Knowing The Covenant
VERSE OF THE DAY
He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.
We couldn’t be more sure of ourselves in this—that you, written by Christ himself for God, are our letter of recommendation. We wouldn’t think of writing this kind of letter about ourselves. Only God can write such a letter. His letter authorizes us to help carry out this new plan of action. The plan wasn’t written out with ink on paper, with pages and pages of legal footnotes, killing your spirit. It’s written with Spirit on spirit, his life on our lives!
As man kind living a Christian life everyone can be a minister by living a God fearing life and sharing the gospel that is following the path of righteousness and ever lasting life
For God allows preaching of the chosen who accept that path
2 Corinthians 3:6
New International Version
6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant(A)—not of the letter(B) but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.(C)
2 Corinthians 3 – The Glory of the New Covenant
A. Paul’s letter of recommendation.
1. (1-2) Does Paul need a letter of recommendation? He has one – the Corinthian Christians themselves.
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men.
a. Epistles of commendation: Such letters were common and necessary in the early church. A false prophet or apostle could travel from city to city and easily say, “Paul sent me, so you should support me.” To help guard against problems like this, letters of recommendation were often sent with Christians as they traveled.
i. Paul himself sent letters of commendation on many occasions (Romans 16:1-2, 1 Corinthians 16:3, 16:10-11, 2 Corinthians 8:16-24). Now Paul will describe his letter of recommendation.
b. You are our epistle: Paul has a letter of recommendation, but it isn’t written on paper. Paul says the letter is written in our hearts, and it is known and read by all men.
i. There was nothing wrong with a letter of commendation written on paper, but how much better to have a living letter of commendation! The Christians at Corinth, along with groups of Christians wherever Paul had worked, were Paul’s “living letter” to validate his ministry.
ii. The best analogy in today’s world might be a certificate of ordination. Many people think that a certificate of ordination means that you have the credentials of ministry. While there is an important purpose in a public ordination to ministry, a piece of paper in itself never is a proper credential. The true credentials of the ministry are changed lives, living epistles. We might almost say, keep your paper to yourself and show us the changed lives from your ministry.
iii. “Nothing so commends a minister as the proficiency of his people.” (Poole) “The fruitfulness of the people is the preacher’s testimonial.” (Trapp)
iv. Many think the main reason God granted the miraculous signs and wonders among the apostles in the Book of Acts to serve as a “letter of commendation” to their apostolic ministry. If this was the case, it makes sense that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit would cease when the apostles passed from the scene, because there would no longer be an apostolic ministry to authenticate. However, it is significant that Paul does not say, “miracles are our epistle of commendation.” Paul apparently did not believe his primary “letter of recommendation” was found in miraculous signs but found in miraculously changed lives.
2. (3) The writing of Paul’s letter of recommendation.
Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
a. An epistle of Christ: Paul’s letter of recommendation has an author, Jesus Christ. The Corinthian Christians were indeed Paul’s letter of recommendation, yet he realized that he did not write that letter – Jesus did. Paul is not trying to say, “I made you the Christians you are,” but he is saying, “God used me to make you the Christians you are.”
b. Ministered by us: Paul’s letter of recommendation was written with a “pen” and the “pen” was Paul himself. He “wrote into” the lives of the people he served.
c. Written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God: Paul’s letter of recommendation was written with “ink,” and the “ink” was the Holy Spirit.
d. On tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart: Paul’s letter of recommendation was written on “paper” or tablets, and the “paper” was the hearts of the Corinthian Christians.
i. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the New Covenant, when the law of God would be written in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33), and said God would grant hearts of flesh to replace hearts of stone (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26).
3. (4-6) Sufficient ministers of a new covenant.
