Confidence in Ministry: A Superior Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:1-18)

Lesson series 2001
Tags: 2 Corinthians; Ministry; Paul; Confidence; Law and gospel
Excerpted from Paul on Ministry: Lessons from 2 Corinthians
Related Resources: The Fragrance of Faithful Service: How to Smell Good for the Lord (2 Cor. 2:14-5:10)Objects of Newness


  1. To lead participants to understand the difference between the old and new covenants.
  2. To persuade participants of the superiority of the new covenant.
  3. To demonstrate that the glory of the new covenant is a source of confidence in ministry.

Text (NKJV)

1 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?
2 You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men;
3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
4 And we have such trust through Christ toward God.
5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,
6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away,
8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?
9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.
10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels.
11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.
12 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech--
13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.
14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.
15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.
16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.


In the previous lesson we began to discover what qualifies us for ministry. The most important source of competence in ministry is the gospel message. However, Paul highlights two other sources of competence in the chapters that follow last week’s text. Today we will uncover a second factor that gives us confidence as we seek to minister to others. That factor is hope. Paul does not actually use this term in the text, but the idea is pervasive.

The Gospel: A Superior Covenant

The contrasts between law and gospel mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3 are highlighted in the following table:

 Old covenant (14) New covenant (6)
 Letter (6) Spirit (6, 17-18)
 Death (6) Life (6)
 Ministry of death (8) Ministry of the Spirit (7)
 Tablets of stone (3, 7) Tablets of flesh (3)
 Glory (7-11) Greater glory (8-11)
 Ministry of condemnation (9) Ministry of righteousness (9)
 Temporary (7, 11) Enduring (11)
 Veiled communication (13) Clear communication (12)
 Blindness (14-15) Clear sight (14, 16-18)

The old and new covenants are decidedly different. In fact, the new covenant is superior to the old in every regard (2 Cor 3:6-11; Heb 8:6-13; 9:11-15; 12:18-24). The old covenant was served by the offering of sacrifices according to the law; the new covenant ministry is exercised by means of Spirit-led activity (2 Cor 3:2ff). The new covenant is founded on better promises than the old (Heb 8:6). Its atonement is not ceremonial but spiritual, purifying the conscience rather than the body (Heb 9:11-14). Its focus is not on earthly things, but on heavenly things (Heb 12:18-24).

The Gospel: A Source of Confidence in Ministry

2 Corinthians 3:5-18 is immersed in a ministerial context. The passage itself uses the word ministry four times. It is found in a letter whose predominant theme is ministry. In addition, ministry is mentioned before and after the passage.

Paul introduces this passage with a discussion of sufficiency (ikanotes: adequacy, sufficiency of number and quantity, sufficiency of ability) for ministry (2:16-17; 3:4-6). The fact that Paul moves abruptly from repeated mention of competence in ministry to a discussion of the glories of the new covenant suggests a relationship between the two. Indeed, the excelling glory of the gospel message is a source of confidence in ministry. Three implications follow from this principle:

  • We should not doubt our ability for ministry when we are sincerely proclaiming the gospel. The gospel is powerful--powerful enough to transform lives (3:2-3; cf. Rom 1:16). The wonder of the gospel should inspire confidence in us (3:4; cf. 4:1).
  • We should speak the gospel frankly (3:12). It is a wonderful message, for it holds the key to spiritual vitality (3:6), righteousness (3:9), true freedom (3:17), and intimacy with God (3:18).
  • A person’s fidelity in ministry should be judged in terms of his treatment of the gospel. Faithful ministry has little to do with personal charisma, attracting large crowds, or even accumulating numerous professions of faith. Rather, it is a matter of presenting the pure gospel in sincerity and integrity (2:17; 4:2ff).


As Christians we possess a wonderful treasure--the gospel message. We should seek to share it with others at every opportunity. We should do so with confidence, frankness, and sincerity.