2 Corinthians 3:6 ~ 20180520 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
05/20_2 Corinthians 3:6; The Letter Kills; The Spirit Makes Alive ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180520_2cor3_6.mp3
What we want to be about, what we must be about as followers of Jesus, is spreading the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. We have seen in 2 Corinthians 3 that the sufficiency, the competence for this kind of ministry comes through Christ and toward or in the presence of God. We must recognize we are not competent in ourselves. We cannot claim anything as coming from ourselves. Anything. Jesus said 'apart from me you can do nothing.' But then Paul says we are competent, because of God,
This raises some questions. What does it mean to be a minister? What is the new covenant? How do we minister not by the letter, but by the Spirit? What is the role of the letter and the role of the Spirit?
As we saw last time, a minister is simply a servant. One who serves others for their good. If we are all called to be ministers of a new covenant, we need to know what this means.
Paul introduces this concept of a new covenant here. He says that he has been made sufficient to be a minister of a new covenant. What is the new covenant? We began to look at this when we were exploring the contrast between letters on tablets of stone with letters written with the Spirit of the living God on tablets of fleshly hearts.
A covenant is a binding contract, an agreement between two parties. God made a covenant with his people at Mount Sinai, after he freed them out of slavery in Egypt.
God gave Israel his covenant, his commands, his requirements. This was a binding agreement written on stone. He says in Leviticus:
If a person does them, by them he shall live. Obedience equals life. Jesus affirmed this. When he was asked by a lawyer 'what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus responds 'What is written in the law? How do you read it? The lawyer summarized the law by the two great commands; love God and love neighbor as yourself. Jesus said:
Do this and you will live. The lawyer, wanting to justify himself, asked 'and who is my neighbor?' He wanted to check off a box to show that he was good enough. Jesus gave him the parable of the good Samaritan. Everyone you come in contact with is your neighbor. Keep the law and you will live. Obedience to the law equals life.
The Letter Kills
The flip side of that, of course, is disobedience equals death. And that's what we see if we look back to the giving of the law. Exodus 19-31 record the giving of the law to Moses. It is interesting to look back and see the difference before and after the giving of the law.
-In Exodus 14:6-14, at the Red Sea, before Sinai, Israel cried out to the Lord and complained that they would die in the wilderness; God parted the sea and rescued them. In Numbers 11:1-3, immediately after leaving Sinai, the people complained about misfortunes and the fire of the Lord burned among them. In Numbers 16:41-50 the people grumbled against their leaders, and 14,700 died in plague. In Numbers 21:4-9 the people become impatient and discontent; and the LORD sent fiery serpents to kill many.
-In Exodus 15:22-27, before the law, the people grumbled because the water was bitter; and the bitter water was made sweet. In Exodus 17:1-7 people grumbled and quarreled because they had no water; God instructed Moses to strike the rock and water came out from the rock for the people. But in Numbers 20:2-13, after the law was given, when there was no water and people quarreled, God instructed Moses to speak to the rock. Instead, he disobeyed and struck the rock. Water came out, but because of their disobedience, Moses and Aaron would die in the wilderness and not enter the land.
-In Exodus 16:1-18, before the law, the people grumbled because of hunger; God provides manna and quail for them to eat. But in Numbers 11, after the law came, the people grumble about no meat, and God sent quail until it came out their nostrils, and he sent a very great plague to destroy them.
- In Exodus 16:19-30, before the law, the people are instructed to rest and not go out looking for manna on the Sabbath, but they disobey. Nothing happens. But in Numbers 15:32-36, a person caught gathering sticks on the sabbath is stoned to death for breaking the law.
- In Exodus 17:8-14, before Sinai, God defeats Amalek before Israel. In Numbers 14:39-45, after Sinai, Israel is defeated before the Amalekites and Canaanites.
Some of the very same things that had no consequences before the law, after the law brought death. The history of Israel after the giving of the law is a chronicle of disobedience and death. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:6 that the letter kills. This is very literally true.
Romans and the Law/Letter
Paul gives us more systematic teaching on the role and purpose of the law in the book of Romans. It will serve us well to look there to fill out our understanding of what he means when he says that 'the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.'
The Jews prided themselves on having the law. But as we have seen, unless the law is obeyed, it brings death.
The law was given to shut every mouth and hold all people accountable to God. The law shows us our sin; it does not make us righteous. This is made even more clear in chapter 4.
The law brings wrath. We see this graphically displayed in the history of Israel after Sinai. Romans 5 tells us
The law did not create righteousness; it actually did the opposite; it served to increase trespass. Romans 7 tells us how.
The law actually stirred up our sinful passions. Paul gives a personal example:
He is describing what he said in 3:20 that 'through the law comes the knowledge of sin.' The commandment that promised life; the law says 'do this and you shall live' proved in his own experience to deliver death.
