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Bible Commentaries

Chuck Smith Bible Commentary
2 Corinthians 3

 

 

Verses 1-18

Shall we turn tonight to the third chapter of II Corinthians.

Paul the apostle, it seemed, had the detractors to his ministry, men that followed him around seeking to discredit him. There are always those, it seems, who are ready to come in upon another man"s work, and to reap the benefits of another man"s labor, but aren"t really willing to go out and to break fresh ground themselves. Those that endeavor to live off the body of Christ, rather than really developing the body of Christ.

The body of Christ is not expanded by transferring people from one fellowship to another. The body of Christ is expanded when we become a witness to the world and we bring others to Jesus Christ who do not know Him.

There were those who were willing to go around and follow Paul. To come into the areas that Paul had plowed, where Paul had planted, and seek to uproot Paul"s ministry, drawing people to themselves. Seeking to discredit Paul in the eyes of the people. Such was the case in Corinth. Those who followed Paul, putting down Paul and his message of the gospel of grace, seeking to bring the people under the law. Challenging Paul"s authority as an apostle. Lifting up themselves as the authorities and the authorized ones.

And so it seems rather tragic that oh, blessed brother Paul was always, it seems, defending himself against those detractors, as though he needed to. And so, in chapter three we find this again the case.

Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles [letters] of commendation from you? ( 2 Corinthians 3:1 )

These people coming in and presenting their letters of authority, which were many times falsified. Spurious. Paul said, "Look, do I need to have letters of commendation when I come to you, or do I need to seek letters of commendation from you when I go elsewhere?"

Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men ( 2 Corinthians 3:2 ):

"Your faith in Jesus Christ, your existence as a church is all of the recommendation that I need. You are proof of my apostleship. You are proof of the validity of my ministry. The very fact of your existence is all that is necessary to prove the authenticity of my calling."

Now, the person who doesn"t have that kind of proof needs all kinds of phonied up documents to tell how great they are. I get a kick out of some of the letters that I receive. Enclosed with them, all of these letters of commendation. Your ministry itself bears witness to your calling.

And so Paul said, "You are my letters of commendation. The fact that you exist, that"s all that"s necessary. That"s all the proof I need of my calling of God."

Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward ( 2 Corinthians 3:3-4 ):

So, Paul just sort of lets it rest there.

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God ( 2 Corinthians 3:5 );

Now, Paul in the last of the last chapter, you remember, cried out, "And who is sufficient for these things?" ( 2 Corinthians 2:16 ) There have been so many times when I have faced the issues of the ministry and I said, "Oh, Lord, who is sufficient for these things? Who"s able to do this?" And Paul asked the question, "Who is sufficient for these things?" And now he answers his own question: "Not that we think that we have any sufficiency within ourselves, or not that we are sufficient within ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God."

I believe that God deliberately allows us to come to the end of our own capacities and abilities in order that we might learn to trust in Him. In order that we might draw from that all-sufficiency from Him.

God revealed Himself to Abraham as El Shaddai, which means the all-sufficient One. And it"s always good to know the all-sufficient One and to be able to rely upon the all-sufficient One to fill up that which I am lacking when I come to the end of my own resources. How many times we are driven to draw from that sufficiency that God has provided for us through Jesus Christ. And Paul said He is the One,

Who also hath made us able ministers of the [new covenant or] new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life ( 2 Corinthians 3:6 ).

Now, this is one passage of scripture that, unfortunately, is often quoted out of context, especially by those who are looking for a more experiential relationship with God. Who are looking for more exciting experiences in the things of God. So often you"ll hear them say, "Oh, but the scripture says, "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."" As though the word of God or the teaching of the word of God will kill you, but the Spirit or the moving of the Spirit and the experiences of the Spirit brings life. That is a gross misquotation, because it is taking the scripture totally out of its context.

The Bible tells us concerning the word of God that it is alive and powerful, and it is sharper than a two-edged sword, and it"s able to divide between the soul and the spirit, the bone and the marrow ( Hebrews 4:12 ). The word of God, the letter does not kill. It"s alive. It"s powerful, and it brings life.

