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"Ministers of the New Covenant"
2 Corinthians 3:1-6
Wednesday AM Bible Study
June 18, 2008
Paul had been dealing with many of the warm and personal details of his ministry to the Corinthians. But now, beginning in chapter three, he launches into a glorious explanation of the broader picture of this ministry. He describes it as a ministry of "the new covenant".
A "covenant" is an "agreement" or a "bond"—sealed in blood, and administered by God. In it, God pledges to be gracious and favorable to His people, if they will fulfill the conditions of the covenant. In the old covenant (and the word for "covenant" is the same as the word for "testament"), God pledged His favor on the basis of the obedience of His people to the commandments given to Moses and written on tablets of stone (Exodus 19:4-6; 20:1-17). But because His people did not (and indeed, could not) keep the conditions of that covenant, He established another. The terms of this new covenant were spelled out in Jeremiah 31:31-34; and the condition of it is faith in God's grace toward His people.
Paul was, for years, an 'old covenant' man. But God met him with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and transformed him from the inside out. And now, it thrilled Paul to be a minister of this new covenant.
In this morning's passage, we see . . .
I. THE COMMENDATION OF PAUL'S NEW COVENANT MINISTRY (vv. 1-3).
A. It appears that some where accusing Paul of boasting illegitimately of his ministry. We see hints of this accusation in the letter itself (2 Corinthians 1:14; 5:12; 6:4-10; 10:1-3, 7-8). What's more, some were apparently even questioning his authority as an apostle. They would note that he didn't know the Lord Jesus personally in His time on earth, as the other apostles did; and they'd note that he wasn't sent by the apostles who did (See Gal. 1:11-12, 17-24; 2:6-10). Others had letters that commended their ministry to the church (Acts 18:27; 1 Cor. 16:3, 10-11, 15-16). Where, then, are Paul's letters of endorsement and recommendation from the official apostles?
B. Paul had no sense that he needed letters either from the Corinthians, or to them. He affirmed that the only letter they needed was the work of God in their own hearts. "You are our epistles written in our heart . . ." They themselves were a letter that was known and read by all (see 1 Cor. 9:2; 1 Thess. 1:5-10). All could see the endorsement of Paul's ministry by the transformation of their own lives. They were even a letter of commendation in Paul's own heart.
C. What's more; they were not only a letter to themselves; but also "known and read by all men". They were not just a letter from Paul; but were a letter written by Christ Himself and only "ministered" by Paul. They were written not like the law of the old testament— that is, not with ink or on cold, inflexible tablets of stone. Rather, they were written by the Holy Spirit of the living God directly on the heart—"on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart". This is the essence of the new covenant! Ask yourself: When people see you and me, do they see a letter written by Christ?—one that commends Him to them?
II. THE TRUST FOR PAUL'S NEW COVENANT MINISTRY (vv. 4-6a).
A. Paul did not trust in himself as a minister of such a great new covenant. Rather, he trusted in Christ (2 Cor. 4:7ff). There was nothing in and of himself that made him sufficient; and in saying this, he distinguished himself from the false teachers who were boasting in their own wisdom and power. Rather, Paul affirmed that all his sufficiency was from God.
B. Paul affirms that the Corinthians were a letter of commendation of the sufficiency of Christ for his ministry (1 Cor. 3:5-7; 15:10; John 15:5). Their own transformed lives was sufficient endorsement that the ministry was of God and not of man. And whatever it was that Paul or the others did, it was not in their power but in the power of God working through them. This, again, is another hallmark of a true minister of the new covenant—that it is God Himself who does the work through His appointed servants. It is God alone who makes them sufficient for the life-changing task.
III. THE RESULTS OF PAUL'S NEW COVENANT MNISTRY (v. 6b).
A. The ministry of the old covenant was not something that anyone could want; because it lead to death. The principle was the "letter" of the law. The way to earn God's favor under the terms of that old covenant was through obedience to the law; and that always resulted in disobedience and death (Romans 7:9; Gal. 3:10).
B. But the glorious results of the new covenant is life. It is a product of the law written on the heart by the Spirit of God Himself; and "the Spirit gives life"! All those who cease from their works and trust in the grace of God shown through Jesus Christ have the law now written on their own hearts. They want to obey out of love! No wonder Paul thrilled to be a minister of such a great 'new covenant'!
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