1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; 3 and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the dispensation of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such splendor that the Israelites could not look at Moses' face because of its brightness, fading as this was, 8 will not the dispensation of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor? 9 For if there was splendor in the dispensation of condemnation, the dispensation of righteousness must far exceed it in splendor. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had splendor has come to have no splendor at all, because of the splendor that surpasses it. 11 For if what faded away came with splendor, what is permanent must have much more splendor.
12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor. 14 But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. [1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.] Version: New Revised Standard Version.
Keep in mind that Paul's authority has been challenged, not only from within (the man disciplined as we read about in chapter 2) but also by outsiders (11:5) who claimed to be leaders superior to Paul.
His detractors seem to rely on letters of commendation. Paul claims that the fruit of his work, the Corinthians themselves, speak for his ministry (vv.1-3).
As messengers of the new covenant, Paul and his associates have both competence and confidence (vv.4-6).
As he thinks of the written letters (vv.1-3), he is led to compare the old and new covenants. One is written in stone (Exodus 20), the other in Spirit (Jeremiah 31:33).
Paul is not denigrating the old covenant, or suggesting that obedience is optional under the new.
The next covenant connection Paul makes is the veiling of Moses (Exodus 34).
Since the old covenant was so glorious, just think how glorious the new one is! (vv.7-11)
- Our faces are not "veiled"; we behold the Lord and are gradually being transformed into his likeness (v.18). See also 4:16.
- In contrast, the Jews of today, are prevented by a "veil" from seeing the glory of Christ. Just as Moses prevented them from seeing his glowing countenance, so today they do not understand the covenant transformation that has taken place.
- The "boldness" of verse 12 is frankness, openness. We Christians do not conceal what we are about.
- The freedom of verse 17 isn't freedom from law, as often interpreted, but freedom to reveal the glory of God to whoever we meet, wherever we are, whenever the time and however we choose to share our faith.
- Finally -- and here is a case of the chapter separation falling in the wrong place -- as a result of all the incredible truths Paul has shared, we do not grow discouraged (4:1).
- Thus in today's text we see that Paul views his own ministry to the world in the light of Moses' ministry to the Jews.
- Moses, too, was a man with a message.
- Moses, too, was a strong leader who faced strong criticism from others.
- Moses, like Paul, defined what it meant to live under the covenant. (In his case, the old law; in Paul's, the new.)
Parresia (openness, frankness; boldness, confidence, assurance) in verse 12 is not a passage only about evangelism, but about our entire demeanor as Christians.
Covenants are prominent in scripture. The word itself, in its various forms, appears 366 times. Covenants include the Adamic, Noachic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, etc. For a proper understanding of scripture, a knowledge of the covenants is essential. In fact God's normal way of dealing with people is through a covenant. For more, click here.
For more about "the Lord, the Spirit," click here.
What is the source of my confidence as a Christian? Is it rooted in my competence as a minister of the new covenant, or is it rooted in myself or in my accomplishments?
When people look at me, do they see what I am about, or is my faith "veiled"?