2 Corinthians 3:7-18
The words of Paul at the beginning of the next chapter are the important clue as to why he writes this bit of the letter – “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart” (4:1). The ministry he is speaking of is Gospel ministry – sharing the Gospel with a lost world. We are often tempted to lose heart in evangelism (and, encouragingly, it seems Paul was too). It can feel a duty, not a privilege. It so often seems ineffectual. And when we try and explain the Gospel, perhaps to seemingly very intelligent friends, it can sound a rather weak, ridiculous message, almost embarrassing. But Paul’s words remind us what Gospel ministry is like – and above all he wants to convince us that it is glorious. It is an immense privilege to share in such a ministry, to be entrusted with such a message.
He argues his point by drawing a comparison between his ministry and Moses’ ministry. He alludes to the occasion when Moses brought the Law down from Mount Sinai – the 10 Commandments engraved on tablets of stone. We read in Exodus (34:29ff.) that Moses’ face shone with a dazzling brightness, a visible sign of the amazing privilege that was his. No doubt Moses’ ministry was glorious. But, says Paul here, to be entrusted with the Gospel is a far greater privilege, far more glorious. It may not look like it, it may not feel like it. Paul had no Ready Brek glow, just bruises and scars – there was nothing outwardly glorious about his ministry – but he insists passing on the Gospel is a profoundly glorious ministry to share in.
There are a number of contrasts Paul draws out to demonstrate his point. One offered merely an external written code: the other is the ministry of the Spirit, who internalizes God’s Word in our heart and transforms us. Moses’ ministry was lethal (3:7), for in exposing sin it also brought condemnation (3:9); in contrast the Gospel gives life (3:6) and brings righteousness. The one was merely temporary, hence its fading glory: the other is eternal – never to be surpassed or superseded, and eternal in its effect. The mention of “hope” in v.12 suggests that for now this glory is not fully seen, but the Gospel promises eternal glory (of which the Spirit is the first fruits, guaranteeing what is to come), which should make us “bold” (the sense is “outspoken”) and unembarrassed in telling others about Christ.
The final contrast, in vv.13-end, is between the blindness which marked those who only know the ministry of the Old Covenant, and the sight which is given to people through the Gospel. Paul sees the veil that Moses wore as being suggestive of his own reticence, in contrast to the boldness that marks Paul, and as having a metaphorical significance, signifying the veil that covered the people’s eyes. Moses’ fading glory was a sign that there was something better to come; it pointed forward to Christ. But the veil was a picture of their blindness, a blindness that remains (v.15) – the Jews know the Old Testament Scriptures but they still don’t see that they point forward to Christ. How can this veil be removed? By turning to Christ, the Christ proclaimed in the Gospel; in Him we see the very glory of God, which the Israelites had been kept from seeing.
Verse 17 is not identifying Jesus and the Spirit, but clearly associating them, it is through turning to Jesus that the Spirit is given – the Spirit who brings freedom from blindness so that we might gaze on Christ (in whose face all the glory of God is revealed, 4:6). And as we do so, the Spirit will transform us into Christ’s likeness – not a merely superficial glory, as was Moses’, but with a profound inner glory.
Truly it is a glorious message, and thus a glorious ministry. So be bold, unashamed, and do not lose heart! For all the complexities of the passage (and some bits are difficult) the main thrust should be clear; that’s what the group needs to hear and take to heart.
Moses’ veil seems suggestive of two things – it is suggestive of an attitude in himself, and it seems to symbolize a truth about the Israelites.