“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.” ( 2 Cor 3:6)
What is it, to be a competent minister of this new covenant? First, take away any ecclesiastical notions that the word “ministers” might have suggested. He’s talking about the people of God, energized and empowered by the Spirit of God. In fact, God is the only one who deserves a capital letter. Anything of that nature that we grab for ourselves is just show. Here’s how the chapter starts:
“Does it sound like we’re patting ourselves on the back, insisting on our credentials, asserting our authority? Well, we’re not.”
Paul, remember, had started his journey with Jesus by way of an interrupted journey to Damascus. He went there as an Authorised Envoy from Jerusalem, bearing letters of authority to arrest Christians. But God had arrested him instead! God knocked him off his high horse (so to speak), revealed Himself and commissioned him to go “far among the Gentiles”
That was Paul’s “authority.” But how could it be substantiated before the merely human “court of inquiry” such as the people at Corinth? Paul turned it back on them:
“Neither do we need letters of endorsement, either to you or from you. You yourselves are all the endorsement we need. Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.
We couldn’t be more sure of ourselves in this—that you, written by Christ himself for God, are our letter of recommendation. We wouldn’t think of writing this kind of letter about ourselves. Only God can write such a letter. His letter authorizes us to help carry out this new plan of action. The plan wasn’t written out with ink on paper, with pages and pages of legal footnotes, killing your spirit. It’s written with Spirit on spirit, his life on our lives!”
Only God can write such a letter!
Old Testament legislation was chiselled into stone, a long devastating list of “Thou shalt nots.” It was pretty impressive, helpful even, but ultimately only served to show up how we simply couldn’t achieve a satisfactory result.
And everyone knew it. The prophets envisaged a day coming when “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and enable you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezek 36)
It’s the Spirit of God that makes us “competent ministers” of the new covenant. That’s precisely what “new covenant” means. Birthed in the Spirit.
“ The Government of Death, its constitution chiseled on stone tablets, had a dazzling inaugural. Moses’ face as he delivered the tablets was so bright that day (even though it would fade soon enough) that the people of Israel could no more look right at him than stare into the sun. How much more dazzling, then, the Government of Living Spirit?
If the Government of Condemnation was impressive, how about this Government of Affirmation? Bright as that old government was, it would look downright dull alongside this new one. If that makeshift arrangement impressed us, how much more this brightly shining government installed for eternity?”
Paul gives a couple of pointers to how these competent ministers operate. They deal in affirmation and not condemnation. They deal in eternal glory and not temporary human power structures.
“ With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back. Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide. Everything is out in the open with us. He wore a veil so the children of Israel wouldn’t notice that the glory was fading away—and they didn’t notice. They didn’t notice it then and they don’t notice it now, don’t notice that there’s nothing left behind that veil. Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there.
Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”
The main point is that Christian believers are being transformed—progressively, degree by degree—into the image of Christ the Lord. Be sure you see this: “We are being transformed into the same image [the Lord’s image] from glory to glory [not all at once, but by degrees].” Now that means we are becoming like Christ. We are growing in our capacity to show Christ by being like Christ. That is God’s will for us. That we be progressively conformed to the image of Christ. And we know that to be the image of love. Christ—for all his toughness and no-nonsense life-style—was a man of unsurpassed love. No one loved like Jesus loved. This was his glory. Now Paul says, “We are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”
You Become What You Behold
But Paul tells us how this is happening! How are we being transformed? Suppose you are jealous for this to happen to you. Suppose that last week, God touched you and you long to be transformed into the kind of person who loves other believers with authentic, tender affection. How does it happen?
Paul says in this verse,
“We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
The key, Paul says, is that we “behold [see] the glory of the Lord.” In other words we are transformed into his image by looking at his glory. You become like what you constantly behold.
Lord, free me of every last bit of religion, that “old constricting legislation.”
Transfigure me with the brightness of your shining presence and make of me a competent minister of this new covenant.
That I may see you clearly, with no more obstructing veil, and that I may become what I behold.
Through the Holy Spirit.