WE ARE MINISTERS OF A NEW COVENANT
2 Corinthians 3:1-18
Key Verse: 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.”
In the passage, Paul explains how he/we became ministers of a new covenant (1-6). He also talk about how glorious our ministry is, and what blessings we have received (7-16, 18-19).
- You are a letter from Christ (1-6)
First, you yourselves are our letter (1-3). Look at verse 1. “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?” Here Paul is addressing a problem in his relationship to the Corinthians. They had been influenced by false apostles who emphasized letters of recommendation as proof of valid apostleship. These false teachers criticized Paul for not having such letters, planting doubt about his integrity and message. To help the Corinthians, Paul presented the best recommendation letter. Look at verse 2. “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.” The Corinthians were in Paul’s heart. He loved them, prayed for them, worried over them, and always thought of them.
Paul explains further in verse 3. “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.” It was undeniably self-evident that the Corinthian believers were a letter from Christ. The Holy Spirit had forgiven their sins, healed their wounds, given them new hope, and transformed their lives, printing the image of Christ on them. Only Christ could do this. It happened through Paul’s ministry. Instead of looking to human validation, Paul points to the image of Christ in them and says, “You are a letter from Christ, written by the Holy Spirit.”
A letter from Christ is superior to any human letter. Human letters of recommendation can be helpful in entering a university, getting a good job, and so on. However, these letters are temporal. Even letters on stone do not last forever. However, letters from the Spirit, written on human hearts, are eternal. They are most trustworthy. Some people think that to do the work of God we need a certificate from a seminary, and that without this we can do nothing. However, Paul put no confidence in these things (Php 3:4-6). All that mattered to Paul was that the Holy Spirit had worked through faith in Christ Jesus. To Paul, that was the one and only qualification that validates God’s servants. In Christian history many seemingly uneducated people, like Jesus’ apostles, and ordinary people proved their apostleship by the result of their ministry through the Holy Spirit. In UBF, we embrace this principle. Not many of us received a formal education in seminary but went out and started or served ministries around the world. So some criticized UBF as weird in that matter. Family members misunderstood and even persecuted those who were obeying God’s call to serve campus mission. Despite our shortcomings, God validated our apostleship by the result of ministries. Through our prayers and Bible studies and messages, sinful students and people repented their sins and received and honored Jesus as their savior and Lord. Their lives were transformed. That was possible only by the work of Holy Spirit. In our Triton ministry, we are all a letter from Christ, a validation of God’s apostleship of our pastor. Apostle Paul made this point clear in Romans 1:5, saying, “Through him [Jesus] and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”
Second, our confidence and competence come from God (4-6). Paul goes on. Look at verse 4. “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.” Paul’s confidence was not relative, but absolute. It was different from confidence in human authority. Paul’s confidence was unshakable. This confidence enabled him to endure challenges. God gives us this kind of confidence. Look at verse 5. “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” God gives us everything we need to do his work. It is not inherent; it is given by God. So it is not that only a few special people who can do God’s work. Whoever trusts in God can be made competent by God to be a gospel professional.
Verse 6 says, “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.” Paul says that God has made “us”—all believers—competent as ministers of a new covenant. The new covenant is derived from the old covenant. The old covenant was a binding promise between God and the Israelites. It was a conditional covenant based on actions. (See Ex 19-24). When the Israelites obeyed the law, they received its blessing. When they disobeyed, they broke the covenant and suffered its curses. The new covenant is different. With deep understanding for man’s weakness, God made the new covenant based on his mercy. God saves people and embrace them as his treasured possession and his people simply through faith in Jesus. God knows that we cannot keep the old covenant. The new covenant is a covenant of grace. It is one-sided and unconditional.
The new covenant became effective when Jesus died on the cross. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28). In the old covenant man’s sin was forgiven through the shedding of animal blood. This provision was temporary and incomplete. The Israelites had to offer sacrifices again and again, whenever they sinned. This was only a shadow of the good things that were coming. The new covenant is not based on animal’s blood, but on the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. The blood of Jesus Christ was holy and sinless. So it can bring complete and eternal forgiveness once for all (Heb 9:12). When we come to God by faith, God forgives our terrible sins and purifies us through Jesus’ blood (1 Jn 1:9). We don’t need to cleanse ourselves before going to God. When we come to God as we are, depending on his grace, Jesus purifies us with his blood. Jesus gives us eternal life (Ro 6:23b). This is the character of the new covenant.
Look at verse 6b. “…not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” This tells us how we become the ministers of a new covenant. Here “the letter” refers to the written code, which is God’s law. When Paul says, “the letter kills,” it is a simple explanation of the law. The law, given by God, is sacred, holy and righteous. The problem is that man is weak and cannot keep the law with his own strength. The law exposes sin; the law judges sin and brings the death sentence. The law does not kill man; sin kills man. However, when we accept Jesus as our Savior, we cross over from the power of sin and death into the power of the Spirit of life. When we are in Christ Jesus the power of the Spirit of life sets us free from the power of sin and death, and we receive a new life. This is how we become ministers of a new covenant.