The letter that kills is the letter of the law. And Paul here declares, "I am the able minister of the New Testament, the new covenant." The old covenant was by the law, and the old covenant in the letter of the law does condemn us to death. If you want to be righteous before God by the keeping of the law, then it"s too late. It"s already condemned you to death. You"ve been destroyed. The letter of the law kills. For the law said, "He that does these things shall live by them" ( Romans 10:5 ). But also it says, "If you keep the whole law, and yet you violate in one point, you"re guilty of all" ( James 2:10 ). And thus, the law condemns every one of us to death. And it is the letter of the old covenant of the law that condemns us to death. But it is the Spirit in the new covenant that brings us life, spiritual life.

And now he goes on to talk about,

But if the ministration of death [under the law], [which was] written and engraven in stones, [it] was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away [passing away] ( 2 Corinthians 3:7 ):

Now, there is a misunderstanding, many times, as the purpose of the veil. When Moses came down with the tables of stone, having met with God there on the mount, having been privileged to see the afterglow of God, God said to Moses, "What do you desire?" And he said, "Lord, show me Thyself." And God said, "You can"t look at Me and live, but you stay there in the rock, I"ll pass by, and then you can see the afterglow." And it was so glorious that Moses" face shone for days after he came down from the mount with the tables of law for the people.

But he put a veil over his face, not because they couldn"t look at the glory on the face, but because the glow was beginning to fade, and they didn"t want them to see the fading glow. But that was only a witness of the law that had been given, that it was going to be phased out that God might establish the new covenant through Jesus Christ. And so, the purpose of the veil was that they would not see the receding glory that was upon his face. We"ll get that when we get a few verses down.

But this ministration of the law was glorious so that they could not steadfastly look at the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance which was fading away.

How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? ( 2 Corinthians 3:8 )

Or even more glorious. If the old covenant which condemn man to death was so glorious and given in such a glorious way, how much more this new covenant of life through Jesus Christ is glorious to those who have received it?

For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth ( 2 Corinthians 3:9-10 ).

In other words, there is really no way to compare the glory of the old covenant with the exceeding glory of the new covenant. That new relationship that we have to God through Jesus Christ excels in glory. Brings us into such glory.

You see, the old covenant was predicated upon man"s faithfulness and man"s obedience. The purpose of the covenant is always to bring man into a relationship with God. That"s the primary purpose. The old covenant failed. Not because it wasn"t good, but because man was weak and man failed. It was predicated upon man"s obedience, man"s faithfulness.

Now, this new covenant cannot fail, because it"s predicated upon God"s faithfulness to His word. A covenant predicated upon my faithfulness to the word of God failed; I couldn"t be faithful. But we know that God is faithful to His word, and thus, this new covenant whereby we stand tonight is certain, is sure. That"s why we can say with such assurance, "I know in Whom I have believed, and I"m persuaded that He is able to keep that which I committed" ( 2 Timothy 1:12 ). And I"ve committed my life and my future to Him, and I"m confident that He shall bring me into the fullness of His glory, because He is faithful to His word. His word cannot fail. He will not fail.

So, the new covenant excels in glory, because it"s based upon God and His faithfulness.

For if that which is done away [that is, the old covenant under the law] was glorious [was made glorious] ( 2 Corinthians 3:11 ),

For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels. Nothing to compare with.

For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great [boldness or] plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end [or to the phasing out or the fading] of that which is abolished ( 2 Corinthians 3:11-13 ):

You see, here it declares that it was because it beginning to fade away and they didn"t want them to see this thing fading out.

But their minds were blinded: for until this day [there] remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ ( 2 Corinthians 3:14 ).

So "blindness has happened to Israel in part, until the fullness of the Gentiles is come in" ( Romans 11:25 ). Even when they read the law, there is a veil over their faces, that they don"t really understand the law. A very sad thing has taken place among the Jewish people. For though they still verbally hold to the law, they do not practice or follow the law in establishing a righteous standing before God.

