(Read 2 Corinthians 3; John 3:16)
In 1st Century Judea, news traveled slowly. Texts, emails, and the printing press had yet to be invented. Either word of mouth from messengers or letters were the main communication tools. The news only traveled about 50 miles a day. Letters to churches were written to provide instruction and understanding of Jesus’ message and were intended to be read aloud. They contained profound interpretations of the gospel, solutions to local church problems, and advice on becoming the kind of Christians God created.
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 everyone.
2 Corinthians 3:1-2
This was another Biblical passage that magically appeared one morning. It has been part of Canon for some 1,600 years, but I noticed it for the first time this week. The Apostle Paul is credited for writing 13 (or possibly 14) Epistles that are included in the Bible. In this case, Paul was defending his credibility. He turned his argument on them. He argued that more is expected of the Corinthians than their quibbling, selfish, and immoral behavior. More than being members of a specific community acting on preconceived assumptions, we are created to be letters from Christ. Through our imperfections and sins, Jesus sees through us and desires more from us.
It’s good that Paul wrote “letters from God” rather than texts or emails from God. There’s an expression that says if you’re angry with someone, wait a day before you email or text them. Sleep on it. Letters work differently. Letters are composed with much more deliberate thought and compassion. Letters are personal. When we were younger and lived apart, my wife used to dab some perfume on her letters to make her seem closer to me. Personal letters are rare nowadays. We receive thank you notes from a Grandparent after a routine visit simply because they’re written out of love.
If we are letters read by other people, what should our letters say? How do we show ourselves as letters? Paul wrote that we are letters with the Gospel written on our hearts to be known by everyone. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied, “God will write his laws on our heart” (Jeremiah 31:33). In those days, letters were written with a mixture of charcoal, gum, and water for ink and penned on papyrus. We are living, breathing letters written by Christ and composed with the Holy Spirit.
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 3:3
None of us are worthy of being letters of Christ. Moses wasn’t too keen on being a messenger of God at first either. Initially, he disapproved of God’s choice, and to support his case, he gave God five excuses why he was unworthy of the job. None of us are worthy. God knows better. I often think of the people in my life who are love letters from Christ – ordinary, humble souls serving God, sharing Christ’s glory with family, friends, and strangers.
My wife (J) recently visited a friend I wrote about several weeks ago (https://transformationbibleministries.org/devotion/joy-to-the-world/). When I saw (K) in December, she had just undergone a second surgery for an uncommon malignant brain tumor. Her condition has worsened, and her medical team has stopped treating her cancer and is now just trying to make her comfortable. They FaceTimed me during the visit, and I’m still in shock. (K) can’t move much, is uncomfortable, and sleeps most of the day, but she still has the same wit and charm. (J) said they had a good visit. She saw a small pile of Bible verses written on notecards near (K)’s bed. “What’s your favorite?” (K) asked her. My wife has a few passages I hear her reference occasionally, so I was curious about her response. “John 3:16,” she replied.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Perhaps no better verse in the Bible spells out God’s love for us in such clear terms. It sets the table and presents the offer. This was a perfect choice for (K). She and her brother grew up with religion, but I don’t think it’s an active part of their adult lives. (K) was polling people about Bible verses and personal beliefs about heaven. They talked for as long as she could stay awake. The advanced stage of her illness and the meds were taking a toll. Before (J) left, they talked briefly about “the next phase.” We don’t know what heaven will be like, although we have some glimpses from the Bible. My wife assured (K) that whatever it’s like, it’s a more perfect place than anything we can imagine, and it’s where we are reunited with everyone we know and love who has gone before us.
(K)’s brother, sister-in-law, and one of my best friends were also at the house for the visit. They’re providing nearly round-the-clock care for her. My friend said, “Generally, we try two-night shifts, which seems to work best. It’s both physically and emotionally draining.” They told me that it was a needed and pleasant distraction to have my wife visit. It lifted their spirits and (K)’s spirit as well.
(J) is mostly private about her faith. It’s an ongoing joke in our small group that we’re still waiting for her to share her testimony. All kidding aside, I believe her modesty prevents her from recognizing the spiritual impact she has on people. Friends and family frequently share their pain and inner turmoil with her. (J) is warm and encouraging. I know she was a lighthouse, an open letter from Christ to the people who needed it most this week. We might think it’s not worth it to be a letter to non-believers or lukewarm believers, but doesn’t that thinking second-guess God’s plans? He uses us for all kinds of things to advance His plan, whether He informs us or not.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
There is always hope for people who have yet to recognize Jesus Christ. Even though only the Holy Spirit can convert someone, we must still try to reach them in any way we can. As the prophet Ezekiel wrote, our stone hearts go from being filled with sin to being open to the Spirit to change through new knowledge, peace, and a new life in Christ. God’s promise to the nation of Israel was ultimately fulfilled at Calvary in the “hearts of flesh” of everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ as Savior.
A typical letter written in the 1st century had about 200 words; most would fit on a single sheet of papyrus. Paul’s letters averaged 1,300 words. Even at the time of his writing, some of Paul’s contemporaries recognized his letters as divinely authoritative. That leads me to believe that Paul was writing to the Church in Corinth and to us. As letters from Christ, we are certainly not viewed as divinely authoritative, nor should we be, but we are seen as authentic. Jesus entrusts us to reflect His light, grace, and message. Since he walked the earth, Jesus has sent us out to let others see His love so that no one is forsaken.
My wife poured out from her heart as a living letter from Christ. We may be the only Christians some people will ever know. We might be the closest thing to a Bible they will ever know. Jesus has already paid the price, and no postage is due.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
- Do you see yourself as a letter from Christ? You should! If you don’t, ask yourself why not?
- Be a Christ-like presence to someone in need. Don’t react with emotion. Act with love and compassion.
- What does a letter from Christ look like? Paul was challenged for his authenticity, and some were skeptical of his apostleship. His effects on people and the changes in their lives were his credentials. Paul lived as a letter written with Spirit, not lifeless ink. Consider this as you go through the week. Pray to be like that.
Where else in your life can you live out the teachings of Christ? Look for next week’s Devotion.