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Ministers of the new covenant
2 Corinthians 3:1-6
In the preceding verses the apostle Paul spoke very plainly in defense of his ministry, having stated that God always caused him and his fellow ministers to triumph in Christ, that they were a sweet fragrance of Christ unto God and to their hearers and that they did not corrupt the word of God (as some did) but preached faithfully the gospel of God's grace and mercy in Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:1 . ‘Are we bragging about ourselves? Are we guilty of vain glory? Are we seeking to commend ourselves, or are we recommending ourselves to you and seeking letters of recommendation from you to others? Some preachers may feel the need of credentials and letters of recommendation from place to place, but we do not need them.’
2 Corinthians 3:2 . ‘You are our credentials; you are our letters of recommendation.’ Paul was God's messenger to them and the instrument God used to bring them to a knowledge of Christ (Romans 10:13-15; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21). Their embracing the gospel of Christ, their faith, holiness and love and their perseverance in grace were testimonials to all men that God was with Paul and that God had sent him. They were written in his heart, not statistics and glowing reports on paper!
2 Corinthians 3:3 . He told them in the previous verse that they were his epistles written on his heart and did more to recommend him than all the reports on paper. But he is careful to ascribe to the Lord Jesus all the glory, for he says here that they are really the epistles of Christ! Paul is only the instrument the Lord used to preach to them. It was Christ, who, by his spirit, wrote his law on their hearts, shed abroad his love in their hearts and saved them by his grace (Romans 5:5-9; Ephesians 2:8-10). The law of Christ is written not on tables of stone, as at Sinai, but on the heart of the believer (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:33).
2 Corinthians 3:4 . ‘This is the hope, trust and confidence that we have through Christ toward, and with reverence to God. God has saved and called us to preach, and through our ministry has called you to faith and has given us all access to his throne of grace through the person and work of Christ, our Lord. This is our hope and confidence (Colossians 1:12-23; Colossians 2:9-10).
2 Corinthians 3:5 . Although Paul strongly defended his call to preach and declared that the Corinthians were proof and the fruits of his ministry, he would not leave the impression that he ascribed anything to himself, to any power or sufficiency in himself. He says that we are not sufficient even to think (which is the lowest human act) anything truly and spiritually good, much less sufficient for so great a work as the conversion of a soul. ‘Our power, ability and sufficiency are of God. His grace is sufficient to enable us to repent, believe, embrace Christ and preach, and to enable you to receive our gospel (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). God did not find us sufficient, but he made us sufficient. The best preacher of the gospel is no more than what the grace of God makes him (1 Corinthians 15:10).
2 Corinthians 3:6 . ‘God has made us, or qualified us, to be ministers of the new covenant, or the covenant of grace, of which Jesus Christ is the Mediator and Surety.’ In the following verses the apostle makes a comparison between the old covenant and the new, the law of Moses and the free grace and gospel of Christ (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 12:24; Hebrews 13:20). The covenant of grace is called ‘the new covenant,’ not because it is newly made (for it is the everlasting covenant) nor even because it is newly revealed (for it is revealed in prophecy, promise and types throughout the Old Testament) but because it is now fulfilled in the person and work of Christ. It is now manifested clearly in the gospel message (Romans 3:21-22), and it is forever new, it will never give way to another covenant (Hebrews 10:9-10). ‘We are ministers, not of the letter of the law’ (Romans 7:6), which shows what is to be done, thought and said and what is not to be done, without giving any ability to obey its commands and with no power to sanctify or justify those who are under it (Romans 3:19-20), ‘but we are ministers of the gospel which, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, gives spiritual life, and eternal life.’ The bare letter of the law kills, in that it reveals sin, inability and enmity (Romans 7:7-10; Galatians 3:10). The gospel of Christ is the Spirit who gives life, quickening dead sinners, working true repentance toward God and faith in Christ, writing the commandments of God on the heart and mind, and who actually justifies, sanctifies and makes the believer a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:22). We must be careful not to minister the gospel in letter and doctrine only, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
The veil removed by Christ
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
In 2 Corinthians 3:6 the apostle observed the difference between the old covenant and the new, and the excellency of the gospel over the law. The law is a killing letter; the gospel is a quickening spirit. In the following verses he reveals other ways in which they differ and further shows the glory of the gospel of Christ above the law of Moses.
