B.C.P. Trinity 12 : 2 Corinthians 3:4-9
2Cor:3:4: And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: :5: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; :6: Who 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. :7: 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: :8: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? :9: For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.
A Quaker had a bundle of hides stolen from his warehouse. He wondered what steps he should take to prevent a repetition of such an act. Instead of resorting to the law, he placed the following ad in the newspapers: "Whoever stole a quantity of hides on the 5th of this month is hereby informed that the owner has a sincere wish to be his friend. If poverty tempted him to take this step, the owner will keep the whole transaction secret and will gladly help him to obtain money by means more likely to bring him peace of mind."
A few nights later a man knocked at the door of the Quaker's house, carrying with him a bundle of skins. "I have brought them back," he said. "It is the first time I ever stole anything, and I have felt very bad about it." "Let it be the last, friend." said the Quaker. "The secret still lies between ourselves." He spoke to the man faithfully and affectionately about the foolishness of dishonesty and shared the gospel with him. He also his employed the man who became a changed character, living an exemplary life from then on.
This story illustrates what Paul is referring to in today's reading : two covenants, the old and the new. One of law, one of grace. A covenant is a binding agreement. Here we are talking about an agreement voluntarily made by God with humankind. So it is not like a contract where each party has something to gain by the agreement. I gain a can of beans and Mr Tesco gains 25 pence !
It has been said that the Old Covenant or Testament is about being put right with God by works, rather than grace. However, this is ignoring the context in which God gave the law to Moses. God had chosen the Israelites out of the many peoples of the world. He delivered them from the slavery of Egypt by supernatural means. It is after he has shown them this grace, or undeserved favour, that he gives them the law. The law was not given as a way of earning God's favour. It was given to a people who had already received God's favour, and outlined the distinctive way that they should live.
In that culture a King would provide certain benefits for his people, such as security and justice, and in return his citizens would give taxes and be conscripted into his army. The Old Testament follows this pattern of receiving benefits and giving allegiance. God gives the benefits of freedom from slavery security, provision of food, etc. His people give their unqualified allegiance.
As Paul wrote, the Old Testament was from God and written on stone in letters. Rather than leading to gratitude for deliverance and a desire to follow God's ways this led some, such as the Pharisees to pride and self-sufficiency. They thought that they would be put right with God because they stuck to his rules. But Jesus denounced them as hypocrites, play actors, who neglected things such as justice and compassion.
The law was not there as a rule book that would enable someone to work their way to heaven. It was there to show God's perfect will for his people and, therefore, to show that everyone fails to keep to all of God's way all of the time. It cannot bring life, only condemnation and death. Not physical death, but death of a right relationship with God.
Despite this, it is still described by Paul as glorious. Glorious because it reveals the mind of God. Glorious because it resulted in Moses' face shining after his encounter with God. Glorious because it convicts people of sin and shows the need for a Saviour.
This leads us on to the New Covenant, or Testament.
This is centred on grace, God's undeserved favour to sinful humankind by sending His only son to die on the cross and face the punishment for the sins of the world. It is centred on grace because, by His Spirit, God works in the hearts of people to repent, to turn away from a self-centred life to one of trusting in Jesus.
Like the Old Covenant it is from God. It involves grace.
A woman shared this story about his family : "My son, Michael, was four years old the night I found him sobbing uncontrollably in the hallway. Concerned, I knelt next to him and drew him close. "'What's the matter, sweetheart? Are you hurt? 'He shook his head and turned to me, but I was unprepared for his response. "'Daddy said a bad word to me!' he sobbed. I almost laughed out loud. I had known my husband 12 years and had rarely heard him raise his voice. But Michael had heard him say something, and I was curious enough to want to know what it was. "'Honey, what bad word did Daddy say?' And seeing a chance for sympathy, my sensitive four-year-old stopped crying and blurted out - 'Obey!'
We live in a culture where obedience to someone in authority is considered by many to be something to be challenged.
The New Covenant is written by the Spirit on people's hearts, not on tablets of stone. Therefore, people are more likely to obey because they love God and are convinced that His will is best for them, and for everybody.
Obedience is about putting God first so it involves humility. This can free us from worry and fear because we trust in him and not ourselves. Therefore, we are to give him the glory, rather than seeking or grasping it for ourselves.
Paul wrote that the Spirit gives life. This involves living for God now and in eternity. The Christian's righteousness, that is right standing with God, is by faith. Faith is an undeserved gift of God. Therefore, there is no reason to boast, but every reason to thank God and live life his way. No wonder that the New Covenant is described by Paul as even more glorious than the Old.