2 Corinthians 3:1-7

2 Corinthians 3:1‑7  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The division of the books of the Bible into chapters and verses, as is well known, is of human origin; and though it is a great convenience in referring to passages, it is faulty, sometimes in the division into verses, much more frequently in the arrangement by chapters. It is plain, for instance, that the third chapter’s beginning is a continuation of the subject which was before the inspired writer at the close of the second chapter; and they should be read together.
The low spiritual state of the Corinthian saints called for the language the apostle uses. That is why he speaks in his own behalf, of the character of his service for God, in the last verse of chapter 2, and continues (verses 1-3): Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or do we need, as some, commendatory letters to you, or from you? Ye are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read (or well known) of all men, ye being manifested that ye are Christ’s epistle, ministered by us; written, not with ink, but the Spirit of the living God; not on stone tables, but on fleshy tables of the heart.
Letters of commendation are much needed when saints go where they are not personally known, but so very much was the assembly at Corinth the result of Paul’s labor for Christ in that place, that he could say to them, Ye are our epistle, our letter of commendation. “Written in our hearts,” tells of his affection for them. And if Paul’s, they were Christ’s epistle, ministered by the apostle, but written by the Spirit of the living God on fleshy tables of the heart.
This every gathering of God’s saints is, and every individual saint- every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ — Christ’s letter of commendation to an unbelieving world. The world of that day took knowledge of the Assembly of God at Corinth; they saw something of the result of the gospel of God’s grace in human hearts, something of Christ in those Corinthians. So, to the unbelieving world of today, having no regard for God or His Christ, and ignorant of His truth, you, dear young Christian, are in the position of recommending the Savior. May they see nothing in you but what recommends Him!
The reference to tables of stone in the third verse directs our thoughts to the tables or tablets of the law given to Moses (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 32:19; 34:1, 4, 28; 40:2012And the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. (Exodus 24:12)
18And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God. (Exodus 31:18)
19And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. (Exodus 32:19)
1And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest. (Exodus 34:1)
4And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone. (Exodus 34:4)
28And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. (Exodus 34:28)
20And he took and put the testimony into the ark, and set the staves on the ark, and put the mercy seat above upon the ark: (Exodus 40:20)
). And what a contrast this suggests! The law was a series of demands upon man which he could not meet; instead of it, we have Christ engraved on every believer’s heart by the Holy Spirit.
Verses 4, 5: “And such trust (or confidence) have we through Christ towards God; not that we are sufficient (competent) of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency (competency) is of God.” The apostle refers to his work, his ministry; but in principle it is true of all the children of God, of every one who trusts in Jesus. We have confidence through Him toward God, because of the place of acceptance and of divine favor into which we have been brought.
Guarding against any thought of self-confidence or self-sufficiency, the apostle adds, “not that we are competent of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our competency is of God.”
Happy is that Christian, who is enabled by divine grace to find his all in God; in Him and His Word he rests, drawing from that high and inexhaustible source for every need.
In another place (Phil. 3:33For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)), after warning those to whom he wrote against dangers in the believer’s associations, the apostle adds, summarizing in a few words what a Christian is,
“For we are the circumcision, which worship God by the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”
May this characterization of the new man be true of you, dear young Christian, in the daily practice of your life!
Verse 6. Paul was made by God an able or competent minister of the new testament; he was fitted to serve, having learned the lesson of verse 5. The new covenant, for it is really that here, not “testament,” as the translators have generally made it, is referred to several times in the New Testament (See Heb. 7:22; 822By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. (Hebrews 7:22)
9Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; (Hebrews 9:9)
and 9; 10:16; 12:24 and 13:20, Matt. 26:2828For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:28); Mark 14:2424And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. (Mark 14:24); Luke 22:2020Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. (Luke 22:20); Rom. 11:2727For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. (Romans 11:27); 1 Cor. 11:2525After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:25)). The same Greek word serves for both covenant and testament or will, and in Heb. 9:1616For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. (Hebrews 9:16) and 17 it is used in the latter sense. The new covenant is promised to Israel in Jer. 31:31-3331Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: 33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31‑33), and Ezek. 16:60-6260Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant. 61Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder and thy younger: and I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy covenant. 62And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: (Ezekiel 16:60‑62), and it will be theirs in the millennium.
The blood of the new covenant is, of course, the shed blood of Christ; His death is the basis of all God’s dealings in grace with man. We who now believe, are getting the blessings of the future covenant with Israel, without its being made with us.
How could Paul be a minister of the new covenant before it is made? The reason is plain; the foundation on which it will stand has been laid, and the grace it provides was offered to the Jews at the beginning of the Church’s history, but they would not have it, so we have the ministry of it now. We are under no covenant, but Israel was under that given at Mount Sinai, in the observance of which they failed completely.
Under the new covenant, the remnant of Israel brought through the judgments foretold in the prophetic Scriptures, will have the knowledge of God, and of the forgiveness of their sins; they will have His laws in their hearts and in their minds. What a change that promises from the unbelieving Israel of today!
Paul’s ministry was “not of the letter but of the Spirit, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” The letter is as far as the natural man sees- a law given, whose requirements he must keep or suffer the penalty; the mind of God- the purpose of God-is made known to faith by the quickening Spirit through the written Word.
Verses 7 to 16 form a parenthesis, the seventeenth verse joining on to what is said in the sixth; in this parenthesis the law given by Moses is contrasted with the gospel. The law was the “ministry of death” (verse 7), and the “ministry of condemnation” (verse 9); a ministry of death, because they who were under it were promised life only as they kept the law in all its requirements; but having a sinful nature, with its own desires and a will contrary to God, the law held out only death to all; it was a ministry of condemnation, because the law condemned every soul that continued not in all things written in it (Gal. 3:1010For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (Galatians 3:10); Deut. 27:2626Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen. (Deuteronomy 27:26)).
The law began with glory, so that the children of Israel could not fix their eyes on the face of Moses on account of the glory of his face, a glory which is annulled. The reference is to Ex. 34:29-3529And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. 30And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. 31And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them. 32And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him in mount Sinai. 33And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face. 34But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. 35And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (Exodus 34:29‑35) when Moses the second time came down from the mountain of the law with tablets of stone containing the ten commandments. There is no mention of Moses’ face shining with reflected glory when he came down the first time from the presence of God (Ex. 32:15-3015And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. 16And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables. 17And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. 18And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear. 19And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. 20And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it. 21And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them? 22And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. 23For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. 24And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf. 25And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:) 26Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord's side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. 27And he said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor. 28And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. 29For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to day to the Lord, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day. 30And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin. (Exodus 32:15‑30)). Then he had the law alone, but the second time Moses was able to communicate to the people along with the law that God is “merciful and gracious... keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that law mingled with grace, and it was this that was introduced with glory, God having given Moses a glimpse of His glory in connection with His promise of mercy for sinning Israel.
The children of Israel, however, could not bear to look on Moses’ face when he came down from Sinai, reflecting as it did some of the glory of God, nor were they able to understand the divine purpose in the giving of the law, or to apprehend the spiritual meaning of the system which Moses was directed to establish among them whereby relationship with God might be maintained. The letter of the law condemned those to whom it was given; further than that they understood very little, except as individual faith grasped the purpose of God to bless for His name’s sake.