but the New Covenant is the ministry of the Spirit (v7-8). The Old Covenant was the ministry of condemnation, but the New Covenant is the ministry of righteousness (v9). Paul told us that the Old Covenant was being brought to an end, but the New is permanent (v10 -11). He told us that the Old Covenant has come to have no glory at all because of the surpassing glory of the New (v10). In verse 17 Paul told us that because the New Covenant is of the Spirit there is freedom while we know from Galatians that the Old Covenant only brought slavery. And in verse 18 Paul told us that the New Covenant brings transformation by the Spirit.
So let’s relish these wonderful truths: in the secure and never changing New Covenant of Jesus Christ we are declared righteous; we possess life; we are free and are being transformed because we have the Spirit of the Living God living in us, written on our hearts; in this covenant we are not whipped from behind, we are led from within. We are sons, not slaves. We are heirs not enemies. We are free from the law, sin, guilt, condemnation, and death because we do not live at the foot of the smoking mountain, but at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ who died and rose for us.
I hope in the past few weeks as we have unpacked the glory of the New Covenant you have had reason to rejoice that our holy God is also perfect in wisdom and abounding in mercy and extravagant in love to have designed and made this New Covenant possible by the wonderful work of Jesus. There is no deficiency in His work for you.
But what does all his mean for the shape of our ministry here in the New Covenant? How does the nature of the New Covenant shape the new Covenant minister and his ministry? And here again, let’s be applying these things to ourselves as each one in the body of Christ is called and gifted for ministry (Ephesians 4). To answer this, let’s look again at verse 1-3 and then consider 4-6 directly.
Confidence through Christ toward God
The first thing we need to notice in these verses is the New Covenant minister’s (Paul’s) confidence.
2 Corinthians 3:4
(1) Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? (2) You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. (3) And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (4) Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.
So, let’s unpack this confidence. First of all notice that Paul did not say, such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward you. He said, such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Paul’s ministry is God oriented and He is confident toward God.
Are we confident in God? Do you have a confidence that your ministry in this world pleases God? Every Christian has ministry to do – are you doing it and do you have a confidence toward God in it? When you stand before the Lord of Lords will He say, ‘well done good and faithful servant’? Paul tells us that New Covenant ministers can (should) have a confidence toward God.
But notice very carefully that he says his confidence is through Christ. Everything that comes to us in the New Covenant comes through Christ. Whether it be your own rebirth and justification and progress in the faith or be it ministry fruitfulness – it all comes through Christ and it is unto His praise. Our confidence in the New Covenant comes through Christ. Paul was confident through Christ that his ministry was powerful and real and pleasing to God.
And notice in verses 1-3 Paul says that his confidence is such that he does not need anyone to write him a letter of recommendation because God Himself has written him a letter of recommendation not with ink and not on stones, but with the Holy Spirit on the tablets of human hearts; the spiritually blind had been granted sight; spiritually dead people have been made alive. The fruit of his ministry was the life of God in people. Paul was confident through Christ toward God that his ministry was potent and pleasing because Christ has written His recommendation of Paul with the Spirit of the Living God on the hearts of people.
What is the fruit of our ministry here – corporately as a local church and individually as members of it? What is the fruit of your ministry? Can anyone know and read the letter Christ has written recommending us? Can the world see something different in this place about this place and these people to whom we are ministering?
Now just to make it perfectly clear, Paul says in verse 5,
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
So Paul makes is clear his confidence in ministry does not come because he is eloquent or particularly talented or wise or because anything coming from himself. His sufficiency for ministry comes from God. In other words the Spirit gives life and fruitfulness, not Paul. The Spirit gives life to Paul and the Spirit gives life to those Paul is ministering to. So Paul is not confident toward God because Paul is sufficient in himself. Any sufficiency he has comes from God. So get this, Paul has been called to be a minister, he has been given specific gifts from Christ and been commissioned by Christ with a specific apostolic duty for the building up of the body. All this is from Christ and the fruitfulness of his ministry is also from Christ.
