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2Corinthians 3 (web)


The Spirit Produces Fruits

3:1 Are we beginning again to commend ourselves?
Or do we need, as do some, letters of commendation to you or from you?
3:2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;
3:3 being revealed that you are a letter of Christ, ministered by us,
written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God;
not in tablets of stone, but in tablets that are hearts of flesh.

The Spirit Makes Us Competent Ministers

3:4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God;
3:5 not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves;
but our sufficiency is from God;
3:6 who also made us sufficient as servants of a new covenant;
not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

The Spirit Reveals the Lord
and Transforms Us into His Image

3:7 But if the service of death, written engraved on stones,
came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly
on the face of Moses for the glory of his face; which was passing away:
3:8 won't service of the Spirit be with much more glory?
3:9 For if the service of condemnation has glory,
the service of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.
3:10 For most assuredly that which has been made glorious
has not been made glorious in this respect, by reason of the glory that surpasses.
3:11 For if that which passes away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
3:12 Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech,
3:13 and not as Moses, who put a veil on his face,
that the children of Israel wouldn't look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away.
3:14 But their minds were hardened,
for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains,
because in Christ it passes away.
3:15 But to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.
3:16 But whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
3:18 But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord,
are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Discussion Questions

vs 1-3 How would you measure fruitfulness in ministry?
And what are some ways in which it has been measured?

vs 4-6 How does God develop people to be competent ministers?
Does this necessarily include going to seminary?
What "letter" kills?
Was that "letter" a part of Jesus' ministry?

 vs 7-16 Why is the New Covenant ministry more glorious?
What application does Paul derive from this fact?
What can people do to help them understand the Bible better, if it's veiled to them?

vs 17,18 What is the difference between the Lord and the Holy Spirit?
What effect does the Holy Spirit mean to have on the believer's lives?


A Recommendation Letter

2Cor 3:1-3  Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Part of Paul's credentials was his fruitfulness measured by his impact on those to whom he has been ministering. And that impact is not measured by mere attendance, which is in a sense the letter. For some measure fruitfulness by numbers. But that just measures popularity. Some measure it by the size and extravagance of buildings and programs. Rather Paul measures it by a behavior which is a reflection of what on the person's heart. For God said, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts." Jer 31:33b

Jesus said, "Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." Mt 7:20This principle holds both of false teachers and true. Jesus said, "This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." John 15:8 If people were to evaluate Christianity based upon your example, (and they do), what kind of credence does your lifestyle offer? For what you do as a Christian reflects both on Christ and on those who have spent timing teaching you. Give them nothing bad to say about us. "In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us." Titus 2:7,8

Competence from God

2Cor 3:4-6 Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 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.

The Holy Spirit not only produced the fruitfulness evident in the Corinthians, but also made Paul into a competent minister. It is not by going to a seminary that one can be made a competent minister. But rather as one ministers in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, one becomes competent. Where does your competance come from?

Don't confuse the "letter" (NIV) of verse 3 which is "epistole" in Greek with the "letter" (NIV) of verse 6 which is "gramma". Paul says in Rom 2:29 "He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter" ("gamma") Gamma is the written code, the outward form, the rules and regulations. Paul did not approach them as a "Moses", with a set of rules and regulations that failing to obey they would be held guilty. Nor did he measure competence by adherence to programs and outward forms, but rather by their hearts. For the Christian life should come naturally to those who have been born of the Spirit of God.

Now there are those who claim that the "letter" refers to the preaching of the gospel. But it says, the letter kills. Does the gospel kill? Indeed there are those who claim that the preaching of the gospel kills people's interest as it can turn some people off and even make them hostile. Rather they claim to preach by their lives rather than through the Word of God. But while a person's life may open a door for the gospel, the actual content of the gospel message is what has been written in the Bible as testified by eyewitnesses. See for yourself. In Acts did Peter preach about himself? or Paul? No, they preached Christ.

