2Cor 3:7 A Ministration of Death 5/19/2013
· Tables of Stone, and Tables of the Heart (2Cor 3:2-5, Ex 24:12, Jer 31:31-33, Ezek 36:26-27)
#1. The Letter and the Spirit (2Cor 3:6, Gal 3:19, Rom 7:13)
· A ministration of Death (2Cor 3:7-11, Ex 34:29-35, Deut 27:26, Gal 3:10,13)
#2. Has the Law Been Done Away? (2Cor 3:11, Rev 22:19, Matt 5:17-20)
#3. We Are Delivered From the Law (Rom 7:24-25, 8:1-4)
Please open your Bibles to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 2Cor 3:2 (2X). I have preached 4 sermons on the Covenant of Grace, and we have now understood clearly what the Covenant of Grace really is. But today I would like to expose some of the errors that are floating around; errors that degrade God and that bring down the glory of His Covenant of Grace. For example, here in 2Cor 3 are a couple verses that have been taken out of context, and which are taken for a proof-text for the lie that some have perpetrated on the Covenant. The title of this sermon is, “A Ministration of Death” (2X), for these are the words that we find here in 2Cor 3:7. We read here in 2Cor 3:2-5 (2X),
· Tables of Stone, and Tables of the Heart (2Cor 3:2-5, Ex 24:12, Jer 31:31-33, Ezek 36:26-27)
2Co 3:2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:
2Co 3:3-5 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. 4 And such trust have we through Christ to God–ward: 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;
In verse 3 God introduces us to the subject matter that occupies most of this chapter, and that is: the contrast and the comparison between the Law and Grace. Look at the other contrasts in verse 3: Ink and Spirit; stones and heart. The Lord refers here to three passages which we all know very well. The first one is in Ex 24:12 (2X). Moses received from God two tablets of stone on which God with His finger has written the Ten Commandments, which God earlier has declared in Ex 20.
Ex 24:12 ¶ And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. (Why did God earlier in Ex 19:5 call these commandments His Covenant.)
Secondly, it was almost 860 years later that God again
referred to these tablets of stone through the prophet Jeremiah in Jer 31:31
(2X) when He promised that He would enter into a New Covenant with another
group of people, whom God now labeled as the House of Israel. But from the NT
we understand that this New Covenant is made with the remnant chosen by grace
out of all nations, and that is now called the House of Israel, referring to
Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Thirdly, just a few years later God declared through the prophet Ezekiel, in Ezek 36:26-27 (2X), how He is going to put His law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts. And now we begin to understand why God called this His covenant. God says in Ezek 36:26-27,
Eze 36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
And so, God is going to change the hearts of those whom He intends to save, and through His Holy Spirit God is giving them a new heart from above, a heart that delights to do those things that are pleasing in His sight. Therefore people who have experienced this gift from God are called “Born again”, or a better translation is “Born from above”. Let us now return to 2Cor 3:3 (2X). This then explains the statement of 2Cor 3:3, where God says that those who are truly saved in the church at Corinth show that they are “the epistle of Christ”, an epistle not written with ink and paper, not written on tables of stone, but written by God the Holy Spirit in their heart. And the apostle Paul says that this blessing was given to the saints in Corinth through the means of his preaching. Therefore we must acknowledge that Paul was a faithful minister of the New Covenant. And then God speaks about:
#1. The Letter and the Spirit (2Cor 3:6, Gal 3:19, Rom 7:13)
2Co 3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
As you know, the word Testament and the word Covenant are the same word in Greek. Thus we read here that the apostle Paul and his companions were able ministers of the New Covenant. And if they are competent and faithful preachers of the New Covenant, then certainly they are not ministers of the letter but of the Spirit. What is meant by the letter and by the Spirit in this context? God gave us again the contrast between the Law and Grace, which are in this verse called the letter and the Spirit. That is certainly the meaning of it if we check the context in verses 7-9. Why does God call the Law here “the Letter”? Using the context of verse 3 where the Law is referred to as “tables of stone”, we understand that the Law refers to those letters that were fixed in stone, the Ten Commandments. What is the Law? The Law of God is the entire Old Testament. When God called the Commandments the Covenant, we must understand that these Commandments were an integral part of the Covenant. Why did God give any of these Commandments? Why did God add over 500 other commandments to this already impossible list? The answer is given in Gal 3. Please turn about 16 pages to your right to the Epistle to the Galatians, Gal 3:19 (2X). In the context of verses before and behind Gal 3:19 God declared that the inheritance of salvation cannot be obtained by obedience to the Law. Salvation cannot be earned by obedience to any law. Why then did God add these commandments? We read i
