2 Cor 3 1-3 LIVING LETTERS
2 Cor 3:2-3
2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:
3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
2 Cor 3:2-3
2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.
3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
2 Cor 3:2-3
2 The only letter I need is you yourselves! By looking at the good change in your hearts, everyone can see that we have done a good work among you.
3 They can see that you are a letter from Christ, written by us. It is not a letter written with pen and ink, but by the Spirit of the living God; not one carved on stone, but in human hearts.
- There are different ‘kinds’ of letters
- Some letters are written in bold for emphasis
- Some letters are written containing italics to highlight
- Some letters are short. (Short life)
- Some letters are long. (Long life……….Annetta)
- Some letters carry urgent messages
- Some letters are just informative.
- Some letters announce
- Some letters demand…..(bill collectors)
- SEEING THE BELEIVERS ARE ‘LIVING LETTERS’, WHAT DOES THE WORLD READ WHEN IT SEES US? ARE WE ‘LETTERS OF CHRIST’?
|Letter writing is a lost art, and it's a real shame. Email, with its ease and speed, has become the communiqué de jour. But the email phenomenon will never duplicate the gritty character of good ol' written letters. Can email deliver the familiar scent of delicate perfume? Can email contain those annoying little sparkly things that spill into your lap? Does email allow you to emphatically pound the exclamation key so hard it bores a hole through the page? No!!! In short, email has no attitude. It can't strut. |
Without fanfare, history was recorded through written letters. It was in a letter to Queen Isabella that Christopher Columbus first broke the news of the new world. It was in a letter to his colleagues that Galileo first revealed the secrets of his telescope. It was in a letter to his children that Louis Pasteur first exposed the medical marvel of inoculation. It was in a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that pacifist Albert Einstein explained how to build, and why we needed, the atom bomb.
Letters often tell more about the writer than they do the subject. Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps the world's greatest artist, wrote to the Duke of Milan applying for his dream job-that of a soldier. William Randolph Hearst, the man who preached, "Never let the facts interfere with a good story," wrote his father with a strategy to make the San Francisco Examiner more profitable: "Let's hire naïve young men from the east who still believe there's fortune to be found in the west."
Sometimes letters even tell us what we don't want to know. Edgar Allen Poe, for example, wrote dark, pornographic love letters to women. On the other hand, Benjamin Franklin sounded like a total geek when he wrote of love. Their writings were true reflections of their souls.
WWII introduced V(ictory)-mail: A short one-page form that was fed into a photocopier, reduced to film, and carried to military bases around the world. The letters were then reproduced and delivered to lonely G.I.s. Unfortunately, the technology bogged down as heavy lipstick imprints on the V-mails kept jamming the photocopiers.
Flashback nineteen wide centuries: Letters, especially from the Apostle Paul, the churches' chief correspondent, were the most talked about documents of their day. They were the broadcasting system of the early church. Each new delivery was read and reread by those who were eager to know more of their newfound faith. His letters became the church's sermon notes and Sunday school curriculum all rolled into one.
So closely was letter writing associated with the church, that Paul used this metaphor when he referred to the church at Corinth as his personal "letter of endorsement." Their changed lives validated his ministry. The proof was in their pudding. They were an example of what God's word can do in a person's life.
It's a gutsy move to allow your congregation-as Paul did-to be read as a testament of your work, for your parishioners to be living presentations of your ministry, seen and studied for the life changing effects that come from God's word.
But scripture is filled with living billboards whose lives took on a decidedly different tone when confronted with the truth.
* Matthew, once a tax collector but now an Apostle.
* Mary Magdalene, once demon possessed but now a follower of Christ.
* Nicodemus, once a ruler of the Jews but now caring for the crucified Savior.
* The woman at the well, once morally bankrupt but now an evangelist.
Each believer's life becomes a letter to the world, "known and read by all men...a letter of Christ...written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts."
Each week you write another chapter in their lives. Write them well; they'll be remembered for eternity.
3:1–6 The false teachers in Corinth constantly attacked Paul’s competency as a minister of the gospel; these verses form his defense.
