Paul’s letter of recommendation
- 3:1 Well, my goodness, am I starting to brag about myself again? Let me ask you something. Do we need people to say nice things about us in letters of recommendation for you to read—the kind of letters other people need to have? And do we need to ask you to write us letters of recommendation we can take with us?
- 3:2 We don’t need any letters like that. You’re our letter. You’re written into our hearts. People everywhere know you. They’ve read the letter.
- 3:3 You’ve made it obvious that you’re a letter written by the Messiah and delivered by us. This isn’t a letter written with ink. It’s written with the Spirit of the living God. It’s not written on stone tablets,1 either. It’s written on the human heart.2
Paul’s got confidence
- 3:4 We are confident of this because of what God did through the Messiah.
- 3:5 We can’t take the credit for any of this. Whatever we were able to do, we were able to do it because of God.
- 3:6 God himself gave us everything we need to become ministers who teach people about this new contract3 he’s rolling out. This new agreement isn’t based on letters. It’s based on the Spirit. The old agreement written in letters never saved anyone. The Spirit is a lifesaver.
God retires the Jewish laws
- 3:7 Jewish Law, with its letters engraved in stone, did nothing to save anyone. Yet it started with such promise. When Moses came back to the Jewish camp after meeting with God, his face glowed. People couldn’t look at his face, even after the brightness started to fade.
- 3:8 Shouldn’t we expect the next step in God’s plan, the ministry of the Spirit, to be even more wonderful?
- 3:9 If we consider the old agreement wonderful, even though all it did was make us feel guilty, how much more wonderful should we consider the new agreement, which takes away our guilt and lands us on the good side of God?
- 3:10 It’s a fact. People once considered the Jewish Law wonderful. But it has lost its dazzle because something even more wonderful now outshines it.
- 3:11 The Jewish Law, which is fading to black, came in a wonderful way. Why shouldn’t we expect its permanent replacement to be over-the-top wonderful?
- 3:12 Listen, hope like this needs to show up in the way we live. It’s a bold hope for a bold life.
- 3:13 Moses covered his head with a veil so the Jews wouldn’t have to look at the glow on his face, as the shine faded. That’s not us.
- 3:14 Those folks were close-minded. They still are. They read the Jewish Law, God’s old contract with people, but it’s as though we can’t really see it because there’s still a veil hiding its wonder. There’s only one way to remove that veil. The Messiah has to do it.
- 3:15 So even today, when Jews read the laws that Moses gave them, it’s as though there’s a veil over their heart.
- 3:16 Whenever anyone turns to the Lord for help, the veil lifts.
- 3:17 The Lord and the Spirit are one and the same. If you’re looking for spiritual freedom, look for the Spirit of the Lord. That’s where you’ll find it.
- 3:18 Take a look in your spiritual mirror. The veil is off. Your face is already glowing because of what the Lord has done for you. This looks glorious now. But just you wait. Day after day we are being changed from a glory on earth to the glory above. And it’s all because of our Lord, who is the Spirit.
A reference to the Ten Commandments, written on “stone tablets” (Exodus 24:12 New American Standard Bible).
Paul seems to be referring to the prophecy written 600 years earlier: “This is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel….I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33 New Living Translation).
Often translated “new covenant.” This refers to a new agreement that prophets said God would make with his people. This new contract would replace the old Jewish laws. In this new agreement, the laws wouldn’t be written on stone or on scrolls. Instead they would be written on the hearts of people (Jeremiah 31:31, 33-34; Hebrews 8:7-13; 1 Corinthians 11:25).
After reading 2 Corinthians 3:1-3, how would you describe Paul’s attitude? Do you think he sounds angry, mildly ticked, sarcastic, rational and in full control, or perhaps some other description?
Paul sometimes writes with a poetic flair for the dramatic. There seems to be a little of that in verse three. If you were writing this letter to the Christians in Corinth, how would you get across the idea that you think Paul is conveying in the first sentence: “You’ve made it obvious that you’re a letter written by the Messiah and delivered by us” (3:3)?
Paul defends his ministry by saying, “God himself gave us everything we need to become ministers who teach people about this new contract he’s rolling out” (3:6). Though that could sound a bit like bragging, he adds, “We can’t take the credit for any of this. Whatever we were able to do, we were able to do it because of God” (3:5). As Paul confronts what appears to be a challenge to his leadership, he sounds like he’s trying to strike a balance between healthy pride and Christian humility. How do you think he’s doing?
Paul said that God was rolling out a “new contract” (3:6). As the footnote indicates, “This refers to a new agreement that prophets said God would make with his people. This new contract would replace the old set of Jewish laws. In this new agreement, the laws wouldn’t be written on stone or on scrolls. Instead they would be written on the hearts of people (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13; 1 Corinthians 11:25).” Jews had been living by that, which Moses delivered at least 1,400 years earlier. How hard do you think it would have been for Paul to convince Jews to retire their laws?
Paul said that the law code that Moses delivered to the Jews was considered wonderful, “even though all it did was make us feel guilty” (3:9). A Jerusalem rabbi, Aaron Leibowitz, blogged in an article called “Guilt?” that “guilt is one of the things we Jews do best.” He said Jews tend to punish themselves before God gets the chance. “It [Guilt] is the place where we are hardest on ourselves, our inner voice cast in the role of a perfect God, a parent figure eternally disappointed that we are not living up to our potential.” If that’s what the Jewish laws do to people, how is it any different if the laws are written on our heart by the Spirit?
Paul says “The Lord and the Spirit are one and the same” (3:17). Really? How are we supposed to deal with that since we teach that there are three members of the Godhead: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says God’s new contract with people replaces the Jewish Law that Moses delivered. Paul describes this new contract, which is salvation through faith in Jesus, as “over-the-top wonderful” (3:11). “Listen,” he adds. “Hope like this needs to show up in the way we live. It’s a bold hope for a bold life” (3:12). What do you think he’s talking about? What does he mean by living a bold life?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says that God is in the process of changing us into the glorious person we will one day be in the life to come. He says it has already started. “Take a look in your spiritual mirror. The veil is off. Your face is already glowing because of what the Lord has done for you. This looks glorious” (3:18). What have you seen God do for people that lit them up and brought joy into their life?