2 Corinthians 3:4-11
And such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
Confidence through Christ Toward God
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I have been accused of being arrogant, at times. Some of you will remember some of those occasions. I don't believe it is true, or that anyone who really knows me at all would say that it was, but I get accused of it periodically. I have been accused of being arrogant throughout my thirty years of ministry. It always seems odd to me because I feel so ill-equipped and unprepared and weak in my own mind. I struggle with the feeling that I am too timid to be a faithful servant of God. I haven't the courage to say the things that need to be said, because I want people to like me. I hate conflict and confrontation. I tiptoe around issues when I should thunder like the prophets of old. It doesn't work, of course. People still call me arrogant.
Mind you, I am not surprised. It used to surprise me, but it doesn't any more. I understand what they mean and why they call me arrogant. It has to do with knowing the truth, and being willing to call it the truth -- and being unwilling to deny it or compromise it. When one is unwilling to bend or compromise, it appears to many to be arrogance. When anyone claims to know absolute truth, that which is true for everyone whether they accept it as such or not, he or she is often viewed as arrogant.
And I do know the truth. I don't know every truth, or every detail of the truth, but I do know the Truth. And I am unwilling to compromise it. Actually, I am afraid to. God has said some pretty heavy- weight things about those who change His Word, or say, "Thus sayeth the Lord" when He hasn't spoken, or who fail to speak a Word of warning when He has. I will not compromise the truth - and I guess some people find that intimidating. They try to deal with their feelings, and try manipulate me, by throwing around the accusation that I am arrogant. They say it because I know - and dare to speak - the truth.
I call it confidence, although it is not personal confidence, but confidence in the Word of God, or as Paul puts it, Confidence through Christ toward God. And that is our theme this morning, Confidence through Christ toward God.
Paul had to deal with the accusation that he was arrogant, too, and that he was shamelessly promoting himself. Paul writes of the Corinthians that they are his "letter of commendation" from Christ to the church and to the world. But he is sensitive to the thought that people think he is bragging. So Paul writes, "And such confidence we have through Christ toward God." This is the heart of the passage. Paul confesses that in and of himself, he is not particularly adequate or competent for the task he is performing, and the work he does is not successful because of his talent or intelligence. He acknowledges, instead, that everything comes from God. His competence, and his success is God-worked. God has made him adequate to the task. He writes, "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God."
Similarly, when I preach, my confidence is not that I am something, but that God is at work through His Word. The good things that may happen here are not Pastor Fish's doing, but God's work. My adequacy and my confidence are from God. If I measure up to the task, it is the gracious working of God on your behalf.
That is the truth of the Holy Ministry. No one who holds the office of the ministry is competent for the task, in and of himself. Our adequacy is also from God. Surely there are pastors that you have liked more than others. Some were better speakers. Some were just wonderful at calling on people and making them feel right at home. Some fit in like a glove, while others may have seemed odd and out of place. The truth, however, is that whether you like them or not, the power and adequacy for doing the work of the ministry is God-given. Faith does not come by the eloquence of the preacher, or his intellectual arguments, or his personal appeal. Faith comes by hearing, and that hearing is by the Word of God.
We confess that much in the Small Catechism, in the meaning to the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed, "I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ or come to Hm; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me, just as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it in Christ Jesus in the one true faith."
God must create faith, because, "a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." So, our faith does not depend on us OR on the skill of the preacher, but on God. As long as your pastor is faithful and teaches the whole counsel of God faithfully, God is at work through him, making him adequate for the work which God has called him to do and granting the success which God Himself has planned for His Word in this place.
Of course, the pastor must preach the whole counsel of God - both the Law and the Gospel. That is what the part of the text is about when Paul writes about the ministry of condemnation and the ministry of righteousness. Paul first writes about the Law. He calls it "the ministry of death." He describes it as "engraved in letters on stone." That is Mt. Sinai. He says that the Law came with glory -- such glory that the Children of Israel could not stand to look at the shining face of Moses. He had to cover his face for a time, until the reflected glory of God faded. Paul writes about the Law that "letter kills." That is the work of the Law. It condemns us. There is theological maxim - "lex semper accusat" - "the law always accuses". It always finds us guilty of sin.
"And the wages of sin is death." Our sin, revealed so clearly by the Law, causes death and makes us worthy of death -- and not just death of the body, but that eternal death which we call hell -- which is more than just being "dead and gone" and unconscious of everything forever. It is misery, regret and condemnation. That is why the work of the Law is called the "Ministry of Condemnation".
And the Law is true. It came with glory, and still possesses the glory of being God's own will and law. And yet such truth and glory is not enough. The Law has no power to save us, only to kill us. In another place, Paul tells us that "the Law was even given in order that sin might increase." That does not mean that the purpose of that was that we might become more sinful - that is impossible since we are totally corrupted by sin. The purpose for the Law was that we would see our sinfulness, recognize our corruption and helplessness in sin, learn our deserved condemnation, and despair of our own righteousness and of our own ability to save ourselves.
All of which is why we needed a Savior. The Law always accuses and always condemns and leaves us no hope. But God wants us to live, and to have hope, and to trust in Him. So, He sent Jesus. Jesus accomplished what we could not. He kept the whole will and Law of God perfectly -- without failure or sin or exception. He earned life where we had earned death. Because He is true man He was able to earn life, just as He was liable to death if He had sinned. Because He is true God His obedience was of sufficient worth to exchange for all sin. His life was of ample value to cover all of our lives. His death was sufficient ransom for all of us. "By His stripes, we are healed," as Isaiah the prophet said.
Now, everyone that knows what God has done, and who takes Him at His Word that Jesus was full payment and who also trusts God to do all that He has promised to do for the sake of Jesus Christ, has the gift of the Holy Spirit within them. In fact, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we believe. That is "the ministry of the Holy Spirit," "the letter of the spirit, written in our hearts," which Paul describes in our text. "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved". We who believe have life everlasting already, and will rise from our graves on that great day when Jesus returns to wrap up time and end the world and create for His people new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness and glory dwell. Which is why the Gospel is called "the ministry of righteousness."
It is the ministry of Christ's righteousness, which works righteousness in us and for us and through us. The Holy Spirit makes those in whom He dwells holy. And it is glorious, for it is life and salvation for us all -- all that believe. And so, although the Law is true, and perfect and glorious, and came with great glory, it cannot hold a candle to the gospel. The gospel is as much better than the law than life is better than death. The glory of the Law, which is great, is overwhelmed by the glory of salvation and of the Gospel like a candle, which serve quite well as a light at night is overwhelmed by the bright light of the sun shining in broad daylight. You cannot always even see that the candle is lit, if the sunshine is bright enough. So, when we compare the Law with the Gospel, the truth and glory of the Law are simply not enough.
The Law is still true, and good. But the Gospel is better. It is not 'more true', it is merely also true, but with so much more wonderful a result. Forgiveness trumps condemnation, and the righteousness received by grace through faith trumps sinfulness, and eternal life trumps death. This is all received by those who believe, the gift of God, worked through the Gospel. It is faith that Paul describes as Confidence through Christ toward God - confidence in forgiveness and salvation, and confidence for this life here and now.
And we must always keep in mind that our participation in all of this is not by our choice but by the grace of God. We are adequate for salvation because of we are made adequate by Christ. And so, with Paul we confess, "such is our confidence through Christ towards God."
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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