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2 Corinthians chapter 3

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What does 2 Corinthians chapter 3 mean?

Eager for the Corinthians to understand that he is not promoting himself, Paul wants them to look at themselves to validate his role as an apostle of Jesus. Their own lives should serve as all the evidence they need that Paul delivered not himself but Christ to them. After all, they have become living, breathing letters of recommendation for him and his co-workers. They are letters written by Christ with the Holy Spirit instead of ink on human hearts instead of tablets (2 Corinthians 3:1–3).

Paul insists this is not because of his own strength and skill. He and his friends are not "sufficient" to carry out this work. They are not specially qualified, in and of themselves. They're not boosted by their own power. All their sufficiency comes from the power of God. He is the one who has empowered and enabled them to be ministers of the new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:4–6).

Paul compares the new covenant of salvation by faith in Christ through God's grace with the old covenant between God and Israel. He describes that old covenant as a ministry of death carved in letters on stone. It came with true glory. It was God's revelation of Himself, after all, to the Israelites. The glory was so powerful that the Israelites could not even bear to look at the reflection of it on Moses' face after he spent time with God. It was a ministry of death, though, because it required the death of an animal to pay for every sin Israel committed. It revealed that sinful human beings cannot lead the righteous lives required by God to see His glory (2 Corinthians 3:7).

The glory of the new covenant of God's grace and forgiveness for sinners through faith in Christ far surpasses the glory revealed by the old covenant of the law. That old ministry of condemnation for sin was being brought to an end, while the ministry of righteousness received as a gift through Christ will go on forever. It reveals a glory that is permanent (2 Corinthians 3:8–11).

Because Paul is a minister of the new covenant, which allows those in Christ to see God's glory, Paul can be far more bold than Moses. As a minister of the old covenant, Moses had to cover his face with a veil in order to protect the sinful Israelites from seeing the glory of God. That veil is still there. It stands between those who are not in Christ and the glory of God. It can only be removed by the Holy Spirit through Christ for those who turn to Him in faith (2 Corinthians 3:12–17).

Those in Christ look at Him with unveiled faces. To see Christ in this way is to see the glory of God on earth. It begins a transformation, changing those who look on Him to becoming like Him, over time, by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
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