2 Corinthians



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Devotions from Second Corinthians


A Covenant of Much Greater Glory    An Unveiled Christ   (7)

2 Corinthians 3: 3-18   (NKJV)

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
Edinburg, TX


Paul has alluded to the theme of the full sufficiency of Christ in the life of the believer. "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5).  God had given evidence of that sufficiency in his ministry among the Corinthian converts.  Their changed lives written in "fleshly tablets of the heart" are sufficient proof.  God has made Paul and Timothy able or competent ministers of the new covenant.

The New Covenant in Sharp Contrast with the Old Covenant   2 Cor. 3: 6, 7

In describing the Corinthian's position in Christ Paul has referred to the original giving of the law by God to Moses on Sinai. God had just redeemed Israel from Egypt with power and the blood of the Passover. The Ten Commandments were to be the constitution with which God was going to deal with his newly redeemed people. God himself had written with his finger the "Thou shalt not . . ." (Exodus 31:18).

The law set forth the holiness of God and his call for a separated people among the nations.  Israel's disobedience in the worship of the golden calf was evidence of the impossible nature of a perfect obedience. The law spelled out the requirements but provided no means to be able to obey them.  As such they were inscribed on stone in the "letter of the law." But the letter could only kill, but by sharp contrast God has now provided the effective means to obey. By his Spirit he writes the righteousness of the law on the "fleshly tablets of the heart" (3: 6).

To illustrate the sharp contrast Paul compares the original giving of the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. Moses had spent forty day on Sinai; when he descended to address the people his face reflected the very glory of God to such an extent that he veiled his face.  However, the veil was really to hide the transient and temporary glory of that covenant.  Paul makes it clear that the Old Covenant did come with God's glory. He does not in any way infer its inherent inferiority but rather he was introducing the abiding nature and superiority of the New Covenant in the unveiled face of Jesus Christ.

The comparison and the contrast of the two covenants are striking. If the ministry of death--"the letter kills"--was glorious, how much more the ministry of the Spirit will be glorious (3:7, 8).  The two covenants are not equals, but rather one was meant to be preparatory and the other to remain forever in all its glory. The first was negative with the purpose to reveal sin's deadly power; the second was destined to replace it in the majesty of the Spirit's working in the unveiled face of Jesus Christ.

The Glorious Implications of the New Covenant     2 Corinthians 3: 9-15

Paul returns to his frequent theme, the full sufficiency of the Spirit's working.  The Law was necessary to reveal sin's inbred nature. Its impossible demands only heightened the weakness of the flesh (Rom.8:3, 4). But God had an answer that transcends the" letter than kills." It is the "Spirit that gives life" and life more abundantly (John 10:10).Paul reiterates that this ministry of the Spirit gives them great boldness of speech (3:13). Paul revels in the triumphant walk (2:14) and now in the triumphant message (3:12). What more can be asked of the believer in Christ!

Now Paul takes a slight detour with profound inferences for the future.  Even though he is the "Apostle to the Gentiles", he remains a Jew and understands deeply God's sovereign purposes for his chosen people. God has not cast off his chosen people (Romans 11:11-36). Through them God introduced the Messiah.  A veil, however, remains on their faces even today because they rejected him who came to save the "Jew first and also the Gentile" (Rom. 1:16).  But in God's inscrutable purpose "How much more will these, who are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?" (Rom. 11:24). Israel, the holy remnant, has a glorious future under the Messiah to come. The believing remnant remains foremost in God's purposes for Christ's millennial kingdom.

In a prophetic tone Paul adds: "Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away"

(3: 16). This is an implicit reference in this context to his own people and their full restoration to the Abrahamic promises. "Behold He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see  Him, and they also who  pierced Him.. . . I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, says the Lord, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev.1:7, 8).

The Capstone of This More Glorious Ministry, the Unveiled Christ   2 Cor.3:17, 18

Paul comes now to the climax of the more glorious ministry.  These verses stand out as Mount Everest among the Himalayan Mountains. There is no more glorious statement and application for the absolute fullness of Christ's sufficiency in us. This spiritual reality is grounded in the Cross and what God is now able to do in us. To separate the Spirit's working from the practical application of the Cross leads to error.

Before anything more is said, let us return to the day of Pentecost for the origin of the Spirit's working:"Therefore being a prophet (David), and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, he would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne. He, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear" (Acts. 2:3-33). It was the Cross and only the Cross that made the Spirit's fullness ours.

"Now the Lord is that Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (3:17). There is

here no confusion about the proper functions of the Holy Spirit and Christ's person and work but

rather the most intimate interaction between the Risen Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. "He

will take of Mine and declare it to you" (John 16: 15). Liberty here is not freedom to do what we

want in worship or practice but rather freedom from the guilt of the law and freedom to obey

God and walk in holiness.  Now comes the manner in which this freedom from sin comes about.

"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" (3:18).We will return to this process, this spiritual metamorphosis, in the next study. Suffice it to say: this is an all inclusive promise, we all as opposed to Moses' limited exposure. We all with open face, not as Moses' face was veiled to reveal a declining glory, but with open face observe our very transformation into His image and likeness.  He becomes our heritage and our sufficiency.

Paul graphically compares our growth in grace, in holiness, as an effortless beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Risen Christ. It is not our works nor service but our abiding, resting, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  To be continued.

Yours in the Message of the Cross,

Gordon Johnson