Paul continues his second letter to Corinth by reminding the church that he should need no recommendation to them. They already know him and their faith is the proof of his preaching—unlike others who need their credentials examined! It appears that the Corinthians had reached a shaky conclusion, that they now knew enough about walking with Jesus to sit in judgment over the one who introduced them to the Gospel!
Our chapter division puts 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 as the head of this chapter, but it could just as easily match up with 2 Corinthians 2. Go back and read chapter 2 and flow straight over onto the first paragraph of 3 (using the paragraphs in ESV)—just ignore the section headers for a minute. It makes pretty good sense there, doesn’t it?
Yet it also forms the turn into the contrast of the Law and the New Covenant. This contrast makes up the bulk of chapter 3, as Paul points out the work of the Holy Spirit and the supremacy of Christ. One should easily see from 2 Corinthians 3 that the power of the Spirit of God through Jesus far exceeds the Law of Moses.
Looking a second time at 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, we find Paul’s primary points for this portion of Scripture. First, that believers may have confidence before God. Second, believers are competent to serve one another and the world on behalf of God. Finally, that the covenant between God and humanity is now different and new, vibrant with life.
These three areas: confidence, competence, and covenant; differentiated the Christian message from many of the religions in Corinth. It was also different than the warping of the Gospel which was done by the Judaizers, those who went about teaching the church the falsehood that it was better (or worse, necessary) to be good followers of Jewish law if one was to be a Christian.
What, though, do these three areas look like and how do we have them as believers today?
First, confidence: specifically, this is confidence before God, or toward God through Jesus. In short, this is understanding that our salvation is a settled fact—and then grasping just what fact has been settled. Prior to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, there was the challenge of knowing if you had done enough to satisfy God. We tend to overlook that Noah and Abraham, for example, are cited as recipients of grace even those days. Now, though, we have confidence, not because people are better (we aren’t) but because Jesus has finished the work of dying for our sins. Our confidence comes from Him, and we practice this by not walking hesitantly before God.
Second, competence: this builds on confidence. God has called us and equipped us by the power of His Spirit and provided us His Word. Therefore, we have the competence to share with others the grace of God. We may fall short and slip up in our approaches, but we need not hold back and wait for someone who is “better” at Jesus to do the work.
Third, covenant: the agreement that God has made with humanity. Part of the contrast Paul is highlighting is that Jesus is superior to Moses, and the covenant is different. Whereas Moses had a Law written on stone, Paul proclaims Jesus who writes on the hearts of people and makes us alive to follow Him. The action which follows this is simple: remember and act like people God has saved now, not people God is making into Jews or Hebrews. This takes various forms, but I see it often with people who want to track with the feasts and festivals of the old covenant and behave as if this covenant drives the Christian faith.
It does not. The actionable covenant between God and humanity is the New Covenant of Jesus, not the covenant given through Moses. The confidence and competence we have under the new covenant allow Christians to walk boldly in obedience to Jesus, not in the footsteps of the former faith.
The “veil” referenced by Paul is a real one, from Exodus 34. The contrast between then and now is this: we can all approach God—while the old covenant even caused the representative of God to be separated.
And don’t let 2 Corinthians 3:6 lead to the chaos of anything goes life—that’s not the idea. The idea is that new covenant believers walk in life, and living people do not do the deeds of death. It’s natural, rather than having a law that tries to keep the dead from acting like the dead.