Paul was a highly educated, brilliantly qualified teacher of the law, yet he did not depend on his own competence in his ministry as an apostle of Jesus Christ: “And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:4–6, NKJV). Genuine ministers of Christ can have rock-solid confidence, but only as they depend wholly on the Lord and His grace.
In 2 Corinthians 3, the apostle Paul confronts the ideas and practices of legalistic false teachers who brag about their “letters of commendation” (2 Corinthians 3:1). These powerful, self-reliant men were challenging Paul’s authority and apostleship. They thought Paul lacked the necessary credentials and resources to be a competent minister. Paul asserts that we (he and all genuine Christian ministers) don’t need to depend on human-supplied credentials because our sufficiency comes from God. In 2 Corinthians 3:5, the Greek noun translated “sufficiency” means “the quality of being able to meet a need satisfactorily, or being fit enough, capable, competent, or adequate for the job.”
In a similar warning to the Philippians about false teachers, Paul explains that, perhaps more than anyone, he has good reason to trust in his own competency: “Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:4–6, NLT).
Humanly speaking, Paul was overqualified for the job. Nevertheless, he puts “no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). He does not rely on his rich heritage, religious zeal, theological training, or natural ability. Everything that defined and qualified Paul as an apostle was credited to God and His grace: “For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace” (1 Corinthians 15:9–10, NLT). Paul claims no credit and takes no glory for himself but gives it all to God and the power of His marvelous grace.
“Our sufficiency is of God” is not a declaration of false humility. Instead, it is a pronouncement of confidence in God’s competence, acknowledging that there is only one source to draw from as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the unlimited supply of grace poured into us through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts, the apostles recognized that their “great power” to “testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” came from “God’s grace,” which was “powerfully at work in them all” (Acts 4:33). God’s grace is the only letter of recommendation we need (Acts 14:26; Romans 15:15–16). Paul admits that in all his dealings he “depended on God’s grace” and not on his own “human wisdom” (2 Corinthians 1:12, NLT; see also 1 Corinthians 2:1–5).
Our sufficiency is of God means that none of us are fit, capable, or satisfactorily qualified by our human efforts or aptitudes to minister to the hearts of lost people. Only God can enable us or make “us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:6, ESV). Our success in ministry comes from God alone, as Paul eloquently illustrates throughout his letter: “We ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. . . . Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. . . . We live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. . . . All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory” (2 Corinthians 4:7–15, NLT; see also 2 Corinthians 5:18). Our sufficiency is of God, and His grace is all we need (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).