The old and new ministry. 2nd Corinthians 3:5-12
Is there a distinction between the old covenant mediated by Moses and the new covenant inaugurated by Lord Jesus Christ? What are the differences? Why the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:3-4 and Ezekiel 36:26-27 is superior to the old covenant? Why is the new covenant “a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22)?
Below are the notes from one of my recent sermons in my assembly. Hopefully, it can contribute to your understanding of the topic of old versus new covenant.
The new ministry is not the ministry of ink but is the ministry of the Spirit of the living God (Vs.3b)
The new ministry is not written not on the tablet of stone, but the tablets of human hearts (vs. 3c)
The new ministers are those of the new covenant, not the ministers of the letter, but they are the ministers of the Spirit. (Vs.6)
They are not the ministers of death but are the ministers giving life. (vs.7)
If the old ministry of death had glory, how much more glorious the new ministry of the Spirit that gives life? (vs.7)
The new ministry is not of condemnation, but are the ministers that bring righteousness (vs.9)
If the old ministry of condemnation had glory, how much more glorious the new ministry of righteousness? (vs.9)
The new covenant ministers are not the ministers of fading glory but are the ministers of lasting and permanent glory (vs.11)
Suppose the old ministry of fading glory had glory. How much more glorious the new ministry of lasting and permanent glory? (vs.11)
The old ministry of course was glorious has now no glory compared to the surpassing glory of the new ministry. (10).
You see, notice Paul agree that the old ministry had glory. Exodus 20 describes- The Law and the old testament covenant were given under thunder, lightning flashes, thick cloud, smoke, and loud sound of the trumpet. Per Exodus 34 Israelites could not even look at Moses’s face because of the radiance of glory on Moses’s face when he came down from the mountain after the receipt of the Law from the Lord God.
Two things worth mentioning about the glory of the old ministry.
First, It was frightening, wasn’t it? People said to Moses speak to them but not let God talk to them lest they die. Therefore, it was frightening or trembling glory.
Second, the glory was a fading glory. It was temporal and transitory. However, in contrast, the new covenant lasts forever. We will talk more about it later. Just remember now the new ministry will never fade away. It is permanent.
Vs5 says we are not all adequate in ourselves to handle this permanent and lasting glory of the new ministry called the new covenant, which was established by the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 22). He admits our adequacy is from God. Why? Because only he made us adequate and appointed as ministers of the new covenant because the old ministry-the letter- kills, but the new ministry established by Christ and given to us gives life to people. Was Paul adequate? No, he says elsewhere that he is the worst of all sinners. He thanked Christ Jesus, our Lord, who has given me strength, considered me trustworthy and appointed me to his service. He says, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1).
The background of the passage
The background of 2nd Corinthians 3 is the– passion and strong desire among the Jews for olden days than the new thing the Lord was doing in their midst as a fulfillment of His promise to them. The background of 2nd Corinthians 3 is this-certain false apostles started a campaign against Paul in the Corinthian church. It was Paul who founded the church by the preaching and teaching of the grace and gospel of Christ. However, a group of false teachers emerged over the time had convinced the believers in Corinth of the superiority and the great glory of the day of Moses and the old covenant. They spoke so much of Moses and the Law that Jesus Christ somehow seemed diminished in the process.
I want to drill down two phrases that Paul used to describe the old ministry.
The ministry of death vs. the new ministry of the Holy Spirit (vs.7). You see, the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament could only bring forth death.
By giving us a set of standards, it informs us what is right and wrong. The problem is it can’t inspire us to obedience. In contrast, it gives us a curiosity and desire to disobey. I would like to illustrate it this way. Suppose you are walking along the sidewalk, and you see a sign on a fence do not peak here. What would you do? You try to rise to see what is inside. Why did you do it? The sign says you do not peak. If there were no signs, you might not have tried to look over the fence. Even the thought of looking through the fence would never have occurred to you if there were no signs there. You see, the Law itself arouses a curiousness and temptation to disobey. That is why you ignored and violated the signboard, don’t you agree?
Does it mean the Law was not right? No, the Law is good. It came from God. It is perfect. But the problem is we do not have the mechanism or capacity to obey it. The Law can regulate only outward behavior. It does not change you internally. It is sitting in the external tablet of stone as Law, you do not have the power to submit or obey it.
Think a moment about the last command out of ten commandments. Do not covet. The issue is that you find it hard to live on this earth’s face without some type of strong desire for something that comes across our minds and thought. Covet means an eager wish for something. No little child grows up without possessing a strong desire to have something.
Have you ever broken any of the ten commandments? Think and tell me the truth. I read someone said like this. The question must not be, ‘did you break ten commandments’? The correct question is, have you broken by it? We are broke by the Law. Humanly it becomes nearly impossible to obey the ten commandments in its entirety. If we break one, we broke all. James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” So adherence and full obedience to ten commandments become beyond our hope.
