Let us turn in our Bibles to 2 Corinthians, chapter three.
Paul, as great and powerful a minister as he was, had his detractors. It is sort of encouraging when people are, you know, saying things about you to realize that as great as Paul was, he even had his detractors. There in Corinth there were those who were putting Paul down.
It’s sort of tragic that many times little people feel that the only way to elevate themselves is by pulling others down to their level. So they feel that their ability to criticize someone, sort of elevates them. But I’ve always discovered that whoever throws mud only loses ground. So try not to throw mud.
But they were challenging Paul’s authority. They were challenging his apostleship. Thus in this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is sort of defending himself. As we move further on in the book, we find Paul sort of being forced to brag about what he has done. A boasting that was, he didn’t want to do it, but in order to sort of show what he had done for Christ and the fruit of his ministry, he reluctantly shared a lot of the things concerning the ministry.
In the early church because there was a tremendous lack of communication just from a practical standpoint. They couldn’t get on the telephone and call the church in Corinth and say look out, there are these guys that are coming around. They are really ripping off the churches. There were legitimate ministries as well as illegitimate ministries. There were those that were ripping off the flock. That is always true in the body of Christ. There are always those who are out to fleece the flock. Then there are the true shepherds who are out to feed the flock. They are always there. They’ve always been there. They were there in the early church. There are always charlatans.
So it was customary when you were going to a new area and you had the ministry of a prophet or evangelist or whatever, to take letters of commendation with you. The church where you had ministered would write a letter of commendation. They would tell them how God had used you, to sort of verify your ministry. So often these travelling itinerant types of evangelists would carry with them letters of recommendation, letters of commendation.
So Paul in opening the third chapter, said, Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Is it necessary that I commend myself to you?
Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? Do I have to bring along a letter from the apostles in Jerusalem, you know, or from the other churches? Do I need letters of commendation when I come to you? Or do I need letters of commendation from you? Do I need for you to write and confirm my ministry there in Corinth?
Paul said, 2You are our epistle (or letter) written in our hearts, known and read by all men; Actually your lives in Christ, your walk in the Spirit is the letter of recommendation or commendation of my ministry. It is verifying my ministry.
3clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, You are the evidence, the proof.
You know Jesus in warning concerning false prophets on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:16), by their fruits you shall know them. I think this is a wonderful criteria to look at. What is the fruit of the ministry? So many of these who are so highly critical, what is the fruit of their ministry? What can they show for their ministry? If we are to judge a ministry by the fruit, what can we see as the fruit of the ministry? Paul said, you, your faith in Christ, your walk with the Lord is the proof, is the epistle of Christ !
You are the epistle of Christ written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. Your lives in Christ, your walk in the Spirit, you are all that is necessary as proof of the ministry. Not written with ink, but written by the Spirit of God, not in tables of stone but in the fleshly tablets of the heart, that is where the true ministry and confirmation of the ministry takes place.
4And we have such trust through Christ toward God. This is our trust that we have.
5Not that we are sufficient of ourselves. Not that I am anything.
Or to think of anything as being from ourselves, In other words, Paul realizes that the ministry that God gave to him was of the Spirit. It’s not that I’m anything. It’s not that I have abilities or sufficiencies within myself, but God is our sufficiency.
It’s interesting how that today you pick up a modern Christian periodical. They are filled with ads concerning seminars that are being held all over the United States, success ministry seminars. The “how to” seminars. I was looking at one this week, “How to take your church from thirty to three hundred in six weeks”. It sounds pretty exciting. It only costs you $400 to find out! But the very connotation is that you can be something in yourself. There are techniques that you can use. There are ways that you can learn by which to manipulate people and to have a growing church. There are seminars being held all over on the “how to’s” of the ministry. How to become something in yourself.
