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2Corinthians 3

Thursday Evening Bible Study

November 13, 2014


 Do people see Jesus? Is the gospel preached? Does it address the person who is: Empty, lonely, guilty, or afraid to die?  Does it speak to the broken hearted? Does it build up the church? Milk – Meat – Manna Preach for a decision Is the church loved? Target 3300 words

Paul had spent nearly three years in Ephesus, during which he wrote his first letter to the Corinthians.

Paul’s stay in Ephesus ended abruptly when a riot broke out in the city because of how the Christian revival was affecting the business of those who made idols.

After the riot, Paul headed up north to Macedonia.

The year is AD 56, almost a year after Paul had written his first letter to the Corinthians.

We believe Paul made a “quick trip” to Corinth sometime between the writing of these letters in order to deal with some of the more serious issues in the church.  This “quick trip” was not recorded by Luke in the book of Acts.  Luke only records two visits of Paul, yet Paul would write,

(2 Corinthians 12:14a NKJV) Now for the third time I am ready to come to you.

(2 Corinthians 13:1 NKJV) This will be the third time I am coming to you. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.”

One of the issues that Paul has been dealing with in this letter is the issue of his authority.

Some people were accusing Paul of being “wishy-washy” because he kept changing his plans of how and when he would visit Corinth.

The issue of authority continues…

3:1-3 Letters

:1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you?

:2 You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men;

:1 epistles of commendation

In those days, there were false teachers traveling from church to church taking advantage of the churches.

It was common for traveling preachers to carry letters of recommendation with them, to let the churches know whether or not they were legitimate.


When Apollos first came to Corinth from Ephesus, he came with letters from the church so they would know he was the real deal.
(Acts 18:27 NKJV) And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace;
When Paul sent Timothy to the Corinthians, he arrived with Paul’s recommendation of him mentioned in the first letter.
(1 Corinthians 16:10–11 NKJV) —10 And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do. 11 Therefore let no one despise him. But send him on his journey in peace, that he may come to me; for I am waiting for him with the brethren.

Paul is writing with a bit of sarcasm here to the Corinthians.

There were those who had been questioning Paul’s authority, and Paul is asking if he needs to come with letters of recommendation when he comes.

:2 You are our epistle

In reality, the church itself was Paul’s letter of recommendation.  If anyone questioned Paul’s authority, they needed to think back to who had actually planted the church in the first place.

:3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.

:3 clearlyphaneroo – to make manifest or visible or known what has been hidden or unknown, to manifest, whether by words, or deeds, or in any other way

:3 an epistle of Christ

The folks in Corinth were a type of “letter” written to the world by Jesus Christ.

:3 ministered by us

ministereddiakoneo – to be a servant, attendant, to serve

The Corinthians were a letter written Christ and served by Paul.

:3 ink … Spirit

You aren’t going to find visible ink on a piece of parchment or papyrus.

The writing of this letter is done by the Holy Spirit, writing on hearts.

:3 tablets of stone … flesh

The Ten Commandments were written on stone tablets.

God’s recommendation letter of Paul was written on the Corinthian’s hearts.

:3 an epistle of Christ


God’s letter

Some people may never chance to open up a Bible and read God’s Word for themselves.
But they might take a look at what God’s writing in your life.
The world knows how British journalist Henry Stanley went to Africa to find the famed missionary, Dr. David Livingstone.  Stanley’s greeting, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” is world famous, but few know the rest of the story.  After the two had been together for some time, Stanley saw what Livingstone endured and wrote, “I went to Africa as prejudiced as the biggest atheist in London.  But there came for me a long time for reflection.  I saw this solitary old man there and asked myself, ‘How on earth does he stop here—is he cracked, or what? What is it that inspires him so?’ For months after we met I found myself wondering at the old man carrying out all that was said in the Bible—‘Leave all things and follow Me.’ But little by little his sympathy for others became contagious; my sympathy was aroused; seeing his piety, his gentleness, his zeal, his earnestness, and how he went about his business, I was converted by him.”
From 1992 –
Habitat for Humanity started officially in 1976 but unofficially when founder Millard Fuller went to Zaire with a church group to build not-for-profit houses in 1968.  With a beginning undergirded with little except prayer and vision for what God could do, Habitat has grown into one of the nation’s largest home builders.
Fuller describes Habitat as an “alive, dynamic, Christ-centered movement” that welcomes Christians and non-Christians to participate in building houses for the poor.
Fuller takes special delight when people listen to the message behind the sweat, nails and saws.  Recently, he returned to the sight of a Jimmy Carter Work Project in Charlotte, N.C.  He spotted a five year-old boy playing in the yard of the house that Carter had helped build.
After complimenting the boy on his beautiful home, he asked him who built it, expecting to hear the boy say, “Jimmy Carter.”
Instead, the boy said, “Jesus built my house.”