And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
a. We have such trust through Christ toward God: Paul knows that what he has just written might sound proud in the ears of the Corinthian Christians. After all, it is no small thing to say, “You are my letter of recommendation” and “I am a pen in God’s hand.” Paul knows these are big ideas, but his place for thinking these big ideas is in Jesus, not in himself.
b. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves: Paul doesn’t consider himself sufficient for the great task of changing lives for Jesus. Only Jesus is sufficient for such a big job.
i. Some people refuse to be used by God because they think of themselves as “not ready,” but in a sense, we are never ready or worthy. If we were, the sufficiency would be in ourselves and not from God.
ii. “Brethren, if Paul is not sufficient of himself, what are you and I? Where are you… Do you indulge the dream of self-sufficiency? Be ashamed of your folly in the presence of a great man who knew what he said, and who spoke under the direction of the Spirit of God, and wrote deliberately, ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves.’” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Our sufficiency is of God; let us practically enjoy this truth. We are poor, leaking vessels, and the only way for us to keep full is to put our pitcher under the perpetual flow of boundless grace. Then, despite its leakage, the cup will always be full to the brim.” (Spurgeon)
c. Ministers of the new covenant: The idea of a new covenant was prophesied in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:31) and put into practice by Jesus (Luke 22:19-20).
i. The ancient Greek word for covenant (diatheke) had the ordinary meaning of a “last will and testament.” Paul’s use of the word reinforces the sovereignty of God, because it is not a negotiated settlement, but a divine decree.
ii. The word covenant describes “An ‘arrangement’ made by one party with plenary power, which the other party may accept or reject, but cannot alter… A covenant offered by God to man was no ‘compact’ between two parties coming together on equal terms.” (Moulton and Milligan)
iii. This new covenant presents the terms by which we can have a relationship with God, centered on Jesus and His work for us.
d. Not of the letter but of the Spirit: When Paul contrasts the letter and the Spirit, he isn’t favoring “experience” over “the word,” nor is he favoring allegorical interpretation over a literal understanding of the Bible. Rather Paul shows the superiority of the new covenant over the old covenant.
i. The letter is the law in its outward sense, written on tablets of stone. The letter of the law came by the old covenant. It was good in itself, but it gave us no power to serve God, and it did not change our heart; it simply told us what to do. Paul can say the letter kills because the law, exposing our guilt, “kills” us before God. The law thoroughly and completely establishes our guilt.
ii. Paul expresses this point well in Romans 7:5-6: For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
iii. The indwelling Spirit then becomes for us a law written on our hearts. He is in us to guide us and be our “law.” It isn’t that the Holy Spirit replaces the written law, but completes and fulfills the work of the written law in our hearts. The Spirit gives life, and with this spiritual life, we can live out the law of God.
iv. Therefore, we can’t throw away or neglect our Bibles (which some might say is the letter) because now we have the Spirit. Instead, the Spirit makes us alive to the letter, fulfilling and completing the work of the letter in us. We also shouldn’t think this is permission to live our Christian life on experiences or mystical interpretations of the Bible. Experiences and allegories in the Bible have their place, but each must be proved true and supported by studying the literal meaning of the Bible. The Spirit and the letter are not enemies, but friends. They don’t work against each other, and one is incomplete without the other.
B. A contrast between the old and new covenants.
1. (7-11) The surpassing glory of the new covenant.
But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.
a. The ministry of death: Was it wrong to call the old covenant the ministry of death? No, because that is what the law does to us: It slays us as guilty sinners before God so that we can be resurrected by the new covenant. It isn’t that the problem was with the law, but with us: The sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. (Romans 7:5)
i. Trapp on the ministry of death: “David was the voice of the law awarding death to sin, ‘He shall surely die.’ Nathan was the voice of the gospel awarding life to repentance for sin, ‘Thou shalt not die.’”
b. Was glorious: There was glory associated with the giving of the law and the old covenant. At that time, Mount Sinai was surrounded with smoke; there were earthquakes, thunder, lightning, a trumpet blast from heaven, and the voice of God Himself (Exodus 19:16-20:1). Most of all, the glory of the old covenant was shown in the face of Moses and the glory of his countenance.
i. “And although the gospel came not into the world as the law, with thunder, lightning, and earthquakes; yet that was ushered in by angels, foretelling the birth and office of John the Baptist, and of Christ; by the great sign of the virgin’s conceiving and bringing forth a Son; by a voice from heaven, proclaiming Christ the Father’s only begotten Son, in whom he was well pleased.” (Poole)
c. The face of Moses: Exodus 34:29-35 describes how Moses put a veil over his face after speaking to the people. As glorious as the radiant face of Moses was, it was a fading glory: which glory was passing away. The glory of the old covenant shining through the face of Moses was a fading glory, but the glory of the new covenant endures without fading.
d. How will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious: If the old covenant, which brought death had this glory, we should expect greater glory in the new covenant, which brings the ministry of the Spirit and life.
i. The old covenant was a ministry of condemnation, but the new covenant is the ministry of righteousness. The old covenant is passing away, but the new covenant remains. No wonder the new covenant is much more glorious!
ii. The old covenant had glory, but the glory of the new covenant far outshines it, just as the sun always outshines the brightest moon. Compared to the new covenant, the old covenant had no glory because of the glory that excels in the new covenant.