But Paul said not that we are sufficient in ourselves. Or that we think anything of ourselves. The work that God did there in Corinth. I don’t take credit for that. It was God that did it! It’s always exciting to see God work! The ministry here is so exciting because it’s obviously a work of God. It’s a thrill to just see what God can do. It isn’t any secret. It isn’t any skill. It isn’t any abilities. It isn’t any genius. It’s just God’s Spirit at work in the hearts and lives of people. That’s what Paul is saying.
It’s not that we are sufficient or think that it is something in us but our sufficiency is from God, 6who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, It’s the ability of God. He’s the one who has enabled us to be the ministers of this new covenant.
not of the letter (That is the letter of the law.) but of the Spirit; The old covenant was the letter of the law. When God gave the law to Moses (Ex. 19:5) and told him to give it to the people, God established a covenant with Israel. If you keep these commandments and do the things that are written therein, then I will be a God unto you and you shall be My people. It was conditioned on their obedience to the commandments, keeping the commandments. So God pronounced and had them pronounce the blessings of keeping the commandment.
When they came into the land (Deut. 26:9), they came in the area of Shechem, Mt. Ebal on one side and Mt. Gerizim on the other. Some of the Levites were on one mountain, the other on the other, the people were down below in the valley. And from Mt. Ebal they would pronounce the curses that would come to the people if they didn’t obey the law of God. From Mt. Gerizim they called down the blessings if you do obey the laws of God. But God established this covenant, a covenant of the law. And the blessings were predicated on their obedience to the law of God. Paul said God has made us able ministers of this new covenant, not of the letter of the law, but of the Spirit.
for the letter kills, This is, the letter of the law. Now oftentimes, unfortunately, this particular Scripture of Paul is so misinterpreted. People often say, well, you can’t just teach the Word of God, the letter kills. And it’s a horrible ignorance that would interpret this particular passage. It is the letter of the law that kills. How so? Because there is nothing in the law that can save you. The law can only reveal your need of salvation. The law does not save, the law condemns. The letter of the law has condemned all of you to death because none of you have kept the law completely. And even the law (Deut. 26:27) itself said, cursed is the man who continues not in the whole law to do all of the things that are written therein. The Bible says (James 2:9), if you keep the whole law, and you violate in one point, you are guilty of all. If you are seeking to be righteous by keeping rules, regulations and laws, you are in big trouble. The letter kills.
The law condemns us all to death, but the Spirit gives life. And so this new covenant that God has established through Jesus Christ is a covenant of grace, forgiveness and mercy.
It is interesting that when Moses (Ex. 32) first came down from the mountain with the ten commandments, as he and Joshua were approaching the camp, they heard all of this commotion. Joshua said, what’s going on Moses? It sounds like a war. No that’s not the sound of a war. The people are up to mischief. As they came near the camp they saw the people dancing around this golden image. Moses had the two tables of stone in his hand. The tables of stone upon which God had engraven the ten commandments. The first one, “Thou shall have on other gods before Me.” The second was “Thou shalt not make any graven image unto thyself to bow down to it and worship it.” They were breaking the very first two laws!
So Moses took these tables of stone and threw them on the ground and broke them. Had he come into the camp with these two tables of stone, the whole camp would have dropped over dead. The law said if you violate the law you were to be put to death. And here they were, violating the first two commandments.
So Moses threw them down and broke them. He rebuked the people. He went back up and God put the ten commandments on two other tables of stone. But then God (Ex. 34) gave to Moses the laws of the sacrifices whereby they could make a covering for their sins through the offering of an animal. Through the death of an animal they could be spared. So the law had the ministration of death. The law condemned people to death. The law could not make a person righteous. It could not give life. It could only minister the sentence of death to those who did not keep it and nobody kept it.
So the letter kills. The letter of the law will kill you, but the Spirit give life. 7But if the ministry of death, (That is, the law. And it is the condemnation of death.) written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, Now if this law which ministered death, was so glorious that when Moses came down from the presence of God (Ex. 34:29-35), his face was shining, they put a veil over the face of Moses. This law was not a permanent covenant with God, with the people.
