Sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:4–11
The following sermon was preached at the LCMS International Center Chapel service on September 11, 2014 by The Rev. Michael Meyer, Manager of LCMS Disaster Response.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Paul had to deal with the accusation that he was arrogant and that he was shamelessly promoting himself. He writes of the Corinthians that they are his “letter of recommendation” from Christ to the church and to the world. But he is sensitive to the thought that people think he is bragging. So Paul writes, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” This is the heart of the passage. Paul confesses that in and of himself, he is not particularly sufficient or competent for the task he is performing, and the work he does is not successful because of his talent or intelligence. He acknowledges, instead, that everything comes from God. His competence and his success are God-worked. God has made him sufficient to the task. He writes, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”
Similarly, when I preach, my confidence is not that I am something, but that God is at work through His Word. The good things that may happen are not the pastor’s work or that of the evangelism committee, rather they are God’s work. My sufficiency and my confidence are from God. If I measure up to the task, it is the gracious working of God.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the truth of everything in general, and the Holy Ministry in particular. No one who holds the office of the ministry is competent for the task, in and of himself. Their sufficiency is also from God. Surely there are pastors that you have liked more than others, here at the IC, or at the seminary, or in your congregation. Some may have been better speakers. Some may have been just wonderful at calling on the home-bound and sick, making them feel right at home. Some may have fit in like a glove, while others may have seemed odd and out of place. The truth, however, is that whether you like them or not, the power and sufficiency for doing the work of the ministry is God-given. Faith does not come by the eloquence of the preacher, or his intellectual arguments, or even his personal appeal. Faith comes by hearing, and that hearing is by the Word of God.
We confess as much in the Small Catechism, in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith. In the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it in Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
God must create faith, because, ‘a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually dead.’ So, our faith does not depend on us or on the skill of the preacher, but on God. As long as a pastor is faithful and teaches the whole counsel of God faithfully, God is at work through him, making him sufficient for the work which God has called him to do and granting the success which God Himself has planned for His Word in that place.
Of course, the pastor must preach the whole counsel of God – both the Law and the Gospel. That is what Paul writes about when he mentions the ministry of condemnation and the ministry of righteousness. Paul first writes about the Law. He calls it “the ministry of death.” He describes it as “engraved in letters on stone.” That is Mt. Sinai. He says that the Law came with glory — such glory that the Children of Israel could not stand to look at the shining face of Moses. He had to cover his face for a time, until the reflected glory of God faded. Paul writes that the “letter kills.” That is the work of the Law. It condemns us. You may have heard the Latin phrase- “lex semper accusat” – “the law always accuses”. Now, that’s not the only thing it does, but it always finds us guilty of sin.
“And the wages of sin is death.” Our sin, revealed so clearly (and cleverly) by the Law, causes death and makes us worthy of death — and not just death of the body, but that eternal death which we call hell — which is more than just being “dead and gone” and unconscious of everything forever. It is misery. It is regret. It is condemnation. That is why the work of the Law is called the “Ministry of Condemnation”.
And the Law is true – it is good and wise as we sing in the hymn. It came with glory, and still possesses the glory of being God’s own will and law. And yet such truth and glory is not enough. The Law has no power to save us, only to kill us. In Romans, Paul tells us that “the Law was given in order that sin might increase.” That does not mean that its purpose is that we might become more sinful. The purpose of the Law was that we would see our sinfulness. That we would recognize our corruption and helplessness in sin, learn our deserved condemnation, and despair of our own righteousness and of our own ability to save ourselves.
This is why we need a Savior. The Law always accuses and always condemns and leaves us no hope. But God wants us to live. He wants us to have hope, and to trust in Him. So, He sent Jesus. Jesus accomplished what we could not. He kept the whole will and Law of God perfectly — without failure or sin or exception. He earned life where we had earned death. Because He is true man He was able to earn life, just as He was liable to death if He had sinned. Because He is true God His obedience was sufficient to exchange for all sin. His life was of ample value to cover all of our lives. His death was sufficient ransom for all of us. “By His stripes, we are healed,” not made a little better, but healed, as Isaiah the prophet said.
It is faith, created and sustained by the Holy Spirit, that lays hold of this and claims it as its own. That is “the ministry of the Holy Spirit,” “the letter of the spirit, written in our hearts.” “He that believes and is baptized will be saved”. We who believe have life everlasting already, and will rise from our graves on that great day when Jesus returns to create for His people a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness and glory dwell.
It is the ministry of Christ’s righteousness, which works righteousness in us and for us. The Holy Spirit makes those in whom He dwells holy. And it is glorious, for it is life and salvation for all who believe. Thus, the Law, which is true, and perfect and glorious, and came with great glory, cannot hold a candle to the gospel. The gospel is as much better than the law than life is better than death. The glory of the Law, which is great, is overwhelmed by the glory of the Gospel like a candle, which serves quite well as a light at night is overwhelmed by the bright light of the sun shining in broad daylight. You cannot always even see that the candle is lit, if the sunshine is bright enough. So, when we compare the Law with the Gospel, the truth and glory of the Law are simply not enough.
The Law is still true (and good and wise). But the Gospel is better. It is not ‘more true’, it simply gives what the Law cannot. Forgiveness trumps condemnation, and the righteousness received by grace through faith trumps sinfulness, and eternal life trumps death. It is received by those who believe, the gift of God, worked through the Holy Gospel. It is faith that Paul describes as confidence through Christ toward God – confidence in forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal; and confidence for this life here and now for you.
Thus, we are made sufficient by Christ. And with Paul we confess: “such is our confidence through Christ towards God.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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