Ga 3:19 Whereffore then serveth the law?It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
You see, he law was added to magnify sin, so that sin became exceedingly sinful (Rom 7:13). Sin is defined as a transgression of the Law. Therefore the letter of the Law by itself condemns people to Hell. On the other end, the Spirit refers to the preaching of the Gospel that is accompanied by God the Holy Spirit. What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the Good News that God has provided a way of escape out of the guilt of sin and condemnation to Hell through the cross of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This way of escape is brought about when the preaching of the Gospel is accompanied by God the Holy Spirit, who is applying the liberty of the Gospel to the souls of those whose sins have been paid at the cross. Now we can understand God’s statement in 2Cor 3:6. Please turn again about 16 pages to your left, to 2Cor 3:6 (2X), where we read, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit:” We understand that by the term “of the letter” is meant the outward preaching when the Holy Spirit is not present, and thus it does not reach the hearts of the hearers. On the other hand, the term “of the spirit” means that a living doctrine is preached and is of such a nature that it works effectually on the minds of men through the irresistible grace of the Spirit. The literal preaching that is dead and ineffectual is perceived only by the ears. On the other hand, the spiritual doctrine is not merely uttered with the mouth, but effectually makes its way to the souls of men. You can see that the Lord intended us to remember Jer 31:31-33, where the Lord says that His Law had been proclaimed merely with the mouth, but the people did not embrace it in their heart. Therefore the Lord promises the Spirit of regeneration under the reign of Christ, to write His Gospel upon their hearts. And thus, the nature of the Law is to teach men literally, in such a way that it does not reach further than the ear. On the other hand, the nature of the Gospel is to teach men spiritually, because it is the instrument of Christ’s grace. However, when Paul calls himself a minister of the spirit he does not mean that the influence of the Holy Spirit was always tied to his preaching. He simply means that Christ blessed his ministry, and thus many were converted at the hearing of Paul’s preaching. Therefore, we may also be called ministers of the spirit if the Lord, through us as His instruments, illuminates the minds of men and renews their hearts.
Then we read, “For the letter killeth”. From this many have derived a pernicious error. Pernicious means it is deadly. They teach that the preaching of the Scriptures would not only be useless but would cause spiritual damage if it is not drawn out into allegories. This error was the source of many evils, and even today we can hear on the radio such evils drawn from erroneous spiritualization of end time events. The meaning of 2Cor 3:6 is that if the Word of God is uttered with the mouth, when the Holy Spirit is absent, it is an occasion of death. It is life giving only when it is received with the heart, which only comes to pass by the power of the Holy Spirit. The terms “letter” and “spirit” therefore do not refer to how well we present the Word of God, but to the influence and the fruit of the Word of God as it is administered by God the Holy Spirit. God must get all the credit.
2Cor 3:7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: 8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? 9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. 10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. 11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
Again we see the contrast between the Law and Grace. But why is the Law called the ministration of death, and why was it glorious? It is called glorious because when God thundered down the words of the Ten Commandments God accompanied those words with great thunderings, and lightnings, and deafening sound of the trumpet, and the mountain was on fire and was smoking, and there was a thick cloud and thick darkness, and a great voice from God. Moreover, we read in Ex 34:29-35 that Moses went up on the mountain to talk with God, and when Moses came down from the mountain the skin of his face shone so bright that he had to put a veil on his face. But this brightness of his face was only temporary. In a few days or weeks his face returned to its original color.
