Last week, as we finished chapter 2 of 2Corinthians, we continued into chapter 3 for the first four verses. Paul has been describing how God would use him to bring the knowledge of Christ into every place that he went.
He didn't want to sound like he was bragging, and pointed out that he didn't carry around letters of recommendation to validate his ministry. He said, "Your lives are my letters of commendation. Just the fact that you guys all heard the gospel from me and were born again is all the letter of recommendation that I need."
So they were letters written not with ink, but with the spirit. Not written on paper or stone, but on their hearts.
Now Paul continues the thought, pointing out that he certainly can't take credit for their changed lives.
Paul is saying, "Hey, it wasn't my excellency of speech or my powerful presentation that won you over to Christ." Indeed, Paul's enemies liked to point out his weaknesses. They would say,
2Cor. 10:10 ..."His personal presence is unimpressive, and his speech contemptible."
Paul knew those things were true. He was the first to admit it. Remember that he said in 1Corinthians,
1Cor. 2:1-5 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
So Paul was no powerful orator, or a charismatic personality and leader that drew people to him. No, what drew people was the pure message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We need to remember that for ourselves. When Jesus said,
Mark 16:15 ..."Go into all the world and preach the gospel..."
... He didn't say, "Unless of course you're not good at that kind of thing. If that's the case, just leave it up to the people who are." No, He commanded every one of His disciples to preach the gospel.
When God called told Moses,
Exod. 3:10 "...I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt."
Moses' response was,
Exod. 4:10 ..."Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue."
That was one of the reasons God chose him! If Moses was a powerful, persuasionary preacher, then he would have gotten the glory. But God uses the foolish things and the weak things and the unimpressive things of this world to shame the wise and strong. You might feel today that you're not adequate to share the gospel with people. And you know what? You're right! The adequacy to do such a thing comes from God.
What Paul says here can be very confusing to a person without a Jewish background or strong knowledge of the Old Testament.
Remember that in the Old Testament, the covenant of God was the Law given to the Jews. The ten commandments along with so many other rules and regulations that people had to follow to be in right relationship with God.
So why is it called in verse 7 "the ministry of death?"
Well, if anyone could follow every commandment, every rule and regulation for his whole life, he would be perfect. He would be without sin. He could get to heaven on his own merit, and be able to say, "I have never sinned."
But the fact is, no one can obey every commandment for their entire life. No one but Jesus Christ has ever lived a sinless life. No one has ever been able to truthfully say, "I have never sinned." And the Scripture says that...
Rom. 6:23 ...the wages of sin is death...
So the Old Testament Law of God is impossible to completely obey, and the wages of that is death - eternal separation from God! That's why it's called "the ministry of death!"
Now, it may seem completely unfair for God to give imperfect people a standard of perfection. But the whole idea was to make the people realize that they couldn't do it. That in their weakness, they would cry out to God for His mercy. But instead, the Jews became prideful and followed every law they could. The laws they couldn't obey they explained away with legal loopholes and misinterpretations. Instead of crying out to God with their inadequacy, they became pompous before God with their legalism.
So the Old Testament Law, the ministry of death, was given to Moses. There he was, hanging out with God up on Mount Sinai. When he brought down the Ten Commandments, everyone saw that the skin of his face was shining! So Paul says here,
2Cor. 3:7 "...the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face..."
And Paul is showing in these verses how that if the Ministry of Death - the impossible requirements of the Old Testament Law - were glorious, then how much more the Ministry of the Spirit - the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ, which causes us to be born again - how much more glorious that ministry is!
Once Moses had left the presence of God up on the mountaintop, that shining glory on his face began to fade. Exodus tells us that...
Exod. 34:33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
Moses wasn't trying to keep them from seeing the glory, but to keep them from seeing the glory fading. So the veil was hiding the glory as it disappeared. The veil then hid the fact that the glory had departed. We see that happen again in the Bible on a much larger scale.
