There are three main points in this passage, and the last is the manliest. It is important to touch on the background. Paul writes more to the Corinthian church than any other. There is even evidence of a lost third letter (1Cor. 5:9). Perhaps because they had so many issues and because it was a high impact area? Some of the issues addressed in the first letter were: divisions, following personalities over following God, immorality, worshipping together, doctrinal issues, and more. The second letter commended them for repentance on many of the issues, but there were still some who claimed to be apostles but were not (2Corinthians 11). Paul says they were acting like ordinary men and were proving to be spiritual babies (1Corinthians 3:1-4). This region was mostly full of Gentiles with no biblical training. So Paul felt the need to give them extra training. He lived there for at least 18 months (Acts 18:1-18). Corinth turned out many known influencial people: Apollos, Titus, Timothy, Silas, Pricilla and Aquilla (not to mention many unknown to us). If you look on a map, you’ll see the strategic locaiton of this city, located between two important ports. So this definately was seen as a key city for the spread of the gospel.
Getting into the first point of 1Corinthians 3, we see Paul using the Corinthians themselves as his credibility. It is obvious there were leadership struggles. The people were torn between God’s leadership and a bunch of imposters. Of course the imposters sounded really smooth, but they weren’t backed with the word of God. That was a tricky thing for the Corinthians because they didn’t have the biblical training, so they were more easily won over by personality. Paul is telling them that his influence runs throughout their chuch. If they are to think about it for a moment, it would be obvious that God used Paul to impart the Spirit that brings them closer to Christ. Compare that against what they received from the other supposed leaders and it would be obvious. They are his letter or in our terms his resume.
The second point Paul gets into has to deal with where they got their competance. Although Paul is trained in some extraordinary ways, he doesn’t come off as a know-it-all. He doesn’t come off as the professor types they would even be accustomed to hearing at their squares giving speeches in philosophy. He was able to write that their competance came from the Spirit of God. It was obvious he emphasized God and not his wit. There is something significant to be said about that since we often tend to measure ourselves by humanistic standards.
In the last and final point for this section Paul discusses the importance and power of the ministry brought to them. In order to get the point we must understand that the ministry of old through Moses came with great authority. It was glorious and made its key leader–Moses–have a glowing face when he came from God. God’s glory shined through him and many were brought to righteously fear God and His message.
Paul brings up the old ministry to contrast the new one as far greater and far more glorious. The old one brought condemnation, meaning it showed people their sins. Whereas the new one brings righteousness, meaning it sets people free from their sins. Furthermore, Paul connects back with an earlier point when he writes, "chiseled in letters on stones" (vs.7). Paul already talked about how the Holy Spirit imprinted the message on their hearts (vs.3). As awesome as it was for God to hand-write the Ten Commandments on stone, it is even more awesome that God now writes on human hearts.
The meat of this point concentrates on the shinning of God’s glory through the face. The contrast is between Moses and all the saints in God’s kingdom under the rule of Christ. We infer that the glory that shined through Moses was never meant to last, just like the glory of the old message was never meant to last. The message through the Old Testament was and is today an awesome message, but its glory has fadded tremendously apart from Jesus Christ. The theological problem with the Jews is their hearts are veiled or kept from perceiving God’s main point in the Old Covenant Scripture. That has happend in rejecting Jesus as Messiah. God’s point and purpose of the Scriptures is to draw our attention to the glory of Christ, the image of God (4:4). That is why turning to the Lord Jesus removes the veil. At that point it all makes sense! The truth of this gospel comes for Jews and Gentiles alike.
In addtion to that, when a person turns to the Lord, there is the Spirit, and the Spirit brings freedom. The freedom in this specific contextual sense is a removal of a veil. Reading backward and forward through God’s word on this parallelled meaning (Exodus 34), we can understand the connection. Moses is a prefigure of Christ in many ways. Here we can see how he represents the messenger. Moses is the messenger of the ministry of death, whereas Jesus is the messenger of the ministry of the Spirit. We can say the veil represents sin of mankind. Only in Jesus is this veil removed. Now we can reflect the glory of the Lord and be transformed into the same image from glory to glory (2Cor. 3:18).
We were created in the image of God. Another way of saying that is we were created as containers of the glorious image. Instead of containing God we chose to contain sin. It is the most glorious message that restores us back to be empty vessels to contain God’s glory. That is a manly thought and that is what Jesus is all about!