If the law produces death, does this mean that the law is bad? Paul answers:
The law is holy, righteous, good, even spiritual. But the law puts on display the sinfulness of sin. The law's good purpose is to show us our sin, to stop our mouths, to hold us accountable to God, and to put us to death. I said that is the law's good purpose. How is that good? Good is not determined by what is good for me. It's not all about me! Good is what is good absolutely. It is good and right for God to display his justice and to punish sin. But this is good for me. It is good for the law to show me my sin, because only sinners who confess their sin can be forgiven. It is good for the law to put me to death, because only those who are dead can be raised to newness of life. Only those who are shown their desperate need will cry out to God for rescue. Jesus said
The law plays a vital role in showing us God's justice and our need. This is what makes the good news so very very good! The law brings us to the end of ourselves, and that is very good. The letter kills but the Spirit makes alive.
A New Covenant
This is where the new covenant promises come in. As we looked a few weeks ago, God promises in Jeremiah and Ezekiel to make a new covenant with his people, a covenant different from the covenant he made with the fathers, not like the covenant that they broke.
This is the contrast Paul draws in 2 Corinthians; They old covenant was written on tablets of stone, and the result was disobedience and death. The new covenant of which he is a minster, is a heart agreement. No longer is it an external standard, which we may even agree is good, but our competing desires and inclination to disobedience thwart our best efforts to keep it. Now in the new covenant God writes his instruction on our hearts. It is part of us. It is internalized. It is who we are. It now defines us.
A critical component of this new covenant that God works in us is that he says 'I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more. This is powerful. This is so powerful for obedience. If we feel like a failure, if we feel like we have already disappointed him, we feel defeated. The guilt and shame are disabling. It's like an overwhelming record of debt that stands against us. When you're in debt and really see no way out, it's easy to just give up and spend even more, run the credit card again, dig the hole deeper, We feel crippled to ever be good enough, to ever measure up. But in the context of forgiveness; this is so beautiful, so powerful, let this sink in an saturate your soul and transform everything; God says he remembers your sin no more. If you are in Christ, you always, always have a clean slate. You are always accepted. You are always good enough. You can't sin fast enough to make the record stick. Do you see how powerful this is? Try to fight when you are all tied up and ensnared and weighed down. You can hardly even move. But God cuts the cords and sets you free and keeps you free so that you can fight.
This is so powerful, and I pray it shapes the way we relate to each other, to our spouse, to our children. Shame and guilt can be a motivating factor, but it is disabling. Forgiveness is so much more powerful.
they shall all know me
Notice another key aspect of this new covenant in Jeremiah 31. it says 'they shall all know me.' Paul is spreading the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. The new covenant is built on relationship. Intimacy. This is not second-hand knowledge. I know God and I have to tell you, God says what you're doing is wrong. Someone stands between. You're not hearing it first hand. It's not direct. Someone is in between. That's exactly the way it was at Sinai with the law. The people said 'don't let God speak to us directly. Moses, you go listen to God and then come tell us what he said.' When I send one of my kids to pass along instruction to one of their siblings (and this happens a lot in our house) it doesn't carry much weight. They say 'hey, you need to do this' and it's easy to ignore. They might even say 'hey, dad said you should do this' and that carries a little more weight, but it's still easy to ignore. Sometimes something gets lost in the delivery. The messenger got sidetracked and never delivered my message. Something got lost in the communication and something different than what I asked gets done. Is it the messenger who failed or the one who was supposed to receive the message who didn't listen? It's easy to shift blame. But when I show up personally, that's completely different. It's no longer someone passing along second hand information about what I said. Now it's me, in relationship, really present, it's direct. That's what the new covenant does. It brings each of us into direct relationship with God. It's no longer someone else telling you what you ought to be doing. It's no longer mediated. It's God himself communicating directly.
And it's within the context of loving relationship. It can try to tell someone else's kids what to do, but if the relationship isn't there, if the accountability and love and respect in relationship hasn't been established, it isn't very effective. They run to mom or dad and say 'that weird guy just told me what to do.' In the new covenant, God brings us into relationship with himself. They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
a new heart and God's Spirit
Another piece of this transforming power of the new covenant we see in Ezekiel.
God gives us a heart transplant. Our hard rebellious heart needs to be removed, and replaced by a soft, tender heart, a heart capable of love, a heart receptive to the Lord. But he doesn't stop there. In the New covenant he puts his Holy Spirit in us. This is the aspect that Paul highlights in 2 Corinthians. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. O hear this! Let the truth of this sink in! The Holy Spirit of the living God; God the Holy Spirit, comes in, takes up residence in us. He lives in us and makes us alive. He transforms us from the inside. He will never leave!
We are released from the law to serve in the new way of the Spirit.
This is the message we are called to minister! This is the good news of the gospel! Through the cross there is forgiveness, no matter what you have done. You can know God yourself, you can enjoy relationship. God the Spirit comes to live inside and make you alive, truly alive, eternally alive! So walk in the Spirit and spread the knowledge of Jesus everywhere!
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org