Under the law, under the old covenant, it was necessary that there be a death of a substitutionary animal to atone for their sins. You would bring the animal to the priest. You would lay your hands upon its head. You would confess your sins over the animal, and then the priest would slay the animal and offer it as a sacrifice, a sin offering for you. And thus, your sins would be covered, and you would then be able to approach the holy God.

Now today, the veil is over their faces, for they are endeavoring to approach God through their own good works, ignoring the fact that God required the sacrifice of an animal. "For the wages of sin is death" ( Romans 6:23 ). "And without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins" ( Hebrews 9:22 ). They have substituted, now, the sacrifice of the animal, and are trying to instead place their good efforts and their good works as the basis for their coming to God and their righteous standing before God. Nowhere in the law are substitutes ever suggested for the sacrifices. And thus, a veil is over their face even when they read the law today, as they think that by their good efforts and good works they can atone for their sin. But their minds were blinded. For until this day, there remains the same veil that"s not taken away. Their minds blinded to the truth. Israel is blind in part.

Now, this veil is really done away in Christ. When you see Jesus Christ as our perfect substitute for our sins, our sacrifice, we come to an understanding of the righteousness of God being satisfied through the death of Jesus Christ.

But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart ( 2 Corinthians 3:15 ).

They are just blinded to the truth.

Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty ( 2 Corinthians 3:17 ).

Though there are couple of passages here that the Pentecostal people really grab onto, this is the second one. The first one is, "The letter killeth, the spirit gives life" ( 2 Corinthians 3:6 ). This is another one that they latch on to, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." And they interpret that in a very broad way. There is liberty to do all kinds of things. Liberty to scream out and to shout out and to run up and down the aisles, and you know, whatever happens to suit their fancy. Again, it is taking it out of context. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty from the law and from the bondage of the law. Free from the law, there is no condemnation, for Jesus provides a perfect salvation. And so, this is freedom from the requirements of the law. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass [or as in a mirror] the glory of the Lord, are changing into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord ( 2 Corinthians 3:18 ).

The work of God"s Spirit within our heart is to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ. When God first made man, He made man in His image. God said, "Let us make man after our image, and after our likeness" ( Genesis 1:26 ). And so was man created in the image of God.

But through sin, man fell and no longer was in the image of God. The image of God being a spiritual image. God is a spirit. Man was created a spirit being, dwelling in the body, possessing a consciousness. But God said, "In the day that you eat, you will surely die" ( Genesis 2:17 ). When man sinned, his spirit died.

And so, Paul writing to the Ephesians said, "And you hath He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins" ( Ephesians 2:1 ). God"s chief emotional attribute is love. God made man with a capacity to love, a need for love. God is light, and so God created man with a light and mind and a consciousness of God. But through sin, man came into darkness. His foolish heart was darkened. And so man made in the image of God, fallen from that image. But now, the purpose of God is to restore man into His image again. That man might receive a restoration of that which God intended him to be before he fell. And that is what the Spirit is doing in our lives tonight as we yield ourselves to the work of God"s Spirit within us. He is conforming us into the image of Christ.

Now we all with open face or unveiled faces. The children of Israel have a veil. Every time they read Moses, a veil is over their heart and their eyes are blinded. "But we, with open faces as we behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord." As I am looking in the mirror, seeing my reflection, I can see the work of God that is taking place in my life as the Spirit of God is changing me and bringing me into the image of Jesus Christ. How beautiful it is to look at God"s work in our own life, and just to marvel at what God has done.

There have been areas in my life, the old nature, that were extremely ugly. I used to have an ugly temper. Easily ignited at the slightest provocation. And it was ugly. And I didn"t like what I saw in me. I hated that nasty demonstration of that temper. And I tried to control it, but I just couldn"t. Things would happen, and before I knew it, poof, it was gone and I"d blown up. And here I was ashamed, embarrassed at the things I did and the things I said. Guilty, defeated. With all of my efforts, I couldn"t control it. And one day I said, "God, I"m sorry. I just can"t do it. I"ve tried, Lord. I just can"t do it." And I gave up in despair ever hoping to have control over that temper.