3:1 Because Paul did not want to allow the false teachers to accuse him of being proud, he began his defense by posing two questions rather than making any overt claims. Do we begin again to commend ourselves? The Gr. word for “commend” means “to introduce.” Thus Paul was asking the Corinthians if he needed to reintroduce himself, as if they had never met, and prove himself once more. The form of the question demanded a negative answer. letters of commendation. The false teachers also accused Paul of not possessing the appropriate documents to prove his legitimacy. Such letters were often used to introduce and authenticate someone to the first-century churches (cf. 1 Cor. 16:3, 10, 11). The false teachers undoubtedly arrived in Corinth with such letters, which they may have forged (cf. Acts 15:1, 5) or obtained under false pretenses from prominent members of the Jerusalem church. Paul’s point was that he did not need secondhand testimony when the Corinthians had firsthand proof of his sincere and godly character, as well as the truth of his message that regenerated them.
3:2 written in our hearts. An affirmation of Paul’s affection for the believers in Corinth—he held them close to his heart (cf. 12:15). known and read by all men. The transformed lives of the Corinthians were Paul’s most eloquent testimonial, better than any secondhand letter. Their changed lives were like an open letter that could be seen and read by all men as a testimony to Paul’s faithfulness and the truth of his message.
3:3 epistle of Christ. The false teachers did not have a letter of commendation signed by Christ, but Paul had the Corinthian believers’ changed lives as proof that Christ had transformed them. written not with ink. Paul’s letter was no human document written with ink that can fade. It was a living one. Spirit of the living God. Paul’s letter was alive, written by Christ’s divine, supernatural power through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 2:4, 5; 1 Thess. 1:5). tablets of stone. A reference to the Ten Commandments (see notes on Ex. 24:12; 25:16). tablets of flesh … of the heart. More than just writing His law on stone, God was writing His law on the hearts of those people He transformed (cf. Jer. 31:33; 32:38, 39; Ezek. 11:19; 36:26, 27). The false teachers claimed external adherence to the Mosaic law as the basis of salvation, but the transformed lives of the Corinthians proved that salvation was an internal change wrought by God in the heart.
3:4 such trust. The Gr. word for “trust” can mean “to win.” Paul was confident in his ministry, and that confidence resulted in his ability to stay the course and continue moving toward the goal (cf. Acts 4:13, 29).
3:5 sufficient. See note on 2:16. to think of anything. The Gr. word for “think” can also mean “to consider” or “to reason.” Paul disdained his own ability to reason, judge, or assess truth. Left to his own abilities, he was useless. He was dependent on divine revelation and the Holy Spirit’s power. our sufficiency is from God. Only God can make a person adequate to do his work, and Paul realized that truth (see note on 2:16; cf. 9:8, 10; 2 Thess. 2:13).
3:6 new covenant. The covenant that provides forgiveness of sins through the death of Christ (see notes on Jer. 31:31–34; Matt. 26:28; Heb. 8:7–12). the letter. A shallow, external conformity to the law that missed its most basic requirement of absolutely holy and perfect love for God and man (Matt. 22:34–40) and distorted its true intention, which was to make a person recognize his sinfulness (cf. Rom. 2:27–29). the Spirit. The Holy Spirit. the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. The letter kills in two ways: 1) it results in a living death. Before Paul was converted, he thought he was saved by keeping the law, but all it did was kill his peace, joy, and hope; and 2) it results in spiritual death. His inability to truly keep the law sentenced him to an eternal death (see notes on Rom. 7:9–11; cf. Rom. 5:12; Gal. 3:10). Only Jesus Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit can produce eternal life in one who believes.
3:7–18 A true minister of God preaches the New Covenant, thus Paul featured the glory of the New Covenant in these verses.
3:7 the ministry of death. The law is a killer (v. 6) in the sense that it brings knowledge of sin. It acts as a ministry of death because no one can satisfy the demands of the law on his own and is therefore condemned (cf. Gal. 3:22; see notes on Rom. 7:1–13; 8:4; Gal. 3:10–13; 3:19–4:5). was glorious. When God gave Moses the law, His glory appeared on the mountain (Ex. 19:10–25; 20:18–26). Paul was not depreciating the law; he was acknowledging that it was glorious because it reflected God’s nature, will, and character (see notes on Ex. 33:18–34:9). could not look steadily at the face of Moses. The Israelites could not look intently or stare at Moses’ face for too long because the reflective glory of God was too bright for them. It was similar to staring into the sun (see notes on Ex. 34:29–35). the glory of his countenance. When God manifested Himself, He did so by reducing His attributes to visible light. That’s how God manifested Himself to Moses (Ex. 34:29), whose face in turn reflected the glory of God to the people (cf. the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matt. 17:1–8; 2 Pet. 1:16–18; and His second coming in Matt. 24:29, 30; 25:31).