2. (12-16) The open and bold character of the new covenant.
Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
a. Therefore, since we have such hope: Since our hope is in a more glorious covenant, we can have a more glorious hope. Because of this hope, Paul can use great boldness of speech. The old covenant restricted and separated men from God; the new covenant brings us to God and enables us to come boldly to Him.
b. Unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face: Even Moses did not have real boldness under the old covenant. A veil is not a “bold” thing to wear; it is a barrier and something to hide behind. Moses lacked boldness (compared to Paul) because the covenant that he ministered under was fading away and fading in glory.
c. So that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away: From reading the account in Exodus 34:29-35, one might first get the impression that Moses wore a veil after his meetings with God so that the people wouldn’t be afraid to come near him; the veil was to protect them from seeing the shining face of Moses. Here Paul explains the real purpose of the veil: not to hide the shining face of Moses, but to hide the diminishing glory of his face because the glory was fading. The passing glory of the old covenant contrasts with the enduring glory of the new covenant.
d. Could not look: Since the veil hid the face of Moses, the children of Israel couldn’t see any of the glory from his face. Therefore, the contrast isn’t only between passing glory and enduring glory, but also between concealed glory and revealed glory.
e. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted: Paul says that most of the Jews of his day could not see that the glory of Moses’ ministry faded in comparison to the ministry of Jesus. Because the veil remains unlifted, they can’t see that the glory of Moses’ ministry has faded and they should now look to Jesus. Since the same veil that hid Moses’ face now lies on their heart, they still think there is something superior or more glorious in the ministry of Moses.
f. Nevertheless, when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away: Paul could say of his fellow Jews that a veil lies on their heart, but he could also say that the veil can be taken away in Jesus. Paul knew this well because he was once veiled to the glory and superiority of Jesus.
i. Many Christians with a heart to preach to their Jewish friends wonder why it is rarely so simple as just showing them that Jesus is the Messiah. This is because a veil lies on their heart. Unless God does a work in them so they turn to the Lord and have the veil taken away, they will never see the fading glory of Moses’ covenant and the surpassing glory of Jesus and the new covenant.
ii. Of course, it could be said that the Jews are not the only ones with a veil… on their heart. Gentiles also have “veils” that separate them from seeing Jesus and His work for us clearly, and Jesus is more than able to take those veils away. This points to the essential need of prayer in evangelism. It has been rightly said that it is more important to talk to God about men than it is to talk to men about God, but we can do both of these important works.
3. (17) The liberty of the new covenant.
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
a. The Lord is the Spirit: From the context of Exodus 34:34, we see that when Paul says the Lord is the Spirit, he means that the Holy Spirit is God, just as Jesus and the Father are God.
b. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Paul’s thinking follows like this: When Moses went into God’s presence, he had the liberty to take off the veil; the presence of the Lord gave him this liberty. We have the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord. We live in the Spirit’s presence because He is given to us under the new covenant. So, just as Moses had the liberty to relate to God without the veil in the presence of the Lord, so we have liberty because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
i. We should also consider what Paul is not saying. He is not giving license to any Pentecostal or Charismatic excess because where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. We have great liberty in our relationship with God through what Jesus did and through what the Holy Spirit is doing, but we never have the liberty to disobey what the Spirit says in the word of God. That is a perversion of true liberty, not a Spirit-led liberty.
c. There is liberty: Paul really has in mind the liberty of access. He is building on what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:12: We use great boldness of speech. Boldness is a word that belongs with liberty. Because of the great work of the Holy Spirit in us through the new covenant, we have a bold, liberated relationship with God.
i. “A liberty from the yoke of the law, from sin, death, hell; but the liberty which seemeth here to be chiefly intended, is a liberty from that blindness and hardness which is upon men’s hearts, until they have received the Holy Spirit.” (Poole)
4. (18) The transforming glory of the new covenant.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
a. We all with unveiled face: Paul invites every Christian to a special, glorious intimacy with God. This is a relationship and transforming power that is not the property of just a few privileged Christians. It can belong to all, to everyone who has an unveiled face.
