7 But if the ministry 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,
8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?
9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.
10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels.
11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.
ministry (v.7) = service with a willing (voluntary) attitude, lit. “waiting at a table”
glory (v.7) = honor, renown, splendor, the unspoken manifestation of God.
exceeds (v.9) = abounds, overflows, exceeds the ordinary
passing away (v.11) = made idle, made of no effect, abolished
The ministry announcing death, i.e., “the Letter,” that is, the Law, came with glory—a glory so great that man could not look upon it, for it judged him, making him conscious that he was a sinner—but the ministry announcing life has so much more excellent a glory that it eclipses the glory of the former. The Law demanded righteousness; the Gospel provides righteousness. The Law bartered righteousness for obedience, and as that obedience was impossible to man, it was unobtainable by him; hence his condemnation to death. The Gospel provides man with a spotless righteousness as a free gift; hence the Gospel ministry of life. Man being guilty, his greatest need is righteousness. So the one was the ministration of condemnation; the other, the ministration of righteousness. Both were “with glory,” for they both express God’s moral glory demonstrated in judgment and in grace. Both demonstrations were Divinely necessary to the manifestation of that glory. — Williams, page 899.
The ministration of the Law began in a blaze of glory. Mt. Sinai was “altogether on a smoke … as the smoke of a furnace.” There were thunderings, lightnings and an earthquake, driving the people back. There was the sound of a trumpet, “exceeding loud.” There was the glorious Shekinah cloud in which God Himself appeared and literally “spake all these words” (Exodus 19:9–20:1).
But ere Moses had even come down from the Mount with the tables of stone, the people were breaking the very first commandment, dancing naked like heathen around a golden calf.
From here on, at the very outset, the law took on another aspect. Judgment had to be pronounced and penalties inflicted. Nor could any escape its just sentence of condemnation and death. What had begun in glory now lead only to gloom, “because the Law worketh wrath” (Romans 4:15).
But there can be no gloom associated with the administration of the New Covenant, says the apostle, for under it righteousness and life are ministered to all who will receive them by faith. This is because the claims of the Old Covenant were fully met by Christ at Calvary. Thus the ministration of the New Covenant outshines that of the Old in every respect.
If I light a lamp in a dark room at night the glory of the lamp will fill the room with light. But when the sun rises the glory of the lamp will fade until one can barely notice that it is lit. Thus the ministration of the Law has “no glory in this respect, by reason of” the infinite glory of the ministration of grace. — Stam, pages 65-66.
This whole section is part of a parentheses in which Paul details his message and explains how it’s different from the Old Covenant.
4 And we have such trust through Christ toward God.
5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,
6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
trust (v.4) = confidence
“The letter” is a Paulinism for the law, as “spirit” in these passages is his word for the relationships and powers of a new life in Christ Jesus. Here in chapter 3 is presented a series of contrasts between law and spirit, between the old covenant and the new. The contrast is not between two methods of interpretation, literal and spiritual, but between two methods of divine dealing: one, through the law; the other, through the Holy Spirit. — Scofield, page 1254.
Verse 5 of chapter 3 follows [2 Corinthians 2:16], and claims the sufficiency needed to be a competent preacher and incense-bearer. Paul was confident that in the sight of God he possessed that competency through Christ, though personally absolutely incompetent.
The First and Second Covenants are contrasted in verse 6. The First Covenant, that of the “Letter,” i.e., the Law, condemned to death because of man’s inability to keep it. The Second Covenant, that of the Spirit, proclaims life because of Christ’s ability to give it. The “Letter” killeth—that demonstrates its authority, its inspiration and its power—for were the letter of Scripture human writing it could not kill; the highest human literature has no such power. — Williams, page 899.
Naturally, seeing Paul call himself a minister of the New Covenant made me pause. Is the New Covenant made with us—believing Gentiles in the age of grace? I think Stam does a good job of explaining that, while the covenant was made with Israel and will be fulfilled with Israel after the rapture of the Church, still we benefit from those aspects of the covenant that were put into place with the death and resurrection of Christ.
The details of the New Covenant are outlined for us in Jeremiah 31:31-34, though the covenant is alluded to elsewhere in Jeremiah. This covenant is unique in several ways:
- It was promised about 600 years before Christ (Jeremiah 31:31).
- It was made at Calvary (Matthew 26:28), about 33 A.D.
- It will be fulfilled when Christ returns to reign over Israel and the world (Romans 11:26-27).
It is unique, also, in that it is the one Old Testament covenant that is entirely spiritual. There are no legal stipulations, nothing about sacrificial offerings, or holy days, or a land, a kingdom, or a throne, but only of the forgiveness of sins, of knowing the Lord, and of an imparted desire to do God’s will. …
What Israel failed to do under “the letter,” i.e., the Law, she will be impelled and enabled to do by the Spirit, when the Messiah returns. It should be noted that Peter at Pentecost said nothing about the New Covenant being fulfilled. …
With whom was the New Covenant made? “With the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). … But the apostle explains how it is that the New Testament affects the Gentile as well as the Jew.
With whom was the Old Covenant made? Clearly with “the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:3-5). Did it not, then, have any relation to the Gentiles? Yes it did, for we read in Romans 3:19 that “What things soever the Law saith, it saith to them that are under the Law: That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
If God required of any group the righteous standards of the Old Covenant, the Law, that group would surely be condemned at the outset, for the apostle declares that “without” such “holiness, no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
But “the blood of the New Covenant” was shed, not only to redeem Israel, but to replace the Law with a “better” covenant.
