God is the source of all godliness (2 Co 3:4-5). “Our adequacy is from God” (v.5). Yesterday I concluded that any understanding of the Christian life which leaves positive progression in our hands cannot make sense of 2 Corinthians 3:4-5. Moreover, such ideas must capitulate to a “men-become-gods” theology, if they want to be consistent. …not that theologians are terribly interested in consistency these days.
2 Corinthians 3:6 explicitly points the barrel at Christian ministry. Faithful Gospel ministry is a fruit plucked only from Divine branches: prepared by the Father, planted by the Son, watered by the Spirit. In every case, God makes the minister adequate as a servant of a new covenant.
Ministry in the Old Covenant was sacred, but fleshly. Priests had to: be from the tribe of Levi, wear proper clothing, perform animal sacrifices; etc. Then, the responsibilities a priest fulfilled had tangible products within the covenant all sphere (ex. the blood of each sacrifice could be seen on the mercy seat). The minister’s hand were effective unto these covenant all ends.
New Covenant ministry twists the canvas. It cannot be prepared or provided with the minister’s hands: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (Jn 6:63). His ethnicity, clothing, rituals, etc. play no effective role. “God…made us adequate as servants of a new covenant” (2 Co 3:6).
Watch now as my footprints lead you through sloshy puddles called “I-don’t-know-Greek-well-enough-to-speak-dogmatically-about-what-I’m-about-to-say.”
I’m pondering the relationship between the halves of verse 6. Here’s the second half: “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” That word “for” could be accomplishing one of several things. I’ll reverse the sentence to make it clear.
- Only the Spirit gives life, therefore the New Covenant is of the Spirit.
- Only the Spirit gives life, therefore we were made ministers of the New Covenant.
- Only the Spirit gives life, therefore it was necessary that God make us adequate.
All three options are orthodox, but the answer is only determined in the Greek syntax – something I’m not fluent in. So my suggestion is, well, a suggestion.
Poor grammar aside, the third option seems preferable. “Not of the letter but of the Spirit” might come under “new covenant,” and I’m seeing the emphasis of the sentence being God’s powerful work to make them adequate as servants. It seems appropriate to explain (“for“) why the New Covenant requires Divine enablement to minister.
A good Protestant understands this. Baptism doesn’t save, right? We understand that bodily submergence in H2O doesn’t produce any salvific product. Does the Lord’s supper give life? No. The bread and wine are symbols of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. So these ordinances don’t make a person live. They are signs that teach us about salvation, but they do not save.
If you’d like to minister the Old Covenant, grab a knife. Your hands will literally give your people what they came for: animal sacrifices. I doubt you’ve intentionally tried this, but I’m sure we’ve all functionally done it. The people in your care grow thirsty in life’s desert and you think that what you have can nourish them. But what good are hands to parched tongues?
So if you’d like to minister the New Covenant, preach the Gospel. Open up the canteen and spill life on those cracked lips. With sermons and sacraments, publicly and privately, through words and works – make your life a bullhorn for the person and work of Christ. Take that bull off the altar and trust in the New Covenant promises.