2 Corinthians 3:4-11
I have noted before that when I first joined the Church, I was a part of a Church that refused to acknowledge the supernatural powers of our Lord. The exact quote I once read was, “The Holy Spirit does not give visions – contrary to that whole movement – does not give current revelations, does not enable people to speak in tongues, does not give people future prophecies, does not do fake miracles.” Basically, the statement was that the Holy Spirit does nothing that requires true faith to accept. I also heard from one such sermon that “if you want to see the true supernatural power of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, watch Him stop a sinner from giving in to sin. Watch Him help an alcoholic stop drinking, or a fornicator remain faithful.” And something always felt off to me about this teaching, that the Holy Spirit of God would limit His own power to only things which can be concretely evidenced, that which can be attributed to sheer human willpower. That the Holy Spirit would stop performing the miraculous, and limit Himself only to the mundane, just seemed very un-biblical to me. Jesus told us that if we have but faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move a mountain, and yet current teachers are teaching us that if we have faith the size of a mountain we can quit smoking. And even worse, that our faith would be evidenced by the number of Bible verses we can recite, mistaking knowledge for maturity. Learning the words that are engraved on stone rather than growing to actually develop a relationship with our Lord.
In this passage, Paul offers up great hope for the faithful. Having previously stated “to some we are the aroma of death leading to death, to others the aroma of life, leading to life. Who is sufficient for such things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). Here he offers us his answer to that very question. The one who places trust through Christ in God is the one who is sufficient. He’s teaching us here that no matter how studious or elegant any minister may be, or how much knowledge about God one may attain, it is not within our human power to attain to salvation; we must depend fully on the Lord for ministry and for salvation.
He then continues on by contrasting the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The “ministry of death, written and engraved on stones” was external, it was powerless. It focused on “cleansing the outside of the cup, while the inside remained filthy.” (Luke 11:39) and turned the written law, the decrees of God, into a mere judicial system to be superficially obeyed. It was glorious only in that God was in it’s presence, but when removed from the presence of God it was nothing more than the ministry of death, because men were unable to keep it. It offered rules to follow and behaviors to maintain, but no power to do either, thus in attempting to keep the Law, many condemned themselves. It was, in fact, under the “Ministry of the Law,” but not under the ministry of the Spirit. And without that indwelling grace of the Holy Spirit, man will never be able to attain to it. In the Old Covenant, remember, men were unable to even approach God. Moses would ascend the mountain and speak to God and then, with a veil over his face, return to tell the people what the Lord had spoken to him.
Under the New Covenant, however, God is fully present through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Each time we stand in prayer, through the Holy Spirit, we become as Moses when he ascended the mountain. There is no longer a veil to separate us, we approach God directly. When we worship, we join in the songs of the heavenly choirs. In the New Covenant, we are granted the grace of the Holy Spirit to ascend the mountain, to speak directly to God, to behold His glory. The Old Covenant was glorious in the presence of God, but under the New Covenant, we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God Himself. In realizing that, think how much more glorious the New Covenant must be.
My brethern, far too many of us still seek the Old Covenant. Like the countless Pharisees written of in sacred Scripture, we seek to read and learn everything that there is to know about God, but we never seek after Him. Jesus tells us to “seek after His kingdom and His righteousness,” and most of us are content to apply mathematical formulae and analytical reading to His word to figure out how we can make it mean what we wish, what makes sense in our finite minds. GK Chesterton warns us that between the logician and the poet, the logician is more likely to go mad, because while the poet seeks to get his head into the heavens, the logician seeks to get the heavens into his head. So it is with our theology. If we seek to know God, it will be given to us; if we seek to understand every detail about Him, we will either go mad, or create a new God based on our ability to understand Him. Further, we seek our own Moses. We seek a pastor or priest who will climb up the mountain for us and tell us their experience with God, or the miracles that God worked “somewhere else,” and we’re satisfied with that.
But that’s not the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Under the New Covenant, for those who trust through Christ in God, it has been given to us to ascend the mountain, to come into the presence of God, to experience Christ ourselves. Not merely being content to limit our relationship with Him to what we know about Him, but to actually know Him. Let us, my brethern, never reduce our God to a set of facts or merely historical events; but instead let us join in those heavenly choirs and experience our Lord as a very real, very powerful part of our lives.
The Old Covenant was engraved in stone and replaced the actual knowledge of God with written words telling us about Him and His expectations. Let us not repeat that mistake in the New Covenant with ink and paper. The written word of God is vital to our faith, but even it can become an idol. The Scripture, our prayers, Holy Tradition, the Church; it must all work in synergy to help us truly know God; being very careful to “not turn aside, to the right or to the left.” (Deuteronomy 5:32). We read through Scriptures through the lens of Holy Tradition, seeking guidance from the Church on it’s interpretation and application, and then in prayer ask God to help illumine our minds to receive that which we have learned; never neglecting His command to “cease from action and know that I am God.” (Psalm 45:11 LXX).
May we all abide in that command, and truly seek after His righteousness, knowing that we can be the very aroma that leads to life, if we trust through Christ in God. Let us all trust in God, and grow continually in our relationship with Him, and never mistake mere knowledge for maturity. Our faith is not merely in facts, it is in our growing relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, together with His Father who is without beginning, and His all Holy Good and Life Giving Spirit.
Christ is in our midst.