The apostle Paul was writing to the people of Corinth who had come to know the Lord as their
Savior through his preaching during an earlier visit. Their lives were evidence of their
dedication to the Lord and anyone who came in contact with them would recognize this.
The Judaizers mixed law and grace and they disputed Paul's authority to preach the gospel. They wanted to see letters [epistles] from someone who had given him authority to preach this new gospel. His answer is in 2 Corinthians 3: 1-6.
Verses 1-6. Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or do we need, as some others,
epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? Ye are our
epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men;
3. Forasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
4. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:
5. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;
6: Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
The whole Church comprises God's epistle, but each believer is a verse in that epistle. It tells the world what the grace of God can do for sinners who trust in Him. It's “written not with ink,” but by “the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” God gives the believer a new heart and a new nature, and that enables each one of us to tell the love of Christ to a lost world.
When God gave the Law, the 10 commandments and the ordinances and rituals of the Jewish religion, He wrote it on tablets of stone, and those were placed in the "Ark of the Covenant." Even if the Israelites read those tablets, it wouldn't change their lives. The Law is external, and mankind needs internal transformation.
There are those who tell us works can save us. “Do this” or “don’t do that,” but if we try to please God under these conditions, it's not from the heart and we end up worse than before!
The Spirit of God uses the Word of God and writes it on the heart. The ministry of God's grace
changes our heart. God’s grace completely changed the Corinthian's lives. (1
Corinthians 6:9-11: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10: Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
11: And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.")
Paul loved the Corinthian believers and their names were lovingly written on his heart, and the Spirit of God had written the truth on their hearts, and that made them “living epistles of Christ.”
Accepting Christ as our Saviour results in changed lives. It's not something you can measure by
external standards. The results lie with the Lord.
When Paul mentioned the tables of stone, he was undoubtedly thinking of the "old covenant" of the law given in Exodus 24:12. "And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them."
Paul contrasted it with the "new covenant" that is inscribed on human hearts. Ezekiel 36:26-27. "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27: And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them."
This new covenant that was promised way back then would be sealed with the atoning blood of Jesus
Christ. It can bring salvation to all who will trust in Him. It will culminate with the advent of
Christ during the Tribulation period and at that time all believing Israel will be restored to
Verse 4: "And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:" Paul was a brilliant man and no one would have found fault with him if he had trusted in his own wisdom, but he trusted God more. He believed the revelation of Jesus Christ' atoning death that God had given was absolutely true and he depended on the Lord, not himself. His trust was in God, he knew his ability came from God, and he gave the glory of his accomplishments to God.
God has given us the new covenant and Christ has fulfilled the requirements of the law. To this
day there are people who will tell you that if you obey the Law you will be saved. The Bible
doesn't bear that out. The law condemns us. God, in His grace, tells us we are lost sinners
and can't save ourselves. Paul believed he was only a sinner saved by grace.
1 Timothy 1:15, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." In 1 Corinthians 15:10 he said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”
Paul never suggested the Law was a mistake or that its ministry was unimportant. He knew the Law showed the lost sinner our hopelessly condemned position before God, and only God's grace could save us.
If we didn't see any change in the life of a person when they professed to be saved we would soon lose confidence in their salvation. Paul's confidence is based on the work of the Holy Spirit as he saw changes in the lives of the Corinthians.
It's always encouraging to me when I hear of someone who got saved. In the case of Jane Fonda or some of our professional athletes, the whole world hears about it on television.
It renews our faith when we see the grace of God working in this miraculous way, and it reminds me of the truth of the next two verses. Verses 5-6. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; 6: Who also has made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.
This new testament is not to be confused with the books of the Bible that we call the New Testament. This is the "new covenant" God made with man, activated by the blood sacrifice of His Son Jesus, and it gives eternal life to all who believe.
The old testament, or "old covenant", named after Moses and sometimes called the Mosaic covenant, was a written statement of the righteous life that God wanted from His people Israel under the Law.
God has always required a blood sacrifice for sin. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, God made clothes for them of animal skins. The animals had to purposely be killed and shed their blood for man's sin. These weren't road kills!
God expected His people to accept the Mosaic covenant with a solemn oath that they would obey it, and when they sinned and failed they were required to offer a blood sacrifice to Him.
When Israel proved unwilling as well as unable to fulfill these requirements, God graciously intervened again and promised the "new covenant." Jeremiah 31:31-33. "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: 33: But this shall be "the covenant" that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people."
Again, this new covenant would be initiated
with the blood sacrifice of His Own Son, Jesus Christ,
for the sins of all mankind, and it can only be entered into by faith of the individual.
