The Quality of His Ministry Page 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on 2 Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

The old covenant was a deadly thing, because it produced a legal relationship between man and God. In effect it said, “If you wish to retain your relationship with God, you must keep these Laws.” It thereby set up a situation in which God was essentially a judge, and man was essentially a criminal, forever in default before the bar of God’s judgment. The old covenant was deadly because it killed certain things.

a) It killed hope. There was never any hope that any man could keep it, human nature being what it is. It therefore could dispense nothing but frustration.
b) It killed life. Under it a man could earn nothing but condemnation; and condemnation meant death.
c) It killed strength. It was perfectly able to tell a man what to do, but it could not help him to do it.

The old covenant was based on a written document. We can see the story of its initiation in Exodus 24:1-8. Moses took the book of the covenant and read it to the people and they agreed to it. On the other hand, the new covenant is based on the power of the life-giving Spirit. A written document is always something that is external; whereas the work of the Spirit changes the heart of a man. A man may obey the written code, while all the time he wishes to disobey it; but when the Spirit comes into the heart and controls it, not only does he not break the code, he does not even wish to break it, because he is a changed man. A written code can change the Law; only the Spirit can change human nature.

8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?

The new covenant established by the work of Christ, and enlivened by the Spirit, “gives life” instead of “death” (vs. 6-7). It is only natural, therefore, that it should be accompanied by much greater splendor than the old legal system had. In this verse “glorious” describes the high spiritual privileges of Christian faith, worship, and life which belongs to one led by the Spirit. If the Old Testament was glorious, how much more glorious is the New Testament. Likewise, if Christianity is superior to Judaism of the Old Testament, which was the highest form of religion on earth, it will surely be superior to any other form of contemporary religion.

Paul’s New Testament letters underscore the importance of Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit to believers (Romans 5:5{18]). The Spirit was the guarantee—the first deposit—of their salvation. Believers were new creations because of the work of the Spirit in their lives. As such, believers had to live according to the dictates of the Spirit, instead of reverting back to their old sinful ways (Rom. 7:6{16]).

9 If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!

The second contrast is between the old legal system and the new life in the Spirit: the old system made God’s will known; it made man responsible; but it gave no power to break the grip of sin or to live the life it commanded, therefore, it led only to condemnation and death. The new dispensation gives the free gift of righteousness. Righteousness refers primarily to God’s gracious justifying of the sinner on the basis of Christ’s work; but since “the Spirit gives life” (v. 6), there is the further suggestion that this life is more than a legal acquittal and includes a moral enlivening of the believer. In this context, the word certainly means the righteousness that God gives to believers (Rom. 4:3, 22){20].

God alone is truly righteous. No one is righteous before God (Rom. 3:10{21]). But God mercifully gives His righteousness to those who believe in His Son (Rom. 5:17{22]). This way all those who believe in Jesus are declared righteous before God (Rom. 3:20-22{23]). Believers, in turn, begin to alter their behavior one step at a time because the Holy Spirit lives within them, guiding them in paths of righteousness (Rom 8:4, 10{24]).

The grace of God is also a gift of life-transforming power. Naturally, such effective and beneficial power of that which the Spirit gives surpasses in splendor the old system which ended in condemnation. Paul knew that there was grace and power in the Old Testament period; but it did not come through the legal system as such. As Romans 4 and Galatians 3:6-9{11] show, faith, and forgiveness were the true way of life even then.

The new covenant was quite different from the old covenant (v. 7).

a) It was a relationship of love. It came into being because God so loved the world.
b) It was a relationship between a father and his sons. Man was no longer the criminal in default, he was the son of God, even if a disobedient son.
c) It changed a man’s life, not by imposing a new set of laws on him, but by changing his heart.
d) It therefore not only told a man what to do but gave him the strength to do it. With its commandments it brought power.

“The ministry that brings righteousness” refers to the righteousness we have in Christ Jesus.

10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.

The old legal system (the commandments) had a real splendor (glory), since it was given by God and reflected its divine origin. Not only did Moses’ face shine, but thunder, lightning, earthquakes, dense clouds, blazing fire, and a deafening trumpet blast accompanied its inauguration at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:16-20{25]). The Israelites were terrified. They were forbidden from standing on the mountain or even on its boundaries. If they did, they would die. The glory of God inspired fear and reverence. The brilliance of Moses’ face was only a slight reflexion of God’s glory; the people knew this, for they had seen God shake the very foundations of Mount Sanai. The changed hearts and lives of believers, however, is an even more spectacular work of God than lightning, thunder, and earthquakes. The giving of the Law on Mount Sanai was certainly spectacular, yet in comparison with the greater splendor of the new order, it does not seem to have any splendor at all. Just as a candle appears to have no light when held in the full light of the sun, so does the lesser glory of the Law pale and seem as nothing in the presence of the new Spirit-filled glory of Christian fellowship.

11 And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

The tense of the verb here is very important: “what was passing away.” Paul wrote at a period in history when the ages were overlapping. The new covenant of Grace had come in, but the temple sacrifices were still being carried on and the nation of Israel was still living under the Law. In A.D. 70, the city of Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed by the Romans, and that would mark the end of the Jewish religious system. The grace of the Law was fading in Paul’s day, and today that glory is found only in the records in the Bible. The nation of Israel has no temple or priesthood. If they did build a temple there would be no Shekinah glory dwelling in the holy of holies. The Law of Moses is a religion with a glorious past, but it has no glory today. The light is gone; all that remains is shadows (Col. 2:16-17{26]).

The giving of the Law was marked by a magnificent exhibition of God’s glory; there was thunder, lightning, and a mighty shaking of the earth—the old covenant was born in glory. But it was “fading away” at the very time that Moses, who had just come down from the mountain bringing with him the Ten Commandments, which are the code of the old covenant, was explaining the covenant of Law to Israel. Moses’ face had shown with such a brilliance that no one could look at it (Ex. 14:30), but the condition was only temporary; it did not and it could not last. The fading brightness of Moses’ face was a symbol of the temporary nature of the Law under the old covenant. The glory of the old covenant, like that of Moses’ face, was fleeting and “fading away.” Notice that it is “fading away.” Then how much more glorious is “that which lasts,” that New covenant which imparts eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus. He is making a contrast between the giving of the Mosaic Law and the day of grace in which we live. The new covenant, the relationship which Jesus Christ makes possible between man and God has a greater splendor which will never fade because it produces pardon and not condemnation, life and not death. Indeed, the new covenant had already shown God’s glory. Jesus Christ, by His perfect life, had revealed God to human beings. God’s saving of human souls is greater than anything we consider great in this world—big houses, fat bank accounts, fame, or power and influence.

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