i. How do we get an unveiled face? When one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away (2 Corinthians 3:16). If we will turn to the Lord, He will take away the veil and we can be one of the “we all.”
b. Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord: We can see the glory of the Lord, but we cannot see His glory perfectly. A mirror in the ancient world did not give nearly as good a reflection as our mirrors do today. Ancient mirrors were made of polished metal, and gave a clouded, fuzzy, somewhat distorted image. Paul says, “We can see the glory of the Lord, but we can’t see it perfectly yet.”
i. There may be another thought here also: “Now as mirrors, among the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, were made of highly polished metal, it would often happen, especially in strong light, that the face would be greatly illuminated by this strongly reflected light; and to this circumstance the apostle seems here to allude.” (Clarke)
c. Are being transformed: As we behold the glory of God, we will be transformed. God will change our lives and change us from the inside out. Though the old covenant had its glory, it could never transform lives through the law. God uses the new covenant to make us transformed people, not just nice people.
i. Everyone wants to know, “How can I change?” Or, everyone wants to know, “How can they change?” The best and most enduring change comes into our life when we are transformed by time spent with the Lord. There are other ways to change, such as guilt, willpower, or coercion, but none of these methods bring change that is as deep and lasts as long as the transformation that comes by the Spirit of God as we spend time in the presence of the Lord.
ii. Yet, it requires something: beholding. The word means more than a casual look; it means to make a careful study. We all have something to behold, something to study. We can be transformed by the glory of the Lord, but only if we will carefully study it.
d. Into the same image: As we look into “God’s mirror,” we are changed into the same image of the Lord. When we spend time beholding the glory of the God of love, grace, peace, and righteousness, we will see a transforming growth in love, grace, peace, and righteousness.
i. Of course, this is how you can know someone is really spending time with the Lord: They are being transformed into the same image. However, much depends on what we “see” when we look into “God’s mirror.” In this analogy, “God’s mirror” is not a mirror that shows us what we are as much as it shows us what we will become, and what we will become is based on our picture of who God is. If we have a false picture of God, we will see that false picture in God’s “mirror” and will be transformed into that same image – much to our harm, both for now and eternity.
ii. Not everyone sees the truth when they look into the mirror. Thirty-year-old David gets up every morning, and his morning routine only gets as far as the bedroom mirror, where he sees a horribly distorted face – a crooked, swollen nose covered with scars and a bulging eye. The pain from his deformities made him quit college and move in with his parents ten years ago. Since then, he rarely leaves his room, afraid to let anyone see him. His four cosmetic surgeries have done nothing to help his condition because the problems with David’s appearance are only in his mind. Experts call it body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD. It causes people to imagine themselves as deformed, ugly people when they really have a normal appearance. Psychiatrists call it a hidden epidemic, and one psychiatrist said, “Patients are virtually coming out of the woodwork. I’m meeting with one new patient each week.” Most BDD sufferers are convinced the problem is with their face. Those afflicted live with such an overwhelming sense of shame that they can barely function. One young teacher in Boston tried to continue her job but often ran out in the middle of class, afraid that her imagined hideous appearance showed through her thick makeup. A Denver businessman called his mother from the office 15 times a day for reassurance that he did not look grotesque and spent hours in the bathroom stall with a pocket mirror trying to figure out a way to improve his appearance. Some try to cope with harmful rituals, such as cutting themselves to “bleed” the damaged area. BDD sufferers are usually convinced that the problem is with their body, not their mind. They don’t want to see anyone but plastic surgeons and dermatologists for their problem.
iii. Thankfully, we don’t have to be in bondage to a false image of ourselves or of God. When we behold the picture of God as He is in truth, we will be transformed into His image. This is God’s great design in our salvation, for whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Calvin speaks to this great design of God: “That the image of God, which has been defaced by sin, may be repaired within us… the progress of this restoration is continuous through the whole of life, because it is little by little that God causes His glory to shine forth in us.”
e. Are being transformed: This work of transformation is a process. We are being transformed; the work isn’t complete yet, and no one should expect it to be complete in themselves or in others. No one comes away from one incredible time with the Lord perfectly transformed.