The letter (gamma) it's referring to is not the gospel message. Rather the letter which kills is the Law, which is not without value. Paul writes, "I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died." Rom 7:9 But he goes on to say that's a good thing. "For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God." Gal 2:19  For "through the law we become conscious of sin." Rom 3:20 and consequently "the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." Gal 3:24

The Letter Kills

2Cor 3:7-11 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

As for Moses, it is written, "When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him." ... so "When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face." Ex 34:29-30,33

But as for the engravings on stone, here again the word "letters" is "gramma" of which he said, "the letter kills". For the Law kills. "Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death." Rom 7:9,10

This is the main distinction between the Old and New Covenant. The Old brings condemnation. The New brings righteousness. The Old was only intended to bring people to a sense of hopelessness by revealing the awesome holiness of God, his hatred of sin and his judicial nature. But what a priviledge to be involved in propagating the New the central theme of which is God's grace, forgiveness of sins and eternal life. For "no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Rom 3:20-24

Hope leads to Boldness

2Cor 3:12-16  Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.  Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

Ever notice how hope affects one's enthusiasm, and consequently one's courage? If you anticipate a good outcome, you will be enthusiastic and overcome fears counter to that outcome. Paul was bold in confronting sin in the Corinthian church with an unveiled frankness of speech.

There was little hope under the Old Covenant. Most sins were punishable by death, sacrifices of atonement being only for sins of ignorance, and many sins, like polygamy, were simply overlooked by the Law because God knew that people were too hardened of heart to come anywhere close to living up to His standards. (Mark 10:5) Consequently there was a reluctance among the Israelites to deal with sinfulness among themselves, and especially among their family members. But under the New Covenant there was hope because all sin was forgiveable. Therefore one could deal with it boldly as there was hope. And one can now call sin for what it is and not hide behind a veil.

To this day the meaning behind the Old Covenant alludes the Jews. For they see it only as rules and regulations and miss the purpose behind it. As Paul said, "the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" 1Cor 2:14 But when a person turns to the Lord, then also comes revelation of the meaning behind the Old Covenant.

How can a person turn to the Lord without understanding the Old Covenant? Understanding the Old Covenant is not necessary for salvation, though it drives one to conviction of sin. But it's not necessary to understand the spiritual meaning and purpose behind the Old Covenant to turn to the Lord. But the New Covenant is not veiled in allegory. Rather it's clearly preached so that anyone can understand.

Transformed by the Spirit

2Cor 3:17,18 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Spirit of the Lord.

Some take the phrase "the Lord is the Spirit" as a justification for a theology of "modalism" in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not distinct persons, but rather different modes of God. But to do so is to overlook almost every other verse which speaks of the Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus is spoken of as being in heaven sitting at the Father's right hand, having sent the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of Christ - into the believers. Throughout the New Testament these are spoken of as distinct persons. And even here a modalistic interpretation doesn't hold for the very next phrase is "the Spirit of the Lord". So how can the Spirit be "of the Lord" if in fact it is the Lord? But the Spirit is a proxy server to the Lord, an ambassador. As such he represents the Lord's will in all matters.

He brings up the Spirit because he's talking about the "ministry of the Spirit" mentioned earlier in 2Cor 3:6 and "the Spirit gives life" in 2Cor 3:8 and all the way back to chapter 1 he said, "He set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." 2Cor 1:22 The Christian life and Christian ministry is led by the Spirit of God.

Concerning freedom, he warned the Galatians getting caught up in legalism, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Gal 5:1 But also, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." Gal 5:13  The idea is to not live the Christian life as if it were merely a matter of following rules and regulations, but rather to do what is right because it is the right thing to do - to be transformed into the likeness of Christ and walk according to that new nature as the Spirit directs. Thus the Christian life would come naturally to those born of the Spirit of God just as the Christian life is natural to the Lord himself. For the transformation - the regeneration - comes from the Spirit of the Lord.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 31,2010