Jesus said, He was giving them a New Covenant, the New Testament. It was always planned that God would give a new covenant to man. It was God’s covenant of grace and mercy and forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
But this old covenant which was destined to be done away with, it was so glorious that Moses’ face was shining. They had to put a veil over the face. 8how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? In other words, this is one of those “how much more” this new covenant is glorious, this covenant of God’s grace through Jesus Christ!
9For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. 10For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. In other words, when you compare the two there is no comparison! The glory of fellowship with God that we have! The glory of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! The glory of the power of God that has been vested in His children! It’s so far excels the glory of the old covenant that it’s hard to even make a comparison. The excelling glory of this new covenant that we have through Jesus Christ makes the old covenant just sort of “pow”. It was glorious, but nothing to be compared with the glory of this covenant that God has now established with us through Jesus Christ our Lord! Oh, what awesome glory we have in Christ!
11For if what is passing away (That is, the old covenant.) was glorious, what remains is much more glorious. This argumentation from the lesser to the greater is something that is quite common with Paul. And for some of you students, I recommend that you take your concordance and you go through and note all of these arguments from the lesser to the greater.
If God spared not His own Son (Rom. 8:32), but delivered Him up for us all, how much more then shall He not freely give us all things? The “much more”, it’s a tremendous study, especially in Romans. You find Paul using this form of argument quite often, the “much more”. Here he uses it in regard to the two covenants.
The old covenant was glorious, but oh, the covenant that was of death, it was glorious, but ooooooh, how about the covenant that gives life? How much more glorious is this covenant that we have in and through Jesus Christ?
12Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—This hope that we have of salvation and redemption through Jesus Christ. Paul said we use great boldness of speech.
13unlike Moses, (Great boldness or plainness of speech is that we speak clearly or boldly, not as Moses.) who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. Now here Paul teaches and you don’t pick it up in the Old Testament, but Paul teaches that the purpose of Moses putting the veil over his face was to keep them from seeing the glow that was on his face, fade away. He didn’t want them to see the fading of that glow. So he veiled his face so that they couldn’t see the glow that was there on his face from being in the presence of God. They couldn’t see that fading away. But the fact that the glow did fade away, was only indicative of the fact that the old covenant was one day going to fade away. It was going to pass away. It was never intended by God to be a permanent covenant. It’s going to fade away when God replaces it with a new covenant, which He did in Christ Jesus, for Jesus Christ is the end of the law to those who believe!
So Moses veiled his face so they couldn’t see the diminishing glory of that shining on his face. 14But their minds were blinded (that is, this veil). For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. So this same veil, they couldn’t look at Moses’ face to see the declining glory. This same veil, Paul said, is over their face today. They are blinded to the glory of God, in this new covenant in Christ Jesus. When they read the Old Testament, they have these blinders on, that they can’t see that Jesus Christ is the predicted Messiah. It is so obvious! It is so plain! It is so clear! He fulfilled over three hundred of the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah in His first coming. But as they read the Old Testament, there is this veil over their faces that they just fail to see that Jesus Christ is indeed the Messiah. It’s sort of sad. It’s sort of tragic.
Paul in writing to the Romans (Romans 11:25), said that blindness has happened to Israel in part. There’s a veil over their faces.
Jesus said (John 5:39), you do search the Scriptures for in them you think you have life, but they testify of Me. And you will not come to Me that you might have life.
That’s the sad story of Israel to the present day. For the most part, now blindness has happened in part, to the most part, thank God there are those that the veil has been removed! They are some of the strongest, most fervent witnesses for Christ, when they come to realize that Jesus Christ is indeed, the Messiah. They become great witnesses for Jesus Christ, even as Paul did. The veil was removed! Suddenly the Old Testament was clear. As he read the prophecy, he realized, that’s talking about Jesus. And we read how that Paul would prove from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
But the veil was over their faces, Paul said, even when they read the Old Testament now. They have this veil over their eyes. They don’t see that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. This veil is taken away in Christ. When they come to Jesus Christ the veil is removed. Now they see clearly. Yes, how obvious it is! That Jesus is the promised Messiah!
