The Spirit of the Lord is Freedom
[2nd Corinthians chapter 3]
Last week when we left off at the end of chapter two, you will recall Paul making the statement that “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit”. He finishes this train of thought in verse one of chapter three, and then continues with comments on comparing the glory of the face of Moses when he came down from Mt. Sinai with the ten commandments with the glory of the risen Christ. So let’s begin at verse one.
“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the results of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 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 Corinthians chapter 3, verses 1-6, NIV)
I find it interesting that the apostle Paul has an apparent disdain for profit, as least as far as preaching the Word is concerned. Back then, as it is today throughout organized religion, the more money the churches can collect when the collection basket is passed around, the more “successful” a church is considered to be. That’s why Paul pointed out that although it is a good thing for a pastor to have the approval of the congregation and church leadership, it is far better to have the approval of God. It is God’s judgment that counts in the end, and none other. The Spirit of the Living God does not inhabit these churches where all the money is being collected every Sunday, because God does not live in buildings. The one true God inhabits the hearts of men so that His Word also lives there. Instead of being written on parchment or carved in stone like the letter of the law, the Spirit of the law writes God’s Word on our hearts, like an eloquent love letter from or to Jesus. Paul then continues beginning in verse 7.
“Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters of stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2Corinthians 3, verses 7-18, NIV)
Beginning in verse seven, Paul is referring to Moses when he came down the mountain with the ten commandments for the second time. You will recall from the Book of Exodus that when Moses came down the first time from Mt. Sinai with the ten commandments and found Aaron and the Israelites worshiping the golden calf, he became enraged and threw down the two tablets of stone he had been carrying, breaking them into pieces. As you remember from the book of Exodus, Moses face shined like the sun when he came down from Mt. Sinai that last time to the point where people couldn’t look directly at it. Paul is stating that this was a foreshadowing of what is to come for all of us who believe, that we will all one day be transformed like Moses was. When Paul refers to “the ministry that condemns”, he is referring to the old law, or the Old Testament as we know it today. He contrasts that with “the ministry that brings righteousness”, which is the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new covenant of His blood.
Paul then writes, “For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory”. He is comparing the radiance of the face of Moses upon his return from Mt Sinai with the radiance of Christ at the Transfiguration (Matthew chapter 17, verses 1-13), and on the road to Damascus when Paul first met Christ, when He appeared to Paul as a blinding light in the book of Acts. He then goes on by referring to a veil that Moses wore for a time after he came back down from Mt. Sinai because his face shone too bright for people to look directly at him. In the same way, he writes, the Jewish religious establishment had a veil over their hearts when they worshiped at the temple because they would not accept that Jesus was the Messiah prophesied throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew Book of the Law. But Paul is giving the word ‘veil’ a double meaning here because he is also referring to the veil that used to surround the inner court of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.
The temple at Jerusalem – indeed all Israelite temples in biblical times – were arranged with an greater court around the perimeter which surrounded an inner court where sacrifices were made. This in turn surrounded the innermost court, or the “holy of holys”, as the Bible puts it. No one was admitted into the innermost court except for the high priest under penalty of death. As you can see, the Jews took God very seriously. But when Jesus died on the cross, all four gospels recount that there was a great earthquake which caused quite a bit of damage in what is modern Israel today. One of the side effects of this quake was that the veil around the innermost court of the temple in Jerusalem was torn in two. This is perfectly symbolic of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, because upon His death the veil that surrounded the Holy of Holys was forever ripped in two, giving all of humankind access to the previously off-limits innermost court of God’s temple. In ancient times the veil separated us from God, but when the sacrifice of Jesus was complete it gave us all access to God through Jesus Christ. By no other means can we be saved. No way.
In closing, let’s ask ourselves this question: Is there a veil over my heart so that God and other people can’t see what’s in there? You know, God can see what’s in there, and if there’s anything wrong He will help you fix it if only you will ask Him. He can’t help us if we won’t tell Him what’s wrong, so why hold back? Take all your cares and your worries to Him, don’t try to do it all yourself because nobody can do that anyway. Let go and let God. And the peace of Christ which surpasses all human understanding will dwell within your heart, mind, body and soul forever. Shalom.