Lesson 23 | Sabbath, 7 December 2019
“The greatest difficulty Paul had to meet arose from the influence of Judaizing teachers. These made him much trouble by causing dissension in the church at Corinth. They were continually presenting the virtues of the ceremonies of the law, exalting these ceremonies above the gospel of Christ, and condemning Paul because he did not urge them upon the new converts.
“Paul met them on their own ground. ‘If the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious,’ he said, ‘so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.’ 2 Corinthians 3:7-9.” –Selected Messages, book 1, p. 236.
The best possible letter of recommendation
1. In carrying out His ministry among the believers, what did the apostle Paul present to them? But what did he consider more exalted than this?
2 Corinthians 3:1-3 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? 2Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: 3Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart.
“It is not enough for you to avoid the appearance of evil; you must go farther than this; you must ‘learn to do well.’ Isaiah 1:17. You must represent Christ to the world. It must be your daily study how you can learn to work the works of God. His followers are to be living epistles, ‘known and read of all men.’ 2 Corinthians 3:2.” –Messages to Young People, p. 348.
“We are ambassadors for Christ, and we are to live, not to save our reputation, but to save perishing souls from perdition. Our daily endeavor should be to show them that they may gain truth and righteousness. Instead of trying to elicit sympathy for ourselves by giving others the impression that we are not appreciated, we are to forget self entirely; and if we fail to do this, through want of spiritual discernment and vital piety, God will require at our hands the souls of those for whom we should have labored. He has made provision that every worker in His service may have grace and wisdom, that he may become a living epistle, known and read of all men.” –Counsels on Health, p. 560.
2. What ministers presented letters of recommendation to the people they met? What would be the result of any ministry that preached salvation through human works, even if they were based on the letter of the law? Without Christ, can the letter of the law justify or save anyone?
2 Corinthians 3:4-6 And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: 5Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; 6Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
Romans 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
“The law of God, spoken in awful grandeur from Sinai, is the utterance of condemnation to the sinner. It is the province of the law to condemn, but there is in it no power to pardon or to redeem. It is ordained to life; those who walk in harmony with its precepts will receive the reward of obedience. But it brings bondage and death to those who remain under its condemnation.” –Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 236, 237.
“We should consider earnestly and continually the excellence of the character of Jesus Christ, and we may impart His blessings, and lead men to follow in His footsteps. If the ministers of Christ would do this, there would be no reason for deploring their inefficiency. If they came to the people filled with the meekness and lowliness of Christ, knowing what it is to grow up into the full stature of men in Christ Jesus, power would attend their labors, and people would receive impressions from their association with them that would be of eternal benefit…. ‘Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart….’ 2 Corinthians 3:3. The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” –Signs of the Times, July 10, 1893.
3. Why did the apostle call the ministration of the law engraved in stones the ministration of death? If someone were to preach only the law, could he hope to receive justification and salvation by doing this? What kind of a ministry would that be?
2 Corinthians 3:7, 8 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: 8How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?
“So sacred and so glorious is the law, that when Moses returned from the holy mount, where he had been with God, receiving from His hand the tables of stone, his face reflected a glory upon which the people could not look without pain, and Moses was obliged to cover his face with a veil.
“The glory that shone on the face of Moses was a reflection of the righteousness of Christ in the law. The law itself would have no glory, only that in it Christ is embodied. It has no power to save. It is lusterless only as in it Christ is represented as full of righteousness and truth….
“The ministration of the law, written and engraved in stone, was a ministration of death. Without Christ, the transgressor was left under its curse, with no hope of pardon. The ministration had of itself no glory, but the promised Saviour, revealed in the types and shadows of the ceremonial law, made the moral law glorious.” –Selected Messages, book 1, p. 237.
Two opposite ministries
4. Why did the apostle Paul call the sacrificial system a ministry of condemnation? What ended when Jesus died and the veil in the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom?
