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2 Corinthians 3:7-11 meaning

The ministry of the Spirit, the new covenant, will reveal the true glory of God. We will move from the glory of the Law to the glory of the Spirit.

In the previous section, Paul asserted that the letter of the Law brought death, but the Spirit writing His letter on our hearts leads to life. Paul spoke of the new birth in Christ and the Spirit's work in our lives as being like the Spirit writing a letter on our hearts, and our lives that then reflect the work of the Spirit accordingly writes a letter that can be read by all men (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).

Paul also contrasted the letter of the Spirit written on the hearts of believers with the letter of the Law written on stone tablets at Mt. Sinai. He now elevates and further explores the contrast of the letter of the Law on stone with the ministry of the Spirit. We might infer from this that part of the controversy that caused sorrow in the church pertained to some people arguing with Paul's teaching of grace. Counter to grace, they may have asserted that following the Mosaic Law was a necessity to gain righteousness before God, as many of Paul's opponents did throughout his ministry (Acts 15:1, 5, Romans 3:8).

Paul now acknowledges that there was a glory associated with the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, but then asserts that the ministry of the Spirit will bring even more glory saying: But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? (vv 7-8).

A key word in this section is the Greek word "doxa," translated glory. The present dictionary defines "glory" as "praise, honor, or distinction extended by common consent." It can also be characterized by renown, or if referring to a person or even a place, "glory" can be a distinguished quality or asset.

The biblical use of glory is similar, but perhaps more pointed. We can see in I Corinthians, Paul asserted that the sun, moon, and stars have different kinds of glory (1 Corinthians 15:40-41). In another letter Paul also speaks of those who are ruled by their appetites as having a "glory" that is their "shame" (Philippians 3:19). We can infer from his usage that "doxa" (glory) is the essence of something (good or bad) that is being seen by observers.

Paul acknowledges that the Law reflected God's righteousness, noting that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face. Paul is referring to an episode recorded in Exodus 34:29-35, when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets upon which were written the Ten Commandments. Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with God. So Moses put a veil over his face.

This was evidence that Moses had been in God's presence and was a testimony to God's power. The glory of God, His covenant with Israel, and His Law are real and true. God gave the Law, and the Law reflects His righteousness. That Moses was in His presence, causing his face to shine, also speaks of the Law being like the moon in its glory, in that it reflects God's glory, since God is the very definition of righteousness and justice.

Thus, the Law, the letters engraved on stones came with glory, in that they reflect the righteousness of God. How, then, can the Law be the ministry of death? The Law shows the righteousness of God, and instructs humans how to walk in His ways. However, the Law does not produce righteousness because it does not provide the power to live righteously.

Paul explains how the Law becomes a ministry of death in his letter to the Romans, saying that the Law made him accountable, because then he knew sin, then sin took advantage of that knowledge and killed him when he failed to follow the Law (Romans 7:8, 13). This tells us that the Law shows us righteousness, but does not have the power to deliver us from sin. Therefore, it becomes a ministry of death, showing us sin but not delivering us from sin. The consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Death is separation, and sin separates us from God's (good) design.

Paul acknowledges that the Law came with great glory, but given its limitations to actually save anyone from sin, Paul asks how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? (v 8).

This is stated in the negative—how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more glory could also be asserted in the positive as "the ministry of the Spirit will have much more glory." The Law had and has the glory of reflecting the righteousness of God. The Spirit has even more glory, providing the knowledge and power to walk in righteousness in our daily lives.

Life comes through faith and the ministry of the Spirit. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul asserts that Israel failed to find righteousness because they did not seek it by faith—rather they sought righteousness through works of the Law (Romans 9:31-32). As a result, they stumbled over Jesus, because they believed in their own deeds. They could not fully follow the Law; rather than believing on Jesus they trusted in themselves and accordingly stumbled over Jesus, the true Cornerstone (Romans 9:32). However, the Gentiles found righteousness, even though they were not seeking it, because they gained it by faith (Romans 9:30).

Following the Law is something we try to do in our own power, the power of the flesh. But our flesh is not capable of following the Law. Therefore, self-reliance in this respect leads to death, while the ministry of the Spirit leads us to life:

 "For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace."
(Romans 8:6)

It is apparent that an outcome of life is superior to an outcome of death. This validates Paul's argument that the ministry of the Spirit comes even more with glory than did the Law.

Paul also notes in Romans that when believers walk in the Spirit they fulfill the Law (Romans 8:4). Thus, we can conclude that the Law has glory because it reflects God's righteousness, but the ministry of the Spirit has even more glory because it can actually lead us to fulfill the Law and lead us to life. Life comes when we make choices in keeping with God's (good) design. The Spirit gives us the power to make good choices that lead to life, when we follow the Spirit rather than the flesh (Galatians 5:13-16).

God's glory is His essence being observed. His glory is seen through what He created (Psalm 19:1). His glory is seen through the faithful living of His people who abide in Him and walk in His ways (John 15:8). Moses prayed to God, "I pray You, show me Your glory!" (Exodus 33:18). God answered the prayer of Moses, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you."

God's goodness and righteousness is enveloped in glory, and glory is expressed or manifested through the goodness and righteousness of the presence of God in us through the Holy Spirit. "The Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6) and the fruit of this Spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).

Paul restates the basic argument, now calling the Law the ministry of condemnation rather than the ministry of death. They amount to the same thing; knowledge of the Law brings us the condemnation of death since sin causes us to break the Law (Romans 7:11-13). If a ministry of the Law (that results in death) brings glory, then a ministry of righteousness that comes through the Spirit brings even more glory.