15But even to this day, when Moses is read, And he is read every Sabbath day in the synagogue. They have these Scripture readings every Sabbath day. And so even to this day, we can bring that up to date! Paul was saying to this day. He was writing about the year 60 AD.
Here we are in 1997 and even to this day when the law is read, Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. There is a hardness in their hearts towards Jesus Christ.
It is interesting that in Israel today, you can become a citizen if you are an atheist. You can become a citizen if you are a Buddhist or if you are a Moslem. The only ones they deny citizenship to are Christians. The veil is still over their face. And it’s over their heart. There is a hardness in their hearts.
Actually a law is being proposed before the Knesset now to imprison people who would publish any materials or even hand out materials that were designed to cause one to change their religion. In other words this proposed law would actually make you liable for a year in jail if you went over to Israel and began to pass out tracts that would point out that Jesus was the Messiah, that he fulfilled the promises and so forth. You could spend a year in jail in Israel.
Now, Netanyahu has declared that he will not allow this law to pass or to be enacted. I appreciate his standing up against it. I’ve written letters to the consulates and all, expressing my opinions and feelings. Hopefully this law will not be passed.
It’s only indicating the heart condition. Their hearts have a veil over their heart when it comes to Jesus Christ. They just will not receive Him, though the preponderance of evidence is there to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, they refuse to consider it, they refuse to accept it.
16Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. When you see a Jewish person who had turned to Jesus Christ, you see a person whose veil has been removed. Now we do read of a day (Is. 66:8), (Rom. 11:26-32), when this blindness that has happened to Israel is going to be removed and there will be a tremendous revival in Israel. I don’t think the church will be here to see it. All indications of the Scripture seem to say that we’ll not be here. Blindness has happened to Israel in part until the fullness of the Gentiles come in. Till the Lord takes us in the Rapture and then, all of Israel shall be saved. There will be the removal of the blindness and the recognition that Jesus indeed is their Messiah. And they will begin to say, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! And Jesus said when they begin to say that, then He is going to return! When the Lord shall build up Zion, then shall He return in His glory.
So, I personally believe that this is right around the corner. I think that we are right on the edge, right on the verge of the glorious culmination of the work of God among the Gentiles. I think the last call is going out. I believe that Jesus Christ is coming very, very soon. Sooner that any of us realize! And that all of these passages are soon to be fulfilled and that glorious day of the Lord is at hand!
So when their hearts are turned to the Lord, then the veil is taken away.
17Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Again, here is a Scripture that has been misused and misinterpreted. I was in a meeting where there was a lot of wild emotionalism. People were screaming, roaming up and down the aisles, rolling in the aisles. Afterwards, I mentioned to the pastor that I thought things were rather out of order and asked for an explanation. He said, where the Spirit of the Lord is brother, there is liberty. There is freedom to be crazy.
But that’s not what Paul is saying. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom from the law! We no longer are under the bondage of the law.
When the church in Jerusalem gathered (Acts 15) to determine what responsibility the Gentile believer should have to the law, Peter said, why should we put upon them a yoke of bondage that neither we nor or our fathers were able to bear? Why should we put them under the law? He called it a yoke of bondage. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. There is liberty from the bondage of trying, in ourselves, to keep the law, to be perfect.
We’re living in this glorious time where if a man sins (1 John 2:1-2), we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous who was the sacrifice. He was the propitiation for our sins. So the Lord is that Spirit. And Paul has been talking about the contrast between the law of death, the ministration of death, and the Spirit of life. The Lord is that Spirit. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is this glorious freedom from the condemnation of the law, because the law only condemned. (Romans 8:1) There is therefore now no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:34)Who is He that condemns? It is Christ who has died, yea, rather is risen again and is even at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. There is freedom. There is no condemnation.
18But we all, with unveiled face, (There is no veil, as with the Jews.) beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, Now, Moses came down, the glory of God was shining on his face because of his encounter with God there on the mount. They had to put the veil over his face.
