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Letters of Recommendation

2Corinthians: Paul Most Underappreciated Epistle

May 6, 2018


by: Jack Lash Series: 2Corinthians: Paul Most Underappreciated Epistle | Category: NT books | Scripture: 2 Corinthians 3:1–3:3

I. Introduction
 A. Most National Parks have roads in them making it possible to drive around and see sites from the car without even getting out. But most of the sites can only be enjoyed if you get out of the car and walk a ways. Many of the most spectacular places require a hike.
  1. And so it is with the Bible. There’s a lot which can be enjoyed just by driving by, by reading through. But you’re going to miss a lot of its most precious treasures if you’re unwilling to journey a little. And there are SOME you will miss if you’re not willing to go spelunking.
  2. You see, sometimes God hides things. Sometimes he hides beautiful things. Think about it: gold mines, diamond mines, ice caves, rocks with crystals inside. God hides many beautiful things. If you just enjoy the beauty that is right out in the open staring you in the face, you’re going to miss a lot of beauty.
  3. This is why 2Corinthians isn’t very popular. Many of its treasures are found off-road. 
  4. I have come to see that when something in the Bible is not easy to understand on the surface, it often means there’s a rich treasure waiting to be dug up.
  5. God went to great lengths to get this letter to us.
   a. Lost letters to the Corinthians: This raises the question: Why was this one not lost too?
    (1) Because God wanted us to have it. Because God knew we need to know the things it says.
 B. 2 Corinthians 3:1–3 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
 C. There are three things I want to point out in this passage for us to talk about this morning.
II. Paul Under Attack
 A. 3:1 "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?"
  1. Among ancient Gentiles and Jews, it was a common practice for men to carry letters of commendation with them when they traveled to foreign cities. These letters would be written by someone well-known to the recipients, commending the carrier as a person of good and trustworthy character.
   a. This commending practice is mentioned frequently in the NT:
    (1) 2Corinthians 8:22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you.
    (2) 1Corinthians 16:10–11 When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 11 So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.
    (3) Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,
    (4) See also Colossians 4:10; Acts 15:25–26.
  2. Apparently, when these false apostles first came to Corinth they carried with them letters of commendation from some church leaders somewhere.
  3. But, of course, none of the apostles carried letters of commendation.
  4. But Paul wasn’t exactly like the other apostles, who walked with Jesus for the three years of His earthly ministry. Paul was an add-on. He had received his calling as an apostle directly from Jesus Christ, as a result of being confronted by Christ on the road to Damascus. Probably it was because of this that the false apostles who had come to Corinth did not accept Paul’s apostleship like they accepted that of the Twelve.
  5. And they used the fact that Paul didn’t carry around the same kind of thing to question the legitimacy of his apostolic ministry.
  6. And so, throughout this letter Paul is defending himself to the Corinthians against the charges of the false apostles there.
 B. What lesson can be learned from these attacks on Paul?
  1. Apart from Jesus Himself, Paul was probably the most influential man in history. It is likely that he was the greatest Christian who ever lived. He was worthy of more honor and respect than any king who ever sat upon an earthly throne. And yet he was constantly barraged with criticism (to say nothing about fists and whips and rods and stones - see 11:23-25).
  2. In light of this, why do we feel so sorry for ourselves when we get a little criticism? Have we forgotten that Jesus said we should expect opposition? Do we think we are better than our Master and His servant Paul, that we should be spared what they endured? Do we not deserve criticism much more than they did? (Jesus, of course, didn’t deserve any at all).
  3. Why do we squeal when indeed we get much less?
  4. You know what disease is running rampant in the American Christian community? The disease of self-pity. We need to lay our hands on our mouths. We have a Master who taught us to bless those who curse us, but instead we whine and grumble when we get criticized.
III. Reaching out in love
 A. 3:2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.
  1. Now there’s a lot going on here in this verse, and a lot to talk about, but the first thing I want to point out that Paul is doing here is that he’s expressing love for the Corinthians.