And then the Spirit took over. And He did for me what I couldn"t do for myself. And He took away the inward boiling, the inward steam. It wasn"t a thing of my keeping the cap on the pressure, seething inside, ready to just explode, but just holding tight and keeping the lid on, you know. But somehow, the Spirit from within took away the pressure, the steam. And I could look at a situation or I could experience a situation where at one time I would have exploded violently into that ugliness. And there were no more explosions. And as I look from the mirror, I saw the Spirit"s work in my life changing me into the image of Jesus.

How glorious it is when God works in us by His Spirit, bringing to pass those changes, removing the ugliness of the self-life and of the old life and conforming us more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. And as David, "And I shall be satisfied, when I awake, in His likeness" ( Psalm 17:15 ).

Someday when I look in the mirror and I see the Lord, I"ll be in glory at that point, but what a day that"s going to be when the Spirit"s job is finished in my life and I am completely conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, it does not yet appear what we"re going to be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we will be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is" ( 1 John 3:2 ). But thank God each day there are changes that are taking place, as the Spirit of God continues His work in my life, conforming me into the image of God"s dear Son.

How does it happen? By just continuing to look to Jesus. When I look to myself, I can"t do it. When I look to others to aid me, they can"t do it. The only place that I can find really effective help is by looking to Jesus Christ. It seems that we want to look to man so quickly. "Oh, let"s run down and counsel with a pastor on this. Let"s see if he has some magic words that will change us."

We"re always getting calls. The story goes basically like this: "I"ve talked to seven other pastors and they haven"t been able to help me. Now I want to talk to Chuck." Hey, I"m sorry, friend, but I don"t have any help either. I don"t have any magic formulas. I don"t have any magic words. Your changes that are so necessary are not going to come to pass through counseling sessions. Looking to man. Those changes that are necessary can only come to pass when you look to Jesus Christ.

I don"t know where the church ever got messed up in these counseling programs. Getting people to depend upon the counselor to solve their problems. There is an interesting study that has just been released by, I think it"s the Sells Eisnick report. Oh, it"s really stirring things up something fierce. For they have made a pretty comprehensive study of people with mental problems who have turned to psychoanalysts to solve their problems. And they have found that when a person turns to a psychoanalyst to help them with their problem, in45 percent of the cases, by the end of a year"s therapy with a psychoanalysis, only43percent could quit counseling, were helped enough that they needed no more counsel. Only43percent.

Those who went to psychotherapists, it was a little better: 52percent did not have to continue after a year. Those who could afford a psychiatrist came off a little better. For61percent who went to psychiatrists did not have to continue counseling after the year. However, those who didn"t go to anybody, 73percent didn"t need any counseling at the end of the year.

As I said, this study is turning the whole field of psychology on its ear right now. It"s really the big buzz through all the universities, the release of this report. But it"s just pointing out what I am telling you. Your help is going to come from the Lord. It"s looking unto Jesus that you"re going to find your answers. And as long as you"re looking unto man and trying to make a crutch out of some counselor, you"re not going to make it. You"ve got to turn to Jesus and find the help that He offers. So, "we with open face beholding the glory of the Lord are then changed from glory to glory into the same image," as His Spirit is working within our hearts.

The best thing any counselor can do is make you dependent upon Jesus Christ. The greatest service any counselor can do for you is to bring you to Jesus Christ and to a dependency on Him, because He"s the only One who"s going to bring you any help.

Several years ago when I was counseling a psychiatrist, he made me a very lucrative offer to go into business with him. He wanted me to begin counseling in his offices. He had a clinic and he said, "I can give you the technical problem with that person. I can tell you what"s gone wrong." But he said, "Having done that, I can"t do much more." He said, "You have the answers. I want you to work for me."

But the answer is just pointing people to Jesus Christ. Get people to trust in Him. Get people to look to Him. "We with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being changed from glory to glory." The changes do take place as God"s Spirit works in my life.

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Copyright Statement
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.

Bibliography Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:4". "Chuck Smith Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/2-corinthians-3.html. 2014.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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