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Did the Corinthians assume that Paul was merely commending himself or defending himself in penning the last verse of chapter 2? It was not so; but necessity demanded that they should recognize that he was giving them the pure, plain truth of God, not a mere human interpretation of it. He required no letter of commendation to them; for they knew him, and were themselves the commendation of his work. For this latter reason too he needed no letter from them: their own established assembly was the fruit of his own labour, therefore "our epistle, known and read of all men." They themselves were his own evident message to all men.
Verse 3 goes further, and no doubt its force includes, not only the Corinthians, but the entire body of Christ, the Church of God; for it is "the epistle of Christ," not simply of Paul and of his fellow-servants. Every member of the body of Christ is necessary in order that the message of Christ might be properly represented before the world. It is not each believer individually who is a letter, but all collectively form the one letter of Christ to the world.
This is ministered by the apostles, for they have communicated the truth by which the Church is established, and by which she is enabled to represent Christ before the world. But this letter is written, not with ink, not as a formal declaration, but by the Spirit of the Living God; therefore in the power of living reality. And in contrast to the ten commandments written in tables of stone, this is written in fleshy tables of the heart. For the law was as hard and cold and impersonal as the stones upon which it was written. The Spirit of God writes upon that which is both living and yielding, impressing and affecting the heart, which responds thankfully, affectionately, spontaneously. Certainly therefore it was proper that these servants should have such trust toward God as would enable them to prove faithful in the trust given them of ministering the new covenant in unadulterated purity.
God had not chosen the apostles on account of their own competency in matters so great and marvellous, for this was infinitely beyond mere human competency in any case. But when He chooses a vessel, He supplies the ability for carrying out the work with which He entrusts that vessel. It was God Himself who had made them competent as ministers of this new covenant, and Paul would not in any way separate the competency from its source: if so the competency is immediately lost.
"Not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life." He is plainly speaking here of the cold, rigid letter of the law, the old covenant, in contrast to the living power of the Spirit of God in the new covenant. This in no way belittles the exactitude of every word of Scripture, as given in the original languages; for it is the Spirit of God who has inspired every "jot and title:" indeed, Paul communicated "words" "which the Holy Ghost teacheth," not merely thoughts (1 Corinthians 2:13). But the new covenant is not on the principle of peremptory legal requirement, "the letter" therefore that demands obedience; but on the principle of that living grace that supplies the Spirit of God as the power for devoted and willing obedience. The letter of the law only sentences man rightly to death. But the Spirit gives life, so infinite a contrast.
Therefore, the legal covenant is called "the ministration of death." It was perfectly righteous and holy, engraven in stones, so that it began with glory (see New Translation), a glory reflected in the face of Moses, the skin of his face so shining that the children of Israel could not endure looking at him (Exodus 34:29). Yet this glory was only temporary, a glory only reflected in the face of Moses, not by any means intrinsic.
But the ministration of the Spirit is itself glory, the manifestation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is intrinsic glory, that which reveals the preciousness of all that is within Him, the very nature of the eternal God. Therefore it is a glory altogether impossible of being done away: it subsists.
In verse 9 the legal covenant is called "the ministration of condemnation'! in contrast to the Spirit's "ministration of righteousness." which latter abounds in glory infinitely higher than the former. Because law demanded righteousness, it actually brought only condemnation, for man is unrighteous. The Spirit of God, on the other hand, coming on the precious, solid basis of the accomplished redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary, brings righteousness.
The legal covenant was "made glorious," as illustrated in the skin of Moses' face - the exterior - shining. This was reflected glory; and of course it has no remote comparison to the excelling, intrinsic glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The first therefore is rightly done away, that it might give place to the second, which "subsists in glory."
The Spirit then having implanted in saints today such certainty of hope, the apostle can say, "We use great boldness of speech." Bondage, fear, doubtfulness is gone, in beautiful contrast to the trembling apprehensions of the children of Israel at the time of their receiving the law. Because they could not endure looking upon the face of Moses, he put a veil over his face. And though this was only a small reflection of God's glory, yet it illustrated the fact that under law man could not in the least way look upon God's glory.
Israel, today, because they still choose law rather than Christ, are in a similar state. But the veil is not over God's face, but on their heart. Their minds are blinded: as they read the Old Testament they see nothing of the fact that it constantly directs them toward the New Testament: they prefer to have the veil there to keep them from too close - and precious - contact with the Living God. In actual fact, the veil is done away in Christ, but they refuse Christ, and choose the darkness of the veil.
But Israel will yet turn to the Lord, though the time of her unbelief has been long, and her suffering through the ages greater than that of any other nation. And it will take the most dreadful tribulation of all history, and the personal appearing of the Lord Jesus Himself before their eyes, to finally break down their resistance in repentance and faith. The veil will suddenly fall from their eyes.
Verse 17 refers back to verse 8, for it may be questioned as to what the ministry of the Spirit really is. It is that which directs us solely to the Lord, for there is perfect unity and interdependency between the Lord Jesus and the Spirit of God, just as there is between the Father and the Son. The Spirit would not engage our thoughts with His operations within us, but with Christ, who is infinitely above us. This is true liberty.
Yet this does produce a marvellous subjective effect. As our eyes are turned from ourselves to behold the glory of the Lord, so the results show in ourselves. It is not a reflection here, but "with unveiled face" we behold, by the Spirit of God, the glory of the Lord Jesus, and are changed from glory to glory. As one remarks: "This goes on from glory to glory, but the least measure of it is glory." The Lord, the Spirit is the absorbing Object and power by which we are formed in the same image. Wonderful contemplation! And it is the proper contemplation for every dear child of God.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24