2 Corinthians 3:9-11 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. 10For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. 11For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
Galatians 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
Ephesians 2:7, 8 That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
“The types and shadows of the sacrificial service, with the prophecies, gave the Israelites a veiled, indistinct view of the mercy and grace to be brought to the world by the revelation of Christ. To Moses was unfolded the significance of the types and shadows pointing to Christ. He saw to the end of that which was to be done away when, at the death of Christ, type met antitype. He saw that only through Christ can man keep the moral law. By transgression of this law man brought sin into the world, and with sin came death. Christ became the propitiation for man’s sin. He proffered His perfection of character in the place of man’s sinfulness. He took upon Himself the curse of disobedience. The sacrifices and offerings pointed forward to the sacrifice He was to make. The slain lamb typified the Lamb that was to take away the sin of the world.
“It was seeing the object of that which was to be done away, seeing Christ as revealed in the law, that illumined the face of Moses.” –Selected Messages, book 1, p. 237.
“Then the veil of the temple was rent in twain, showing that the sacredness and significance of the sacrificial service had departed. The time had come for the earthly sacrifice and oblation to cease.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 233.
5. Rejecting salvation by grace and also the Redeemer who suffered for them, what happened in the minds of many Jews? Whom should they have acknowledged so the veil could be removed?
2 Corinthians 3:12-14 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: 13And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: 14But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.
“Paul declared, ‘Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: but their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.’ 2 Corinthians 3:12-16.
“The Jews refused to accept Christ as the Messiah, and they cannot see that their ceremonies are meaningless, that the sacrifices and offerings have lost their significance.” –Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 238, 239.
An obstacle and the solution
6. Although the Jewish leaders read the prophecies telling that the Messiah would be sacrificed as the Lamb of God, what still remains in the minds of many Jews? But what can be said about many Christians who claim to accept Jesus while denying the validity of God’s holy law?
2 Corinthians 3:15, 16 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. 16Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.
“The veil drawn by themselves [the Jews] in stubborn unbelief is still before their minds. It would be removed if they would accept Christ, the righteousness of the law.
“Many in the Christian world also have a veil before their eyes and heart. They do not see to the end of that which was done away. They do not see that it was only the ceremonial law which was abrogated at the death of Christ. They claim that the moral law was nailed to the cross. Heavy is the veil that darkens their understanding. The hearts of many are at war with God. They are not subject to His law. Only as they shall come into harmony with the rule of His government, can Christ be of any avail to them. They may talk of Christ as their Saviour; but He will finally say to them, I know you not. You have not exercised genuine repentance toward God for the transgression of His holy law, and you cannot have genuine faith in Me, for it was My mission to exalt God’s law.” –Selected Messages, book 1, p. 239.
7. If we look to men’s ideas and opinions, will we be able to find the right way? Whom should we constantly keep before our eyes? What will happen if we behold Him in His glory?
2 Corinthians 3:17, 18 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
“Beholding the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, he finds the peace of Christ; for pardon is written against his name, and he accepts the Word of God, ‘Ye are complete in Him.’ Colossians 2:10. How hard is it for humanity, long accustomed to cherish doubt, to grasp this great truth! But what peace it brings to the soul, what vital life! In looking to ourselves for righteousness, by which to find acceptance with God, we look to the wrong place, ‘for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ Romans 3:23. We are to look to Jesus; for ‘we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory.’ 2 Corinthians 3:18. You are to find your completeness by beholding the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” –Faith and Works, p. 108.
For additional study
“It is not by looking away from Him that we imitate the life of Jesus, but by talking of Him, by dwelling upon His perfections, by seeking to refine the taste and elevate the character, by trying, through faith and love, and by earnest, persevering effort, to approach the perfect Pattern. By having a knowledge of Christ–His words, His habits, and His lessons of instruction–we borrow the virtues of the character we have so closely studied, and become imbued with the spirit we have so much admired. Jesus becomes to us ‘the chiefest among ten thousand,’ the One ‘altogether lovely.’ –Sons and Daughters of God, p. 235.
“Affection may be as clear as crystal and beauteous in its purity, yet it may be shallow because it has not been tested and tried. Make Christ first and last and best in everything. Constantly behold Him, and your love for Him will daily become deeper and stronger as it is submitted to the test of trial. And as your love for Him increases, your love for each other will grow deeper and stronger. ‘We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory.’ 2 Corinthians 3:18.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 46.