-- The Columbus Dispatch, 6-20-92, p. 8H

I hope this is the way we would operate as well.  Instead of people seeing us do the work, they would see Jesus.

3:4-6 Spirit vs. Letter

:4 And we have such trust through Christ toward God.

:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,

:5 our sufficiency is from God

sufficienthikonos – sufficient; enough


He’s enough

I think some of us try very hard to convince people that we are “good enough”.
Sometimes it’s through our criticism

We are sure to point out where everyone else makes mistakes.

And in the process, we end up looking better, at least better than those other “jerks”.

Be careful when you feel like you have to evaluate everyone else around you.

Sometimes it’s through the kinds of good things we do.

You will hear of people working their whole lives trying to please their father or mother.

They grew up without the unconditional love that a parent is supposed to be giving.

Sometimes we carry these ideas over to our relationship with God.

Some people live their whole lives trying to impress God so He will think they are “good enough”

Paul’s “sufficiency” wasn’t based on what the Corinthians thought of him.  His sufficiency was based on what God thought of Him.
This is what “grace” is all about.

God knows that we are not “sufficient”.

That’s why God sent Jesus, in order to make us “sufficient”

God took our sin and swapped it with Jesus’ righteousness.  That’s what has made us “sufficient”.

(2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

We aren’t “saved” because we’ve done enough, we are saved because Jesus has done enough.

(Ephesians 2:8–9 NKJV) —8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

God is the one who has made us “qualified” to be called “saints”.

(Colossians 1:12 NKJV) giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.

You don’t need to criticize others, God has made you “sufficient”.
You don’t have to do good things to impress others, we do good things out of gratitude to God.
You don’t have to worry about impressing God, He already loves you.

:6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

:6 ministers of the new covenant

Paul has already been making allusions to the old and new covenant.

The Old Covenant was the agreement that God had made with Israel through Moses.

The deal was this – man could relate to God only if he kept the Law of Moses with perfect obedience.

Jeremiah predicted that there would one day be a “new covenant”.

(Jeremiah 31:31–34 NKJV) —31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Jesus came to establish this “new covenant” with mankind (Mat. 26:28)
(Matthew 26:28 NKJV) For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
The New Covenant wouldn’t be based on an external law that had been written on stone tablets.
The New Covenant would be about a work God would do in people’s hearts.

It would involve people actually knowing God.

It would involve the forgiveness of sins.

:6 the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life

Every once in a while you will hear a pastor say that we’re not going to spend time studying the Bible, but focus on the moving of the Holy Spirit … for “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” – as if we are supposed to choose one over the other.

The problem with that is that it is misunderstanding what the text is saying.

Paul is calling the old covenant, the Law of Moses, the “letter”.

It’s the Law that “kills” by making us aware of our sin.
(Romans 7:9–11 NLT) —9 At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, 10 and I died. So I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead. 11 Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me.

Paul is referring to the new covenant as the “Spirit”

Ezekiel also spoke of the new covenant with the Spirit.
(Ezekiel 36:26–27 NKJV) —26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

3:7-18 Transforming Glory

:7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away,

:8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?

:7 the ministry of death

Paul continues with the same analogy from the previous verses.

He’s talking here about the Law of Moses, which results in death.

