2 Corinthians 3:4-6
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.
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