A Ministry of Death or Life

Title: A Ministry of Death or Life

Bible Book: 2 Corinthians 3 : 7-11

Author: Dennis M. Davidson

Subject: Life and Death; Ministry of Life and Death



See also Exodus 34:29-35 / Hebrews 9:11–28; 10:11–22.

In our study on 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 we again heard that by works of law no one shall be justified or sanctified (Gal. 2:16, 3:11). Only by accepting Christ is a man justified and only by being obedient to His Spirit can man be sanctified. The law can give no one life but brings condemnation to those who break it. Life comes from the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who is the only law-keeper, to those who will receive His transforming new heart by receiving Him.

Tonight we find Paul contrasting the glory of the Ten Commandments with the glory of the life-giving Spirit. If the Law that leads to death was glorious, how much more glorious is God’s plan to give us life through His Spirit (CIT)!


The superiority of the new covenant is argued on three counts. The first found in verses 7 & 8 is that the ministry of the Spirit is more splendid than the ministry that brought death. “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,”

“The Ministry of death” is here defined as letters engraved on stone or the Ten Commandments. The design and effect of the law was to kill, to prove man guilty of condemnation. It certified man a transgressor because he broke this law. Through the law sin receives its strength and power against man (1 Cor. 15:56; Galatians 3:10), for it would not establish as wrong if there was no law against it. Yet this ministry of death had glory. When Moses descended from the mountain with the Ten Commandments after conversing with God, his face shone with the glory of this encounter.His face was so radiant that the people were afraid to approach him (Ex. 34:29-30). This is part of the glory of the giving of the Law and it impressed the people.

Moses is view as the minister of the Covenant of death because he was the agent through whom God delivered it to the people and God delivered it with glory (Ex. 19:16-20). God’s glory was seen in the countenance of Moses. Apparently this radiance would fade, or pass away, over time until Moses again would go into the Tabernacle of God’s Presence and meet with God. Moses glory was an outward brightness because the people were directed to follow external regulation; the rituals, the priesthood, the Temple, the Sacrifices.

Today we have an inward glory because God lives within and it is permanent because God is eternally with us. [The Greek word for glory, doxa, refers to the splendor of God’s manifest presence.]

If this ministry of death so manifested the glory of God, verse 8 asks will not the ministry of the Spirit be far more glorious? “how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?”

Because Moses’ glory was a fading glory the argument advances the superiority of the unfading, unfailing New Covenant. The glory of the Old Covenant is not to be compared with that of the New. The glory of the old was external, radiated on Moses face from the Shekinah Glory of God’s presence, the Spirit’s glory is intimate and internal as well. The Spirit’s Shekinah shines from within us, the light of God’s presence filling the soul. The former was transcendent, impermanent glory for over the course of time Moses face faded. Moses, the mediator of the Law, in the course of time was removed by death. Jesus Christ, the abiding light in every believing heart is the eternal mediator of the New Covenant.

Since the glory of the old faded into insignificance the ministry of a Christian is marked by the Spirit, not the Law. It is the ministry of the Spirit to make one righteous, something that the law cannot do (Heb 9:11–28; 10:11–22).


The second argument for superiority of the new covenant found in verse 9 is that the ministry that brings righteousness is more splendid than the ministry that condemns. “For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.

The Law was not given for the purpose of salvation for there is no salvation through obedience to the law. The law produces condemnation. It reveals our bondage to an unpayable indebtedness (Col. 2:14), and it is a yoke too heavy to bear (Gal.5:1; Acts 15:10)[, and a guardian that disciplines (Gal. 4:1-5)]. The Ministry of the Law brings condemnation because natural man is unable to obey the Law. This condemnation is just consequences for all who break the Law. Yet it was glorious because by the Law we knew-know right and wrong and it shows us how far short we fall. It is like a mirror that reveals how dirty our faces really are. The ministry of the Law gives no one who accepts it the power to live by it. But the one who will accept Christ Jesus will be given the power to live righteously like Christ lived.

