Vol. IX — No. 37 September 15, 1968
2 Corinthians 3:4-ll
And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; 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. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to he done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
In Christ Jesus, whose Gospel is the “dynamite of God” unto salvation and who makes His ministers effective through the use of that Gospel, Fellow Redeemed:
St. Paul found himself under attack in Corinth as a minister of the Gospel. He was moved by the Spirit of God to defend himself. In so doing he gives us most valuable insights into understanding the causes for the effectiveness of a Gospel minister.
Every minister of the Gospel can join Paul in the words: “How thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ.” That Gospel always triumphs; it never fails. That means, then, that the preacher of the Gospel also always triumphs and never fails. How can that be? Paul continues, “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life.” The imagery is taken from the triumphal procession of a returning military victor. Flowers adorned the way and sweet incense was burned. This the victor smelled, for the fragrance filled the air. But the conquered, the victims, who were chained to the chariots of the victors and dragged through the streets, smelled the same scent of the flowers and incense. Only for them it was the smell of death, for at the end of the festivities they were executed. So it is also with the Gospel. It is either the savour of death unto death or life unto life. In some the Gospel works faith and so brings life—forgiveness, deliverance from death and the devil. In others the Gospel works death. They are lost. But why? For one reason—they have rejected the Gospel which alone can save.
“Who is sufficient for these things?” Paul asks. Who is able always to be a victor? Paul answers freely and frankly: “We are!” What is his secret of unfailing triumph? ” For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” Paul and his associates did not try to adapt the More of God to the whims and fancies of their hearers. They proclaimed it as it ever is. And that Hard manifested its power.
It is to this thought that Paul returns in our text. A preacher of the Gospel, even though he suffer a martyr’s death, is always triumphant. What is the source of his effectiveness? Let us hear the words of St. Paul as he tells us that—
“And such trust—or confidence—have we through Christ to God-ward.” Paul has the confidenca of unfailing triumph and victory as a Gospel preacher. “Who is sufficient for these things?” he had asked. And he had answered, “We are!” How he continues his thought, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” The sufficiency of a preacher, his effectiveness as a preacher of the Gospel, does not originate in himself. It does not depend upon anything in himself. There had been those who had come to Corinth with a great show of human wisdom. There had been those who had come with eloquence and great oratorical skills. But Paul disavows any natural talent or acquired skill as the cause of a preacher’s effectiveness, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think—or to claim—any thing as of ourselves!”
It is a pity, yea a tragedy, that pulpit committees don’t spend some time and thought and prayer over this one sentence of Paul. Pulpit committees can so easily become completely engrossed in a candidate’s speaking ability, general appearance, age, family, ability as a mixer or as an organizer, ability as a youth leader and so on and on. No natural abilities and no acquired skills can produce effectiveness that God wants in a preacher of His Gospel. Certain it is that a good speaker can attract crowds, a good mixer can bring in people, a good administrator can whip up the finances of the congregation and push its programs along, a good youth worker can rally the youth around him. But all of this is superficial. It attracts a good deal of attention. People go for it. But it by no means indicates that the preacher is effective in the way and in the manner that God wants him to be effective. For the God-desired effectiveness of a preacher never depends upon anything within the preacher. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves!”
The Gospel is foolishness to the Greeks, to the intellectuals, to the mind of man. The greatest orator on earth cannot work faith in a single human heart. A preacher may have personality that just bubbles over, but it cannot attract one soul to Christ. So it is, for “our sufficiency is of God.” He makes preachers effective through His Word, but note this: The God-desired effectiveness of a preacher—
That is due to the nature of the law. But let us permit Paul to speak. “Our sufficiency is of God: 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.” Notice that Paul is contrasting the new testament with what he calls “the letter,” which was “engraven in stones.” He is referring to the law which Hoses received from God on Mt. Sinai. That law was given in connection with God’s glory. Think of that memorable scene when all Israel was gathered at the foot of the mount. Moses reports, “And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And…the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and vexed louder and louder…” Ex. 19:18-19. Paul didn’t refer to this first giving of the law, but rather to the second time Moses went Up into the mount after he had broken the two tables of stone. When he returned that second time, his face shone so brightly that the people were afraid of him and he had to put a veil over his face. The law was given in connection with glory, and it had a certain glory all of its own.
