II Corinthians 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
The Corinthian church that has two Books of the Bible named after it was a real piece of work. Formed barely thirty years after Jesus lifetime, it is an amazing testimony to the unmerited grace of God, the hard work that progressives sanctification really is, and the propensity of the human heart to gravitate to what is wrong, even after it has been renewed by the Holy Spirit.
Should anyone ever long for the church to become more like the early church, they need to be confronted with their ignorance of the Scriptures and encouraged to read it a little more before they make such brash ungodly desires known in public.
The Corinthian church was awash in all kinds of problems, mostly related to their supreme problem of lovelessness marked by disunity. “I hear there are divisions among you” Paul said and then added, “And I believe it”. If there is any testimony to the truthfulness of the Scriptures’ teaching regarding the depravity of the human heart, the Corinthian church is it and it is an incredibly encouraging thought when people start talking about how far the church has drifted. The church has not drifted very far from Corinth. The heartbreaking thing about this is that we are still marked, as we will be until Jesus comes, by struggle against sin. The encouraging thing about it is that it gives us an answer to those who want us to believe that the church is now in the worst condition it has been in since the dark ages. “No”, we say, “it is in the same condition it has always been in since Pentecost”.
The Christian life is a life of spiritual warfare and the battle has been raging for over two thousand years now with no signs of abatement. This should not make us complacent about our behaviour or our attitudes. Paul did not excuse the Corinthians on the basis of depravity or the fact that Jesus would make everything better once He showed up. But it should make us realize just how real the warfare is and how long it has been raging. Too many believers talk about sanctification as if it is simply a matter of deciding not to sin anymore. Hardly. Becoming more holy demands sixteen ounces to the pound of unrelenting effort and resolve, using all the resources that God has provided and never letting up. This is why the highway to heaven is littered with the armour of Christian soldiers who have ceased to be going onward. This is why Jesus warned us about counting the cost of following Him (Luke 14:25-33). It is why we need to give the whole truth and nothing but the truth when evangelizing non-believers.
Having said all that, we take note of what Paul said to this divided, infighting, lawsuit pursuing, Lord’s Supper desecrating, resurrection denying church, as he wrote the second inspired and quite possibly fourth letter to them. He says, and we need to note it well
“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 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.”
Stand and be utterly gob smacked.
For all their problems, the Corinthian Christians demonstrate that they are true believers who are pursuing, even if ever so haltingly, true righteousness. Paul says here that the Corinthian believers are a letter of recommendation of Paul’s apostleship to others. Honestly now, would you want this bunch to be used to prove the validity of your work? Paul did, not because they got everything all settled. They demonstrably do not. But they do give evidence of being true believers who know and embrace the Gospel. In fact, Paul sees them useful to show that he is a true apostle.
For all their problems and carryings-on, Paul loves these people. What a lesson to the church today. The lesson is not that we overlook doctrinal flaws. When the Corinthians abused the Lord’s Supper and denied the resurrection Paul wrote them and taught them so that they would believe and practice properly. But he corrected them as a man who loved them, even though they were a very strange and disobedient bunch.
Will we only love those who get it the first time round? Will we grow frustrated and impatient with believers who have all kinds of strange understandings and conclude some very strange things? Will we insist that everyone see exactly as we do before we will permit them the title “Christian”? Make no mistake, there are plenty of false Christians in our churches and they need to know the real Gospel. We should give it to them with the love of Christ and remember how much Paul loved these slow learners in Corinth. Would he have seen them as a letter written on his heart if they showed no signs of growth after twenty or thirty years? Would he have them on his heart if they had not responded to his correctives?
But the point here is that Paul loved these people. He loved them when they were wacky and he loved them when they responded to his corrections. He loved them when they wrote and asked him questions. He loved them when some of them were believing lies about him. While he was rebuking them they were a letter written on his heart. While he was commanding them to rid themselves of immoral people from their midst he had them in his heart. When some in the church had died because of their abuse of the Lord’s Supper he was loving them. When he was so angry with them that he postponed a visit, he loved them. It is a grand testimony about what Christian leadership and behaviour is about.
Love, Paul told these very people, is patient and kind, does not rejoice in wrong and bears, believes and hopes all things in others. Paul demonstrated this to these Corinthians and let them know that it came from his heart.
God has been good to us in letting us know about this relationship. May it help us to have the kind of heart for one another that Paul had for them.