The nature of the New Covenant creates confident New Covenant ministers because New Covenant is not of the letter, it is of the Spirit and the Spirit gives life. In the New Covenant God does not sit back passively. He is not waiting for dead people to make themselves alive. He makes them alive. He is not waiting for people to keep the law. He has kept it. He is not waiting with folded arms for slaves to conform externally to standards. He is giving His Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry Abba, Father. He is not tapping His finger, waiting for people to bear fruit. He is transforming them from one degree of glory to the another by the Spirit.
And all this is through Christ. It is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone that all the blessings of the New Covenant are poured forth into our lives. Through Christ we are declared righteous. Through Christ we are free from sin and fear and condemnation and death. As we saw last time, it is as we behold the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ that we are transformed by the Spirit.
So why is Paul so confident toward God that is ministry is potent and pleasing? Not because he is sufficient to do anything on his own – quite the opposite. His confidence comes from the fact that he is a minister of the New Covenant in Christ that cannot fail because God arisen to save!
Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,
like a strong man shouting because of wine.
And he put his adversaries to rout;
he put them to everlasting shame.
Paul is confident because he is a minister of a new covenant in which God is gloriously and powerfully active to save His people through Christ Jesus. And Paul had seen the fruit of God’s activity in the lives of the saints. They were a letter written by Christ to be seen and read by all.
Is this the kind of confidence that we have here? A confidence in Christ – a confidence that our ministry is potent and pleasing to God because it is through Christ.
Now, drop your eyes down to verse 12. I am going to walk through this text, pausing to clarify as we go.
2 Corinthians 3:12-16
Since we have such a hope…
What hope? the hope that the new covenant comes with glory that far outshines the glory of the Old, bringing the Spirit and life and righteousness and permanent security – we continue.
…we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.
The outcome of the Old Covenant was death and condemnation and slavery and increased trespass – Moses, whose countenance shined with the glory of God having been with Him, only brought fear and dread and death to the people. So Moses covered his face.
But their minds were hardened.
In other words the Israelites didn’t get it. They didn’t get that the outcome of the Old Covenant was death. Their minds were hardened thinking that they had the moral ability to keep the holy standard of God.
For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted because only through Christ is it taken away.
That is, through Christ, and only through Christ, their eyes are opened to their great need and His great sufficiency.
Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Can you see where Paul’s confidence and boldness comes from? It comes from the nature of the New Covenant in Christ the Good News is that God is powerfully at work for His people and in His people through Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and coming again.
Let’s apply Paul’s confidence to ourselves. What should this confidence look like here?
1. There should be an assured confidence as we minister Christ to others:
There should be an assured confidence as we bring the truths of the gospel of Christ to others in the body that He will be powerfully at work in our brothers and sisters and in the world as well. The gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
We should not have an assured confidence in our own power and wisdom to bring healing and help and fruitfulness in the lives others here, but in so far as we are bringing the truth of the gospel we should be confident as Paul was. We are ministers of a new covenant that is of the Spirit and not of the letter. The gospel each one of us should be bringing to others here results in life and righteousness and freedom and transformation.
Are we bold and confident in Christ’s power to save and heal and transform? If this confidence does not characterizes us here we will be tempted to turn and trust in some other thing to draw people and save people and transform people. Are we confident toward God through Christ?
2. There must be an assured confidence that we please God in Christ Jesus.
I think the only thing that will guard this confidence in Christ for potent and pleasing ministry to others is a growing confidence in Christ for everything we need personally. If we don’t see Christ crucified, risen, and coming again as glorious and strong and sufficient and of infinite worth personally, we will not be confident in His power toward others.
There should be an assured confidence in each of our hearts that in Christ Jesus we ourselves are right with God because of Jesus Christ alone – loved by God, a son or daughter, heirs with Christ, free from sin and guilt and death, alive and led by His Spirit, being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another – through Christ and Christ alone.
Let us pray for an increased confidence in Jesus’ power to save us personally and for and increased confidence in Jesus’ power to use us as we speak the truth about Him in love to each other and the world.