f. From glory to glory: The work of transformation is a continual progression. It works from glory to glory. It doesn’t have to work from backsliding to glory to backsliding to glory. God’s work in our lives can be a continual progression, from glory to glory.
g. By the Spirit of the Lord: With these last words, Paul emphasizes two things. First, this access to God and His transforming presence is ours by the new covenant, because it is through the new covenant we are given the Spirit of the Lord. Secondly, this work of transformation really is God’s work in us. It happens by the Spirit of the Lord, not by the will or effort of man. We don’t achieve or earn spiritual transformation by beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord. We simply put ourselves in a place where the Spirit of the Lord can transform us.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
What is “the letter” in 2 Corinthians 3:6 and what does it kill?
Asked October 11 2015 • Clarify
Paul’s “letter vs. Spirit” teaching in Corinthians requires context derived from his other writings to fully appreciate its rich meaning. A direct answer to the question is that “letter” refers to the Torah (Law) but ONLY as it is read, and obedience attempted, WITHOUT eyes opened by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit). What it kills are those persons whose lives are revealed by the light of the Law (Rom 3:20, 7) to ultimately be characterized as unregenerate sinners (Rom 7:5). The reason it ”kills” the “old self” is because, as a “ministry of death” (2 Cor 3:7), this is one of its primary functions (cf. Rom 7:10). These meanings can be understood by reading a bit further down into the Corinthians passage (mouse over to read 2 Cor 3:14-18).
We can clearly see in verse 14 that “old covenant” is parallel to “Moses” in verse 15, for indeed, they are both “read” by members of Isra’el. This is the context for the “letter” mentioned in verse 6, and the “ministry of death carved in letters of stone” in verse 7. The letter minus the Spirit will “spiritually” kill, because without the regeneration of the Spirit on the inside, the Torah reader is without an advocate for sin (Rom 8:2) and therefore falls under the condemnation spelled out by the Law for unrepentant sinners (Rom 4:15).
Paul is not teaching that the “letter” is bad. The Law in and of itself is not a negative thing to an unbeliever. Notice carefully, that Paul clarifies the reason the “letter kills” is because the readers have “minds hardened” (2 Cor 3:14) with an “unlifted veil over their hearts” (2 Cor 3:15). In plain language, the reason the “letter kills” is because the person reading the letter is unsaved. Paul described himself “dying” while in his pre-saved condition in Rom 7:11, however, for Paul the “death of the old man” led to being “born again” by faith in Yeshua (Rom 8:2-4).
Indeed, for all genuine believers in Yeshua, we too have died to the “Law of sin and death,” so that we may serve the LORD in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom 7:6; 8:1). Moreover, even though the Law is supposed to lead the reader to the Messiah (Rom 10:4; Gal 3:24; 2 Tim 3:15), until the reader of the Law surrenders to Yeshua as LORD, the ministry of the Law will eventually continue to “arouse his sinful passions” (Rom 5:20; 7:5), leading to condemnation (Rom 3:19), continuing hardness of heart, and ultimately God’s wrath and spiritual and eternal judgment for him (Rom 2:5, 9, 12).
However, the good news is that Paul teaches emphatically that when this same sinner “turns to the LORD” (2 Cor 3:16), the heart veil is lifted. And because the LORD is indeed the Spirit, this results in freedom for the Law reader (2 Cor 3:17). This “Spirit” reference is the very same Spirit that Paul mentioned when he contrasted “letter” with “Spirit” in 2 Cor 3:6. The obvious conclusion to Paul’s teaching in this chapter is that the person freed by the Spirit “with unveiled face, [is] beholding the glory of the Lord, [and is] being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). Consequently, this new believer is now able to read the letter without it killing them.
The “letter of the Law” is a person’s interaction with the Law, minus Spirit, done under the power of the flesh. Outside of the regenerative ministry of the Spirit of Messiah, God designed the “letter” of the Law to condemn and ultimately kill an unregenerate sinner. The “letter of the Law” is weakened by sinful flesh (Rom 8:3).
However, once a sinner turns to the LORD, the veil is lifted from their heart and eyes (2 Cor 3:16), and they no longer have to fear the condemning “letter” of the Law (Rom 8:1). That which used to be a “ministry of death” for them (2 Cor 3:7), now takes on a new perspective as “holy, righteous, and good” (Rom 7:12) resulting in true freedom and obedience (Rom 7:22; 8:4) by the power of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17).