Ezekiel wrote,

(Ezekiel 18:20a NKJV) The soul who sins shall die.

:7 was glorious

The covenant that God made with Moses was accompanied with a measure of “glory”.

Moses told God he wanted to see God’s “glory”.

(Exodus 33:18 NKJV) And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.”
God told Moses that He would only show Moses a small portion of His glory, but God did pass in front of Moses and Moses caught a glimpse of God’s back.

After Moses received the Ten Commandments.

(Exodus 34:29–35 NKJV) —29 Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him.
It seems that some of God’s “glory” rubbed off of Moses from his time in God’s presence (he glowed a bit).
30 So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. 34 But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. 35 And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.
After the Israelites built the Tabernacle, Moses would go into the tent to meet with God.  Just like the time on the mountain, Moses would come out of the tent glowing with “glory”.
After Moses would deliver the things that God had told him to say, Moses would put a veil over his face.
What we don’t know until Paul explains is why Moses put the veil over his face.

:7 which glory was passing away

The glow on Moses’ face didn’t last.

In the same way, the glory of the Law also fades.

:8 the ministry of the Spirit

If Moses’ covenant (which resulted in death) came with a measure of glory, wouldn’t it make sense that the covenant of the Spirit (which results in life) would have even more “glory”?

:9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.

:10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels.

:11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.

:9 condemnation … righteousness

Paul gives two more labels for the old and new covenants.

The old covenant resulted in our condemnation.

The new covenant results in our becoming “righteous”.

:10 … had no glory

Even though Moses’ experience with God was quite amazing and “glorious”, it was nothing compared to what we have with Jesus.

:11 passing away … remains

The old covenant is what’s “passing away” (Heb. 8:13)

The writer of Hebrews records,
(Hebrews 8:13 NKJV) In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The new covenant is what will remain.

:12 Therefore, since we have such hope,

Our faith isn’t in a “covenant” that is passing away, but one that will remain forever.

:12 we use great boldness of speech—

:13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.

:12 we use great boldness of speech

boldnessparrhesia freedom in speaking; openly; free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage

This is about being firm, clear, and plain in what you say.
While Moses used to put a veil over his face, we are supposed to be open and bold.


Holy Boldness

Jesus spoke with boldness, with openness.
(John 18:19–20 NKJV) —19 The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. 20 Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing.
When the apostles were arrested,
(Acts 4:13 NKJV) —13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.
Holy boldness honors the gospel. In the olden times, when Oriental despots had things pretty much their own way, they expected all ambassadors from the West to lay their mouths in the dust if permitted to appear before his Celestial Brightness, the Brother of the Sun and the Cousin of the Moon. Money- loving traders agreed to all this and ate dust as readily as reptiles, but when England sent her ambassadors abroad, the daring islanders stood bolt upright. They were told that they could not be indulged with a vision of the Brother of the Sun and the Cousin of the Moon without going down on their hands and knees. “Very well,” said the Englishmen, “we will dispense with the luxury. But tell his Celestial Splendor that it is very likely that his Serenity will hear our cannon at his palace gates before long, and that their booming is not quite so harmless as the cooing of his Sublimity’s doves.” The ambassadors of the British Crown were no cringing petitioners; the British Empire rose in the respect of the Oriental nations.
Our cowardice has subjected the gospel to contempt. Jesus was humble, and his servants must not be proud, but Jesus was never mean or cowardly, nor must his servants be. There was no braver man than Christ. He could stoop to save a soul, but he would stoop to nothing by which his character might be compromised, or truth and righteousness insulted. To preach the gospel boldly is to deliver it as such a message ought to be delivered. Blush to preach of a dying Savior? Apologize for talking about the Son of God condescending to be made man, that he might redeem us from all iniquity? Never! Oh, by the grace of God let us purpose with Paul "to be yet more bold," that the gospel may be yet more fully preached throughout all ranks of mankind.

-- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)

:13 what was passing away

(2 Corinthians 3:13 The Message) …He wore a veil so the children of Israel wouldn’t notice that the glory was fading away—

Moses would take off the veil in God’s presence, come out glowing, speak to the people, and then put his veil back on.
Moses didn’t put on his “veil” because he was embarrassed at the glow.
He put on the veil because he didn’t want the people to see that the glow was only temporary.  It faded with time.

