2 Corinthians 3:4-6
Greetings, everyone! Welcome to Monday’s edition of EDiBS, and God’s great grace and peace to each on of you in our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m happy to be back at the table with you after a weekend away, and especially eager to get back into the Scriptures together! If you’re joining me for the first time today, as many people do at the front end of a new study, I’m super glad to have you along, and I pray that you’ll be richly blessed by your study time today. Let’s pray as we open our Bibles together.
Lord, you are the awesome, Almighty, Ever-living God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and the One who desires nothing greater than to be in relationship with the people you have made. Thank you for restoring us to a right relationship with you through your one and only Son – and thank you for drawing us to yourself by your good and gracious Spirit. Please teach us by your Word today. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
As we get started today, Paul speaks of his confidence and competence as a minister of the gospel of Christ, and then – most importantly – where that confidence and competence comes from. Our focus: chosen by God to proclaim a New Covenant.
2 Corinthians 3:4-6
4Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6He 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.
Famous inventor Samuel Morse was once asked if he ever encountered situations where he didn't know what to do. Morse responded, "More than once, and whenever I could not see my way clearly, I knelt down and prayed to God for light and understanding." Morse, whose name I’m sure you recognize, received many honors from his invention of the telegraph, but he had a remarkable way of keeping things in perspective. He said, "I have made a valuable application of electricity not because I was superior to other men but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and He was pleased to reveal it to me.”
In today’s reading, we pick things back up where we left off on Friday with the apostle Paul in the midst of talking about his sufficiency and his genuineness as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having already made the point that the Lord Himself is the ultimate author of all that Paul does, he now continues to emphasize that his competence comes not from within himself, but solely from God. Like Samuel Morse ascribing his great accomplishment to the hand of God on his life, Paul in today’s text does the same.
Now — Paul knows that what he has just written might sound proud in the ears of the Corinthian Christians. After all, it’s no small thing to say “You are my letter of recommendation” and “I am a pen in God’s hand.” Paul realizes these are big ideas, but his place for thinking them is in Jesus, not in himself. And to make sure everyone is clear about where he’s coming from, Paul goes back once again to the point he made at the end of chapter 2: it’s not that he considers himself sufficient for the great task of changing lives for Christ; it is Christ in Him doing the work. Because that’s the case, it changes the whole tenor of the argument, not only for Paul, but for all of us as Christians serving the Lord and His kingdom.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon once remarked that many people refuse to be used by God because they think of themselves as “not ready.” And yet the truth, which is clearly laid out for us in this passage, is that in and of ourselves we are never ready, nor are we worthy. If we were, the sufficiency for the work would be in ourselves, not from God. On this note, Spurgeon wrote, “Our sufficiency is of God; let us practically enjoy this truth. We are poor, leaking vessels, and the only way for us to keep full is to put our pitcher under the perpetual flow of boundless grace. Then, despite its leakage, the cup will always be full to the brim.” Don’t you love the imagery there? Yes, we could do a little bit of Law-Gospel theologizing there to tighten things up a bit, but the point is this: It’s a powerful and authentic picture of how God works in our lives; how everything good and profitable for eternity comes only from Him as a gift of grace — and that’s true of all of us, laypeople and professional church workers alike.
Paul Kretzmann, incidentally, talked about this passage with a specific emphasis on the ministerial office. Listen to what he wrote:
If any preacher of the Gospel is depending upon his own natural ability, his own accumulated wisdom, or his own practical shrewdness, then he is still lacking entirely in that sufficiency which the Lord demands for the proper service of Him whose unvarying requirement is the acknowledgment of one’s own insufficiency and unworthiness. There is only one way in which a man may become sufficient, may gain the proper qualifications for the work of preaching the Gospel, and that is by the free gift of God.
He concludes the thought by saying that everything a preacher thinks, does, and carries out successfully in his office is given to him by God and is performed through him by God; and therefore it is to God alone that glory and honor must at all times be given. A good word for all of my fellow pastors and me, to be sure.
As we move forward, Paul next gets more specific about just what it is that God has made him competent for, and that’s where we get into the description of the New Covenant. The letter Paul speaks of here is, of course, the law in its outward sense, written on tablets of stone. The letter of the law came by the Old Covenant. It was good in itself, but it gave us no power to serve God or to change our hearts. It simply told us what to do. Paul says that the letter kills because the law convicts us before God; it works only to thoroughly and completely establish our guilt.
On the other hand, he says, there is an altogether different doctrine which has now come to us through our Savior’s fulfillment of the law on our behalf: the ministry of the New Covenant and of the Spirit, which does not teach us what we should do, but indicates what God has done for us in His Son. Though the law could only bring death, the gospel has brought us the glorious news of the free grace of God in Christ. In Him we now have life!
As we wrap things up for the day, with Paul now beginning to remind the Corinthians of the New Covenant in the Lord Jesus Christ and its implications for their lives as believers, what we are about to see is another purposeful shift of focus in the text: a focus away from Paul and the unprofitable debate regarding his ministry, and a focus toward the substance of his message – which in any case will put to rest any of those other lingering questions. I hope you’ll make time to join in this week as we go in-depth with this topic, because in it we will receive an especially rich expression of the love that God has poured out upon us through His beloved Son. Have a super day, everyone – God be your joy and your peace as you look to Him for all that you need. Until next time, take care!