2 Corinthians 3.7-18

Title: A Tale of Two Covenants

Text: 2 Corinthians 3.7-18

CIT: The Old Covenant, in its temporary condition, could never fully display the glory of God to the people failing to adhere to it; however, the New Covenant, in its permanent condition is transforming those who believe by its powerful glory.

CIS: The Old Covenant, in its temporary condition, could never fully display the glory of God to the people failing to adhere to it; however, the New Covenant, in its permanent condition is transforming those who believe by its powerful glory.

Introduction: We’re in 2nd Corinthians. I wanted to start by reviewing the history that Paul had with the Corinthian church. Here is a simple outline:

  • Visit #1: The Church is Planted
    • The Previous Letter (The 1st Letter): Offering them guidance
      • The Corinthian congregation sends a letter of response with questions and concerns.
      • Timothy is dispatched to deal with the situation.
    • 1st Corinthians (The 2nd Letter)
  • Visit #2 – The Painful Visit – Paul leaves Ephesus and makes a quick attempt to correct matters, but leaves abruptly.
    • The Severe Letter (The 3rd Letter)
  • A Visit with Titus assuring Paul that all was well and good in Corinth (2.12-17; 7.6-7)
    • 2nd Corinthians (The 4th Letter)
  • Visit # 3 – He leaves Ephesus and travels the interior to Corinth for his 3rd and final visit.

Now, in this 4th and final letter, our copy of 2nd Corinthians, it appears to be written with the goal of explaining why he did not come to them as he had originally planned. Basically, in chapters 1-7, Paul explains why he has been unable to come to Corinth. In chapters 8-9, he talks to them about the collection in which they had promised to take part. And in the final section he talks to them about what he plans to do when he gets there: take up a collection and deal with some concerns. Throughout his letter, Paul appears to be content with his ministry and confident in his service, but concerned with their behavior. For our benefit, I’ve divided Paul’s letter into 4 parts:

  • Contentment (1-2): contentment in his leadership, his plan, his decision to delay coming to them and in God’s Direction for his life and ministry.
  • Confidence (3-7): where we’ve just begun, he is confident in his ministry and it’s message, his future, the Gospel. He’s confident in affliction and in grief and in sorrow.
  • Collection (8-9)
  • Concerns (10-13)

Our area of focus in this letter deals with his confidence in the ministry in which he’s been called to preach and to serve. And this is so clearly communicated in the opening verses of chapter 3; rd v 1-6; There we see his confidence in this ministry from God.

But, what of this confidence? What about the ministry gives him such confidence? He simplifies this matter for us by giving a comparison of the two covenants, the old and the new, and then concluding for us just what that means. So, I’ve outlined this passage simply as:

  1. A Comparison of the Two Covenants (7-11)
  2. A Conclusion to the Two Covenants (12-18)

Transition: Let’s begin in v 5 with the 1st part see how he begins his comparison of the two covenants:

1.     A Comparison of the Two Covenants (3.7-11)

exp.: rd v 7; Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?; basically, Paul is offering a commentary on Exodus 32-34; and really, the story goes back to Exodus 19; turn there with me;

  • The promise twice to obey; 19.8; 24.3;
  • While Moses is gone, the people rebel; 32.1; Man, that was quick!
  • The way it used to be; 33.7-11;
  • The glory of the Lord reflected in Moses face; Exodus 34.29-35;

exp.: 34.30; they were right to fear!

Now, some scholars disagree about why Moses wore the veil.

  1. The old school of thought was that the Old Covenant, the Law, was fading away. And that is true. Moses went into God’s presence, came back and his face reflected brightly the glory of God. Then, he would cover his face as the glory faded from it. Shielding the people from seeing the fading glory of God.
  2. There are many others, mostly modern scholars, who understand that Moses put a veil over his face to protect the Israelites. Listen to the New American Commentary:

Paul says that the Israelites were unable to look at the face of Moses ‘because of the glory of his face’. Consequently, Moses had to veil this glory from the gaze of the Israelites. What was it about the glory that demanded this practice? The Exodus narrative makes clear that viewing the glory of a righteous and holy God can be extremely hazardous for iniquitous humans. Moses had asked to see God’s glory, but God warned him that gazing directly into the face of God was fatal. Moses hid his face at the burning bush because he was afraid to look at God. When God placed Moses safely in the cleft of the rock, covered him with his hand, and revealed only his back, Moses face still shown from his encounter with God. Moses alone caught a fleeting glimpse of God’s frightening majesty and splendor and lived to tell about it. By contrast the Israelites had continuously grumbled against God, mutinied against Moses, and bowed down to a golden calf. Their sinful condition put them in jeopardy to look even at this glimmer of God’s glory reflected in Moses’ face. Provence summarizes Paul’s idea well:

“For those who have already determined to be rebellious, God’s truth only causes them to be more rebellious against it. Paul’s intention, then, is to illustrate the hardening effect that the glory of God may have upon those whose hearts have not been changed by the Spirit.”