Anyone and everyone who believes in Jesus is a minister of a new covenant. God wants to save all people through us. Wherever we go, we are God’s ministers of life, not instruments of condemnation. Wherever we go, there is life-giving work. Those who are dying in their sins will be made alive when they hear the gospel. Today Missionary Monica Barry is holding her first worship service in Alpine, Texas. May God bless her gospel message and give life to the dying souls of people there. Spiritually speaking, all people without Christ are dying in their sins. Only the gospel can give them life. May God use each of us as a minister of the new covenant to give life to the perishing souls. May God raise and send 100,000 ministers of the new covenant to all nations by 2041.
- The glorious ministry of the new covenant (7-18)
In verses 7-16, Paul talks about far surpassing glory of the new covenant over the old one. He also reveals what kind of blessings we receive in the new covenant (17-18).
First, the surpassing glory of the new covenant (7-16). The ministry of the old covenant was glorious. It taught former Israelite slaves the law of God. It taught them to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. As Moses received the law of God, Ten Commandments written on the stone tablets, his face became radiant with divine glory (7). The old covenant was too glorious for the Israelites to look at the face of Moses, although the radiant glory was fading away. Because of shining glory, Moses put a veil on his face (Ex 34:29-35).
Paul is saying if the ministry that brings death is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that gives life? (7,8) Look at verse 9. “If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!” The old covenant is a ministry that condemns. It finds faults and passes sentence like a prosecutor. It always accuses without mercy. No one can be free from its accusations. Condemned people feel crushed, and without hope. However, the new covenant brings righteousness. It never accuses or condemns us. It points us to Christ who took all our sins on himself at the cross. Through Christ, we are forgiven, encouraged and strengthened to live as God’s children. We are right with God. We are made alive and grow. The ministry that brings righteousness is even more glorious than the ministry that condemns (Jn 8:11).
Paul elaborates in verses 10-11, saying the glory of the old covenant is temporary but the glory of the new covenant is everlasting. The glory of the old covenant is like moonlight that brightens a dark sky during the night. Moonlight disappears when the sun rises. Just as sunlight surpasses moonlight, the glory of the new covenant surpasses that of the old covenant. The ministers of the new covenant are even more glorious than Moses (12-13). To hide the fading glory of the old covenant, Moses put a veil over his face. The surpassing glory of the new covenant lasts forever. So ministers of the new covenant are bold. They can go around with unveiled faces and reveal the unfading glory of the new covenant. Still, there are many who want to cling to the glory of the old covenant. They try hard to obey the law. Yet they always fail. Then a veil of guilt and condemnation block their hearts. This is removed when we turn to the Lord. Verse 16 says, “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Then we can enjoy the glorious ministry of the new covenant.
The glory of the new covenant surpasses every other kind of glory. There are many people in glorious positions: presidents of nations, Nobel Prize winners, army generals, premier athletes, YouTube stars, and so on. Despite their glories, however, they cannot save souls, even their own. They cannot make men righteous with God. Furthermore, their glory is fading away. On the contrary, the ministry of the new covenant forgives people’s sins, saves their souls and leads them to eternal life in the kingdom of God. So it is most glorious. Not only does God save us, he also gives us the most glorious ministry. We are ministers of a new covenant, and we are glorious.
Second, the blessings of the new covenant (17-18). Look at verse 17. “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Jesus gives us true freedom. There are many things that bind us. Strongest among them is the binding of a guilty conscience. If a man commits sin, it is the beginning of a degenerative process that continues long after the act is over. He suffers from a guilty conscience for the rest of his life. The guilty conscience does not disappear as time goes by. However, when we confess our sins, Jesus gives us true freedom from guilt. Jesus sets us free from the fear of death such as anxiety, distress, and emptiness. Furthermore, Jesus enables us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness, before him all our days (Lk 1:75).
Look at verse 18. “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 Lord, who is the Spirit.” When we come to Christ we not only enjoy true freedom, we are also being transformed into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory. In contrast to Moses’ fading glory, we have ever-increasing glory. We are being made more like Jesus every day. When Jesus comes again, we will be like Jesus – we shall receive the resurrection with a brand new body that is imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual (1 Co 15:42-44).
In summary, God forgave all our sins and made us ministers of the new covenant through Jesus. We are not qualified, but we became ministers of the new covenant by the grace of God. This ministry gives life to perishing souls. This ministry forgives condemned sinners and makes them righteous with God. In human perspective, our ministry is not valuable. However, from everlasting God’s standpoint, our ministry is the most glorious work in the world, more glorious than any other. Be proud of being a minister of the new covenant. Just like Paul, let us be very bold to reveal this glorious new covenant and carry out this life-giving work.