October 12 2015
Vote Up • Spam
The difference between the two Testaments must be clearly understood. We have the shadow in the OT but the substance in the NT (Heb 10:1).
The New Covenant, unlike the Old, is not of the letter but of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:6 Rom 7:6). In the OT the Law was written in tablets of stone, but now God writes it in our hearts of flesh (Jer 31:31-33; Heb 8:8-10; 2 Cor 3:3). The ceremonial part of the Law takes a spiritual meaning in the New Testament. For example, the Sabbath speaks of the rest Christ gives to His people here and then in eternity (Mt 11:28; Heb 4:4-10).
Similarly God told Peter to eat even the “forbidden” food of the OT to explain to him a spiritual truth, that is, how God can save the non-Jews also (Acts 10:10-16, 44, 45). The Temple in the OT becomes the people of God and their bodies in the NT. The New Covenant is called a “better” Covenant (Heb 7:22; 8:6).
The core of the OT is all about what God “demands” whereas the core of the NT is all about what God “gives.” Praise the Lord we are not under Law but under Grace (Rom 6:14). Let us stand firm in the liberty, and not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Gal 5:1).
In fact, those who attempt to be justified by Law have fallen from Grace (v4). Law and Grace cannot coexist. Ishmael and Isaac cannot dwell in the same house. An old cloth and a new piece should not be stitched together. The new wine cannot be kept in old bottles (Mt 9:16, 17).
By saying so we do not mean that the Old Testament is irrelevant to us today. Apart from the Law the OT contains prophecy, history and wisdom. “These were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11). The OT must be read and diligently studied by every Christian, but the interpretation and application must be always in the light of the NT.
If you would have a balanced diet of both the Old Testament and the New Testament truth, follow the Bible Reading Calendar given on pages 13-16 of this book.
The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the religion of Christ’s Church! (C.H. Spurgeon)
October 14 2015
Vote Up • Spam
Paul refers to what “the letter” is when he characterizes Christians in the verse cited in the question (2 Corinthians 3:6) as being ministers of a new covenant. “The letter” is the old covenant of the written Law that God gave through Moses to the people of Israel.
The Law was a covenant of works that God made with the people of Israel after delivering them from Egypt. It is summarized in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The covenant (or agreement) associated with the Law was that, if a person complied perfectly with all the requirements of the Law, that person would then be able to live eternally in God’s presence.
The requirements of the Law were good and just. However, because of the sin nature that all humans inherit from birth, no one was capable of the perfect obedience that the Law demanded. Therefore, while the Law was intended as a means for people to achieve eternal life, it, in fact, became an instrument of eternal death for all those under it.
To deal with this, God instituted a new covenant with humanity by becoming human Himself in the person of Jesus, who (as both true God and true man) lived the life of perfect obedience to the Law of which no human had proven capable; allowed Himself to be unjustly killed to satisfy on behalf of all humanity the penalty for sin (death) that the Law demanded; and then rose again from the dead as proof that His sacrificial death had been an acceptable payment in God’s eyes for the sins of all those who would place their faith in that death and resurrection (rather than in their own imperfect obedience to the written Law) to find favor in God’s eyes, and to receive eternal life.
Thus, while “the letter” of the written Law kills by condemning those who fail to perfectly obey it, Jesus did away with that Law and its requirements by nailing it to His cross (as Paul noted in Colossians 2:14), and God instead now gives eternal life on the basis of faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, as testified to by the presence of God Himself (in the person of the Holy Spirit) within all those who have received that eternal life.
October 12 2015
2 Corinthians 3:6 Meaning of For the Letter Kills, but the Spirit Gives Life
2 Corinthians 3:6
“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
Explanation and Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:6
The grace of God has allowed ministers of the gospels to preach the gospels, which are the path to everlasting life.
This verse is a comparison of the gospels (or the law of Jesus Christ) and the law of Moses (in the Old Testament). It is frequently misinterpreted to be a comparison between the literal meaning of the Scriptures and the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures.
