A Letter of Christ
A Letter of Christ
2 Corinthians 3:1 – 3
If you've ever applied for a job, you've probably been asked to supply a letter of recommendation. Your prospective employer wants a letter from someone who knows you well, one which will shed some light on your attitude, skills, and work habits.
Of course employers these days have to be careful in evaluating such letters. Since writers of negative recommendations have been sued on more than one occasion, it's getting increasingly difficult to get an honest evaluation from former employers.
An article in one business magazine even offered a series of phrases which, though appearing to sound positive, actually carry negative hidden meanings. For example, you might write of a lousy employee: "I just can't say enough good things about this person." The writer of such a letter may be saying he can't say enough good things because there aren't any good things to be said!
In Paul's day, travelers commonly carried with them letters of commendation. For example, a merchant might be traveling from Rome to Corinth. He would find a friend who had associates in Corinth and ask this person to write a letter of commendation, testifying to his identity and character. Upon his arrival in Corinth, the merchant would seek out his contact and present the letter as a means of introduction to the community.
The same thing happened in the New Testament. At the beginning of Romans 16, Paul writes a letter of commendation for Phoebe, asking that she be received warmly and helped in her work. In the eighth chapter of this very letter of Second Corinthians, Paul includes a commendation of Titus and his companions, who would be carrying the letter to Corinth.
These letters were very important in the early church because of the abundance of charlatans who sought to live off the generosity of the churches. Even in the fifth century, the, Council of Chalcedon declared that "strange and unknown clerics were under no circumstances whatever to minister in another city without epistles commendatory from their own bishop."
In chapter 2, Paul referred to those who were "peddling the gospel" for their own profit. Some of these phony missionaries carried letters from other churches where they had visited, and they had asked the Corinthian church to provide such reference letters for them. Apparently they had criticized Paul as someone who carried no such letters on his behalf.
Paul noted that Corinth was the last place on earth where he should need letters of commendation. After all, most of them had become believers through his ministry among them. He was their spiritual father, and they were his children in the Lord. Paul carried the Corinthian Christians in his heart. Literally, they were his letter of commendation.
What a tremendous thought this is for all who minister in Jesus' name! When God uses you to lead someone to faith in Christ, that new believer becomes a letter of commendation – a visible expression of God s work through you.
At verse 3, however, Paul takes the idea of letter and develops a new thought altogether. As Christians, Paul says, we are “Christ's letters” of commendation. We have become living letters which express the mind of Christ. Notice three key ideas present in the verse:
We Are Written by Christ
The Corinthian church was a letter written by Christ. Though Paul’s influence was evident, Christ alone was the author of their salvation. Each believer is a letter of Christ.
That is also true of us. You and I – if we have given our lives to Christ – are living letters, giving testimony wherever we go to the One who has redeemed us and placed his imprint upon our lives.
Have you ever written a love letter? Some of us began writing love letters in grade school – passing those notes across the classroom from desk to desk. (We were mortified if some- one else intercepted the message and read it!) Some of us perhaps still write an occasional love letter.
Certainly we can enjoy the beauty of love letters written in years gone by. There is always great interest in such letters written by Lincoln or Washington or other well-known figures.
Perhaps we are fascinated with such letters because they reveal something very real about the life and thought of the writer. As letters written by Christ, the world looks at us and reads about Jesus. Our lives serve as the only gospel most people will ever read.
A TV repairman kept putting off repairing his own television antenna after a storm tore off one of its arms. When a new family moved in next door, the man decided to install his own antenna. He knew the neighbor was a TV repairman so he modeled his own installation after the expert's. He drilled the hole in the same location and turned the antenna in the same direction. Carefully studying his neighbor's roof, he finally reached up and tore the arm off his brand-new antenna!
Believe it not, you and I are the experts on Christianity in this world – at least according to those who watch us every day. We are letters written by Christ – expressions of his love, his grace, his concern. How tragic if they receive a faulty impression of the living Lord because of the message we offer with our lives.
Will you let the authentic Christ be seen in your life? Will you allow his love to be written in your actions, your words, your attitudes, so that in you people might see the good news of Christ?
We are letters written by Christ. Further:
We Are Letters Written with the Holy Spirit
Do you remember playing with disappearing ink when you were young? What fun we would have writing notes that would then disappear from the page completely!
Recently news reports indicate a modern – and costly – version of the old disappearing-ink trick. The culprits treated checks with some type of chemical prior to cashing them; then within hours, the checks would begin to disintegrate before the bank would have charged them against the account. Some of us know what it's like to have our bank
account disappear, but banks don't take kindly to having the tables turned!
The point is, even so-called permanent ink isn't really permanent. It can burn, fade, perish. The letter Christ writes in our lives is not written with perishable ink but with the Holy Spirit. The letter Christ writes in our lives is not temporal but permanent, eternal, because it is written with the Holy Spirit
When you receive Christ as Savior and Lord, it is the Holy Spirit who draws you to Christ and works in you to accomplish the work of redemption. That is why in Romans 5:5, Paul says, ". . . God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." I like Moffatt's translation also: "since God's love floods our hearts through the Holy Spirit."
It is the Spirit who assists us in prayer (Rom. 8:26), provides us with the elements needed for victorious Christian living (Gal. 5:22, 23), and seals us as a guarantee of eternal life (Eph. I: 14). As the Spirit works in us to shape us more and more in the image of Christ, we become better vehicles for transmitting the gospel to a lost world. The letter Christ writes in us becomes clearer.
The writing of the Spirit in our lives does not fade away but abides eternally. The transforming work of the Spirit in – our lives changes us forever. That is why Paul can say of this letter of Christ:
We Are Letters Written from Within
In Exodus 31: 18, we read that God gave the law to Moses inscribed on two tablets of stone. At Sinai God gave an external set of laws which mankind found itself utterly incapable of fully obeying. Men and women were never able to fulfill the obligations of the old covenant.
In chapter 31 of Jeremiah, the prophet points to a time when God would establish a new covenant with his people. In the covenant, the Lord declares, “. . . I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts . . .” (v. 33). Under this new covenant, the law would no longer be simply an external set of regulations but would become an inward principle. Through the indwelling Spirit, the law of Christ would become a vital, dynamic force within us.
That is the letter Christ has written on our hearts. God has written his truth on our hearts, and it is to be reflected in the things we do and say. The gospel is not simply a collection of printed pages; it is the power of God working in your life and mine.
The musical performer Arthur Rubenstein continued to delight and inspire audiences into his 80s. Asked one time how he continued to keep his performances fresh and alive, he responded, "Every day I am a new man, and every occasion is a new moment for me. When I play, it is no longer I, but a secret power that takes over."
That is also the key to the abundant Christian life: there is a power that wells up from inside of us and makes available to us the resources of heaven. That power is within us because Christ has placed it in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. We are his living letters. The change in our lives is evidence to the world that we serve a risen Lord.
From time to time we hear news reports of one of the famous auction houses selling an original letter by a famous person. Depending on the kind of letter it is, an original, handwritten letter – by a Lincoln or a Jefferson or a Washington – can bring a sales price in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Yet the most precious letter in all the world is the letter Christ has written in your heart through the Holy Spirit. Will you allow the world to read that letter in your life – to see Christ in you?