The Ministry of Death- 2 Corinthians 3:7

In this passage, Paul begins by referring to the law as a “ministry”. The word ministry here in the Greek is diakonia, which literally means “to serve”. The law is also referred to here as a “ministry of death”. How, then, could anything that “brings death” be of service to us? Paul is pointing out for us here the nature of the law, the law cannot save anyone, the law cannot bring life. The law can only bring death, but the idea of the law bringing death (as in the NIV translation, which adds the words “that brought” to the text) is not quite accurate. The law does not “bring death”. The law does not “kill” us, it merely makes us aware that we are dead, and this always is its function. This fact is key in understanding the passage we are about to examine. We also find here that the law “came with glory”. The law is glorious because it comes from God, it is a reflection of His character, of who He is. The law shows us what God is like, and what we are to be like as well. Paul here relates for us the story of Moses receiving of the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai. As Moses descended down the mountain, his face literally glowed (from being in the presence of God), and he had to cover himself with a veil to keep from blinding the Israelites at the bottom of the mountain. Paul also tells us here that this glory was “fading”. The farther Moses got from the presence of God, the more the glory faded. It is important to understand here that the idea Paul intends to communicate here is that Moses had no glory of his own, that any glory he displayed was only a reflected glory. Only God truly has glory, only He is truly glorious, and any glory found in anyone or anything else is merely a reflection of God’s glory. The closer one gets to God, the more His glory will be reflected through them, and, just like Moses here, the farther one gets from God, the more the glory fades. The law, then, came with glory because it came from God and is a reflection of Him. The question we must ask, then, is what did Moses experience in the presence of God? We get a clue from Isaiah, who “saw the Lord seated on a throne” (Isaiah 6:1), and responded by saying “Woe is me. I am ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). We can surmise that the reaction of Moses would have been similar to that of Isaiah, that being in the presence of one who is completely holy and righteous would serve to point out to us all of our shortcomings. This is further supported by Paul’s mention of the law as “coming with glory”, for the function of the law is not to make us aware of how “holy” we are, but to make us aware of our shortcomings as well. This is why Paul refers to the law here as a ministry, because the law shows us where we come up short, it shows us not that we are “holy”, but rather that we are sinners in need of a savior. Moses experience in the presence of God served to point out to him his flaws and shortcomings (more on that in a later post), and the law, as a reflection of God and His glory, serves to do so as well. The law never came to bring salvation, it came to make those who hear it aware of their need for a savior. The law also never came to bring sanctification, something better would come to do that, which we will examine more closely in our next post. The law is referred to as a “ministry” because it serves us by pointing out our flaws and shortcomings, by showing us what God is truly like, and that we do not “measure up”, that we are not worthy to stand in His presence. The law serves not to condemn us, but to make us aware that we are already condemned, that we come up short of God’s standard, that our response to hearing it would be to respond as Isaiah did, to conclude that we are of “unclean lips”. This is the purpose of the law, and once it has served its purpose, it is to be replaced by something better, something which does not serve to condemn but to “bring righteousness” (verse 9), to bring a glory which does not “fade away”, but grows continually as we walk in the ministry which brings righteousness, which we will examine in our next post.

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