2 Corinthians 3:7-9 .
1. The Old Testament dispensation was ‘the ministration of death.’ It discovered and revealed sin; it showed the wrath and curse of God; it showed man his duty, but gave no strength to perform it. The New Testament is the ministration of the Spirit and life in the gospel of Christ, which reveals Christ as our righteousness and which reveals the grace and mercy of God through Christ unto life everlasting. The law shows God above us and against us; the gospel reveals Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’
2. The law was written and ‘engraved on tables of stone,’ whereas the gospel is written on the heart (Hebrews 10:15-16).
3. The law and the giving of the law were ‘glorious’ (Exodus 20:18-21; Exodus 34:29-30). Much of the glory and majesty of God attended the giving of the law - the glory of his presence, justice and holiness. But the gospel reveals the greater glory of God - the glory of his grace and mercy and the glory of his beloved Son in substitution and satisfaction for guilty sinners (Exodus 33:18-19). This gospel is ministered by his Holy Spirit.
4. The law is ‘the ministration of condemnation’ only, for it cannot forgive, cleanse, nor offer any hope. Now if this be glorious, think how glorious is the gospel of Christ, which provides a perfect righteousness and right standing before God and produces love and obedience to God (Galatians 3:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 1:30).
2 Corinthians 3:10 . In view of this fact, the glory of the law and the glory shown in the face of Moses have come to have no glory and splendor at all because of the overwhelming glory of the gospel of God revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5-6).
2 Corinthians 3:11 . If the law of Moses (fulfilled in and by Christ), which was but temporary and has been done away, was glorious, how much more glorious is the covenant of grace and righteousness in Christ, which abides for ever! (Hebrews 10:9-14.)
2 Corinthians 3:12 . The word ‘hope’ here is more than a wish or a good prospect. It is a confident expectation based on the sure word of God and the person and work of Christ. The meaning of the verse is ‘Since we have a certain and confident expectation of acceptance by God in Christ, of everlasting righteousness and of eternal glory which can never pass away, we are neither ashamed nor afraid to preach this gospel to all men.’
2 Corinthians 3:13 . We preach the gospel of the glory of God (l Tim. 1:11) freely, openly and boldly and not like Moses, who put a veil over his face, not so the people could not look, but because they could not bear to look upon even the reflected glory of God (Exodus 34:30-35). And because of their unbelief and hardness of heart, they could not see the end or goal of that law, who is Christ (Romans 10:1-4).
2 Corinthians 3:14-15 . Moses' covering of his face with a veil signifies the righteousness of God in Christ, which is hid from generations because of unbelief and hardness of heart (Colossians 1:26-27; Romans 11:7-8). To this day that same veil remains, and they do not see the glory of the gospel nor Christ, the end of the law. They read the Old Testament Scriptures but cannot see Jesus Christ in them (Acts 10:43; Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44-46). This veil can only be removed through the light of the gospel of Christ shining in the heart. When a person sees Christ by faith, he sees the unveiled glory of God (John 14:9).
2 Corinthians 3:16 . Nevertheless, when a person (Jew or Gentile, one person or a nation such as Israel) shall turn from unbelief, idolatry and salvation by the works of the law to the Lord Jesus Christ in true repentance and faith, that veil of blindness shall be removed. Some understand this of the whole of the Jews in a future day (Romans 11:25-26), and it may be, but all men are spiritually blind who have not seen the glory of God in Christ. When we see the Son in his redemptive power and work, we see the fulfillment of the law, satisfaction of God's justice and the glory of God!
2 Corinthians 3:17 . The Lord to whom we turn when the veil is taken away is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the man Christ Jesus, but not only a mere man; he is that Spirit or he is God (John 4:24). He is the Spirit of grace, peace and life. He is the giver and the gift of the Spirit, and where he lives and dwells, there is liberty - emancipation from the bondage of the law, the curse of the law and the penalty of the law. ‘If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.’
2 Corinthians 3:18 . The Israelites saw the glory of God in a cloud, in the tabernacle and in the types and shadows, but all believers with unveiled and open faces behold the glory of God with eyes of faith in the face of Christ Jesus. Not that we look upon the full majestic glory of God himself, for no man could do this and live (Exodus 33:20). But we behold his glory as in a mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12), and by looking to him in faith, we grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ. From one degree of grace and faith to another, we are changed, and the image of Christ is formed in the believer. This comes by the Spirit and power of God.
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Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25