Paul Defends Himself And His Ministry; The Corinthians Are Paul’s Letter Of Recommendation; Contrasts Between Old And New Covenants
Paul and his team started Messiah’s Community in Corinth, which was one of the most prominent centers in Greece. The congregation grew into a significant community. After being there for a year and a half, Paul left the city. After he left, the community started to divide. Some of the people were supporting their favored leader and criticizing, opposing and undermining other leaders – even great leaders like Paul.
During the years of my ministry, I’ve experienced the same treatment. I have been opposed, undermined, unfairly criticized for various things. Maybe you have experienced something similar in your life. It happens, even among Messiah’s followers in Messiah’s Community.
To address this problem, and other problems, Paul and Sosthenes wrote the letter that is known as 1 Corinthians.
After Timothy returned to Corinth, he informed Paul that the divisions in the community had gotten worse. The faction who opposed Paul was growing in influence. This motivated Paul to change his plans and visit them immediately. But this visit was a disaster. It was a painful visit where Paul experienced more attacks from opponents while the rest of the community provided little support.
Paul returned to Ephesus and wrote a severe letter to the Corinthians and sent it to them by Titus. The purpose of this severe letter was to communicate his love for the Corinthians, urge the people to repent, and demand the punishment of the leader of the opposition who opposed Paul. The community united and confronted the man who had been leading the opposition against Paul. He had repented and most of the Corinthians were now favorable toward Paul. Paul then wrote another letter, which is known as 2 Corinthians.
Even though the crisis in Corinth was over, damage had been done. Paul had been unfairly criticized. Seeds of doubt about him and his ministry had been planted. That’s very bad. God’s people need to be able to trust their spiritual leaders. So, in this letter, Paul addressed the criticisms. He defended himself and his ministry. He set the record straight. And, as he did so, he taught Messiah’s followers glorious truths.
In chapter 3, Paul responded to two accusations. The first: he commended himself a lot. Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? If it seemed that Paul commended himself a lot, it was because he was often accused of not being a true apostle; or being an inferior apostle. He didn’t have the status as the Twelve. But those accusations weren’t true. Paul was a true apostle. He was not inferior to the Twelve. In fact, he was a great apostle, and a special apostle, the apostle to the Gentiles, God’s special representative to the nations, entrusted with the great task of reaching them with the Good News and helping them apply the truth about the Jewish Messiah to their cultures. And because he was often accused of not being a true apostle, or being an inferior apostle, the Rabbi often had to defend himself and his ministry. When he defended himself, it wasn’t to exalt himself. It was to help God’s people understand who he was and the spiritual authority God had entrusted him with so they would benefit from him and his very important ministry.
The second accusation: Paul doesn’t have letters of recommendation like others do from recognized leaders like the apostles or James, the brother of the Lord and the leader of the congregation in Jerusalem. And he doesn’t have letters of recommendation from those leaders because they do not recognize his legitimacy. Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?
The Rabbi’s response: he and his team do have a letter of recommendation to vouch for them and their ministry, but it’s a different kind of letter. You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Messiah, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Paul and his team knew that Messiah’s Community in Corinth, a community they cared for and were deeply committed to, was a powerful statement of the validity of their ministry. You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts. Many others knew that too: You yourselves are our letter … known and read by everyone. It was obvious to everyone who knew the history of the Corinthian community that God had used Paul and his team to plant and grow an important community of Messiah’s followers in a prominent city in Greece.
Even though Paul and his team started the community and helped it grow, someone much greater was working through them. You show that you are a letter from Messiah, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Paul and his team were writing the letter – starting the community; proclaiming the Good News so that others were brought into the community; teaching the new believers; guiding the community’s development; correcting its mistakes – but the one who was making all this possible was Messiah. He was working through Paul and his team to accomplish that great work. And not just the Son of God was at work – the Spirit of the living God was also at work, doing what the Spirit of God does for people – giving them new life; changing their hearts; giving them a new nature; teaching them; guiding them; empowering them.
