4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
2 Corinthians 3:4-11
There is nothing more frustrating than knowing what we ought to do but lacking the power to perform it. To see and read and be confronted with all that God desires while one feels unable and without the spiritual power to respond. Does it not leave us feeling disappointed that we do not match up to how we should be as Christians?
I thank God that we do not live in an age when the law of God is written on stone and calls for our obedience without the promise of the provision of help and power. Our Christian lives would be constantly missing the mark, but that is not the case because we are members of the New Covenant through Jesus Christ. Through the New Covenant there is power and strength to follow every command or principle without which it would make what God requires an impossible task. It is the power of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
In describing the New Covenant, of which we’ve been made members, Paul contrasts it with the Mosaic or Old Covenant. He associates the New with the Spirit and says that it “gives life,” whereas the Old he describes as “the letter which kills” (vs 6-7).
This contrast has been frequently misunderstood. It does not mean that the Law of Moses is sinful or wrong (Romans 7:12-14) nor does it give us two different ways of interpreting scripture that is, the literal versus the spiritual. It also isn’t, as some have suggested, doctrine versus Spirit or mind versus heart.
In order to understand this we need to examine the nature of the New Covenant against the Old. In summary, the Law of Moses was imposed from without on a rebellious people, the result of which was death. The New Covenant, on the other hand, is inscribed on the very hearts of its recipients, all of whom, from least to the greatest, “will know the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
Everyone in the New Covenant is provided with inner power, that is to say, the Holy Spirit who provides all that is needed. The Old Covenant made no such provision but rather it speaks to a people whose hearts were stone. The effect of God’s commandments on unchanged (stony) hearts is condemnation and death. Thus, spiritually speaking, the Old Covenant “killed” and made it, therefore, “a ministry of death” (vs 7).
The problem with the Sinai covenant was not with the law itself, but, as Ezekiel and Jeremiah tell us, with the people whose hearts remained hardened to it. They did not want to live by it! The law remained for Paul, as it did for the Jewish traditions of his day, the holy, just, and good expression of God’s covenantal will (Romans 7:12).
Paul says the law itself is spiritual ( 7:14) and yet, although the law declares God’s will, it is powerless to enable people to keep it. It shouts, it demands but does not reach out its hand to help.
So the inadequacy of the Mosaic Law was not due to any inherent failure on its part but rather, its inadequacy was, that it could only prescribe what people ought to do but without making provision that would sufficiently enable them to fulfil its requirements. The Law of Moses was quite effective in explaining one’s moral obligation and exposing one’s sin, but it did not not move to help those who stood under its covenant.
Paul, therefore, speaks of the New Covenant in very different terms. He speaks of its “glory” no fewer than six times in verses 7-11, and he speaks no fewer than four times referring to its superior “glory” this amazing glory of the New Covenant established through Christ!
Why is this so important? It is because the New Covenant is the foundation of your relationship with God! Nothing could be more personal or important than understanding the terms on which we relate to God as our Lord and Saviour and experience the blessings he has for us. Let’s go on a Bible train together.
What is provided for us in the New Covenant? According to what we read in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-28 it provides significant wonderful blessings, such as the internalisation of God’s law, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts “(Jeremiah 31:33 and 2 Corinthians 3:3). It provides an unbroken, unbreakable fellowship with God, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). It provides an unmediated knowledge of God, “no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:34). And it provides the unconditional forgiveness of sins, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”(Jeremiah 33:34).
In whom is the New Covenant fulfilled? I’m always a bit surprised that anyone could have any doubts about this, but let me briefly mention some suggestions that have been given. Some “classical dispensationalists” argue that the New Covenant was given exclusively for ethnic Israel and will therefore be fulfilled only in her at the end of the age when Israel as a nation is saved. The Church, according to this view, has no part in the blessings of this covenant.
There have been other dispensationalists who argued that there are two New Covenants, one for ethnic Israel and one for the Church. Happily, this view has been largely if not altogether abandoned by those who first proposed it, but it may be still out there, wooooo.
Others have suggested that there is only one New Covenant and that it is for Israel but in which the Church shares spiritually. In other words, those blessings in the covenant which pertain to salvation are equally enjoyed by the Church, but those that pertain to earthly prominence in the land belong solely to Israel. It’s getting rather complex!
Another extremely unbiblical and dangerous view is that there are two covenants, one for the Jewish people and one for those who embrace Jesus as Messiah!
In my view there is only one New Covenant. The Church, being the historical continuation of the believing remnant within Israel, is the recipient of its blessings. So both believing Jews and believing Gentiles, the latter of whom have been graciously included in the covenants of promise (Ephesians 2:12) together and equally enjoy the fulfilment of all aspects of the New Covenant.
For those that want evidence, Mark 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Galatians 3:29, Ephesians 2:11-22 and 3:6. Plus a load in Hebrews 8:6-13, 9:15,10:15,10:19.
It is as a minister of this New Covenant that Paul happily declares he has been made adequate or sufficient by God. He finds nothing in himself that would otherwise qualify him for this great and awesome task. God made him “competent” (vs 5), as is surely the case with each one of us in the exercise of any spiritual gift or ministry or act of service to which God has called us to.
What an incredible blessing , that the superior glory of the “ministry of the Spirit” (vs 8) or the “ministry of righteousness” (vs 9), that is, the ministry of the New Covenant, will never fade away or be abolished or replaced by one that surpasses it in power or pre-eminence (vs 11). For its provision we give thanks and on its power we rely as we seek first the Kingdom of God and look to its advancement in the communities we live in.