Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3.1-3.
False teachers had been at work in Corinth, undermining Paul’s teaching; and they carried letters of recommendation probably from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Paul carried no such letters (and it may be that his opponents were capitalising on that deficiency) but Paul here says, “I don’t need such letters” … or rather, “If I do need such letters, I’ve got them — they are you!” Then he goes on to describe what kind of letter the Christians at Corinth both are and are not.
They are not letters written “on tablets of stone”. This is a clear reference to what happened on Mount Sinai when, having finished speaking to Moses, God “gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God” that contained the Ten Commandments (Exodus 31.18, 34.28). So the Christians at Corinth do not carry a “thou-shalt-not” message to the wider world. They are not bringers of law. On the contrary they are bearers of grace. They are letters written not by the law-giving finger of God but by the Spirit of the living God and they carry his message of grace and mercy wherever they go. Paul spells out the difference a few verses later: “The letter [of the Law] kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3.6). And the proof of Paul’s authenticity as Christ’s apostle is that those who have accepted his gospel are full of life of the Spirit and can be seen to be full of the life of the Spirit by those around them.
So the challenge to me today is quite simply: What kind of a letter to the world am I? In my case, of course, no authenticity of anyone’s apostleship is at stake, but something far more important is at stake — the way people see the Jesus that I claim to represent. Back in the early 1900s, Dick Sheppard, the then Dean of Canterbury, was saying “the greatest handicap the church has is the unsatisfactory lives of professing Christians”, and that is still true today. So I really do need to ask — When people watch me, are they seeing someone who is judgmental, critical, narrow, joyless, legalistic … or someone who is joy-full, inclusive, welcoming, compassionate, and bursting with Christ’s love and life and vitality … a true “letter from Christ”.
Lord Jesus, help me to remember that I have written above my life this day and every day, “Dear world …” and that I carry your signature. Amen.