  2. Paul uses the issue of his supposed lack of commendation letters to make a point about who they are to Him. “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.”
  3. In the Bible, saying something is written on one’s heart is usually a way of expressing deep love. (See Prov.3:3, 7:3; Jer.31:33; Hebrews 8:10, 10:16.)
  4. And so it is that Paul seems to be communicating love for the Corinthians when he says this, as he does again in 7:3 “You are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.”
  5. There are big problems in the attitude of the Corinthians toward Paul. This is what he wrote the severe letter about.
  6. But in this letter, Paul doesn’t dwell on that. Now is the time to reassure them of his love.
 B. What lesson can we learn from this?
  1. Christian people ought not be quick to be offended. And yet, so often we are.
  2. And amazingly, Christians often feel justified in taking offense.
  3. There is no justification for being offended, just as there’s no justification for lust or hate or pride.
  4. When we give ourselves permission to be offended when people don’t show us proper respect, we give ourselves justification to not love those people.
  5. When Jesus said to love your enemies, He didn’t mean unless they disrespect you.
  6. In 2Cornithians, Paul is a marvelous example of loving even when you’re not treated with love.
  7. But, of course, Paul had an advantage. Paul understood the undeserved love of God from very personal experience. Paul was an enemy of Christ and His people when the love of Christ came crashing into His life.
  8. He was on the warpath against the very people Christ dearly loved, the very kind of moment you would expect a lightning bolt to strike him from heaven. But instead of an outbreak of God’s vengeance, there was an outbreak of Christ’s redeeming love. And Paul was subdued by that love.
  9. And that’s the problem with us sometimes. We get offended, we harden our hearts, because we don’t realize how completely undeserving we are of the love Christ has shown us.
  10. Christ only calls us to show our enemies the same love He showed us when we were His enemies.
IV. Letters of Commendation
 A. Let’s talk more about these letters of recommendation.
 B. Paul says to the Corinthians in 3:2, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.”
  1. Is Paul’s legitimacy verified by some letters of  commendation that he carries from well-known leaders or churches?
  2. No, Paul says. His letter of commendation, the thing which demonstrates His legitimacy, was the Corinthians themselves, written on his heart and the hearts of his fellow workers, like Titus.
  3. “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation.”
  4. But he also adds another detail to the letter metaphor: “to be known and read by all.”
 C. Then he goes on in v.3 to further  elaborate on this metaphor: “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” So he adds several details to the metaphor:
  1. He says they’re a letter FROM CHRIST, WRITTEN BY THE SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD..
  2. Second, he says that the letter was DELIVERED BY PAUL and his coworkers.
  3. And third, he says the letter was WRITTEN ON HUMAN HEARTS. It seems like he means that this letter is written on the human hearts of the Corinthians.
 D. Paul’s point seems to be that the work of the Spirit in the Corinthians, their transformed hearts and lives under the ministry of Paul are the evidence and proof that his ministry is genuinely of the Lord, and validate Paul as a faithful and sincere representative of Christ.
 E. So what lesson can we learn from this?
  1. There’s a beautiful picture of the gospel in what Paul’s saying here.
  2. Sinners made into Christ’s living epistles — amazing! A mess turned into a message!
  3. The HS is writing a letter on the hearts of believers.
  4. We are EACH a letter written by the Spirit of Christ. Our hearts and lives are also letters that Christ has written for the world to read. Each one bears testimony to the power of Christ’s grace, to the mighty sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God), to the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives of selfishness and vileness into lives of joy and love. Our changed hearts and lives are the miracles that point others to God.
  5. We are trophies of God’s grace, testaments of His mighty power.
  6. It is true: you are the only epistle some folks will ever read.
  7. When the treasure of the grace of Christ dwells in ordinary clay pots like us, only God’s power can explain that. 
  8. The hope and love and peace and generosity and kindness which the Lord works in us by His Spirit is one of the primary kinds of evidence to the watching world that Christ is real. It makes some watching non-believers stop and ask: "What is the reason for the hope you have within you?" (1Pet.3:15). And it gives us a chance to say, “Jesus is my reason for hope!”
  9. Isn’t this good news for messes?