The Law that shouts from Mt. Sinai “Thou shalt not” cannot empower us to obey its demands. It leaves me locked up in disobedience. I become a repeat offender who wants to change but lacks the power to obey it. This is what Paul talked in Romans 7- how wretched I am in my locked up condition. He says in Romans 7:19-25, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this Law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s Law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the Law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the Law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ, our Lord!
Galatians 3:24 says, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” In our locked up and helpless condition, the old testament Law becomes a tutor or guardian who brings us to the foot of the Cross of Christ, where he died on our behalf for our sins. This is why the Bible says in 1st Timothy that there is only one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. Ransom means the price or payment made for canceling our sins and trespasses that were against us. Jesus said and it is recorded in Matthew 20:28 that He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” In contrast to the ministry of death, the new ministry, the new covenant, brings life. Hence the new ministry is much more glorious than the old ministry.
The second point I want to drill down is this—the ministry of condemnation vs. the new ministry of righteousness.
The old ministry was the ministry of condemnation. The Law condemns when we are locked down in disobedience. This is why Paul says in Romans 8:1 after describing the pathetic condition of the old ministry, he says, now, therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are Christ Jesus. Praise God- Hallelujah.
What does the new ministry do? Instead of bringing in the ministry of condemnation, it brings in the ministry of righteousness that overflows with even more glory. You see, each word is essential here. The ministry of righteousness is the ministry of the gospel. Paul wrote in Romans this, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it, God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.” The gospel (the good news) reveals how to get right with God by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, His son, who died, buried and rose again for us. The power of the blood of Christ and the efficacy of the indwelling Holy Spirit empowers us to do what was impossible.
Two results come out of all this. What are they?
It brings to remembrance the superiority of the present time we live in. Some people want to live in olden days because they are convinced the olden days were better and the new days are worse compared to the olden days. This is the same thought these false teachers had in Paul’s day. You see, we must not be tempted to cherish the olden days forgetting the new things God does in our lives in t his dispensation or age. By having a strong desire to live in the past, it can distract and change our focus from what God is doing right now. If we drive the car by looking at the rear windows constantly, it can lead to wrecks- not only we, the others, would also be in danger. God does wonderful and much more glorious things by appointing us as the ministers of the new ministry-new covenant, which is more glorious than the old ministry. Remember, we are the minsters of not fading glory, like the glory on Moses’s face, which eventually faded away. We are the ministers of lasting glory. We are the ministers of life, not death. We are ministers of righteousness revealed in the grace and gospel of Jesus Christ, not ministers of condemnation.
Keep in mind that Paul says in verses 5 and 6, not because we are adequate to think any of these is coming from us. Our source of adequacy is from God. He made us adequate as the ministers of the new covenant. Praise and thank and Hallelujah to God in the name of Jesus Christ.
The second application is this – Paul says we are very bold in the new ministry. (vs. 12). The word ‘bold’ in the original means the boldness or freedom to speak. You see, the new covenant, the grace, and the gospel of Christ are written on the tablets of your heart, and you are free and bold in communicating it to anyone you come across. It naturally and automatically comes from your heart. Your boldness in the much more glorious new ministry is the result.
As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers who were fishermen, Simon (called Peter) and his brother Andrew, catching fish in the lake with a net.
And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
GNT translates this way -Jesus said to them, “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.” At once they left their nets and went with him.
Jesus wants people to understand what a glorious ministry he calls you for. The wonder of it may amaze you daily. Besides, he also says, you come and I will make you fishers of men for the new covenant established in Christ’s blood. Listen, Andrew, and Peter! It will be much more glorious than catching fish in the lake with your net. You see, they left their boats and nets and followed Jesus, and he taught them how to catch people for the new covenant and his eternal kingdom.
You see God calls you to become the channel of His grace in this world that desperately needs it. You need the grace, forgiveness, and love of God, don’t you? The people around you need it right now in these difficult days. People are dying every day without the touch of the grace, forgiveness, and redemption of God freely available in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Would you be bold enough to come to Jesus and follow Him? Would you be bold enough to communicate the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these dark days to a world that needs the marvelous grace, compassion, and love of God?
The new covenant promised in the old testament scriptures was already inaugurated by Lord Jesus Christ on His body that is broken and the blood that is shed for you. (Luke 22:18-20). I am not saying church replaced the promises God gave to Israel. No, Not at all. And I am not saying Israel does not have a literal fulfillment in the millennium as far as the promised new covenant in the Bible. Of course, the new covenant, also like other covenants, has multiple aspects of full fulfillment. Israel, as a nation and church as a new entity, is two separate plans of God. This is not my topic today. We can discuss the details of the new covenant in the future or refer the study Bible menu for more information on the new covenant.
My question is, would your heart and mind be engulfed with the greatness of this new covenant ministry that is already inaugurated by Christ and called you for, and would you be bold enough to do it? Would it become your life’s passion?