But the Law is called “the ministration of death” because the Law was added to convict people of their sinfulness, and make them aware that their sins require a payment from God. Therefore the Law is also called “the ministration of condemnation” in verse 9. The Law teaches us that there is Hell to pay, and therefore the Law causes us seek for a Savior who can rescue us out of this predicament. God says in Deut 27:26, “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them”. In other words, the Law requires perfection. The Law requires total obedience to all its laws. Those who fail to obey in one point of the more than 500 laws have violated them all and have come under the curse of the Law. On the other hand, the Gospel by which men are regenerated and are reconciled to God through the free remission of their sins by the cross of Christ is “the ministry of righteousness”. Therefore the Gospel is the doctrine of everlasting life because it is the instrument of regeneration. Let me describe it in another way: The office of the Law is to show us the disease in such a way that there is no hope of a cure; the office of the Gospel of grace is to bring a remedy to those that were past hope (2X). Please turn again 16 pages to your right to the Epistle to the Galatians, Gal 3:10 (2X). All who do not find the remedy for their disease remain under the Law and are subject to the curse. That is indeed what we find here in Gal 3. God says in Gal 3:10,
Ga 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
On the other hand the glorious Gospel of Christ is summarized for us in Gal 3:13,
Ga 3:13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.
Please turn again 16 pages to your left to 2Cor 3:7 (2X). God speaks in 2Cor 3 about the glory of the Law, which men could actually see in the face of Moses, and the glory of the ministration of the Spirit, which men cannot see with the naked eye. But God says that the glory of the Gospel far outstrips the glory of the Law. But it is a glory which men can only see with the eyes of faith. And thus we need to understand that the term “glory” is far different than we are accustomed to when we speak. For the glory of the Law or the glory of the Gospel is not measured in terms of brightness and sparkles and fireworks. We must understand the glory of the Gospel as victory over sin and Satan. That is why the glory of the Gospel is far greater than the glory of the Law, for the Law only pointed out sin and the Law pointed out the penalty, but the Law did not bring victory over sin by changing the heart of man. This could only be done by the preaching of the Gospel as it is accompanied by God the Holy Spirit. The glory of the Law can be compared to the light of a candle, and the glory of the Gospel to the light of the Sun. When the Sun has come up the light of the candle fades away because the light of the Sun of righteousness completely outstrips the light of the candle. And so, the question arises: Does the Law fade away completely after Christ has appeared on the world scene?
#2. Has the Law Been Done Away? (2Cor 3:11, Rev 22:19, Matt 5:17-20)
2Co 3:11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
These words, “to be done away” also appeared in verse 7. But there it referred to the glory of Moses’ face. It gradually faded away. Was this a picture of the Law that the Law also at one time would fade away? And that is very well possible. For here in verse 11 God is not referring to Moses’ face. In verse 9 God contrasts again the Law and the Gospel, the ministration of condemnation and the ministration of righteousness. We need to remember that the “glory”, as God sees it, is the victory over sin and Satan. Paraphrased verse 10 says, “The Law, which was made glorious, had no glory of itself in this respect, for the glory of the Gospel that excels it has eclipsed the glory of the Law”. And then paraphrased verse 11 says, “If the Law, which was done away, was glorious, much more the Gospel which remains after the Law was done away exceeds in greater glory”. You see, the Gospel was preached to the OT saints as well as to the NT saints. But the Gospel to the OT saints was clouded by the Law, more particularly the Ceremonial Law. But now, in the Covenant of Grace, the Law has been done away. How should we understand this? Has the entire OT been done away after Christ came. Now this is a pernicious heresy that is being spread today into many churches. It is a heresy, for it violates the command of Rev 22:19 that we may not take away from the words of the Book of this prophecy, the Bible. We may not add or take away any part of the Bible, for anyone who does that, either literally or in his mind, shows that he is still subject to the plagues written in this Book. Please turn in your Bibles to the Gospel according to Matthew, Matt 5:17 (2X). The Lord Jesus addressed this question about removing the Law or removing the entire OT from what we understand the Word of God to be. Many churches have bought into this lie, and they preach only from the New Testament, or they distribute Bibles that contain only the New Testament. Christ says in Mat 5:17-20,
Mt 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
The Lord Jesus said in verse 17, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets”. We must take this admonition seriously, and we must not from the following words negate what the Lord says in these words. Many churches have done that. When Christ says that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, He did not say, He came to fulfill and do away with the Law and the Prophets. In fact, verse 18 says that the Law and the Prophets must remain in full until Christ comes again. And so, has the Law been done away? Verse 19 says that God delights in those who teach others His laws and commandments. Verse 20 says, if your righteousness, or your status with God, is based on the same righteousness as that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven; instead you will go to Hell. What was the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees? It was a righteousness based on the Law of God. It was a self-sufficient righteousness based on what they have done for the Lord. They tried to be obedient to everything they could find in the Law of God. But paraphrased the Lord Jesus Christ says here, “That is not good enough!” Only ultimate perfection is good enough, and that perfection is achieved by the life and death of Christ. Only His substitutionary death is good enough. Do the commandments still stand? Let us conclude that from the life of Paul.
