2 Corinthians 3 starts as a continuation from the end of chapter 2, just as Paul starts to defend his ministry. In fact, that’s the reason for writing this follow-up letter to church in Corinth, to defend himself as a true apostle of Jesus.
As we have seen, 1 Corinthians was full of rebuke and instruction. Not everyone in the church agreed with Paul or supported him. There were some believers who rebelled and started to follow false teachers. Some of these false teachers would carry around forged letters of recommendation to try and authenticate their authority. Paul tells them that he needs no such letter and begins to state in verse 3, “Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God. It is carved, not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.”
He is confident in his ministry based on the changed lives of the Corinthians. He uses comparison and imagery of the Ten Commandments being laws written on stone and the Holy Spirit writing on believer’s hearts. He then goes on to state that his confidence does not come from him thinking that he can be qualified on his own, but rather his qualification comes from God. In verses 4 and 5, he is not boasting, but giving all the credit to God in full humility. This is unlike the false teachers who were bragging of their own power and success. Verse 6 says, “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.”
Paul is saying here that trying to be saved by following the Old Testament laws will lead to death, and that believing in Jesus is the only way that someone can receive everlasting life through the Spirit. No one BUT Jesus has ever fulfilled the law perfectly. While the law can still help people identify their sin, it cannot give life. Under the new covenant, or agreement, eternal life comes from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives new life to all who believe in Jesus Christ. The moral law, The Ten Commandments, still points out sin and shows us how to obey God, but forgiveness only comes through the grace and mercy of Christ.
In verse 7, Paul recalls the stone tablets on which God has written the old covenant as “ the old way.” Although this way leads to death, he then goes on to say how it was still glorious because it was God speaking to his people, showing them how to live. It is proof of God’s intervention in the lives of His people. But the glory of the law of Moses falls immensely short of lives lived by the POWER of the Holy Spirit. He demonstrates this in verse 8 when he asks, “Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life?” When we look back to Genesis, we see that the Holy Spirit was present there at the very conception of human life, and He is also the power behind every Christian “rebirth.” And how cool is it that He will also be there when Christ returns, transforming us into the very perfect likeness of Christ Jesus?
From here we go into the imagery of the veil that Moses wore to hide his glowing face from the people when he came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. This veil kept the people, one, from being frightened, but it also kept them from seeing the radiance fade away. The veil represents the fading of the old system and the veiling of people’s minds because of their pride, hardness of heart, and refusal to repent. The veil kept them from understanding the many references to Jesus as the Messiah in the Scriptures. When someone becomes a Christian, the veil is taken away as verse 16 says, “But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” and verse 17, “For the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Verse 17 is a very well-known verse that appears in many worship songs, in fact we just did one on Sunday. Those who were trying to be saved and lived by keeping the Old Testament laws were so caught up with rules and ceremonies, but now, through the Holy Spirit, God provides FREEDOM from sin, condemnation, fear of death. When we can trust Christ to save us, He removes our heavy burden of trying to please Him and our guilt of always falling short. He frees us from so much. Through Him we are loved, accepted, redeemed and FREE to live for Him for, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is FREEDOM.”
Let’s end with verse 18, “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.” Let’s make sure today that we leave 2 Corinthians chapter 3 challenged to be more and more like Jesus every day. The process can be instantaneous in some areas, but others may take more time. Don’t give up if you don’t see the spiritual progress that you desire. Imperfect progress is still progress. Let the love of the Holy Spirit empower you to make that progress step-by-step and day-by-day and you will get there.