:14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.

:14 the same veil remains unlifted

Covering the head was usually done as a sign of humility, but it’s possible that Paul is hinting at the Jewish practice of men covering their heads while praying or studying the Scriptures.

Typically this is seen as a sign of respect for God and His word.
The wearing of a kippah or yarmulke falls in this category as well.

It could be that Paul is saying that the reason the Jews cover their heads when praying or reading was to copy the example of Moses covering himself after having been in God’s presence.

Yet Paul says that the real thing being “veiled” was not the head, but the heart.

When a Jewish person turns to Jesus as their Messiah, the “veil” is removed.


It’s possible that this whole subject also plays a part in that difficult passage in 1Cor.11 where Paul talks about a man disgracing his Head when he prays with his head covered.
(1 Corinthians 11:3–4 NKJV) —3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head.

A man disgraces Jesus and his relationship with Him by saying that the veil hasn't been removed if a man covers his head.

:15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.

To this day, the Jews still have an invisible, spiritual veil coming between them and the truth.

:16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

:16 when one turns to the Lord

Moses would take off his veil whenever he came into the presence of the Lord.  For any Jew, even today, when he comes to trust in Jesus, his spiritual veil is taken off.

When any person chooses to trust in Jesus, a whole new world opens for them that they’ve never been able to experience.

Video:  1 year old boy hears for the first time.

:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

:17 the Lord is the Spirit

There is a hint at the deity of the Holy Spirit here.

:17 there is liberty

libertyeleutheria the liberty to do as one pleases

When the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, He gives us “liberty”.

It’s like that baby Max having the “liberty” to hear sound for the first time.
This is not a freedom to do whatever wicked thing I want.
This is freedom from sin being in charge.
(Romans 6:22 NKJV) But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.

:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

:18 we all, with unveiled face

As believers, we’ve had the “veil” lifted from our hearts and our heads (vs. 16)

When Moses would go into God’s presence, he would take his veil off too (Ex. 34:34).

(Exodus 34:34 NKJV) —34 But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded.

:18 as in a mirror the glory of the Lord

beholding as in a mirrorkatoptrizomai to show in a mirror, to make to reflect, to mirror; to look at one’s self in a mirror; to behold one’s self in a mirror

The looking into a mirror can refer to how “dimly” we can catch glimpses of the Lord on this side of death.  Paul wrote,

(1 Corinthians 13:12 NKJV) For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

It can also hint at God’s Word.  James writes,

(James 1:22–25 NKJV) —22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
The law of liberty is not the Law of Moses, but God’s Word.

The idea is that a person who reads God’s Word but doesn’t follow it is like the guy looking in the mirror and thinking he needs to shave, but walks away without doing anything about it.

:18 transformed …from glory to glory

transformedmetamorphoo – to change into another form

The word is in a present tense, meaning that this is a continuous thing.
We aren’t changed all at once (in this life), but the transformation God wants to work in us is a gradual, continual one.


Spiritual Change

God wants us to grow and be changed (transformed).
Moses spent time in God’s presence and he glowed as a result.
When we spend time in God’s presence, we ought to be changed in some way as well.
I think the idea is that God takes His glory and puts a little more on us.
We gain a little more “glory” each time we spend time with God.
Transformation involves at least three things.

Moses glowed when he spent time in God’s presence.

We need to spend time engaged and aware of God’s presence.

It can involve simply waiting on God.

I think prayer is a major part of this.

We need to take time to dialogue with God, to speak with Him, to express our love to Him.


That’s the mirror.  That’s the best “image” or “picture” we have of what we’re supposed to be like.

Keep reading and studying the entire Bible.

Learn what God’s glory looks like.  That’s what God wants to form you into.


As James reminded us, it does no good to spend time with God’s Word is you don’t learn to do what it says.

Actual change requires that you participate in the change.

There is no transformation without you being a willing and cooperative participant.