3:8, 9 ministry of the Spirit … exceeds much more in glory. The “ministry of the Spirit” is Paul’s descriptive term for the New Covenant (see notes on Jer. 31:31–34; Matt. 26:28; 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 8:8, 13; 9:15; 12:24). Paul is arguing that if such glory attended the giving of the law under the ministry that brought death, how much more glorious will be the ministry of the Spirit in the New Covenant which brings righteousness. The law pointed to the superior New Covenant and thus a glory that must also be superior.
3:9 ministry of condemnation. Another name for the ministry of death (see note on v. 7). ministry of righteousness. The New Covenant. The emphasis here is on the righteousness it provides (cf. Rom. 3:21, 22; Phil. 3:9).
3:11 what is passing away. The law had a fading glory (cf. v. 7). It was not the final solution or the last word on the plight of sinners. what remains. The New Covenant is “what” remains because it is the consummation of God’s plan of salvation. It has permanent glory.
3:12 such hope. The belief that all the promises of the New Covenant will occur. It is hope in total and complete forgiveness of sins for those who believe the gospel (cf. Rom. 8:24, 25; Gal. 5:5; Eph. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:3, 13, 21). boldness of speech. The Gr. word for “boldness” means “courageously.” Because of his confidence, Paul preached the New Covenant fearlessly, without any hesitation or timidity.
3:13 Moses, who put a veil over his face. This physical action pictured the fact that Moses did not have the confidence or boldness of Paul because the Old Covenant was veiled. It was shadowy. It was made up of types, pictures, symbols, and mystery. Moses communicated the glory of the Old Covenant with a certain obscurity (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10, 11).
3:14, 15 the same veil remains … a veil lies on their heart. The “veil” here represents unbelief. Those Israelites did not grasp the glory of the Old Covenant because of their unbelief. As a result, the meaning of the Old Covenant was obscure to them (cf. Heb. 3:8, 15; 4:7). Paul’s point was that just as the Old Covenant was obscure to the people of Moses’ day, it was still obscure to those who trusted in it as a means of salvation in Paul’s day. The veil of ignorance obscures the meaning of the Old Covenant to the hardened heart (cf. John 5:38).
3:14 the veil is taken away in Christ. Without Christ the OT is unintelligible. But when a person comes to Christ, the veil is lifted and his spiritual perception is no longer impaired (Is. 25:6–8). With the veil removed, believers are able to see the glory of God revealed in Christ (John 1:14). They understand that the law was never given to save them, but to lead them to the One who would.
3:17 the Lord is the Spirit. Yahweh of the OT is the same Lord who is saving people in the New Covenant through the agency of the Holy Spirit. The same God is the minister of both the Old and New Covenants. there is liberty. Freedom from sin and the futile attempt to keep the demands of the law as a means of earning righteousness (cf. John 8:32–36; Rom. 3:19, 20). The believer is no longer in bondage to the law’s condemnation and Satan’s dominion.
3:18 we all. Not just Moses, or prophets, apostles, and preachers, but all believers. with unveiled face. Believers in the New Covenant have nothing obstructing their vision of Christ and His glory as revealed in the Scripture. beholding as in a mirror. Paul’s emphasis here is not so much on the reflective capabilities of the mirror as it is on the intimacy of it. A person can bring a mirror right up to his face and get an unobstructed view. Mirrors in Paul’s day were polished metal (see note on James 1:23), and thus offered a far from perfect reflection. Though the vision is unobstructed and intimate, believers do not see a perfect representation of God’s glory now, but will one day (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12). being transformed. A continual, progressive transformation (see note on Rom. 12:2). into the same image. As they gaze at the glory of the Lord, believers are continually being transformed into Christlikeness. The ultimate goal of the believer is to be like Christ (cf. Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:12–14; 1 John 3:2), and by continually focusing on Him the Spirit transforms the believer more and more into His image. from glory to glory. From one level of glory to another level of glory—from one level of manifesting Christ to another. This verse describes progressive sanctification. The more believers grow in their knowledge of Christ, the more He is revealed in their lives (cf. Phil. 3:12–14).
3:1 In the latter part of 2:17, the apostle had used four distinct expressions to describe his ministry. He realized that this might sound to some, especially his critics, as if he were commending himself. And so he begins this chapter with the question, Do we begin again to commend ourselves? The again does not imply that he had commended himself previously. Rather, it simply means that he had been accused of doing so, and now he anticipates the repetition of such a charge against him.
Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? The some others to whom Paul is here referring are the false teachers of 2:17. They came to Corinth with epistles of commendation, perhaps from Jerusalem. And possibly when they left Corinth, they carried with them letters of commendation from the assembly there. Letters of commendation were used in the early church by Christians traveling from one place to the other. The apostle does not at all seek to discourage such a practice in this verse. Instead he is stating rather subtly that the only thing these false teachers had to commend them was the letter they carried! Otherwise they had no credentials to offer.
3:2 The Judaizers who had come to Corinth raised questions as to Paul’s apostolic authority. They denied that he was a true servant of Christ. Perhaps they raised such doubts in the Corinthians’ minds in order that the latter might demand a letter of recommendation from the Apostle Paul the next time he visited them. He has already asked them if he needs such a letter. Had he not come to Corinth when they were heathen idolaters? Had he not led them to Christ? Had not the Lord set His seal upon the ministry of the apostle by giving him precious souls in Corinth? That is the answer. The Corinthians themselves were Paul’s epistle, written in his heart but known and read by all men. In his case there was no need of a letter written with pen and ink. They were the fruit of his ministry, and they were enshrined in his affections. Not only that, but they were known and read by all men in the sense that their conversion was a well-known fact in the whole area. People realized that a change had come over these people, that they had turned to God from idols, and that they were now living separated lives. They were the evidence of Paul’s divine ministry.
3:3 At first glance, verse 3 seems to contradict verse 2. Paul had said that the Corinthians were his epistle; here he says that they are an epistle of Christ. In verse 2, he says that the epistle is written in his heart; in the latter part of verse 3, it seems clear that Christ has written the epistle on the hearts of the Corinthians themselves. How can these differences be reconciled? The answer is that in verse 2 Paul is stating that the Corinthians were his letter of recommendation. Verse 3 gives the explanation. Perhaps we might get the connection by joining the two verses as follows: “You are our epistle ... because you are clearly declared to be an epistle of Christ.” In other words, the Corinthians were Paul’s letter of recommendation because it was clear to all that the Lord had done a work of grace in their lives. They were obviously Christians. Since Paul had been the human instrument in bringing them to the Lord, they were his credentials. This is the thought in the expression ministered by us. The Lord Jesus is the One who had done the work in their lives, but He did it through the ministry of Paul.
Whereas the letters of recommendation used by Paul’s enemies were written with ink, Paul’s epistle was written by the Spirit of the living God and was therefore divine. Ink, of course, is subject to fading, erasure, and destruction, but when the Spirit of ... God writes in human hearts, it is forever. Then Paul adds that the epistle of Christ has been written not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. People visiting Corinth did not see Christ’s epistle engraved on some great monument in the middle of the market place, but rather the letter was written in the hearts and lives of the Christians there.
As Paul contrasted tablets of stone and tablets that are hearts of flesh, there is little doubt that he also had in mind the difference between the law and the gospel. The law had, of course, been inscribed on tablets of stone on Mount Sinai, but under the gospel, God secures obedience through the message of grace and love that is written in human hearts. Paul will take up this subject in greater detail shortly, so he merely alludes to it here.
This chapter is a key one, for it shows the relationship between the OT message of Law and the NT ministry of the Gospel of God’s grace. It seems that the Jewish faction at Corinth was saying that Paul was not a true apostle because he did not have letters of commendation from the church at Jerusalem. Apparently some teachers had arrived at Corinth with such letters, and this lack of credentials seemed to discredit Paul. The apostle used this accusation as an opportunity to contrast the Gospel of grace with the Law of Moses.
I. Written on Hearts, Not Stones (3:1–3)
“I don’tneed letters of recommendation!” says Paul. “You Christians at Corinth are my letters, written on hearts, not on stones!” “By their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:20, NKJV). A person’s life and ministry may be seen in his or her work. Paul pictures himself as God’s secretary, writing the Word into the lives of God’s people. What an amazing truth: every Christian is an epistle of Christ being read by all men!
You are writing a Gospel, a chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do and the words that you say.
Men read what you write, whether faithful or true.
Just what is the Gospel according to you?
Moses wrote God’s Law on stones, but in this age, God writes His Word on our hearts (Heb. 10:16–17). The Law was an external matter; grace dwells internally, in the heart. But Paul did not write even with ink, for that would fade; he wrote permanently with the Spirit of God. The Law, written on stone, held in a man’s hand, could never change his life. But the Spirit of God can use the Word to change lives and make them like Jesus. The NT ministry, then, is a spiritual ministry, as the Spirit writes the Word on men’s hearts.
