Autumn Bible Study (2 Corinthians 3:3-11; 16-18)

By Helen Lambert

What do you like best about Autumn?  For some, it is the bountiful ending of Summer – the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, with its ripening fruit, beautiful berries and glorious colours.  For others, it is a beginning rather than an ending – the start of a new school year, or perhaps even a new school, maybe a new job, the start of a new season.  This year, that newness is being felt even more keenly as we venture out into the “new normal” of living with COVID.  What aspects of life have you been forced to re-think as you emerge from the restrictions of the past 18 months?  Have things “gone back to normal”, or has everything changed?  Have any changes been for the better?  For Christians in general, and for those of us at St Mary’s in particular, we are challenged to consider what this might mean for the church?  Could this be a God-given opportunity to re-think what the church should look like?  Do we meet God in the security of the past, and “get back to normal” as quickly as possible?  Or do we step into whatever re-imagined future he might be wanting to lead us into, building on our traditions without being tied to them?

In this month’s reading, taken from one of Paul’s letters to the fledgling church in Corinth, Paul focuses on the “new way” versus the “old way”. 

It is a tricky passage to understand without some background:  Paul begins by talking about the Covenant, or agreement, which God made with the people of Israel, and particularly about the Law (commandments) which he gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, and which were carved on tablets of stone (v7).  This Law was God’s most precious gift to his people, for it revealed his heart and his will for them and showed them how they were to live in relationship with Him and with each other.  Moreover, it was revealed to them by Moses, who met with God “as one meets with a friend” (Exodus 33:11).  When Moses returned from meeting God, he would have to wear a veil over his face because he was so radiant (v7)! The Covenant was that if the people kept God’s Law, he would be their God and bless them.  However, as the whole story of the Old Testament reveals, God’s people were unable to live according to God’s ways, so the Law that should have brought them life and blessing, instead brought “condemnation” (v9).

So, was the “old way” (v7) good or bad?  Count how many times the word “glory” or “glorious” appears in this passage?  How many of these are associated with the “old way”?

It is clear that God’s Law was indeed “glorious” – and was intended to be life-giving to those who received it.  It was nothing less than God’s revelation of himself in written form.  However, Paul revealed to them a “new way” that was even more glorious (v9)!  What does he tell us about this new way?  Where does it come from and why is it so much more glorious?

Firstly, the new way comes from the Holy Spirit, who is the presence of God himself in our lives (v8; v17).  Like the Law, it is God’s revelation to us, but unlike the Law, it is written on our hearts (v3). Secondly, the new way “makes us right with God” (v9) in a way that the old way was unable to.  No wonder it is more glorious!  Finally, we read that the new way has replaced the old way and, in contrast to it, the new way will last for ever (v11).

So Paul honours the “old way”, acknowledging how wonderful it was, but he does not want the believers to be tied to it when the new way is so much better in every way.  Are there any lessons here for the church?  Perhaps you can share your thoughts with us!

Lest we are tempted to embrace novelty for novelty’s sake (or indeed, hold on to the past for its own sake), the final verses of chapter 3 remind us of our calling and purpose as the people of God.  Like Moses, we are to reflect the glory or God as we ourselves are changed by His Spirit to become more and more like His Son Jesus.  Moses’ radiance (see above) was a reflection of his relationship with God – may we too, as individuals and as the church, reflect God’s glory in our community.

“Whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away…so all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord.  And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”(v16;18)

(2 Corinthians 3:3-11; 16-18)

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

16 But whenever anyone 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 freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

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