Paul and Timothy were suffering affliction for their faith and for their testimonies for Jesus Christ and for his gospel of salvation. They were sharing abundantly in Christ’s sufferings. Their affliction was great, and at one point they were so severely burdened beyond their own strength that they despaired of life itself.
But they had the attitude that their suffering was so that they could comfort others who were being afflicted with the comfort they received from Christ in their affliction. If they were afflicted, they believed it was for the comfort and salvation of the saints of God, who were their fellow believers in Jesus Christ. They also saw that their sufferings’ purpose was to make them rely not on themselves but on God who raises the dead. Amen!
So, it appeared that their affliction came largely in the way of false accusations and persecutions. So, Paul also said, in good conscience, that they behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, which he said came not by way of worldly wisdom but by the grace of God (2 Co 1:1-12).
Then, a little farther, he spoke of how he and Timothy were being used of God to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere, i.e. they were sharing with others the truth of the gospel of our salvation and the whole counsel of God.
Among those who were being saved and among those who were perishing, Paul and Timothy were the aroma of Christ to God. To those who were perishing, their words fell on deaf ears, they did not combine what they heard with faith, and it ended in death. To those who were being saved, the words they heard were life to them, and they applied them to their lives, and that ended in eternal life with God (2 Co 2:14-17; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17).
2 Corinthians 3:1-3 ESV
“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
So, this is what came next after Paul’s discussion about them spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. So, obviously they were still facing false accusations and persecutions for what they were sharing. So, Paul was called upon again to give a defense for what they were doing.
Rather than going into massive detail to prove that what they were teaching was the truth, and not false, his proof that he offered to show that they were teaching truth was the hearts and lives of those who received Jesus Christ, who received the word, who applied it to their lives, and who were bearing fruit consistent with the truth of God’s word.
You know that saying, “the proof is in the pudding”? It means something like “actions speak louder than words.” It means our lives and how we live them give testimony to the truth of what we believe when we put God’s word into practice in our lives and we don’t just mouth empty words.
2 Corinthians 3:4-6 ESV
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
Paul and Timothy did not boast in themselves. They didn’t go around saying, “Look at me and all that I am doing!” They didn’t take credit or the glory for what God was doing in and through them. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t state what they were doing, for at least Paul did, but they gave all the glory and credit to God, from whom it all came.
And this is the attitude that all of us should have about ministry or about anything we do that we receive from God such as talents, spiritual gifts, and ministry opportunities, etc. Well, actually, we should give God all the praise and all the glory even for the breath of life or a place to lay our heads at night or for food in our stomachs, etc.
But regarding ministry, specifically the ministry of sharing the gospel, it must come from God and from his word, and our sufficiency for doing the work of the ministry must also come from God or we are just blowing smoke. For flesh gives birth to flesh but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
So, when this speaks of the New Covenant, which is not of the letter but of the Spirit, this is not talking about doing away with our Lord’s commandments nor is it saying that we don’t have to obey God. For, if it is of the Spirit of God, then we will obey the Lord, we will repent of our sins, and we will surrender our lives to Jesus Christ and make him our Lord.
Remember what Jesus said about adultery? He said that to lust after someone (to whom we are not married) is to commit adultery in our hearts. So, he didn’t reduce the severity of God’s moral law. He expanded it to include even our thought lives. He demonstrated here the spirit of the law, which is of the Spirit, and that is that adultery is wrong no matter what form it takes. It is still adultery even if we just think it.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Those who have veiled faces are not believers in Jesus Christ. Their minds are still hardened against the Lord. Only through genuine faith in Jesus Christ can that veil be lifted and can we truly see the glory of God.
There are many people, though, who are professing faith in Jesus Christ, but whose hearts are still hardened to the truth of his gospel. They will not surrender their lives to the Lord, they will not submit to his Lordship over their lives, they refuse to leave their lives of sin behind them, and they refuse to walk in obedience to his commands. They are not free!!
We are only set free of our sins by God’s Spirit when we surrender our lives to the Lord to die with him to sin that we might live to him and to his righteousness. If we don’t die to sin, then we can’t live to God. We can’t be born again of the Spirit of God unless we are first crucified with Christ in death to sin (Lu 9:23-26; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; Eph 4:17-24).
So, the freedom we have in the Spirit is not freedom to keep on living in sin, only now without guilt, nor is it merely the freedom from the punishment of sin so we can go to heaven when we die. It is freedom from slavery (bondage, addiction) to sin, so we now become slaves of His righteousness.
Eternal Father, Strong to Save
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm does bind the restless wave,
Who bids the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.
O Savior, whose almighty word
The winds and waves submissive heard,
Who walked upon the foaming deep,
And calm amid the rage did sleep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.
O Trinity of love and pow’r,
Your children shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire, and foe,
Protect them where-so-e’er they go;
Thus, evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.
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