Thursday, August 8, 2013

Are You Holding on to a Letter that Kills?

             Paul's second epistle to Corinth is one that deals with many of the false charges from Jewish "converts" who were trying to maintain the Law of Moses alongside the "perfect law of liberty" (James 2:8). At the start of II Corinthians 3, Paul defends himself by pointing to the very people that were questioning his credibility, the church at Corinth that he had planted. In verses 1-4, Paul notes that one could know his character based on what he taught, and how the churches he planted lived. If he was representing God and godliness, then the congregations he planted or taught would follow God as well.

            Following the example of the church at Corinth though, Paul then begins to contrast that which Corinthian Christians were taught by Paul to that which the Judaizers were teaching currently to those in Corinth. He does this by reminding the Christians what the purpose of the Old Testament was as well as what the purpose for the New Testament is, and how it excels in comparison to its forerunner.We will take the rest of this chapter verse by verse to discuss Paul's argument.
II Co 3:6  who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

     Paul has just noted that God had made him sufficient to preach the Gospel of Christ (Verse 5), and starts by making a contrast between what he calls "the letter" and "the spirit." Our part in study is to determine what Paul is referring to in by these two terms. 
     As we continue through the chapter, we quickly find that "the letter" refers to the Law of Moses that was given on Mount Sinai. In verse six, Paul refers to the "the letter" as something that kills, and in verse seven Paul writes, "Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone" and continues to reference the events between Moses and the Hebrews after Moses comes down from the mountain. It is here that it becomes clear what "the letter" that kills is. It is the entirety of the Law of Moses, which was written on stone. This begins with the Ten Commandments, and continues on through what is recorded in the book of Leviticus.

    Paul addresses the fact that Moses' face glowed for a period of time after receiving the law, and how he put a veil over his face (Exodus 34:29-35), but how it would fade away, and how that event was actually a foreshadowing of the fact that the Law of Moses itself would fade away as well.

    Along with identifying "the letter," we also need to identify what "the spirit" is that Paul places by the side of the Law of Moses. Many people try to define it, but we really have no need to as Paul himself defines it in verse seventeen. Paul writes, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Paul is clear that what he is contrasting here is that which was given to God's people by Moses and that which was given to God's people through Jesus. The two contrasting covenants both were given with a purpose, but God's people cannot be under both of the covenants at the same time.

II Co 3:7-8  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? 

    When many entertain the thought that we are not under the Law of Moses, Ten Commandments included, cannot seem to fathom the thought. Paul makes it clear though that the Law of Moses was glorious, and had a specific purpose. One should never downplay anything that God has given as part of His ultimate purpose, but at the same time one should keep God's actions within their context and purpose. And so Paul notes that the Law of Moses came with glory, and that should be remembered, but from the inception of the Law of Moses, it began a process of being brought to an end to make way for the even more glorious teachings of Christ, the perfect law of liberty, and the question we must ask is, if there is a covenant that is more glorious than the Law of Moses, why would one want to bind themselves to the commands within Law of Moses?

II Co 3:9  For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.

     As Paul continues making note of the contrast between the old and new covenants, he refers to one as the ministry of condemnation and the other as the ministry of righteousness. The Law of Moses is the ministry of condemnation (again, the letter kills!) because it was not designed to forgive sins and save individuals, but to teach people about how deep sin goes and how deeply it affects our relationship with God.Galatians 3:24 reminds us that the Law of Moses was a "tutor" or "guardian" to bring us to Christ so "that we might be justified by faith." The "tutor," or "paedagogus" described here was one that would lead young Jewish boys to school. As Albert Barnes wrote,
"It is true, that when the “paedagogus” was properly qualified, he assisted the children committed to his care in preparing their lessons. But still his main duty was not instruction, but it was to watch over the boys; to restrain them from evil and temptation; and to conduct them to the schools, where they might receive instruction."

      So while the Law of Moses was able to restrain them to an extent, the purpose was to lead, not to teach. And so it is in the law of liberty that one is able to find righteousness, and again, as we did with the last segment, we must ask, if the Law of Moses can only bring condemnation, and only the law of liberty can bring righteousness, which one do we want to be in submission to now?

II Co 3:12-16 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech--unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

    Paul notes that he is able to have bold speech in what he teaches as minister for God and an apostle for Jesus because the law of liberty which he preaches is not one that fades away, is more glorious than the Law of Moses, and leads to righteousness rather than death.

    Paul then turns back to the illustration of Moses putting the veil over his face to make one last statement against the Judaizers who were condemning him and the work he was doing in the name of God. Paul makes the claim that those who are still trying to stick to the Old Testament, refusing to acknowledge what its true purpose was, and that it was not meant to last, but to lead to the messiah, are like Moses, covering their face with the veil. The difference is that when Moses went back before the Lord, he took the veil off, but these Jews refuse to lift theirs.

    We can then make the same comparison to the many today that so desperately want to hold on to the Law of Moses. Sometimes it might be just the Ten Commandments. Sometimes it might be just particular bits of the book of Leviticus that suit a moral argument they want to make. That is not to say that we should not study the Old Testament, because, like with the Jews, it can prepare us to better understand the messiah, and there are many shadows within it of things to come, as we've seen from this very post, but we should not confuse learning from the Old Testament with being bound to its law. By Paul's argument, those that wish to hold on desperately to being bound to any part of the Law of Moses are no different than the Judaizers who leave a veil over their hearts and minds. It is certainly a blunt statement, but one who would forego, or even weaken the ministry of righteousness that gives life needs just that!

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