Since we are designated by God as the epistle of Christ, everyone who professes to know Christ as their Savior is a representative of His here on earth and we each need to ask ourselves some personal questions:
1. Is my life really witnessing for Christ? Is it really counting for God?
2. Does my own family see that I've given God control or do I fall back on my own resources when I'm afraid of failure?
3. Do people I meet in the business world, or grocery store check out line, really see any difference between me and those who don't profess to trust Christ as I do?
We are Christ’s letter for others to read. Your life or my life may be the only Bible someone reads.
A letter should make clear, definite statements:
1. Do I live like Christ really meant something to
2. Do I try to help others to understand salvation and to know what Jesus does for the soul that trusts Him?
A letter also reveals the personality of the writer. The whole Church is the epistle of Christ, and the Church is expected to reveal the personality of Christ and His love. Verse 5 tells us that we can't do this in ourselves, that "our sufficiency is of God."
It's a mistake to think that Christianity is simply a natural life lived on a higher plane than the ordinary life. Instead, it's a life dedicated to God, lived through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our life is like a ship's manifest that lists everything that is on that ship. God knows everything about us. It's all on our personal manifest. That's why we need to be "born again" to live the Christian life.
In John 3:5, the Lord Jesus told a very good religious man named Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Man can only manifest what is in his heart. We can't live a Christian life until we have a Christian life to live. Verse 5; “We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.”
When God put man on this earth he was created innocent of sin. Through man's own self will, he sinned. Since we all descended from people who sinned, we are all born sinners. After the Garden of Eden episode God gave man the right to govern himself, and again man failed to become righteous, and in fact, even became worse. Then God gave man the law. Again man couldn't and wouldn't obey it because it depended on righteousness and man couldn't attain righteousness in himself.
In verse 6 the "letter" refers to that law God gave through Moses. The "spirit" refers to the gospel of the grace of God; Verse 6; "Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life."
There is a huge contrast between the "old covenant" (the letter) and the "new covenant" (the spirit). Under the "old covenant", blessing was on condition of obedience. It was a covenant of works. If man did his part, God would do His. But because it depended on man, it couldn't produce righteousness. Exodus 24:3. "And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do." They failed to keep this promise almost immediately. Exodus 32:8. "They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them."
God never intended the law to be the means of giving life. The law condemns all who fail to keep its holy precepts, so the letter of the law decreed death. It was given to bring the knowledge of sin to man and to convict man of his sin.
Romans 3:20. "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin."
Galatians 3:10. "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them."
There had to be some other way than the law for man to become righteous before God. All previous methods depended on man to fulfill his part and man failed.
Then God promised the "new covenant" we read about in Jeremiah 31. This "new covenant" would be instituted through His Son, Jesus Christ, and culminate with the restoration of believing Israel during the Tribulation.
When Jesus came to earth, He explained it this way in Mark 14:24: "And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, [covenant] which is shed for many."
Since the "new covenant" depends on God and not on man, the "new covenant" can make man righteous, something the old could never do. I want to repeat that; the "new covenant" depends on God and not on man, the "new covenant" can make man righteous, something the old could never do.
In verse 6 , the "new covenant" is called the spirit. “But the spirit giveth life.” The "new covenant" is the gospel and it could produce what the law demanded but couldn't produce.
How does a person get this new life in Christ? This "truth that shall make you free?"
Here are three ways we don't get this new life in Christ and the one way we do. John 1:12-13. "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
1. The first is “Not of blood."
We aren't born Christians because our parents may have been Christians; John 3: 6. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.”
2. The second is “Nor of the will of the flesh.”
No one can become a Christian by his own will. We are what we are born, and we are born sinners.
3. The third is “Nor of the will of man.”
There is no man so powerful or good that he can make another person a Christian. It's a tremendous mistake to suppose that anyone can become a Christian through baptism, or that any minister or priest can make another man a Christian by prayer, or by giving the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said, in John 14:6. "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me." If people, preachers, and priests really believed this verse from the Bible, a lot more people would get saved.
The Bible states there is only one way to become a Christian, it's by receiving Jesus Christ as your Saviour. Then
we are born again, this time of God.
Let's go over that again. The new birth is spiritual and is completely distinct from our natural birth. It's not of blood so it contains no human element. It isn't within the scope of human achievement so it's not by the will of the flesh. It's from God. 1 Peter 1:23-25. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 24: For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you."
When you accept the Savior God sent, you are born again, this time of God, and you become part of this company in verse 2 of our text designated “the epistle of Christ.”
The Holy Spirit works in us to enable us to trust Christ for salvation and then He works through us to tell others that Christ shed His blood as a sacrifice for their sins, too. We become "epistles of Christ."
Salvation can't come by keeping the ten commandments and the law. That "letter" engraved on the tablets of stone served only to condemn us. It is God's law.
Only the "new covenant" in Christ's blood, which was given by God through the Holy Spirit, can save man from the condemnation of the law.
1 PETER 1:1-2; "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,  who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance."