We might break form and hit 2 verses in 2 Cor 3: this chapter is just so rich and deep! So verse 6 says: “who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." There is an application here in the sense that Paul is in a pastoral role to the Corinthians, and that would likely be drawn out in a sermon on this text. But I think there is another sense that the title “ministers of the new covenant“ is highly relevant to all saints, especially if we “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called“ (Eph 4:1). So I want to explore how our society instinctively views ministers, the biblical root of the word, and just what is the New Covenant anyway?
If there‘s ever been a society where it‘s tough to answer the question “So what do you do?“ with “I‘m a minister“, it‘s ours. There is a broad perception, especially in those under 30, that religion exists primarily (if not solely) for the purpose of enforcing archaic, vestigial moral codes that outlaw everything fun and enslave humanity (!) to the obedience to those in authority. Professional clergy therefore are the jack-booted stormtroopers of an oppressive regime, kicking down the proverbial door of those who enjoy the finer things in life, and keping the rest of us under the thumb of the fear of divine displeasure. In light of this, the “gospel“ of our irreligious (or antireligious?) culture is that those enlightened by Darwinian materialism can safely jettison the leftovers of our past (a.k.a. religion) and enjoy the liberty of an existence without ecclesiastical constrictions.
So, with this baggage in mind, it‘s especially pertinent that Christians have a true, balanced grasp of what it means to be a minister. Even a rudimentary sense of the original language (like mine) can help get to what Paul was thinking of when he wrote (or dictated) 2 Cor. So the title “minister“ in Greek is diakonos; defined as “an attendant (or an errand boy); a waiter (at a table or other menial duties)“. Hmmm... so Paul‘s idea of his exalted position and authority over the church is similar to the pimply-faced kid who wipes down tables at your local greasy spoon? Where‘d he get that craziness? Amazingly, Jesus Christ:
“But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Gk. diakonos), and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve (diakoneo), and to give his life as a ransom for many.“ (Matt 20:28).So the more authority, power and prestige you want in the church, the more you have to debase yourself? Yeah, and it‘s perfect that way for several reasons: Christ‘s church is not a business, social club, army or any other secular assembly ( not as the Gentiles) . Christ‘s leaders must lead His church His way, i.e. getting down on our knees and washing the animal dung off our brothers‘ feet (Jn 12). Also, the more a man is willing to humble himself to the betterment of others, the more authority he can be safely entrusted with. Stay tuned for the New Covenant...