Life-Study of 2 Corinthiansby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
The title of this message is “The Essence of the New Covenant Ministry.” The word essence is related to what Paul says concerning the glory and superiority of the ministry of the new covenant in 3:7-11. These verses show the inferiority of the glory of the Mosaic ministry, the ministry of law, a ministry of condemnation and death, and the superiority of the apostolic ministry, the ministry of grace, a ministry of righteousness and the Spirit. The former was through glory temporarily; the latter remains in glory forever. In 2:12-17 the apostle speaks of the triumph and effect of the apostolic ministry; in 3:1-6, of its function and competency; and in 3:7-11, of its glory and superiority.
In previous messages we have covered a number of basic points related to the new covenant ministry: the essence, the effect, the function, the competency, the glory, and the superiority. Now in this message we need to consider the essence of the ministry of the new covenant.
Some may point out that the word essence is not found in 2 Corinthians 3. Although this word is not used here, the concept of essence is nonetheless implied in verse 3: “Being manifested that you are a letter of Christ ministered by us, inscribed not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tablets of stone, but in fleshy tablets of the heart.” In this verse the word “ministered” actually means served. The Greek word means to serve something to someone, for example, as a waiter serves in a restaurant or a stewardess on an airplane. Thus, Paul is saying that the Corinthian believers are a letter of Christ served by the apostles. However, realizing that the word serve is not adequate, Paul went on to use the word “inscribed.” This explains the meaning of ministered, served. Paul’s way of ministering was by inscribing.
In 3:3 Paul says “inscribed not with ink”; he does not say “inscribed not by ink.” The word “with” indicates that the spiritual ink, the Spirit of the living God, is an essence, an element, used by the one doing the inscribing or the writing. It is important that we pay careful attention to Paul’s use of the preposition “with.” This preposition indicates that the Spirit is neither the writer nor the instrument used for writing; rather, the Spirit is the essence, the element, the substance, used in writing. The Spirit of the living God, who is the living God Himself, is not an instrument, such as a pen, but an element, the heavenly ink used in writing, with which the apostles minister Christ as the content for the writing of living letters that convey Christ.
Let us take as an illustration the simple matter of writing a letter with a ball point pen. You may be the writer, but the pen is the instrument. The ink, however, is neither the writer nor the instrument—it is the element, the essence. But if your pen is out of ink, any writing you try to do with it will be in vain. You may write words on paper, but the paper will be blank. In such a case, there would be a writer and an instrument, but there would not be any ink as the necessary writing essence.
In 2 Corinthians 3:3 the Holy Spirit is not the writer, the instrument, or even the power. When many Christians today talk about the Spirit, their concept is related to power. But if we read this verse carefully, considering it in its context, we shall see that the Spirit here is a matter of essence, not of power.
Because many Christians neglect the Spirit as an essence, I purposely emphasize the word essence in this message. What Christians today consider the Spirit as an essence? For the most part, Christians think of the Spirit as an instrument or as a power. Others go farther and speak of the Spirit as a divine person. But I do not know of any preachers who speak of the Spirit the way Paul does in 2 Corinthians 3. Paul’s view of the Spirit in this chapter was that of an essence used for inscribing letters of Christ. Here he does not view the Spirit as a person, an instrument, or a power. Rather, the Spirit is the essence used for inscribing living letters of Christ.
The ministry of the new covenant is not that of mere teaching. None of your teachers in school ever inscribed an essence into your being. They may have put concepts into you, but they did not deposit the essence of anything into you. However, the new covenant ministry does more than merely teach us; it inscribes us. Furthermore, this new covenant ministry inscribes us not with concepts, knowledge, or theology, but with an essence, with something real and substantial.
In the church life in the Lord’s recovery, do you not have the sense that you are under a spiritual inscribing? Many of us can testify that through the new covenant ministry Christ has been inscribed into us. A divine essence has been written into our being, and this essence is the Spirit.
However, we still need to define what this essence is. We realize we have been inscribed with the Spirit, but what is this Spirit?
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