Summary: Ministers are just postmen, delivering a message of instruction from God... What kind of letters of Christ are we?
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Amongst the many difficulties which the Apostle Paul faced in relation to the church which he had founded in Corinth was the existence of self-styled super-apostles who were nothing but peddlers, “making gain by corrupting the word of God” (2 Corinthians 2:17). This stood in contrast to Paul’s own determination to preach the gospel “without charge” (1 Corinthians 9:18). “We speak in God’s name,” said Paul, “in the sight of God, and in the words of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17).
Paul recognised the complaint that would be levelled against him, that he was nothing better than a boaster (2 Corinthians 3:1). After all, the sceptics might think, he has no letters of recommendation! It was like when Paul reached Rome, and the Jewish community there said, in effect: “well, we never heard of you - we never got the email” (Acts 28:21).
The apostle turned the taunt on its head: he was no stranger to the Corinthians, so why not let the results of his ministry suffice as letters of recommendation? They were his letter, written on his heart, “being known and being read” by all men (2 Corinthians 3:2). They were a credit to him!
The Corinthians themselves, who had received the ministry (service) of Paul and his companions, were declared to be the epistle (letter) of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:3). The authentication of any ministry lies in its obvious impact on the lives of the people. The result should be lives which are being lived like love letters from the Lord, “having been inscribed” not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.
Paul is confident that the Corinthians ARE his letters of recommendation. This trust towards God is mediated through Christ Himself (2 Corinthians 3:4). There is a denial of self-sufficiency, and an acknowledgement of the all-sufficiency of God (2 Corinthians 3:5).
Paul and his companions knew this sufficiency of God on a personal level. The Apostle could say, as we might all say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). In our present passage he spoke of God’s enabling for the ministry (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Paul was also confident in the Lord for the development of the congregations put in his care (Philippians 1:6). Christian people can be sure of the sufficiency of God when we seek to live a life of holiness in the midst of an unsympathetic world. The same God who says - “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16) - also empowers us to fulfil the commandment.
The mention of the new covenant presupposes that the earlier writings have become old (2 Corinthians 3:6). This is not to deny that the Old Testament had a certain “glory” (9), but rather to emphasise that the New Testament has a greater glory. The ‘letter of the law’ only served to condemn us, as it revealed our total inability to keep the law - “the letter kills” (2 Corinthians 3:6): but the giving of the New Testament is accompanied by the engrafting of God’s word upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:3) - and “the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Ministers, in this respect, are just postmen, delivering a message of instruction from God (cf. Exodus 24:12). Yet the words which we receive from them are not written on stone tablets, but on hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27). God places His word within our inmost being, and engraves it on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).
What kind of ‘letters of Christ’ are we?