Chapter 03 – THE MINISTERS OF THE NEW COVENANT
2nd Corinthians Chapter 03 is all about the “Ministers of the New Covenant.”
I.) PAUL’S “LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION” (v1-3)
“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but tablets of human hearts.” – (v1-3)
In this opening section, Paul answered the issue about his “Letter of Recommendation.” What is this?
In the modern-day, a letter of recommendation is similar to what we call “credentials” or an appointment letter. It is something that establishes one’s authority. Back in the days of Paul, this is necessary to prevent pretenders from infiltrating the church (particularly about the church’s collection being scammed). Paul himself even issued letters of recommendation to his ministry partners like Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2) and Timothy (1 Cor. 16:10-11). But the issue being raised here is Paul’s own letter of recommendation. Does he have one?
Upon hearing the term “letter of recommendation,” the first thing that comes into mind is a written, paper-based document. Paul argues that he has a letter of recommendation. However, it is not a written one, but a living one; and that is the Corinthians themselves.
“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.” – v2
Paul is not making an excuse here for his lack of a written recommendation. He really means it. According to Paul, the best letter of recommendation is the CHANGED LIVES of the people that he ministers to. It is not impressive credentials, a seminary degree, awards and recognitions, high church positions, or any church-related achievements. More than anything, the mark of a true servant of God is his fruit (his personal Christlikeness and ministry). Just like Jesus said:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” – Matthew 7:15-20
As he continues, Paul explains that their changed lives very much testifies to his credibility as a servant of God (“to be known and read by all”). However, Paul quickly clarified that it is not him who did it, but God. In verse 3, Paul said that it was really Christ who was behind everything. And as he wraps it up, Paul states that his letter of recommendation is a spiritual one (“written with the Spirit of the living God on tablets of human hearts”) and not a letter “written with ink on tablets of stones.”
II.) THE MINISTERS OF THE NEW COVENANT (v4-6)
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
We now come to the main passage of this chapter. After establishing his spiritual credentials, Paul concludes that every believer is a “Minister of the New Covenant.” Notice that in this passage, Paul used “we” and not “I.” He is telling the Corinthians that they are also ministers of the New Covenant (therefore, all believers). Paul again explained that sufficiency comes from God and not from ourselves. It is really God who appoints us and empowers us to accomplish His will and purposes. The true point of this passage is that as a believer, we already have God’s commission to serve Him (Matt. 28:18-20). As Paul stated in his letter to the Ephesians, God saved us so that we can serve Him.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10
The point is not just to inform us that we are the ministers of the New Covenant. It also reminds us that as believers, we are called to serve God and live for Him.
III.) THE MINISTRY OF DEATH vs. THE MINISTRY OF THE SPIRIT (v7-11)
“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.”
The previous passage focused on the ministers. Now, these next verses focused on the new covenant. What is the new covenant?
The New Covenant (or New Testament), refers to the law of grace that was established through the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross. In this passage, Paul referred to it as the “Ministry of the Spirit.” The Old Covenant, which refers to the entire Mosaic Law, was referred to as the “Ministry of Death.” But why such a distinction?
This doctrine is a familiar and recurring theme in Paul’s letters (Romans Ch.3-8 and Galatians Ch.3). In a simple explanation, the Old Covenant is called the ministry of death because it doesn’t grant anyone salvation. Like Paul said in Romans 3, the law was simply given to inform us of our sinfulness.
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” – Romans 3:20
However, the Old Covenant is also glorious. Paul recalled the scene in Exodus where Moses’ face shone after receiving the tablets where it was engraved (Exodus 34:29-35). But Paul’s real point is that if the Old Covenant is very glorious despite it not giving anyone salvation, then how much more glorious will the New Covenant that gives salvation be? This simply encourages us, the Ministers of the New Covenant, to answer and fulfill our calling from God.
IV.) THE VEIL THAT IS TAKEN AWAY (v12-16)
“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”
Paul continues and expands his explanation about the difference between the Old and New Covenants. And this time, he referenced the veil at the temple.
Let us first remember that Paul is talking to the Corinthians (who were gentiles). Therefore, they must be unfamiliar with the veil at the temple (which is part of the Jewish faith). So Paul explained it as a form of teaching and not as a reminder. So what is the significance of the veil at the temple regarding the Old and New Covenants?
In Jewish custom, the veil separates the two main divisions of the temple of God. It stands between the Holy Place (the area where appointed priests can enter) and the Most Holy Place (where God’s presence is said to reside). No one can enter the Most Holy Place without complying with the rules and procedures set by God. For if they do, immediate death will come (Lev.10). Therefore, the veil symbolizes the wall or boundary between God and man. However, when Jesus sacrificed His life at the cross, one of the immediate things that happened was that the veil at the temple was miraculously torn in half from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51). This means that in the New Covenant, no more veil separates us from God. Through faith in Jesus, we now have free and unlimited access to God’s presence. WHAT A GREAT SAVIOR JESUS TRULY IS!!
Now, Paul’s point is that as ministers of the New Covenant, no veil separates us from God. Just as Paul said, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (v12). And this leads to the conclusion of the chapter.
V.) THE LORD IS SPIRIT (v17-18)
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Paul concludes by revealing an important doctrine about God, and that is He is a Spirit. This means that He doesn’t have a physical body (except for Jesus who will forever carry His human body). But Paul associated God’s Spirit with freedom or liberty. Just as he said, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” The freedom that Paul mentioned here is not freedom to do anything. Rather, this freedom refers to unlimited access to the presence of God. As believers, we are free to enter His presence and have an intimate relationship with Him. This is the whole point of the New Covenant.
And to the ultimate conclusion, the greatest benefit of having free access to God’s presence is that we get to see His image which allows us to be transformed to His likeness. According to Paul’s letter to the Romans, one of God’s plans is that every believer is transformed to the image of Christ.
“For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” – Romans 8:29
To sum it up, the whole point of being the Ministers of the New Covenant is for us to be transformed to be like Christ. Christianity is not about self-improvement; it is about transformation. The sign of a true believer is a transformed life. It is only by being transformed to Christlikeness that we can do and live in the way Jesus did.
The New Covenant is about the grace and love of God. And as its ministers (who are being transformed to the image of Christ), we are called to spread this message to the whole world. It is God Himself who appointed us to this task and He has also given us the skills and strength to accomplish it. Just like Paul’s last line, “For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
God Bless!! 🙂