God’s holiness would have consumed the people had not Moses veiled himself.

The truth is that this word in Greek is hard to translate into English. In the NT it is found 27 times in 26 verses rendering it: destroy, nothing, end, void, released, abolished, use (as in use up), gave up (I gave up childish ways), nullify, overthrow, pass (as in pass away), taken away, severed, and removed. It’s no wonder that modern scholars have difficulty with this passage.

Really, though, both are true and apply. God is indeed terrifying and magnificent.

ill.: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

So 1st, God is terrifying and magnificent and 2nd, The Law was temporary – fading away, if you will.. The emphasis here isn’t about Grace and Law, but rather about the glory of each covenant. And furthermore, the glory of the New Covenant is so much greater. Look at v 9-10;

For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.

His first point was that the glory of the Old Covenant was huge, big! So big, Moses veiled his face! But now, the glory of New Covenant far outshines it – quote: it surpasses it so much so, that it appears to have no glory at all! And then he gives this 3rd and final comparison; rd v 11; 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

The Ministry of Death vs. The Ministry of the Spirit
The Ministry of Condemnation vs. The Ministry of Righteousness
The Ministry of the Temporary vs. The Ministry of the Permanent

app.: Paul says that we, who are weak and insufficient for the task of presenting the Gospel, are given a message and ministry that are sufficient in themselves. God’s glory and power make them sufficient that way.

Transition: He clarifies in v. 12 stating that this is our hope! And then, he brings a wonderful summation, a conclusion to what this means; and that’s part two of this passage…

2.     A Conclusion to the Two Covenants (3.12-18)


  1. The Ministry of the Spirit gives life and makes hearts receptive to God because they are no longer hardened. Rd v 12-14; only through Christ is it taken away. We are made spiritually alive, not by works, not by legalism and adherence to rules and regulations, but by the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 2nd, Paul says…
  2. The Ministry of Righteousness justifies sinners and establishes that there is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Rd v 15-16; no longer relying on the Law to justify and make one righteous, a righteousness, apart from the Law, has been made know. 3rdly,
  3. The Ministry of the New Covenant is permanent and everlasting. And, because of that, we now have hope – a hope that:
    1. Gives us Boldness to share this everlasting message of hope. The Gospel: that God is infinitely holy and we are infinitely not!

ill.: According to David Garland, author of the New American Commentary, when Paul uses this word hope, it denotes for him a supreme confidence grounded in divine realities.

  1. Reveals to us who Christ is in all of His Glory. The veil is taken away.
  2. Frees us from legalism and works to love and serve the Lord. It’s not that we don’t work and we don’t obey. No! we do. But we don’t work and obey to gain our salvation. That was bought for us by Christ on the Cross. We now work and obey out of love – there is freedom there.
  3. Is Transforming us more and more into the image of His Son. rd v 18; Notes in the Gospel Transformation Study Bible: …this bold beholding of God’s glory is the very means that the Spirit uses to bring about our ‘utter transformation’ into the image of God’s glory (v18). From start to finish, the believer is being transformed by God’s glory, for God’s glory, and into the image of God’s glory.

Transition: Dr. Mohler, president of Southern Seminary sends out an email each morning, Monday- Friday. It contains articles from News magazines and various other culturally relevant stories a pastor should be aware of. The headlines are usually stories he is going to address in his podcast: the briefing. This past week there was a Time article entitled: What Christianity Without Hell Looks Like

So, here’s the story.

  1. God is infinitely holy. That’s made clear in the book of Exodus. In him there is no imperfection, no blemish – only perfection.
  2. We are sinful people – the Law shows us that.
  3. The requirement to be exacted for our sin is death. So, the penalty of our sin must be paid in full.
  4. God in his infinite mercy provides a gracious gift of forgiveness through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus, who died on the cross to pay that debt.
  5. Today, I offer you the forgiveness of sins by the sacrifice of Christ. The Bible teaches us that Jesus in all of his perfection took our sin upon himself when he died on the cross. And by placing our faith in him, all of his perfection is credited to us.

Maybe you are tired of the way you’ve been living your life. It just hasn’t worked out. Would you try it his way? Would you trust him and follow him?


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