Bible Verse Breakdown – 2 Corinthians 3:6
#1: “He has made us competent… ”
It is by the grace of God that His apostles and others are able to serve God by spreading His Word. Paul is acknowledging that he is merely a vessel and is useless without God working through him to spread the new covenant.
#2: “…as ministers… ”
“Ministers” means servants, not preachers, who are actively doing the work of God. Paul is also indirectly referencing false prophets who teach the importance of Mosaic law. These false prophets are false because they are not acting by and through the grace of God.
#3: “…of a new covenant… ”
This refers to the gospels. The gospels record the life of Jesus Christ and his followers of that time. Some commentators say the “new covenant” was a reference to the New Testament, but others argue that is incorrect because many of the books of the New Testament had not yet been written, and it is unlikely that the “New Testament” as the collection of books as we know it today was contemplated at that time.
The “new covenant” is in contrast to the Old Testament, which is the first 39 books of the Bible and approximately corresponds to the Hebrew Bible. The Old Testament records the law of Moses, according to which the ancient Israelites were to live.
#4:”…not of the letter…”
Not of the Mosaic law. The Mosaic law is referred to as the “letter” because it tells people what they should and should not do. It is a series of writings that regulate moral and civil actions. Mosaic law is not a path to everlasting life.
Some commentators interpret “letter” to mean the literal interpretation of the Scriptures (as opposed to the spiritual meaning), but this is not the currently favored interpretation.
#5: “…but of the Spirit…”
But of the gospels. Some commentators have pointed out that others have erred in interpreting “Spirit” to mean the Holy Spirit, and that “Spirit” should not be capitalized here, as it refers instead to the gospels which penetrate into the hearts of Christians. Yet other commentators think “Spirit” refers to the spiritual meaning (as opposed to the literal meaning) of the Scriptures, but this is not the current mainstream view.
#6: “…for the letter kills…”
The Mosaic law breeds guilt and proscribes punishments for violating the law, including issuing death sentences to offenders. Another interpretation of this part of the verse is that those people who cling to Mosaic law and do not follow the law of Jesus will not receive everlasting life.
#7: “…but the Spirit gives life.”
The gospels are from God. They have the power of God in them. Believers and followers of the gospels receive God’s Word into their hearts. These Christians are saved and will have everlasting life with Jesus in Heaven.
What does 2 Corinthians 3:6 mean?
John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible
Who also hath made us able ministers
This is an answer to the question in ( 2 Corinthians 2:16 ) who is sufficient for these things? no man is of himself; we are indeed sufficient for them, but not of ourselves; our sufficiency is of God, he hath made us able, or sufficient ministers: such ministers as are not of men’s, but God’s making, are sufficient ones; and none are sufficient but whom God makes so; and those he makes able and sufficient, by giving them spiritual gifts, fitting them for the ministry: and these are ministers
of the New Testament,
or “covenant”; the covenant of grace, of which Christ is the Mediator and surety; called “new”, not because newly made, for it was made with Christ from everlasting; nor newly revealed, for it was made known to Adam after his fall, and to all the Old Testament patriarchs, and was exhibited under the legal dispensation, though but darkly, in types, shadows, sacrifices which therefore waxing old is vanished away; and the covenant of grace is now more clearly revealed under the Gospel dispensation, free from all the obscurity it before laboured under; and therefore is called “new”, as well as because it will always continue so, and never give way to another covenant: now the Gospel, and the ministry of it, is nothing else but an exhibition of the covenant of grace, its blessings and promises; and the work and business of those who are ministers of it is not to insist upon the covenant of works, the terms, conditions, obligations, promises, and threatenings of that covenant; but to open and explain the nature, promises, and blessings of the covenant of grace: for such who are fit and proper ministers, are ministers
not of the letter, but of the spirit;
which is to be understood, not of any difference between the books of the Old and the New Testament, for a faithful minister of the word may and will bring forth things new and old, out of the one as well as the other; nor of the literal and allegorical, or mystical sense of the Scriptures, as if the latter and not the former was only to be attended to; nor of the difference of communicating the Gospel by letters, and preaching it by word of mouth; since both methods may be used for the spread of it, as were by the apostles themselves; but of the difference there is between the law and the Gospel. The law is “the letter”, not merely because written in letters, for so likewise is the Gospel; but because it is a mere letter, hereby showing what is to be done or avoided, without any efficacy in it, or communicating any to enable persons to obey its commands, to give life to its observers, or either to sanctify or justify any who are under it, or of the works of it; it is a mere letter, as observed by an unregenerate man, who only regards the externals of it, being unacquainted with its spirituality. The Gospel is “the spirit”; see ( John 6:63 ) it contains spiritual things, and not things merely natural, moral, and civil, as does the law, but spiritual blessings and promises; it penetrates into the spirit and soul of man, and comes from, and is attended with the Spirit of God. The law is