Christ is the believers righteousness (1Cor. 1:30) and this ministry of the gospel brings righteousness. First it brings righteousness through justification because Christ’s obedience is imputed to the sinner on the ground that the penalty of the sinner’s disobedience has been paid for by Christ who suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous (1Pet. 3:18). Then it is a ministry of righteousness in sanctification because the Holy Spirit causes the believer to grow more and more in obedience to the Word and likeness to Christ (Eph 4:13,15).

Thus the Spirit does more than justifies us, He sanctifies us, He causes us to live righteously. In accordance with the New Covenant, God’s Law is written on the believer’s heart and overcoming power is granted, based on following Christ’s Lordship. In the Spirit’s power the believer fulfills not simply the law but the will of God. Before the law the sinner is guilty and powerless, shut up in condemnation and judgment. But by the Gospel he is offered forgiveness and power to live righteously and eternally. The ministry of the New Covenant produces righteousness and changed lives, to the glory of God!

Verse 10 places the comparison between the covenants on an eternal scale. “For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it.”

When the glory of Moses ministering the Law is compared to Christ ministering the Gospel, Moses’ ministry must pale into insignificance. When the brightness of the sun shines you have no need of a flashlight or the moon. When the righteousness of Christ is revealed it exceedingly out shines the righteousness of the law. The glory of Moses and the law was temporary though real. The glory of the old dispensation dimmed into nothingness by the brightness of the new. Moses had a temporary shining. Jesus is glorified eternally by all the glory of God. Christ as the Son of Righteousness has out splendored Moses into paleness. Just like the Gospel of Grace through faith out shines the Law (Heb 13:20).

In some ways the Mosaic law is to the Christian what a crutch is to an athlete. It is good when needed and used properly. But a crutch cannot be employed to win a l00-yard dash, nor can leaning on a system of legal statements ever bring us spiritual victory.

The diminishing splendor of the Old Testament law is emphasized by comparing it to the surpassing glory of life and liberty in the Spirit. Referring to Moses' shining face after he had been given the Ten Commandments, the apostle likened the fading bright­ness of his countenance to the tempo­rary and incomplete nature of the Sinai disclosures he had received. The peo­ple of Israel would soon discover that God's message from the mount was also the standard by which they would be condemned.

Where the Holy Spirit reigns, however, there is abundant grace, and its splendor far exceeds that of the law. Imagine lighting a match in a completely dark place. The sudden burst of flame provides an impressive display of light. But if you struck a match in the presence of the noonday sun, its flickering, rays would seem insignificant. The commandments were demanding and ultimately they condemned; but life in the Spirit brings the experience of God's transforming power into our heart. The diminishing splendor of the law is no match for the glory of God's grace.


The third argument for superiority of the new covenant found in verse 11 is that the ministry which lasts has more splendid than that which was fading away. “For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.”

If this transient and temporary ministry of death was glorious, will not the permanent and continuous ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? Notice it says the Old Covenant fades away because at that time they were in an overlapping of ages. The Covenant of Grace had just been inaugurated yet the Temple services still were on going. Those services ended by 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. Should the Temple be rebuilt and the priesthood reinstituted, there would be no glory, no Shekinah glory dwelling in the holy of holies. The Law of Moses is a religion with a most glorious past, but it has no glory to day. The light is gone and only dim shadows remain (Col. 2:16-17).

The Gospel of Grace has come and it has permanent glory. The ministry of the Spirit is a ministry of eternal glory (Heb. 13:20). Does that mean the Law is wrong or that there is any error in the Law? No. But the binding authority of the law ceased with its fulfillment and the offered Salvation through Jesus Christ. Yet this Gospel which did away with the authority of the law is never to be superceded (Gal.5:18).


The ministry of the Old Covenant, in which the law condemned transgressors, faded away at the coming of Christ. The ministry of the New Covenant is carried out in the power of the Spirit; it gives people a right standing before God, and it lasts because it will not be superseded by another. The ministry of Grace is internal (3:1-3), it brings life (4-6), and it creates increasing glory (7-11) for those who abide in Christ. What wondrous comfort and security there is for the Christian in the knowledge that:

Ours is an everlasting Gospel, Rev. 14:14.

Ours is an everlasting Covenant, Heb. 13:20.

Ours is an everlasting Salvation, Heb. 5:9.


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