September 14: 2 Cor 3
September 14, 2010
In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul talks about the glory of the ministry which has been entrusted to him in a passage which draws a stark contrast between the old covenant and the new.
The old covenant was indeed glorious. While Paul describes it as a ministry of death, this is not to be read as derogating in any way from its glorious nature. The law was, after all, the very handwriting of God upon the tablets of stone. It was, rather, a ministry of death because the people of Israel remained stiff-necked and rebellious under its dispensation; glorious as it was, it could not deliver a sinful people from wrath to grace.
By contrast, the new covenant is much more glorious. As with the old covenant, God is the author; but this time the new actually brings righteousness, it does not merely demand it. As Luther might say, we have here gospel, not law; and that is much better news all round. Of course, Paul is immediately vulnerable here to the criticism that, if what he says is true, why is it that so many Jews in his day remain unmoved and untouched by the greater glory of the new. The answer is that the same veil remains unlifted in their hearts in Paul's day as it did when Moses first delivered the law: in rebellion, they reject Christ and thus cannot see the greater glory of the new or, indeed, the true glory of the old.
Paul's words here should be a comfort and encouragement to all in Christian ministry: first, we have a glorious message; indeed, we have the most glorious message of all - that in Christ God has reconciled us to himself. Our task is faithfully to proclaim this message, and our success is to be judged not by the numbers of punters we pull in to our services, or the cash amount by which we manage to exceed our church budgets. Success is judged rather by our faithfulness in proclamation of this gospel and in the dependence of our hearts upon the grace of God. Outwardly, there may be many discouragements; but the very content of the new covenant should really be all the encouragement we need.