If the Corinthians were a letter validating the authenticity of Paul’s ministry, then Messiah was the author of the letter. He was the one who dictated the letter; Paul and his team were the scribe who wrote the letter; and the Holy Spirit was the ink used to write the letter. It’s one thing to write a letter using pen and ink to recommend a man’s ministry, or carve a recommendation on tablets of stone. But it’s another thing, a much greater thing, when the Messiah, along with the Holy Spirit, worked through Paul and his team to created a great spiritual community.
Paul and his co-workers were confident they were genuine ministers of God. Such confidence we have through Messiah before God.
Then Paul and his co-author, Timothy, make it clear that although they are confident they were genuine ministers of God, their ability to be competent ministers came from God, not from themselves. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant. Paul and Timothy acknowledged that God deserved the praise for everything they were able to accomplish, not them. They are confident, competent and humble – a great combination for those who serve God.
God made Paul and his team ministers of a new covenant, which is contrasted to the old covenant, meaning the Sinai Covenant, which had governed God’s relationship to Israel for 1500 years. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
The first contrast between old and new covenants: the new is characterized by the Spirit who gives life. The old is characterized by the letter which kills.
The Sinai covenant was the constitution of the nation of Israel. Because it governed every aspect of the life of the nation, it had a large legal component. It contained many laws, decrees and statutes. Because it had a large legal component with many laws, decrees and statutes it was easy for people to fall into the trap of approaching the old covenant in a legalistic, letter-of-the-law way. It was easy to focus on doing the more external kinds of commands and ignore the teachings about having faith and having a genuine relationship with the living God. Focusing on the letter of the law, focusing on doing external things and ignoring things like having faith and a close personal relationship with the living God – kills spiritual life.
The new covenant is different. Its focus is not on law but on relationship; on ending our alienation from God; getting into a genuine relationship with God; getting close to God and staying close to God. When we end our rebellion against God by becoming loyal to the Father and to the Son, we enter into a right relationship with God. The Father and the Son send their Spirit to live in us, and the Spirit brings us very close to the Father and the Son. The Spirit gives us a new nature and new life. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Another contrast: the old covenant was glorious but the new covenant is more glorious. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelis could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? The answer is yes. The new covenant is more glorious.
God designed the Sinai covenant to accomplish numerous purposes. One of those purposes was to bring death. Here’s why: our fallen nature is rebellious. It does not like to obey. It does not like to hear: thou shall not. If we become aware of a law that tells us don’t go 55 miles per hour, something within us is stirred up and we want to go 60, 65, 70 – or faster. Because the old covenant had a large legal component and contained many laws, decrees and statutes it stirred up disobedience in us. It helped make us aware that there was something deep within us that was disobedient; that our nature was affected by sin; and sin and disobedience results in death.
Even though the old covenant was a ministry that brought death, it was given by God and came with glory. The giving of the law on Sinai, with the presence of the Lord descending on the mountain, accompanied by the sound of a very loud shofar which got louder and louder, and thunder and lightening, thick cloud and smoke and fire, and the mountain trembling violently, was glorious – frightening, but glorious. The face of Moses, the mediator of the covenant, who was in the presence of the God on Sinai and in the tabernacle, radiated some of God’s glory. The Sinai covenant, even though it brought death, was glorious. The new covenant, which is characterized by the Spirit who brings life, is even more glorious.
Another, similar contrast: If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! The old covenant brought condemnation in much the same way it brought death. The old covenant gave commands, but did not empower people to obey those commands. Those who violated its commands would be judged by God, condemned and punished.
The new covenant, however, does the opposite. It enables all of the charges against us to be dropped. It enables God declare us to be righteous. And it empowers us to be righteous. The Spirit living in gives us the desire to be righteous; and He gives us the power to resist doing the wrong things and do the right things. If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!
How much more glorious is the new covenant compared to the old? For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. I love looking at the moon at night. It’s glorious. It’s especially glorious when it’s a full moon and is shining brightly. But, when the moon is in the sky during the day, it’s no longer glorious. It’s so out-gloried by the light of the sun that it has no glory. The glory of the new covenant is so much greater than the glory of the old covenant that by comparison the old covenant is not glorious at all.