The ark of the covenant was the golden box that the Israelites carried around with them. You may remember what it looked like from the movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. That ark symbolized the presence of the glory of God. God's glory would appear in a cloud above and between the two angels sculpted in gold on the lid of the box.
The ark was put in the Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple. But then the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. The people were taken into the Babylonian captivity, and the valuables in the Temple were taken. After this, we never heard of the ark showing up again. So whether it was either hidden or stolen, the glory of God had departed from the temple.
Though temples were built afterwards, the ark was never again present in the Holy of Holies. Now you may have heard that the room called the Holy of Holies was closed off from view by a massive curtain, that they called the "Veil of the Temple." History tells us that this was a huge curtain, some historians claiming that the massive material was 18 inches thick!
The gospels tell us that at the minute Jesus died, He...
Mark 15:37-38 ...uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
The veil was opened. There was no ark of the covenant. God wasn't in there. It was plain for everyone to see that the glory had departed. But although the veil was torn in two, Paul says,
2Cor. 3:14-16 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
The veil still covers Israel's hearts, hiding the fact that the glory of God has faded away and departed from them. The book of Hebrews tells us that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ made the old covenant obsolete. And when a Jew turns to Jesus Christ, that veil is taken away - it is removed in Christ, and the more glorious ministry of the Spirit becomes visible to them.
Paul finishes up the chapter by saying,
2Cor. 3:17 ...The Lord is the Spirit...
Something that is very sad to me is that the majority of the church today does not know who the Holy Spirit is. Oh, they claim to be filled with the Spirit, led by the Spirit, and move in the power of the Spirit, but many honestly have no idea what the Bible has to say about the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, contrary to popular belief, is not a force, a cloud, or a ghost-like manifestation of power. He is a person, and He is God. The Bible demonstrates these facts to us over and over again. Let's take a look:
When we read the New Testament, we find that in the Greek, and translated into English, there is always a masculine, personal pronoun that is attributed to the Spirit of God. While many of in the church are guilty of calling the Holy Spirit an "it," the Bible calls the Holy Spirit, "He." Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit, said,
John 14:26 "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
Jesus says, "whom," and "He." Notice too that He actively does things only a person can do. In this verse, we see that He teaches. In 1Corinthians we read,
1Cor. 2:10-11 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.
He searches. He knows. Later in the same book, Paul wrote of the gifts of the Spirit:
1Cor. 12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
He works and He wills. To Timothy it was written:
1Tim. 4:1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith...
And Jesus said over and over again in the book of Revelation:
Rev. 2:7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches..."
So the Holy Spirit also speaks.
He teaches, searches, knows, works, wills, and speaks. This is not an impersonal force or cloud of power. The Holy Spirit should never be called an "it." He is a person. And not just any person, but God Himself.
Remember the account of Ananias and Sapphira back in Acts chapter 5. This couple had sold their land, and presented a portion of the price as a gift to the church, but made it seem like they were giving the whole thing. Peter confronted their sin, saying,
Acts 5:3-4 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God."
Who was lied to? The Holy Spirit. God.
1Cor. 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
Who dwells in you? God. The Spirit.
1Cor. 12:4-6 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all...
Who is the same? The Spirit. The Lord. God.
There are many more places in the Bible that you will find the Spirit referred to as God, but the point being adequately covered, we'll move on to our last subject:
Now that we have been born again - our faces unveiled - Paul says that we...
2Cor. 3:18 ...are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory...
We're being transformed day by day into the image of God. From glory to glory. How are we transformed? Why is it that some people seem to grow in godly characteristics so quickly while others don't seem to be doing much transforming at all? The answer is a simple question: how much do you love this world?
Jesus told us that...
Mark 4:19 ...the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word...
...in our lives. We don't bear fruit, we don't grow, we don't transform into the image of God that way. The book of Romans tells us,
Rom. 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
So have you not been growing in godly character like you want to? Have you not been transformed from glory to glory like you might expect after having been a Christian for X-number of years? Stop being conformed to this world. Stop loving this world. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.