II. Bringing Life, Not Death (3:4–6)
When Paul says, “The letter kills,” he is not talking about the “letter” of God’s Word as opposed to its “spirit.” Often we hear confused people say, “It is wrong to follow the letter of the Bible; we must follow the spirit of it.” Keep in mind that by “the letter,” Paul means the OT law. In this chapter, He uses different phrases when referring to the OT law: the letter (v. 6); ministry of death (v. 7); ministry of condemnation (v. 9).
The Law was never given to impart life; it was definitely a ministry of death. Paul was a minister of the New Covenant, not the Old Covenant of works and death. No man was ever saved through the Law! Yet there were teachers at Corinth telling the people to obey the Law and reject Paul’s Gospel of grace. Trace the word “life” in John’s Gospel, for example, and you will see that the NT ministry is one of life through the Holy Spirit.
III. Lasting Glory, Not Fading Glory (3:7–13)
Certainly there was glory to the OT ministry. Glory filled the temple; the glory of God hovered over the people in the wilderness. The temple and its ceremonies, and the very giving of the Law to Moses, all had glory attached to them. But it was a fading glory, not a lasting glory. Paul cites the experience of Moses from Ex. 34:29–35. Moses had been in God’s presence, and His glory was reflected on his face. But Moses knew that this glory would fade, so he wore a veil over his face whenever talking to the people, lest they see the glory fade and lose confidence in his ministry. (It is commonly taught, but in error, that Moses wore the veil to avoid frightening the people. Note v. 13, “And not as Moses did, who put a veil over his face so no one could see the glory fade away” (TLB). God never meant for the glory of the Old Covenant to remain; it was to fade away before the abounding glory of the Gospel. If the ministry of condemnation (the Law) was glorious, then the ministry of righteousness (the Gospel) is even more glorious! Paul needs no veil; he has nothing to hide. The glory of the Gospel is there!
IV. Unveiled, Not Veiled (3:14–16)
Paul makes a spiritual application of Moses’ veil. He states that there is still a veil over the hearts of the Jews when they read the OT, and this veil keeps them from seeing Christ. The OT will always be a locked book to the heart that knows not Christ. Jesus removed that veil when He rent the veil of the temple and fulfilled the OT types and prophecies. Yet Israel does not recognize that the ministry of the Law is temporary; it is holding on to a ministry that was never meant to last, a ministry with fading glory. There is a two-fold blindness upon Israel: a blindness that affects persons, in that they cannot recognize Christ as revealed in the OT, and a judicial blindness whereby God has blinded Israel as a nation (Rom.11:25). Satan blinds the minds of all sinners, hiding from them the glorious Gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4).
But when the heart turns to Christ, that veil is taken away. Moses removed his veil when he went up to the mount to see God, and any Jew who turns honestly to the Lord will have his spiritual veil removed and will see Christ and receive Him as Savior. The NT ministry is one that points to Christ in the Word of God, in both the OT and the NT. We have nothing to hide, nothing to veil; the glory will last forever and will grow continually brighter.
V. Liberty, Not Bondage (3:17–18)
Verse 17 is grossly misused and quoted to excuse all kinds of unspiritual practices. “The Lord is that Spirit”; when sinners turn to Christ, it is through the ministry of the Spirit. And the Spirit gives liberty from spiritual bondage. The Old Covenant was a covenant of works and bondage (Acts 15:10). But the New Covenant is a ministry of glorious liberty in Christ (Gal. 5:1ff). This liberty is not license; it is freedom from fear, sin, the world, and legalistic religious practices. Every Christian is like Moses: with an unveiled face, we can come into the presence of God and enjoy His glory—yes, receive that glory and become more like Christ!
In v. 18, Paul illustrates the meaning of sanctification and growing in grace. He compares the Word of God to a mirror (“glass”—James 1:23–25). When the people of God look into the Word of God and see the glory of God, the Spirit of God transforms them to be like the Son of God (Rom. 8:29). “Changed” in this verse is the same as the Gk. word for “transformed” in Rom. 12:2 and “transfigured” in Matt. 17:2, and explains how we have our minds renewed in Christ. The Christian is not in bondage and fear; we can go into the very presence of God and enjoy His glory and grace. We do not have to wait for Christ to return to become like Him; we can daily grow “from glory to glory” (v. 18).
Truly our position in Christ is a glorious one! The ministry of grace is far superior to Judaism or any other religion, even though the NT Christian has none of the ceremonies or visible trappings that belonged to the Law. Ours is a glorious ministry, and its glory will never fade.