The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever! Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3:7-18, NLT)
This section is both rich and difficult, as Paul continues his defense of his apostolic authority. His point here is not to compare himself favorably to Moses. Neither is he trying to create a comparison between law and Spirit. I think the key to understanding this section is connected to the 13 uses of the word “glory” or “glorious.” So as you read it, make sure you’re following the movement of the word glory as a unifying theme.
First, Paul points out that Moses experienced the glory of God, but the rest of the Israelites did not. Their experience was limited, as Moses covered his face with a veil so the people could not see the glory fading. Now that the Holy Spirit is available to each of us, we have access to God that was unknown to Israel. This access produces a righteousness that produces life and the glory of God spills over. In this regard, the new way is superior to the old. Notice Paul does not say, “I am not like Moses.” He writes, “WE” are not like Moses. The new way gives us right standing, boldness, freedom, and most importantly, forms us in the image of Christ.
Second, the passage is concerned with transcending spiritual barriers through Spirit empowered ministry. Some scholars across church history have compared the veil on Moses’ face to the veil in the Temple which created separation between God and the people through the Holy of Holies, making it necessary to mediate access to God through a third party. Paul’s ultimate point here is that the veil is no longer on Moses’ face, nor the Temple, for that matter. Any veils that remain resides upon the human heart and mind. Therefore, the goal of ministry must be to understand the importance of the work of God’s Spirit through us, which is the only thing that can break through the barrier. If God is to be glorified, it comes through the work of God’s Spirit in us and through us. If Paul desires anything, its to continue to promote that every member of the Body of Christ is called, gifted and equipped for service.
This pursuit is the New Testament model and should be preferred to the alternative, which is to seek out and hire “the glowing face” for God to stand before the people and make a broad impact. As long as churches continue to look for individuals they can hire to do the entirety of the work of ministry with people and the community, they will miss the meaning of what its all about.