Addressed to the Gentiles, Colossians 2:14 has our Lord “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross.”
Indeed, referring to both the Old and New Covenants in Hebrews 8 the apostle declares: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for a second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:7-8).
And further on: “In that He saith, A New Covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13).
This declaration by Paul shows that 600 years before Christ, when God first promised to make a New Covenant, the first had already grown old and ineffective. …
And so the Old Covenant, affecting both Jew and Gentile has, by the precious blood of Christ, been replaced by the New Covenant, also affecting both Jew and Gentile, for if the Gentile is condemned by the Law, the Old Covenant, He may also partake of the blessings of the New, for, “the blood of the New Covenant” was shed to remove the curse of the old. See Hebrews 2:9, where we read that our Lord was made for a little while lower than the angels “for the suffering of death … that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”
It also goes without saying that the blessings of the New Covenant are in fact bestowed upon believing Gentiles. … Do we not desire to obey God’s will (Romans 8:3-4). Is He not our God? Are we not His people? (Titus 2:14). Do we not know Him, from the least of us to the greatest of us? (Galatians 4:9). Has He not forgiven us our iniquities—”according to the riches of His grace“? (Ephesians 1:7). Will He ever remember our sins against us? (Ephesians 1:6).
Do we receive these blessings because they were in any way promised to us? No; what was promised to Israel, we receive by grace. We receive these blessings because “the blood of the New Covenant” was shed for the sins of the whole world, “that He might reconcile both [Jews and Gentiles] unto God in one Body by the cross” (Ephesians 2:16). — Stam, pages 61-64.
1 But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow.
2 For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me?
3 And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all.
4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.
But I decided this in my own interest, and for my own sake, not to come again to you in grief. For, as for myself, if, as is the case, I cause you grief, who then is he who makes me joyful except the one who was made to grieve by me? And I wrote this very thing, lest, when I came, I should have grief from those whom it was a necessity in the nature of the case to be making to rejoice, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of all of you, for out of a source of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you through many tears, and not in order that you may be made to grieve, but in order that you may come to know experientially the sacrificial love which I have so abundantly for you. — Wuest, page 419.
This second epistle was written rather than paying the church a visit at this time, when so many were still defiant. Indeed, in his closing words the apostle says: “Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord has give me to edification, and not to destruction” (2 Corinthians 13:10). — Stam, page 47.
[The first] letter, though effective in many ways, had not brought about full restoration. Thus, rather than visiting them now and risking negative results, he was led to write them a second letter, doubtless praying that the further delay in visiting them might provide an occasion for intervening grace to do its work.
The argument in verse 2 is that he ought to be rejoicing in their spiritual restoration and progress, but if the obstinate continuance of some in their permissive ways should call for his rebuke, and cause them sorrow, who then would bring him joy? If his rebuke should discourage them, who would encourage him? Obviously such encouragement could only come from those who had been “made sorry” by him! But it did not follow that if he made them “sorry” they would sincerely repent and make him glad.
If he came to Corinth again and still saw there the blighting effects of party strife, fleshly lusts, and indulgence in worldly pleasures, he would again suffer sorrow from those over whom he “ought to rejoice,” and nothing would satisfy him but their joy in Christ. Thus he writes in the confidence that “my joy is the joy of you all,” that they understood that his aim was the removal of that which had not only grieved him, but had brought sorrow to them all.
In verse 4 he shows by example how church leaders and Christian assemblies should exercise discipline. His first letter and especially his instructions about the man living brazenly in incest had not revealed harsh pride but sorrow and loving concern, and when sincere repentance had resulted his appeal was: “Forgive him heartily, and restore him to full fellowship” (vs. 6-7). — Stam, pages 48-49
15 Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice.
16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea.
17 Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?
18 But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.”
19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.”
20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
benefit (v.15) = a token or proof of grace, a gift of grace
fickle (v.17) = levity, lightness, of little weight
worldly manner (v.17) = according to the flesh, human nature
glory (v.20) = honor, renown, splendor
In … confidence in their affection [Paul] planned to visit Corinth; from thence to pass into Macedonia; then to return to Corinth; and from there to set out for Judea—so giving them a double “benefit.” … The Apostle was not guilty of fickleness of purpose because he changed his plans. He was not like men of the world who say “Yes, Yes,” but in action say “No, No”; but just as God is faithful to His “yea” so was the Apostle. … His argument was—how could he act with fickleness when he proclaimed a God that is faithful to His promises; and he reminds them that, let the promises of God be never so many, yet are they all reliable for they are all deposited in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is the great “Yes” of these promises.
The promises under the first covenant were deposited in man and depended for realization upon his obedience. There was of course complete failure; but [now] the promises … are all given to Christ, and their realization depends upon Him. There can, therefore, be no failure, for His is the “Amen” as well as the “Yea,” i.e., He is the Performer as well as the Promiser and all His actions in relation to these promises has for its aim the glory of God. — Williams, page 897.
Important circumstances, including their sad state, had prevented him from coming to them sooner. But on the other hand, he insists that he did not make his plans “according to the flesh,” and then stand by them just to prove his own integrity. He sought leading from God, who knows the end from the beginning and leads His children one step at a time. He never needs to change His mind, but they may.
The apostle names Silas and Timothy, who had faithfully labored in their midst, and declares that he and they had not preached to them a “yes” and “no” gospel., but a very positive one, centered in Christ, who is the “yea” and “amen” (yes and so be it) of all God’s promises. — Stam, page 44.