Of all the servants of Jesus Christ, the one with whom I most easily identify is the apostle Paul. He struggled with many of the same issues I face—pride and illness being chief among them—as well as a list of trials as long as my left leg. He went through a series of painful deprivations and punishments I cannot even imagine enduring. However, Paul is the man who also said in Philippians 4:11-12:
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
I admire him because he both made statements like these and lived them out. Don’t believe me? Go read Acts 16:25, and you’ll find a man who has been beaten and chained to a wall who, instead of worrying or griping, is praying and singing to God. That is evidence of someone who is content in all circumstances!
Of all his amazing epistles, I believe 2 Corinthians is my favorite. The first reason is because my personal scripture, the one I use when I give my testimony, can be found there (12:7-10). It is the passage that helped me make sense of my disease, what purpose it served, and why God allowed it to happen to me. I feel a kinship with Paul for this reason because I know what it feels like when your body betrays you and you cannot live a “normal life” because of it.
Another reason I love studying this letter to the church is because of its personal nature. More of Paul’s heart is on display here than in any of his other writings. In everything he penned, his encyclopedic knowledge is made apparent, as are his rhetorical and philosophical skills. After all, this man, before being struck blind on the Damascus Road, was a Pharisee, a group of Jews who were highly respected for their learning and were considered to be the best and most accurate explicators of Jewish law.
In Galatians, he patiently and methodically explains why there is no longer a need to rely on the law for salvation, and his soaring language in books like Ephesians makes the spiritual inheritance all believers enjoy as clear and understandable as a one-bowl recipe. However, his work in Romans is his most masterful and still stands as the book of the Bible that Christians use to share the truth of salvation with non-believers (a technique commonly referred to as walking the Romans Road.) However, only in 2 Corinthians does Paul “get personal” and share his feelings and emotions as well as his thoughts.
I must throw a in caveat here. All scripture is inspired by God and given to men like Paul to compose and share with us; however, there is something of the scribes He chose in those works as well. Their diction, the ways they turn a phrase, and other little affectations show that while the truths are certainly God’s, there are flashes of the humans who served as His amanuenses as well.
Finally, Paul was a man who wrote beautifully but was less than impressive when it came to speaking in public, and that’s another reason I identify with him. I, too, am good with a pen and terrible behind a podium (especially when the speaking is extemporaneous!)
Because it is my favorite, I return to 2 Corinthians often for comfort, to re-read familiar passages when the world seems to be out of whack. While studying it, I am reminded of why I trusted Jesus as my Savior and why I can stand firm on His promises no matter how unsettling my circumstances. Today, I was reading and came across a few verses I’ve read many times before. However, for some reason, it jumped off the page at me. It is 2 Corinthians 3:1-6, the passage in which Paul defends his authority as an apostle and a messenger of Jesus. it reads:
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for 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. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
What struck me was the beautiful metaphor in this passage—“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men.” A letter of commendation was a form of communication written by one individual to another “vouching for” a third person who was unknown to the letter’s recipient. (Yo hear them mentioned often in an Austen novel as “a letter of introduction.”) Essentially, it was a document in which one friend told another, “I know you don’t know this person, but I do. He’s okay; you can trust him.”
Paul is telling the believers at Corinth, “You are proof of my authority. You are a changed people because of the God who I serve. The fact that your hearts were renewed by the Holy Spirit is the only evidence you need to know what I say is right and from God.”
He then goes on and creates an extended metaphor from this original comparison:
- “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men”–You are my letter, and all men can look at (“read”) you. They know you have been changed because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
- “being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us”–You are, in truth, a “letter written by Christ.” It is He who has wrought such a change in your lives, and I, Paul, am but a steward. I care for you, but I am not your author.
- “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God”–The change in you was not written in permanent ink but with the Holy Spirit. It is His indelible mark on you for all time as a child of God.
- “not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”–You are His writing surface, and He marks you as permanently and definitively as He once wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone.
That is simply amazing text! However, Paul follows it up with the best part of all. After explaining that his “adequacy is from God,” he explains the difference between the writing surfaces (the stone versus the human heart). When he states, “As servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit,” Paul is indicating we are not bound by the laws he knew so well. None of us is forever a slave to over six hundred laws that could never be perfectly followed and always required sacrifices for atonement. The covenant Jesus established at the Last Supper is the New Covenant, the one for which He was the atoning sacrifice that covered all our sins. This is why he states, “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
Think about what this means. As Christians, we are walking, talking, breathing, living love letters of God. Each one of us is evidence, a letter of commendation others can read to learn more about Him. That is why our actions and our attitudes are so essential; we represent the Lord in all our daily dealings with the world. That is why one of the last things Jesus taught His disciples is important for us to remember; it is the essential rule we must follow in our role as His missives. In John 15:35-36, Jesus states, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Emphasis mine).
Friends, we are truly the love letters of God, ones who must always strive to be accurate representations of their Author.