But we, all of us, with unveiled faces 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. There should be changes taking place daily in our lives that indicate growth from glory to glory as the Spirit of God is conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.
Now, in the beginning, God made man in His image and after His likeness. When Adam sinned, we call it the fall, it is the fall from the image of God. So that man was no longer in the image of God. His spirit died. And his fellowship with God was broken and man fell from this divine image. Now it is God’s desire and purpose to restore you back into the image of God. That’s what redemption is all about, as God restores us again into His image.
God is loving. He seeks to make you loving.
God is gracious. He seeks to make you a gracious person.
God is forgiving. He wants to help you to be forgiving. He wants to restore you into that image and so we have verses (Eph. 4:32) such as “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” Forgive even as God.
Paul said to love even as God. So that’s the restoration into the image of God. How does that take place? By just looking at the glory of Jesus, day by day, beholding His glory. No veil. With unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, the Spirit of God is working in us as He is transforming us from glory to glory as He is bringing us into that image.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians (Eph. 4:11-16), he told them that God has placed in the church, various ministries. The purpose of these ministries was the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ. Til we all come into the unity of faith, the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man or a fully matured person, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
You see, it is like God is an artist and you are the chunk of marble that He is chipping away on. And if you want to know what you are going to look like when God is through, you look at the model. And Jesus is the model! God works in us, chipping away as He is conforming us into the image of Jesus.
So we with unveiled faces beholding the glory of the Lord. We are being changed from glory to glory. I love this Scripture. Even in to His image, according to the power of God’s Spirit, working in me. Working the changes in me. That of course is a part of the purpose of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, is to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ!
Now sometimes we sort of resist God’s work. We stiffen. The work is marred in the hands of the potter.
Isaiah (Is. 64:8), Jeremiah (Jer. 18:1-6) and Paul (Rom. 9:21) all used this idea of God the potter, working over the bit of clay, molding and shaping it into a vessel that pleases Him. It’s an awesome picture of the sovereignty of God. The power that He has, the absolute power over our lives to make of us whatever He desires to make. The inability or how wrong of us to say, why have you made me thus? Why have you done this? Has not the potter the power over the clay to make whatever kind of a vessel he wants?
Jeremiah was told by the Lord (Jer. 18:1-6), go down to the potter’s house. Watch him as he works on the wheel. I will speak to you there. So Jeremiah went down to the potter’s house. He watched him as he was taking the clay and was working with it on the wheel. He said the vessel was marred in the hands of the potter. So he took and he began to knead the clay again. He put it back on the wheel and made a vessel that pleased him. God said am I not able to do that with Israel? Israel has been marred in my hands.
How is it that a vessel gets marred in the hands of the potter? By a hard lump that hasn’t been worked.
Sometimes the work of the potter is marred as He is working in our lives. Because we stiffen, we resist. We don’t want to do that! So God just gives a knead. He puts you through the pressure. He starts over again until He creates the vessel that pleases Him.
So this glorious work of God, changing us day by day into the image of Jesus Christ as we with unveiled faces look at the end product. This is what God is going to make me like.
(1 John 3:2) For beloved now we are the sons of God, it doesn’t yet appear what we are going to be, but we know when He appears we are going to be like Him. That’s good enough for me. That’s fine! You don’t have to tell me anymore! We are going to be like Him, for we are going to see Him as He is. That’s good enough for me!
Father, we thank You for the work of Your Holy Spirit in our lives, as You, Lord, are conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ. Oh Lord, remove any veils that might be over our eyes, that keep us from seeing Your glory. There are so many attractive things in the world that distract us. We get our eyes Lord, on other things. We get caught up in other interests and the work that You are desiring to do is postponed. So Lord, remove these distracting things. Work in us tonight, Lord. Let us behold Your glory with unveiled faces, that we might take another step forward in our walk with You. That we might be elevated to another level of glory in our fellowship with You. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Transcribed from “The Word For Today”, Pastor Chuck Smith, Tape #8154, (NKJ Version)