What was its nature? Paul describes it in this way. He speaks of it as “the letter” which “killeth.” He calls it a “ministration of death” and a “ministration of condemnation.” The law is a reflection of the holiness of God in demands and prohibitions. It demands and it forbids. It promises life to those who fulfill all its demands and avoid what it prohibits. But it threatens death to all who fail to respond to its demands or fail to respect its prohibitions. Do and do not! Live by the law or die! The letter of law killeth. It’s a ministration of death and condemnation. Why? Because there has never been a person naturally born into this world who can do what the law demands and leave undone what the law forbids. We have all gone astray. There is none that doeth good, no not one. The best that we have to offer God is as filthy rags in His sight. Having done the very best that we can, we must confess ourselves unprofitable servants. This is the effect of the law. It exposes us as sinners. It threatens; it condemns; it kills; it drives to despair. No man ever has been or can be justified by the law!
What a message of doom! Certainly this preaching cannot produce the effect that God wants or intended! Yet the world is full of law preachers. What they really are is law-perverters. The letter kills; it can’t give the power to live according to its demands. The ministration of the law is a ministration of the law is a ministration of death and condemnation to hell, for it makes each and every one guilty in the sight of God. Why are there still so many law-preachers? Because they pervert the law, preaching it in such a way that people are led to believe that if they try hard enough they are able to please God with their law works. They proclaim the law as though God had said, “Do the best you can,” instead of, “Ye shall be holy!” They proclaim the law as though God had promised, “I’ll be satisfied with your best efforts,” instead of, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die!” These law-preachers or law-perverters are the moralists, the do-gooders, the people who have reduced the will of God to a superficial set of “dos and don’ts.” They come by the thousands and have followers by; the tens of thousands. They are blind leaders of the blind. They make people secure in their paltry efforts and so plunge them into eternal destruction. Woe be to the preacher who tells people, “You can,” when they can’t! Hoe be to the preacher who sets up his own set of rules and regulations and promises life if people follow. Woe be to the preachers who make people think they can do what sin has made impossible for them to do. Such preachers can never achieve any God-desired effectiveness, for that effectiveness never comes from preaching the law—glorious thought it is.
The God-desired effectiveness of a preacher comes not from the preaching of the law,
Paul speaks of himself as a “minister of the new testament.” The nature of that message is “Spirit”—the Spirit who gives life. He is conducting a ministration of the Spirit, which is a ministration of righteousness. The law demands, threatens, condemns, kills in time and eternally. The Gospel offers and gives the very righteousness that the law demands. No man can live righteously according to the law. That is why God commissioned His Son. The law kept looking for and crying for someone to fulfill its demands and obey its prohibitions. God sent His Son. Jesus came. He was put under the law. He obligated himself to fulfill its every demand. This He did—from the eighth day of His life when He was circumcised according to the law till the moment of His death when He yielded up His spirit into the hands of His Father. He spent His life weaving for us a robe of righteousness. That righteousness He offers unrighteous sinners in the Gospel. With the offer He gives the strength to accept and appropriate His righteousness to ourselves.
When this happens, the God-desired effect of the Gospel is achieved in man. We gather here as sinners made saints, as unrighteous declared righteous, as aliens who have been made children of God, as guilty who have been declared innocent, as condemned who have been set free, as those dying and sentenced to eternal death who have had their sentence commuted to life in abundance here and life eternal hereafter. We have been changed from slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness. He still have our sinful flesh, but we have within us a stronger power, for Christ dwells in us. We find within us a new man who fights against our flesh, who responds to the word and Hill of the Lord, who directs us in the paths of righteousness. This is what our God wants to achieve in man. And this is what a preacher does achieve when he preaches the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have we not experienced these blessed effects of Gospel preaching in our midst? Have we not seen our dying comforted not with a false security in his own righteousness but with the righteousness of Christ? Have we not seen the tears of mourners wiped dry with the certainty of hope that salvation in Christ brings? Have we not seen fruits of faith: offerings given in free response to the love of God in Christ with no coarse or even subtle pressures applied? Do we not have people willing to travel miles and miles, willing to sacrifice convenience, willing to turn their backs upon churches that they have attended and supported for the greater part of a lifetime—for the sake of faithfulness to the Truth and For the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word proclaimed? Let us appreciate the blessings that have fallen to us. Let us redouble our efforts to share with others that which has been entrusted to us. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.