Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:4-11, for the 12th Sunday after Trinity (1 Year Lectionary), "Our Sufficiency is Christ"

Note: for the full audio of the sermon, check out my podcast. This is a limited outline.
Corinthian letters—1st to an immature, conflicted, error-filled church; yet still called “saints”. 2nd, to a more mature congregation, rejoicing over the reconciliations and growth that had happened in their midst, and reflecting on his own ministry to them.
4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. What is this confidence? Vs. 1-3 “do we need letters of recommendation (referral letters) among you? You  are our letter, written on human hearts by Christ! We’re the messengers, you are sent out to the world! (way of talking about how Christian’s are to be living representatives, salt and light of Christ to the world). World experiences Christ’s love through you (or doesn’t experience…aren’t reading God’s Word, reading you).
Is this Paul taking credit for them? 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 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. If God is working through us, or in us—we don’t have any room to take credit for that. All credit to God! Sufficiency= ability, competence, comes from God. Not my degrees, not your strength, not cleverness, good speech, all kinds of pastors and ministers—not the person that matters, not their personality, skillset, etc, but God’s Word working through them. You also—the Gospel of Jesus works through you, but not because we add something to it or “help it out”. Not “the ball’s in your court now, and I’m measuring your performance for salvation”—then we’d need to be sufficient in ourselves, but our sufficiency is in Christ.
New covenant—old covenant. Not a simple contrast of OT to NT, but Law to Gospel. “letter kills”= Law, “Spirit gives life”= Gospel. Two different ministries, both with glory and God’s approval, but the later one, the latter one—the Gospel, is superior in every way.
Letter kills, ministry of death, condemnation, (sounds negative, but is the law a negative?) 7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. … I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me… 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Law is good, holy, righteous, but it can only shine the light on the evil we have done. It has no power to save. Without the law, we would pursue evil unhindered, to our own harm. Continually exposes our sin, until we cry for God’s mercy. With only the light of the glory of the law shining on us, we only see how we have fallen short of God’s glory. But in the light of the Gospel our eyes are turned to Jesus, the Savior, we see Him with unveiled face.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? Moses on Sinai, fading glory, brilliant glory. Outshone by the new covenant, of the Spirit, of Christ.
Ruled under a ministry of the law, of death, of condemnation, we would be miserable. Guilty consciences, terror before God, no peace; perhaps anger, resentment, excuse making, denial—but no true love or obedience. True obedience doesn’t come through fear, but love.
9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. Ministry of righteousness, permanent, surpassing glory—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ministry of righteousness—God bestowing, Christ granting—only righteousness that is worth anything is that which rises to God’s own level of perfection. Anything short of it is not sufficient. Sufficient also means that something is enough, that it’s completed, and doesn’t need additions. So it is with our salvation. Full deal.
Difference between a salvation by faith in Jesus + _____  This means Jesus’ work is not sufficient. We have to add anything. But add anything to Jesus, and really you have subtracted something from His total perfection. Faith in Jesus + nothing! It is all by His grace, all sufficient for us. Luther’s great rediscovery of the gospel—the righteous will live by faith—ministry of righteousness, is bringing Jesus’ righteousness into the lives of all who will hear. Corinthians, Americans, Hawaiians, Filipinos, Japanese whoever will hear and believe, have been served, ministered to, with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You become written letters. I can boast of nothing in myself, but only that my sufficiency for this ministry is not in me. I can not claim anything has come from me. But you are living letters, proof of God’s work in your lives—proof that Jesus’ spirit makes you alive, and redeems you from sin-dead ways to new life in the Spirit. Your lives, as they meet with others, all through families and communities, are a message written on human hearts, of God’s love in Christ Jesus, for you.
Nothing to boast of in yourself, only to rejoice that He’s alive in you, and that Our Sufficiency—our whole power to live and continue to serve—rests 100% in Him. He will equip and supply everything we need, all glory goes to Him, and this glory will never fade. Rejoice, you are His! You are righteous in the Son!

Sermon Talking Points
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1. Read 2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 2:16-17; 3:1-3. How is Paul describing the challenges and emotions that he and those who ministered alongside him were facing? What kind of searching questions was it pushing them to ask? What did they realize about the ability to carry on and carry out the ministry, and where their sufficiency came from?
2. 2 Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul says that the Corinthians themselves are a “letter from Christ”. Who is the “mail man” who delivered the letter? What was this letter written on, and what was it written “with” (instead of ink)? What bigger point is Paul making about them through this analogy? How are we to be a “written letter” in the same way, toward the world?
3. What is meant by the “ministry of death carved in letters on stone”, and the glory of Moses’ face? Exodus 34:29-35. How did this ministry have glory? Since it is called the “ministry of death”, does that mean it was evil or harmful? Romans 7:7-20. What is the necessary purpose of the Law?
4. What is the “ministry” that far exceeds this ministry in glory? How does this “new ministry” bring life? 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; Galatians 3:2-6, 14, 24-29.
5. Why is the Gospel so much superior to the Law, even though they are both God’s Word? What does it mean to say that Jesus’ sacrifice is fully sufficient for our salvation? What does it do when we treat salvation as though the sufficiency was in ourselves, and not Him alone? What damage does it do to our ego? To our salvation? 2 Corinthians 12:5-10; Galatians 6:14; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:27. Where is our salvation and our boasting best founded and best grounded?

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