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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 3

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Verses 1-5

A Letter of Christ

2 Corinthians 3:1. The last verse of the previous chapter might give the impression that once again Paul was trying to prove himself to the Corinthians. But that of course was not the case. Did he need to commend himself to them as though he was not known to them? Did they not know who he was? Should anyone else recommend him to them? Did they not know that he really was the man who dedicated his life to the service of God?

Yes, there were others who came with letters of commendation; but they were unknown people. People brought recommendation letters because that was a safeguard to prevent the infiltration of false brethren into the church. A letter of recommendation was a testimony given by others about the bearer of the letter. Such a letter guarantees that the church is dealing with reliable persons.

In Acts 9:26-Daniel : we come across a spoken testimony. The recently converted Saul wants to join the company of disciples. The believers suspect that it was a trick of the persecutor of Christians. But the testimony of Barnabas whom the believers trusted was a great relief, for he testified to the genuineness of Saul’s conversion.

In the days of confusion in which we live such credentials are necessary. This guarantees the fact that we are dealing with a genuine believer who is also known to others. We cannot rely on self-attested testimonies. Also in social life credentials are inevitable requirements. It always is a testimony given by others about a certain person.

It is important that the local churches demand authorized credentials for unknown people. In the absence of such credentials any irresponsible person can enter the church and create havoc misleading the believers.

2 Corinthians 3:2. But should Paul also be treated on the same line by the Corinthians? Did he require a commendation letter? The Corinthian church itself was Paul’s commendation letter in person. The believers were known to all as the result of Paul’s labor among them. They were letters written in the apostle’s heart. He always carried them with himself. He could show them any moment to any one as his credentials. If Paul were asked about the manner in which he served the Lord he would point to them. People recognized the Corinthian believers as those Paul preached Christ to. They believed in Christ and for Him they wanted to live.

2 Corinthians 3:3. They were Paul’s commendation letter. What was written in that letter was Christ. They were a letter of Christ. Christ was seen in their life. Through the preaching of Paul the Holy Spirit had written Christ in their hearts.

All believers in Corinth together constituted this letter. It is also beautiful to keep in mind that every believer in a local church is necessary to read ‘the letter’ in its entirety. Each believer is unique in a sense that each one reveals a different aspect of Christ. So we need each other to reproduce the content of the letter that is Christ.

This, of course, does not change the fact that your personal life also is a letter. Your life is read by other people. What do they read in your life? But as it is said here it is about the believers together.

The work of writing this letter is entirely the work of “the Spirit of the living God”. He alone is able to work that in us. We are the living materials with which and upon which He works. He has written in our hearts Who Christ is so that He can be seen in our lives. Haven’t you accepted Christ in your heart? Out of the heart flow “the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Everything you do in your whole life has its origin in your heart. Now Christ is written in your heart. You can show Him in all your activities now.

It is impossible to do so for the law that was written on the tablets of stone. Although Christ and the law are not the same they do not contradict each other. The Lord Jesus longed to fulfill the law and He also did it. All of God has become visible in Christ so that He is able to say: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). But in the law of God not all but only something of God became visible. The law of God presented before men only the just demands of God. However no one could keep the law and therefore nothing of the testimony of God became visible to people in this world. But rather the opposite happened as we read this letter further. The law brought judgment, curse, and death to humans.

2 Corinthians 3:4-Deuteronomy :. Now it is possible to present Christ to the world, but not through your own efforts. For this you may have “confidence … through Christ toward God”. Through Christ you can receive from Him all that is necessary to make you a readable letter. You are unable to do it yourself because you do not have the necessary strength. It is possible only through the power of God. But you may count on that completely. Paul is aware of his insufficiency to fulfill the task entrusted to him, but he knew that his sufficiency was “from God”. God was the source of strength for his ministry.

Read again 2 Corinthians 3:1-5 again.

Reflection: How can you be a readable letter of Christ?

Verses 6-18

The Old Covenant and the New Covenant

2 Corinthians 3:6. Paul realizes that he has no sufficiency in himself, but that all sufficiency comes from God. That thought motivates him to say something of a “new covenant”. Of that he was a minister and not of the old covenant as his opponents obviously were. It is important to understand the difference between these two covenants.

I will say something general about it. The old covenant was made between two parties: God and His earthly people Israel. Both parties took upon themselves certain obligations. Israel vowed to be obedient to the law and God in His turn should bless them if they were obedient. Israel trampled upon this old covenant in every respect. By their disobedience and rebellion against God they forfeited their right to all God’s blessings. Therefore God rather had to punish them than bless them. But what would become of all the blessings God had promised. Will they all lapse?

God therefore established a new covenant, again with Israel, but this time in a special way. The specialty of this way is that God demands nothing anymore from His people as He will fulfill all the conditions Himself. The people therefore are no longer a party from whom something is expected. God does all that is necessary. He comes forward to fulfill, as His obligations, all that actually the people must do, and He does it on His own terms.

The new covenant is a covenant God will make with His earthly people Israel whereby the conditions are different from the old covenant. As already said in relation to the old covenant, people on their part accepted certain obligations. This happened at Mount Sinai. There they said thrice: “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 19:8; Exodus 24:3Exodus 24:7). Then God stipulated the conditions as laid down in the law.

