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2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Wednesday AM Bible Study
June 25, 2008
We live in a day in which we are too shy about the gospel. As Christians today, we have an all-too-controlling fear of man—a fear that causes us to be silent about the glories of the gospel when we should be most bold to declare them. Paul was not such a Christian. He was so gripped by the glories of the "new covenant" he had been commissioned to share that he spoke of it with "great boldness of speech". He was confident that it truly was "the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).
In this passage, Paul is speaking about the privilege he feels in proclaiming the gospel. In it, he looks back to the Old Testament story of Moses from Exodus 34:29-35. Prior to that passage, God had given the law to Moses to give to the people; but before he could give it, they violated it horribly (Exodus 32:1-6). What hope was there for such a people, who broke the first commandment before it had even been given to them? When Moses returned to plead with God on behalf of the people, God gave a second copy of the law (34:1-4), declared His mercy (vv. 5-7), and renewed His covenant with the people (vv. 8-28). When Moses came down from speaking with God this time, his face shown from the glory of God (vv. 29-35).
When Moses appeared to the people, he wore a veil; and we learn from this morning's passage that it wasn't merely to conceal the fact that his face shone. It was to conceal the fact that the glory faded. As glorious as the old covenant was, it was a covenant with a fading glory. But now, Paul declares the unfading and unveiled glory of the new covenant that has been given to us in Christ (Matthew 26:28; see also Jeremiah 31:31-334 and Hebrews 8:7-13).
I. THE GREATER GLORY OF THE NEW COVENANT (vv. 7-11).
A. Paul calls this old covenant "a ministry of death", because it resulted in our receiving the death sentence for having violated it. It was harsh and unbending—literally "in witting, engraved on stones". And yet, it was glorious. It was so glorious that, when God gave it to Moses, the children of Israel couldn't look upon him. The law is not evil (Romans 7:7-12). Rather, it reveals the evil in you and me. But as glorious as "the ministry of death" was even then, it was clearly had a fading glory (v. 7). And if the ministry of death would be glorious, how much more the "ministry of the Spirit" (v. 8; i.e., the new covenant in Christ, see v. 6)?
B. Paul continues to rejoice in the contrast between the two covenants. The old covenant is "a ministry of condemnation", because that's what it resulted in with respect to you and me. But if that ministry of condemnation had glory, how much more shall "the ministry of righteousness" exceed it in glory? (v. 9). It would be like the moon that shines brightly and gloriously at night; but that seems pale in the greater light of the bright afternoon sunshine; "For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels" (v. 10).
C. Similarly, the new covenant is of greater glory because it remains, while the old covenant is passing away (v. 11). And note that the old covenant is "passing away". It is no longer to be held on to. No wonder Paul was so eager to proclaim the new covenant!
II. THE CONFIDENT BOLDNESS OF ITS PREACHER (vv. 12-13).
A. Paul had great confidence (literally "freedom of speaking") with respect to his hope in the gospel. He felt no inclination whatsoever to conceal it. He wasn't like so many under the old covenant, who were unsure and uncertain of their standing before God. Their standing before God depended on their obedience to the law. But Paul knew God's love through grace—not through the condemning power of the law (v. 12).
B. Paul, therefore, didn't place a veil over the message of the gospel. The new covenant was not like the old—that is, possessed of a fading glory. He had no fear that those who heard it would look upon it and see it fading away (v. 13). He proclaimed an unveiled message of unfading glory.
III. THE SPIRITUAL VEIL OVER THE HEART (vv. 14-16).
A. Paul, however, recognizes that a veil did exist. Even to the day that he wrote—and indeed even to our own day—that same veil of Moses'—figuratively speaking, of course, remains over the hearts of the sons of Israel (v. 14). Their minds are blinded in the reading of the Old Testament scriptures, which point to Christ (John 6:36). In 4:3-4, Paul tells us where this veil comes from.
B. The glorious truth, though, is that when the veiled heart turns to Christ, the veil is taken away. But until they do, the veil remains (v. 15). Suddenly, the meaning of the Old Covenant is illuminated by the glory of the new (see Matthew 13:52).
IV. THE LIBERATING GAZE UPON CHRIST (vv. 17-18).
A. This is all a work of the Holy Spirit (v. 17). He is the "Spirit" of the new covenant (v. 6); and He is the one who opens the blinded heart to see Jesus. Paul doesn't confuse the Person of Christ with the Person of the Spirit; but they are one in the same sense that Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30). "The Lord is the Spirit"; and He is also called "the Spirit of the Lord"—distinct, yet one. And where He is, there is liberty! By His veil-removing ministry, we are set free from the condemning power of the law; and are enabled to walk in holiness with God (Romans 8:1-17).
B. And for our part, as we now with unveiled face behold the glory of the Lord, we don't shy away from it as the people of Israel did before the mountain. Instead, we look into it as into a glass (a polished metal mirror). We see the faint image of Christ's glory, which image will be made very clear when we stand before Him. And as we do not turn our faces away, but gaze intently, we become transformed into His image progressively ("from glory to glory") as a work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in us (v. 18).
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