Please turn in your Bibles to the Epistle to the Romans, Rom 7:10 (2X). We must harmonize this part of Scripture with what we find in 2Cor 3:6-11. Both epistles were written by God through the hand of the apostle Paul, and thus there is no question that we must harmonize these. Does the apostle Paul believe here in Rom 7 that the Law was done away? We read in Rom 7:10-13,
Ro 7:10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death, 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. 12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. 13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
The apostle describes here his experience in the process of salvation. First he discovered that the Law put him on notice that he was under condemnation, just like we have seen in Gal 3:24. Now move back to verse 5 where the apostle describes the process of salvation for every saint. He says in
Ro 7:5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. 6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
So far this completely agrees with 2Cor 3. Those of us who trust in the complete atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ for all our sins have been delivered from the Law which condemned us to death, especially the second death. The “service in newness of Spirit” refers to our conduct in the new life we have received, with the evidence that we believed the Gospel. “The oldness of the letter” refers to our conduct in the old life when we were unsaved and still subject to the Law of God. Has the Law disappeared after Paul was saved? No, not at all! Please drop down to verse 22, Rom 7:22,
Ro 7:22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
After his salvation the apostle still delights in the Law of God after the inward man. He would not have written this if the law has disappeared. But the law troubled the apostle. We read in Rom 7:23,
Ro 7:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
So, you see there is still sin in a believer’s life, for there was sin in Paul’s life. God says in 1John 1
1Jo 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Let us not be stuck up in pride by saying we have no sin and sin is not imputed when there is no law. Sin is a transgression of the Law, and as long as there is sin that cleaves to all our works the Law of God is still in existence. How then can we harmonize what we have seen in 2Cor 3 with what we have seen in Rom 7? 2Cor 3 says that the law has been done away, whereas Rom 7 says that the law has not been done away. Sin still exists, for “Sin is a transgression of the law”.
The answer is found in the words of Rom 7:6,
#3. We Are Delivered From the Law (Ecc 7:20, Rom 7:6,24-25, 8:1-4)
It is true that there was sin in the apostle’s life. Anything we do, if it is not done perfectly as God would have done it, is tainted with sin. And thus, sin is all the time with us. As human beings we cannot be living without sin in this life, for we cannot for one minute be as holy and righteous as God Himself. Remember Ecc 7:20 says, “There is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” Therefore the apostle cries out in Rom 7:24 and 25,
Rom 7:24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Who shall deliver me, for I am unable to free myself of these sins? Thank God that Jesus Christ our Lord is my Deliverer. He who is fully man and fully God was able to bear the guilt of all my sins. He has paid for all my past sins, and all my present sins, and all my future sins. He has paid to the full satisfaction of the righteousness of God. He has fulfilled all the requirements of the Law that I was required to fulfill. Only because He is God and man was He able to pay in my place. If He were anything less than God Himself, He would have failed the task, and I would still be in my sins. And since He has fully fulfilled all the requirements of the Law I can confidently say with the apostle:
Ro 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
You see, “the Law of sin and death” refers to the Law of commandments that was described in 2Cor 3, where the preaching of the Law was called The Ministration of Death. But “the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is the Gospel of salvation as it is administered by God the Holy Spirit. But consider now the glory that is contained in verse 1: There is no condemnation possible for those who presently are in Christ, who have been in Christ when He was crucified, who have been in Christ when He endured the torments of Hell in our place, who have been in Christ when He died, who have been in Christ when His body was laid in the tomb, who have been in Christ when He rose from the tomb, who have been in Christ when He ascended into heaven, who presently are in Christ while He is seated at the right hand of the Father and is presenting