For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory (v 9).

The ministry of righteousness Paul references is, from context, the redeeming power of the Spirit of Christ to change the heart (2 Corinthians 2:3). The "new covenant" in Christ is an agreement written not on stone but on the heart (Jeremiah 33:31, 33, Matthew 26:28, Hebrews 8:8-10, 9:15, 12:24).

The changing of hearts through the power of the Spirit is made possible by the fact that Jesus fulfilled the Law and paid for our sins on the cross (Matthew 5:17, Colossians 2:14). Those who believe on Jesus are "born of the Spirit" (John 3:8) and enter God's family as His forever children (Romans 8:17a, 2 Timothy 2:13). Believing on Jesus frees us from the penalty of sin, which is separation from God and separation from being in His family.

Later in this letter, Paul describes the ministry of righteousness as being the creative work and power of the Spirit to change our hearts and make us new people, newly born into the Body of Christ:

 "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature"
(2 Corinthians 5:17).

In addition to giving those who believe a new birth, the Spirit's ministry of righteousness empowers the believer to walk in righteousness through the power of the Spirit:

 "walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh"
(Galatians 5:16).

Thus the believer is freed not only from the penalty of sin, he or she is also freed from the enslaving power of the sin and the flesh. Being freed from the power of sin is something Jesus does without our participation; this freedom is a free gift received by faith (John 3:14-15, Ephesians 2:8-9). But experiencing freedom from the power of sin in our daily lives requires our ongoing yielding to the leading of the Spirit. The Spirit brings the power to fulfill the Law, a power that the Law cannot provide (Romans 8:4).

What the Law could not do was give life. Even though the Law came with glory, the Spirit gives life— and much more does the ministry of righteousness (through the Spirit) abound in glory (v 9).

The words much more connect with the word abound, creating an emphasis that the glory of the Spirit which brings life is an exceedingly greater glory that that of the Law. The Law reflects the righteousness of God, and therefore reflects His glory. The Spirit is God, and is His essence and glory. It is a glory that gives life, as God is the source of life.

We can recall earlier in this chapter, that Paul was making the case for his adequacy, as well as the adequacy of all believers, "as servants of a new covenant" (2 Corinthians 3:6). This is because our adequacy comes from God. Paul asserts that servants of the new covenant are empowered by the Spirit and reflect the glory of God through the Spirit. Therefore his ministry did not require authentication from religious authorities, who presumably were experts in the Law. Paul's authority did not come from "following their rules."

While Moses and the Law had a glory that was genuine, Paul wants the followers of Christ to understand that they have an even more glorious ministry through walking in the Spirit. Astonishingly, as great as was the glory of Moses, the glory of Christ is far surpassing: For indeed what had glory (Moses), in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it (v 10).

The glory of Moses has, by comparison to the glory of the Spirit, no glory. This would be a shocking statement to a Jewish person. Moses was revered. But Paul here is saying that as great as Moses was, compared to the redemption each person has in Christ through the Spirit, and the writing God makes on the heart of each believer, Moses has no glory.

We can infer from Paul's argument that the offending person that brought the "sorrow" of division within the Corinthian church was seeking to impose religious observance upon the Corinthian Gentiles (2 Corinthians 2:5-6). This was the same issue Paul contended against in his letters to the believers in Rome and Galatia.

This was a conflict from the very beginning of Christianity, and was the source of a great dispute in Jerusalem; the debate as to whether Gentiles were required to follow Jewish religious laws in order to gain righteousness (Acts 15:1, 5). Peter and James agreed with Paul that Gentiles were not required to follow the Law, that all were saved by grace (Acts 15:11). However, many Jews disagreed, and it appears that throughout his ministry Paul disputed with competing Jewish "authorities" who asserted that it was necessary to follow the Law in order to be "saved."

The point Paul makes is not that the Law has no benefit; it shows us God's (good) design that leads to human flourishing (Romans 7:12). The point is that the Spirit of God far surpasses the Law of God in that it is the power of God to live and fulfill what the Law points to—behaviors that lead to life, vitality and flourishing. God's covenant/treaty with Israel focused on loving God and loving their neighbors (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:37-39).

The Spirit provides the insight and power to actually accomplish that end through walking in obedience to the Spirit rather than the flesh (Galatians 5:13-14). Paul's theme in his letter to the Romans is that the gospel contains both redemption from sin as well as the power to live righteously through faith. Paul uses the phrase "from faith to faith" to show that righteousness begins through faith in Jesus and is experienced through a walk of faith (Romans 1:17).

Paul makes a subtle shift from comparing the glory of Moses and the Law to the glory of the ministry of the Spirit in changing the human heart when he says, For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory (v 11).

This infers not only that the ministry of Moses and the Law is inferior, but also that it fades away. It seems that the covenant of Moses has an expiration date. But it also appears that it does not remain constant and then end abruptly. Rather it fades away.

This makes sense in light of the reality that the Law of Moses has been superseded by a new covenant, the covenant made through the Spirit through the blood of Christ. However, there are promises remaining to be fulfilled in the Law of Moses, and all promises made by God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Therefore, the covenant of God with Israel and the promises of the Law and Prophets will remain until all is fulfilled. They are fading away, then all will be fulfilled, then they will pass away.

What will never pass away is the ministry of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is eternal, it remains in glory. This makes a glorious implication that the indwelling Spirit of Christ will remain with each believer for all of eternity. This is a wonderful and glorious statement that should give each believer great hope

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