Another contrast: God designed the old covenant to be temporary. God designed the new covenant to last. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! The old covenant is a broken covenant. There is no temple. Priests are not offering sacrifices – which are essential to the old covenant. The old covenant provides no atonement. It provides no salvation. The new covenant, in contrast, was designed to replace the old covenant. And it was designed to last. It will never be replaced by something better since it accomplishes everything that needs to be accomplished. It provides full and final and complete and perfect atonement. It provides everlasting righteousness. It provides eternal salvation. That makes the glory of the new covenant much greater than the glory of the old covenant.
The new covenant is so great and so glorious, so full of the Spirit, so full of life and righteousness and salvation, so lasting – that ministers of the new covenant can be very bold. Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. Paul and his team were very bold, very confident, very courageous.
They didn’t have anything to hide, unlike Moses, the great minister of the old covenant. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelis from seeing the end of what was passing away. The Torah tells us that after Moses spoke with the Lord, his face was radiant. Then, with his radiant face, Moses told the Jewish people what God had said to him. Then Moses would put a veil on his face. The veil remained until Moses entered the presence of the Lord again, when he removed the veil. This happened over and over again.
The Torah tells us that Moses veiled his face but it doesn’t tell us why. Paul tells us why: because the radiance of the face of Moses wasn’t permanent, and Moses hid the fading glory. And what was true of the face of Moses was true of the old covenant. It wasn’t permanent. It’s glory was designed to pass away. However, the glory that comes from the new covenant is permanent, and ministers of the new covenant don’t need a veil. They don’t need to hide anything. And if anyone had accused Paul of not being sincere, of concealing things, that simply was not true. He was not hiding anything from anyone.
The veil prevented the Jewish people from seeing the radiant face of Moses that reflected the glory of God. Something similar is still happening to the Jewish people. Moses knew about the coming of the Seed of the Woman, the Messiah. He wrote the Torah to point us to Him. In fact, the essence of the Torah is the Messiah. Even though Moses wrote about Messiah, and even though Messiah arrived and did the most amazing things, the Jewish people don’t understand. It’s as if there is a veil over our eyes and over hearts, preventing us from seeing and understanding. It’s only when a Jewish person turns to the Lord Yeshua that the veil is taken away, and we are able to see and our minds become sharp. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Messiah is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
If the truth sets us free, and it does, then rejection of the truth keeps us enslaved to Satan and the demons, sin and the sin nature, and death. But anyone who turns to the Lord by acknowledging that God the Father sent the Messiah, and that Yeshua is Lord, is set free by the Lord and His Spirit. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We need that greatest of all freedom that only comes from the Lord and His Spirit.
The veil prevented the Jewish people from seeing the glory of God reflected in the face of Moses. But anyone who turns to the Lord Yeshua and has the Spirit of the Lord, not only can see the Lord’s glory, and understand how great and amazing and important He is, but also become more and more like the glorious Lord they see. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. It’s not law and law-keeping and torah-observance that transforms us. The more we see the glorious Lord Yeshua, the more we become like Him; the more the Spirit of the Lord transforms us into His image.
Avinu Malkaynu, our Father and our King, thank You for sending the Messiah.
Thank You for the new covenant.
Thank You for the life-giving activity of Your Spirit.
Moses, the mediator of the old covenant, radiated some of Your glory. Messiah Yeshua, the mediator of the new covenant, radiates much more of Your glory.
Help us contemplate our glorious Lord Yeshua, and as we do, be transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory.
Thank You that You value relationship more than activities. Help us focus on the new, not the old. Help us focus on the Spirit, not the letter of the law. Help us focus on internal, spiritual things, not external commands.
Help my Jewish people see Your glory radiating from the face of Yeshua. Remove the veil from our eyes, our hearts, our minds.
Thank Your that the new covenant is so great and so glorious, so full of the Spirit, so full of life and righteousness and salvation, so lasting – that knowing this we can be very bold. Help us be very sure of these things, and make us bold – very bold.