us to the Father as His Bride whom He has cleansed from every sin, past, present, and future. There is no sin whatsoever that can cling to us, for Christ’s atonement is effective every second of the day, every day in the year, until this body dies and He will receive us up into heaven and says, “Well done thou faithful servant”. You see, if I belong to God’s elect, and Christ has come to pay for all my sin, since Christ has paid for all my sins what sin is there that can accuse me of anything that I have done wrong? There is NONE. The law which defines sin might as well not exist, for the Law has no more hold on me. For us, who have already been through Hell with Christ, there is not the slightest chance that at the Judgment throne we would be blamed for any sin. For us who truly have been born from above through the operation of the Holy Spirit, the Law has no more hold on us. For us it is as if the Law has ceased to exist; as if the Law has been done away; and indeed for us the law has been done away; the Law has made place for the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. No, the Law has not been done away completely, for it is still possible for the saints to grieve the Spirit of God, as we read in Eph 4:20. It is still possible for the saints to sin, and since sin is a transgression of the Law, the Law still exists. But nothing that we do can produce a sin on our soul that lasts longer than a microsecond, because the suffering and death of Christ has taken them all away. Is that not wonderful? Is that not glorious? It is glorious because we can already see the effect of the presence of God in our soul in the remainder of this verse. We read in verse 1, “Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit”. Now, this is not a condition for salvation. This is a statement of the character of the saint who has experienced this transformation by God in his soul. We who are saved do walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, because we delight in it. We delight in those things that are pleasing to the Spirit of God. We delight to study our Bibles, and we delight to compare notes about our understanding of the Scriptures, and we delight to learn more about Christ and about His cross, and we delight to spend time in prayer, and we delight to fellowship with the saints, and we delight to do our fellow saints a favor, and so on, and so on. And so we see the glory that is contained in verse 1. We can see our victory over sin and Satan by God’s irresistible grace. And this is the evidence of how we are delivered from the Law. And look now how in the following verses Christ’s death on the cross has completely covered us with His Spirit and protects us from all evils. We read in
Ro 8:3-4 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
God condemned our sin in the flesh, for there is where our sin originates, and God made Christ suffer for our sins, because God has given Him a similar flesh. He became our brother in the flesh. He became our nearest Kinsman, in fact our Kinsman-Redeemer, because He is our next of kin who shall avenge on Satan the murder of our soul. And God did this in order that the double substitution could take place. Christ took up our sins, and He rolled over on us His righteousness. And thus the perfect righteousness of God, which Christ possessed, became ours. His imputed righteousness declared us as holy and righteous as Christ Himself. However, presently we are not yet as holy and righteous as Christ Himself, but the Father has declared us holy and righteous, He declared us “Not Guilty” of any sin. This the Law could not do. What a glorious Gospel it is that we have received!
Let us now finish this chapter in 2 Corinthians. Please turn again to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 2Cor 3:12 (2X). God has shown us the contrasts between the Law and Grace, or the Law and the Gospel, and God has shown us that by His irresistible grace for us the Law has faded away and only the Gospel remains. But has God done this for everyone? Absolutely not! Let us now see this in 2Cor 3:12-16,
2Cor 3:12-14 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: 13 And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: 14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. 15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. 16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.
Twice do we read in this passage, “Unto this day”. What
does it mean? It means literally unto this day, which is today. But when I read
this passage next year in March it still means unto this day in March of next
year. And so it will read the same thing every year, until the Lord comes
again. And thus “Unto this day” means that this spiritual blindness that has
come upon national
AMEN. Let us turn to the Lord in prayer.