by irritating and provoking to sin, the cause of death, which though not the design and natural tendency of the law, and therefore not to be blamed, yet so it is, through the corruption of human nature; and by convincing of sin when the sinner is killed, and it dead in his own apprehension; and by not only threatening with death, but by cursing, condemning, and punishing with it:
the Gospel is
it is a means in the hand of the Spirit of God, of quickening dead sinners, of healing the deadly wounds of sin, of showing the way of life by Christ, and of working faith in the soul, to look to him, and live upon him; it affords food for the support of the spiritual life, and revives souls under the most drooping circumstances. The apostle may allude to a distinction among the Jews, between the body and sou] of the law; the words, they say, are (hrwt apwg) , “the body of the law”; and the book of the law is the clothing; and besides these, there is (atyrwad atmvn) , “the soul of the law”; which wise men look into F23.
What does 2 Corinthians 3:6 mean?
Paul is writing about confidence in his own ministry. He has been clear, though, that this is not the same as confidence in himself. He and his co-workers are not claiming that anything of value comes from them. His authority as an apostle is not based on his skill and knowledge and aptitude. It is based only on God’s authority and power to act through him.
Paul now writes that God is the one who has made him and the other apostles and teachers sufficient—adequate or competent—to be ministers of the new covenant. When Paul uses the words “new covenant,” he is contrasting their message of salvation through faith in Christ by God’s grace with the Old Covenant message of salvation for Israel through following the law of Moses.
Paul adds that he and the others are not ministers of the letter, perhaps meaning the “letter of the law.” In his old life as a Pharisee, Paul was a minister of the letter of the law, teaching Israelites to obey God’s written words in the Old Covenant. Now, though, he has become a minister of the Holy Spirit. By this, he means that he teaches those who trust in Christ to live by the Spirit’s power.
Paul adds that “the letter” kills. In other words, those who attempt to follow the law discover that they are unable to follow the law. They discover in themselves the sinfulness that keeps them from obeying God and condemns them to death. He put it this way in Romans 7:9–10, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.”
God’s Spirit, on the other hand, truly gives life to those who trust in Christ under God’s new covenant with all of humanity. God’s Spirit comes to live with all who believe in Jesus. His presence becomes the evidence that we belong to God. Romans 8:11 says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
Second Corinthians 3:1–6 poetically describes the only letter of recommendation Paul needs for his legitimacy as an apostle: the Christians in Corinth. Paul and his friends delivered Christ to them. The Corinthians are a letter written by Christ not with ink but with the Holy Spirit, not on tablets of stone but on human hearts. God is the one who has empowered Paul for the ministry and who sent him and his friends into the world to do it.
Second Corinthians 3 begins with Paul’s insistence that Christ’s presence in the hearts of the Corinthians should be all the evidence they need that his ministry is true. He compares the limited glory revealed by the Old Covenant between God and Israel with the far greater glory revealed by Christ to all who come to Him by faith. That glory is revealed only when the veil of unbelief is removed through Christ by the Holy Spirit’s power. Those who see God’s glory in Christ begin to be changed to become like Him.
Thoughts on Today’s Verse…
A new covenant — God willingly entered into a new agreement with us, his creatures, sealed it with the blood of his Son Jesus, and sent the Spirit to give us the power to live the life of this new covenant. God has made a covenant of love and grace with us. The Almighty has then turned around and made us worthy and competent to share that covenant with others. No wonder it is life giving: it brings life to us and through us!
O holy and majestic God, thank you for your grace that has saved me from sin and has redeemed me from the law of sin and death. Thank you for sending the gift of your Son and the gift of your Spirit so that I can live with you in a covenant of life, grace, and love. While I confess my weaknesses, I also commit to you that I will live to honor your sacrifice, love and covenant, trusting that you will ultimately empower me to be what you are calling me to be. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.