However in the new covenant God takes all obligations upon Himself. Hebrews 8 beautifully describes how this new covenant works (Hebrews 8:8-1 Chronicles :). Here it is clear that also the new covenant is made with Israel and Judah – that means the ten and the two tribes, so the people of Israel as a whole.

A further reading of this section shows that time and again it says what God will do (see the recurrent “I will”). You will discover that no contribution is expected from the people as in the old covenant. When God Himself guarantees then the new covenant cannot come to naught.

Another reason the new covenant cannot come to naught is the basis on which it is established. The basis is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ which He shed on the cross at Calvary. How impressive are the words spoken by the Lord Jesus at the institution of His Supper! Of the cup He says: “This cup [is] the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20 Darby translation). Matthew adds: “For many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

Here we can see how the original conditions laid before the people have been fulfilled. The Lord Jesus fulfilled them. God gave His Son that He should fulfill all that man failed to do. The basis of the new covenant is the blood of Christ.

Now back to 2 Corinthians 3. There Paul calls himself a minister of the new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6), though his ministry was directed mainly to the Gentiles and not very much to Israel. However, the fact is that the new covenant is based on the shed blood of Christ, which means that the blessings as well as the responsibilities are not restricted to Israel.

You also have to do with the new covenant. Not in the sense as if you are standing before God in a covenant relationship, but you can now enjoy the blessings of the new covenant because of the blood of the Lord Jesus that was shed for your sins; and God knows the full value of that blood. You also may know the privilege of having Christ written in your heart and that you are able therefore to manifest His glory in your life. Israel will enjoy these blessings only when God re-establishes His relationship with them. Then the laws of God will be written on their hearts, and they will know the Lord (Hebrews 8:10-1 Kings :). I have written here somewhat in detail because it is important to understand why Paul calls himself a minister of the new covenant.

The last part of 2 Corinthians 3:6 is connected to that subject. The new covenant is a covenant which is related to the life giving work of the Spirit. The old covenant consisted of letters on stones. The new covenant consists of the work of the Spirit in the hearts of people (you read that in Hebrews 8).

2 Corinthians 3:7-1 Chronicles :. 2 Corinthians 3:7-Nehemiah : are a sort of parenthesis in which it is made clear how much more glorious is that which is connected to the Spirit than that which is connected to the law. This is made clear by contrasts. You read that the old covenant is called “the ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7) and “the ministry of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:9). “The ministry of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:8) and “the ministry of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 3:9) are spoken in stark contrast to them.

When Moses came down from the mountain for the second time with the stones something of God’s glory was present. The Israelites saw the face of Moses shine. It was because Moses had been in God’s presence and he reflected God’s glory. The Israelites could not gaze at his face because of the dazzling brilliance. Moses had to put a veil over his face or else they couldn’t even look at him (cf. Ex 34:29-35).

It was after all a little bit of glory and people were not attracted by it but they were afraid. Further, the law of Moses was still valid as long as the Lord Jesus Christ had not come, as it is written: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). Since Christ has come, the law is no longer the basis of the relationship to God for everyone who believes. The glory of the law, in this sense, has disappeared, and is nullified.

2 Corinthians 3:14-Ezra :. The unbelieving Israelites – and I am sorry to mention, also many Christians who prefer to stand under the law – are blind to this fact. A veil lies on their heart. When they read the Old Testament they can discover nothing but a demanding God. But the one who has accepted the Lord Jesus in faith has not a veil when ‘Moses is read’. ‘Reading Moses’ means reading the books of the Old Testament which are written by Moses. For everyone who has come to know Christ the veil is taken away.

2 Corinthians 3:16. This also applies to the future Israel. The veil will be taken away from them when they return to the Lord. They will discover that the Old Testament was written in view of the Lord Jesus. This is what was discovered by the two on the road to Emmaus and the disciples (Luke 24:26; Luke 24:44-1 Corinthians :).

Have your eyes been opened? Do you enjoy the Old Testament because it speaks about the Lord Jesus? The Holy Spirit loves to tell you about Christ from every page of the Bible. The Holy Spirit Who directed the Old Testament to be written has done this to present the Lord Jesus in it.

2 Corinthians 3:17. The whole of the Old Testament breathes the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. This is the meaning of the words “the Lord, the Spirit”. I have heard people say after they accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior: ‘I got a different Bible now.’ Of course they have the same Bible but they read it differently now. From the moment they had the assurance of the forgiveness of their sins the Holy Spirit had the liberty to show them the glory of the Lord Jesus in the Old Testament. The veil was gone.

2 Corinthians 3:18. Now it is possible to admire the glory of the Lord with open eyes without having to fear even for a moment. It is an inexplicable privilege. The more you engage yourself with the glorified Lord in heaven, the more you will radiate His glory. You will be thus transformed that God as well as people can see more and more of the Lord Jesus in you.

Now read 2 Corinthians 3:6-18 again.

Reflection: What are the differences between the old covenant and the new covenant? How is it possible to be more like the Lord Jesus?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 2 Corinthians 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/2-corinthians-3.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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